Medicated #04: If you can’t come out swinging…

Contra this time last year, I can sleep quite well, actually. Thanks for asking. Too well, in fact.

An appointment with the doctor has it that the source of a persistent narcolescence is likely something other than my medication. Apparently my SSRI of choice doesn’t do that.

To test the hypothesis, my dosage is being dropped by half.

Gym has been suspended, and then given the green light, owning to the need for an opinion on an umbilical hernia I likely first obtained when body surfing across Gawler Place. It was either that or a taxi would have ground me into road pizza. I’ll take the hernia, thanks.

As it turns out, it’s not so serious, and it would have been better (with the benefit of hindsight) had I stayed at gym. Gym helps with my depression. It also makes me sleepy.

Now I’ve been away from the blogosphere quite a bit this year, but don’t you think that means I’ve been doing nothing.

In my spare time, when not twiddling my thumbs, I’ve been trying to organise the drafting of a harassment policy for the Humanist Society of South Australia (HSSA). We’re going to do this democratically, or not at all, so that takes a little more time, work, and patience than if we were to opt the route of executive power. I like to think that discussion both makes for a better policy, and keeps the membership aware of why the policy is there.

In dribs and drabs of I’ve-got-to-get-it-finished-soon (although it really leads into an event in May), I’ve been working on an article I started in December of last year. Suffice to say, the fact checking, verification and investigation took longer than I thought, and I now know a bunch of stuff related both tangentially and directly to the subject, than I ever knew before.

Some of it I wish I didn’t. Some of it agitates my clinical depression.

I’m forced to ask myself; which is more depressing, the knowledge that a problem exists, or inaction on said problem? Because if inaction is more depressing, then being depressed into inaction is going to cause feedback.

Problem; Inaction; Depression; Inaction; More depression; More inaction.

It’d be a lie to say that I’ve been inactive, generally, but by fuck (which is sacred around here), I can’t half feel the blanket pressing down on me.

Which I guess is an improvement over the last twenty years. The blanket always did press down on me to some extent, only for the most part, I wasn’t aware of it. I guess the meds have been doing their work.

I guess the crux of it is that the blanket doesn’t give me room for a good swing and hit. The alternative is struggling?

I’ll labour on. I mean, you do that when you’re depressed anyway, as best you can. The trick though, is to find the things that motivate you, which contrary to the cliché, are not necessarily the things you love.

Burning moral outrage doesn’t burn in me like it used to, which has had the twin effect of helping me see things clearer, and investigate further instead of getting my jocks in a twist. But a little more impulsiveness along these lines would at least help me get my volume of writing up.

Of course, I don’t burn out, either, being as I am at the moment.

I can’t even act out anger for the rhetoric of the rant anymore. Or at least, not for an extended period.

Poetry, or at least poetic prose is starting to flow more freely, and with humanistic intents. One of the themes emerging the HSSA has been religion’s monopoly on hope, and it seems to me that a godless literary tradition could offer competition.

Short of the suspended critical thinking of some of the transhumanists, the selfishness (and self-serving readings) of the Randroids, or the totalitarianism of some of the worst of the 20th century’s godless dogmas, that is. A literary tradition that speaks to what good humans can do, without getting all bleary-eyed about it.

The thing is, human folly notwithstanding, there’s still reason for hope without recourse to divine intervention, or secular fictions. Denmark does it pretty well, and largely without recourse to deities.

I have selfish reasons for wanting to see these hopes recognised in my own time, and my own circle, if only to motivate me through my own depression. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t this side to it.

That being said, I’d like to think that this would be a good way to get out there, if not quite swinging. I’d like to think that it’d be a good way to help others, and to fulfil an ethos of contribution.

But more on that, hopefully soon enough.

I have things planned and in the works. We’ll touch base again, and hopefully (I’m not ashamed to use the word) I’ll have a little more to show for my efforts.

~ Bruce

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Medicated #003

Yaaaaaaawwn…

I’m just a little weak at the moment. While I’m happy to report that last night saw the first night of sleep for a number of nights that could be called normal and healthy, the insomnia has taken a bit of a toll.

