It’s been a rough couple of weeks, to say the least.
I won’t bore you with the minutiae of why things have been a little, shall we say “taxing”, on the emotional front, but I will give you the précis version just so that you have some context.
As part of the treatment for my depression, I take lamotrigine, which is an anti-convulsant that also acts as a mood stabilizer. For the most part, it’s a pretty solid drug, except for the fact that in very rare cases it can lead to an unpleasant little condition called Stevens-Johnson syndrome. For the love of all that is holy, do not do a Google image search. Let me guess, you’re doing exactly that right now, aren’t you? Fine, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
For the benefit of those of you smart enough to heed my warning not to search for pictures of SJS, it’s an autoimmune condition that basically makes your skin slough off before killing you dead courtesy of multiple organ failure. You can see how one would want to avoid it if at all possible.
I had been incrementally increasing my doses (as prescribed by a psychiatrist, of course) and, since I’ve been taking the drug for a couple of months already without any serious side effects, I wasn’t too worried, even though I was aware of the risk of developing SJS.
Around two weeks ago, I started having a sensation almost like sunburn on the outside of my right arm. When it didn’t go away (in fact, it intensified) after a day or two and even after I applied moisturizing lotion, I decided to email my psychiatrist for an expert opinion.
I fully expected her reply to be something along the lines of “oh, Charl, you big baby. You’re probably just imagining it. Your skin’s probably just dry from the winter”.
Instead, her response was more like “OMGOMGOMGOMG! You’re totally turning into a walker from The Walking Dead! Have someone shoot you in the brain before you turn completely!”
Okay, so I might have paraphrased a little, but she did seem legitimately concerned, or at the very least cautious, enough so that she returned my correspondence despite the fact that she was on leave at the time.
The psychiatrist advised me to lower the dosage straight away and remain on the lower dose indefinitely, keeping her updated with regards to whether or not I turn into a flesh-eating living corpse.
As you can probably guess, I didn’t, and a mere day after lowering the dosage the burning sensation disappeared entirely.
And they all lived happily ever after.
Because I was now taking a lower dose of the mood stabilizer, my mood was becoming – you guessed it! – unstable. For the most part, the last week or two has been an emotional rollercoaster ride, and not the fun, thrilling bits of the ride, either. It’s been more like the terrifying, pant-wetting parts with the guy next to you throwing up on your lap. Yeah, great fun.
There isn’t too much that I can do about it other than just riding it out, I guess. But I’ll say one thing for depression, it’s one heck of a muse because I’ve been writing more prolifically than I have in a long time ever since my little brush with Messrs Stevens and Johnson.
Firing up my MacBook and just letting my fingers rest on the keyboard for a few seconds, feeling the naked energy and potential waiting to be unlocked by my fingers – my fingers – is one of the most intoxicating and exhilirating feelings that I’ve ever experienced. There’s nothing quite like it. And then, when I open the word processing software, that blank page is waiting to be filled with a story, with a map of some journey that is either underway or is waiting to be taken. When I put words and sentences and paragraphs on the page, they come alive and they become a part of me, fusing with my flesh like invisible tattoos.
Writing, it seems, is the most effective anti-depressant that I’ve ever taken.
In the words of the great Ernest Hemingway, who himself suffered from severe depression and eventually died by his own hand: “There is nothing to writing. All you do sit down at a typewriter and bleed”. For me, writing has always been a way to exorcise my demons and rid myself of negative thoughts and emotions.
Because the act of writing is inherently creative, constructing ideas in my head and then committing them to a blank page provides me with a sense of accomplishment, of having made something out of nothing. I see it as a sort of alchemy.
It offers a distraction
When I write, I am intensely focused on the task at hand, which means that my mind doesn’t have the opportunity to wander off into that dark chasm of depression where malevolent beings lie in wait.
It’s an instant fix
While I can’t rightly say whether or not anti-depressants are effective in treating mental disorders, I can tell you that most, if not all, psychoactive drugs take weeks and even months to start having an effect on one’s mood. Writing, to me, provides near-instant relief and I am left with a sort of “high” or “afterglow” sometimes for hours after completing a writing task. The best part? No adverse side effects!