I’ll be recovering for a couple of days, I’d imagine.

It’s just a little odd for me, really. I’m more motivated that I’ve been in ages, and right throughout the day, but the body just isn’t willing to keep up. Usually it’s the drive that flags first.

That being said, I’m actually more on top of a lot of things than I usually am. In addition to the usual humdrum, I’ve got more ironing and whatnot done. My home is tidier than usual.

I’ve even got around to moving the furniture into a new configuration around the house – almost the way I want things to be in a writing environment.

When I’m not tired, it can feel a little like having a clear, burning sun, the perfect magnifying glass, but not knowing what to burn. I’ve got the energy and the focus, I’m just not accustomed to having it like this.

Readers read at their own risk – management takes no responsibility for accidental cauterization. Actually no, there’s no risk of that. I’m tired right now.

I’m getting no reading done, of course. Oh, my mind is alert, but if I sit down in a cosy spot to read I’ll start to nod off even as my thoughts race. I have to keep on my feet if I want to keep moving, and that of course, exhausts me even further. And reading and writing aren’t things that really get done in any of this.

Even after the issue of sleep is resolved, I suspect there will be a certain amount of decrepitude, physically speaking, to deal with. Gym will help with this, but I’m still not sure yet how large the gulf is between my ambitions and my physical capacity to deliver.

A whole new phase of rehabilitation is unfurling in front of me.

For now, I’m just going to try to get some sleep.

~ Bruce

Medicated #002

Worpwoggletreefish… teeeeee hee-hee-hee-hee-hee!

You were expecting something like that? No? Good!

A few days ago I managed the first night of unbroken, eight hour sleep, in a long time. Now however, as I’ve reached the maximum dose of my medication, insomnia has returned. I expect it to abate again, eventually, as it’s done in every graduation.

Then that should be it for insomnia; no more increments in dosage pending, I should level out, side-effects-wise.

It’s the lack of sleep that’s kept me away from writing, if nothing else. I gave myself time for eight hours last night, but could only manage five, again for the second night in a row.

At any rate, there’s been some speculation through the backchannels, some inquiry into wellbeing, on account of my being a little quiet online and whatnot. No, I’m not dead, nor has the Flying Spaghetti Monster revealed His noodly appendage to me.

I’m still doing fine. There’s no doomsday in sight. You may recall that I entered into this at an unprecedented elevation of mood.

None of the scarier side effects have occurred; suicidal thoughts (I’ve never had those in my life); heart palpitations; spasms; nausea.

I’m just a little tired is all. You can all relax. Maybe I’ll sleep better knowing you’re chilled out.

If and when the upside of getting my sleep back coincides with better motivation, over the next couple of weeks before the benefits plateau, I’m contemplating having a little toy around with Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled. (Yes, I thought ‘oh dear!’, in Fry’s voice when I read the title).

Perhaps I’ll churn out a poem or two in an altered frame of mind.

Until then, poo-tee-weet?

~ Bruce

Medicated #001

It’s been a few days since the last post on the topic of my chronic, depressive state and its medication. A few things have changed since then.

My dosage has been doubled, after the doctor found my toleration of side-effects to be adequate. The side-effects that remain, or that have re-emerged with the increased dosage, are expected to wane with continued medication.

Particularly helpful though, has been that coffee has not only lost the metallic taste I’d been tasting these past few weeks, but actually tastes as wonderful as it did when I first got hooked in the 1990s. Notably, this change of taste has occurred with the same brew; same hippy milk; same Demerara sugar; same batch of free-trade Rio Coco and all in the same proportions.

Food in general has improved in taste. In fact, it’s all improved across the board, just by varying degrees – the least, at least noticeably, and the best, well, it’s been incredible.

I’d been wondering why people had been flattering me on my cooking. Meals that I’d considered drab, have managed to elicit praise over the years, and the possibility has occurred to me that in cooking for a depressive with a stunted sense of taste, while not trying to produce something overpowering, may have produced something subtly wonderful – for other people.

The judge is still out on this, mind you.

Sex hasn’t given me an afterglow since 1992, so there may be that to look forward to. In fact, the last time I had afterglow, it was in response to a leg workout in 1993. I’m looking at re-joining gym this autumn, so maybe I’ll get my giddies there as well, or perhaps just instead.

My concentration seems a little partitioned at the moment though. There are things I can read and focus on at the moment, with quite a good deal of clarity, and while I can hold an entire response in my head (to this post and some of the subsequent comments on the MTR defamation issue), point-by-point, I can’t get it out on the page in the same state. I suspect I’d disgrace myself with a word salad resembling the content of the Sokal hoax.

This post I’m writing now doesn’t involve nearly as much interconnected thought, so I can break it down into thought-sized segments without losing track. I make no promises about the proofing.

My sleep is starting to come in less fragmented blocks. Last night was the first night of sleep I’d call ‘normal’; seven hours with one brief awakening. Prior to this, my best night of sleep was broken up into four and two-hour blocks, with a two-hour break in the small hours of the morning I spent doing a few domestic chores. All the rest has been worse, but has followed a steady curve of improvement up until now.

I don’t know if it’s the medication, or the accumulating sleep deprivation I’m yet to catch up on, but I’m yawning an awful lot. This is not to say that this is unpleasant. It’s rather stress relieving actually, if at times a little inconvenient (like now).

A few random observations; stupid people seem funnier and less irritating than before; it’s becoming increasingly difficult to comprehend the logic/motivations behind my past errors of judgement; I appear to have regained a certain amount of dexterity and there’s a lot more spring in my step; I’ve become a poor judge of temperature as my tolerance seems to have increased; I’m more calm at rest, and I’m a lot more photosensitive (sunburn is now easy to achieve with only a little exposure).

With the prospect of my prose changing over this transition, I’m going to try logging my experiences for the next few weeks before reviewing the writing. I may also critique some of my earlier work in light of this changing frame of mind. It could get interesting. It may not. It may be interesting that I thought it could be interesting.

This could all be babble. At least I don’t have cotton mouth.

~ Bruce

…of black dogs…

I’ll be blunt with the confession; I have chronic depression. I’ve had it for just over twenty years now, going on twenty-two.

There have been ups-and-downs. This past half-year has seen one of the ‘ups’.

No, depression has had nothing to do with the slow blog output, or at least I don’t think so. The past half-year has seen me more lucid and emotive than I’ve been in a very long time, possibly in as long the mentioned twenty, going on twenty-two years.

Why am I mentioning this?

First of all, Rousing Departures serves as a writer’s journal, amongst other things – at least as much for my own benefit as anyone else’s. And it’s in part because of wanting to write, I’ve engaged in protracted ruminations on mood and the like.

Who do I let into the home I write in? Who do I let in my writing area? Are there people who disrupt my state of mind in a way not conducive to writing? What smells/sounds/space/…?

I’ve made a few changes. I’ve ousted a few passive-aggressives, closet racists and self-pitying misogynists, who frankly, in addition to the obvious, really rub me too far up the wrong way to be allowed so close to home. I’ve ousted people who treat my writing space as their entitlement.

Mood was itself, a means to an ends, but now, upon reflection, it’s become more important than that (and in turn, may have more important implications for my writing than I’d imagined).

When you’re in one of the ‘downs’, you can fall into the trap of normalizing things, and just surviving your way through the turmoil. You can lose track of what exactly, it feels like to be unafflicted; convincing yourself you’ve recovered, that you’re restored, when in fact you’ve only had a moderate, partial improvement. Repeat the process, and you can rachet yourself down into a deep low, all while normalizing it.

I fell I’ve fallen into this trap a half a dozen times over the past two decades. The result has been a ‘she’s al’right’, before driving myself into the ground, again, for the nth time. Each recovery incomplete, and each subsequent downward turn starting from a reduced baseline.

It’s a bit of a family tradition on my Father’s side, downplaying medical inconvenience and just making do. Once when my father broke his jaw and had it wired up, he couldn’t wait to recover and eventually took to the wiring with a set of pliers. It was a similar story with the stitches from his vasectomy (this being prior to the use of dissolving stitches).

I’ve taken to myself with a knife before, in the interest of health, and I’m pretty sure a more recent scalpel-plus-sandpaper therapy wouldn’t be covered by Medicare, either.

Having had an unprecedented ‘up’, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to confess I’ve been in progressive phases of denial. Aside from being in a more able mood for confession, it’s a lot like having climbed the side of a steep hill, enabling a view of the topology of my previous mental state.

(The litmus test for reaching these new heights has been the ability to listen to Amy Winehouse, and Dave Brubeck, and feel something. This music couldn’t have resonated with me in say, 2007.)

This isn’t the first time I’ve made any such confession, of course. The difference this time is in the scope. Back in the day, I admitted I had temporary problems associated with unpleasant events – fights, bogan torture, blows to the head, stress, workplace poisoning, etc. All these seemed to correlate with my melancholy (but which caused which, or what caused either or both?)

First I was put on tricyclics, which lasted about three weeks. (Medication this antiquated may give you an idea of the historical length of both my awareness and denial).

Then I was put on an early SSRI. This provided little-to-no benefit, while bringing a lot of side-effects into the mix. It didn’t last, and it has to be said that the projectile vomiting while discontinuing, wasn’t a high-point.

That was then, and we’re here in the now.

When I get in a rut, it’s not like what a lot of people think about depression. It’s not so much that I get sad, it’s more that I become listless, numb and have difficulty concentrating. Not that I’ve ever self-mutilated in this state, I also tend to be overly tolerant of pain and physical damage (I have permanent damage to connective tissue in my right foot, thanks largely to this undue tolerance).

It’s the ability to concentrate that I value the most out of all of this. While I may have long since lost the ability to fall in love, I’ve still had experiences of high mental clarity recent enough to be well remembered and hence desired. Or at least, I still remember enough of these moments to want something like them.

If you’ve been reading my writing for any number of years, you may be familiar with the typographical results of my late night coffee-binges. Lack of sleep and caffeine certainly enters into it, but it’s never been a sufficient explanation for all the malapropisms, or the occasional failures of logic.

It seems I may have normalised the fuzz in my skull just a little too much, for just a little too long.

There have been newer SSRIs released since I was last prescribed, with at least a couple of graduations of improvement. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been prescribed and SSRI released in recent years, and it’s already showing noticeable signs of working. Indeed, this early on, it’s already performing better than what months of what I was prescribed in the 1990s achieved.

This improvement, during a seemingly unprecedented ‘up’.

The results are thus far mixed, being early days. I’m waiting for things to plateau and smooth out. My sleep has been disrupted, and I’m only just starting to show signs of being able to catch up. I’m a little tired writing this right now.

However, in the mornings, I’m no longer groggy at all, and my motivation doesn’t seem to flag as the day goes on. And then there have been moments when my mind feels like a steel fucking trap. Or rather, the love child of a steel fucking trap and a fucking titanium scalpel.

I’m less easily distracted, yet without becoming obsessive. I can feel more than I could a few weeks ago, emotionally and physically, and it’s not too unpleasant.

I can feel the cold on my skin in a way I haven’t been able to in ages. I can feel the chill from a carafe of water an inch away from the back of my forearm. I can feel the breeze on my perspiration, and I can feel the salt water well-up in my eyes when I yawn.

At most, this kind of thing has been information, rather than experience, yet experience I seem to vaguely remember somehow.

The unfolding of these new sensations and feelings don’t, however, stop me from focusing on whatever problem I’m mulling over. I just acknowledge the stimulus out of the corner of my eye, with a smile, while continuing with what I’m doing – it’s no juggling act.

At least, this is when I’m not too tired.

Again, I still have sleep to catch up on, and I’m told things will continue to improve for another three to four weeks before levelling out (all I was looking for was something to ameliorate the next ‘down’ in advance). I’m not sure where I’ll be with any of this in a month, and to be honest, I’m not sure if I won’t revise my judgements on my track record by then. I’m heading up a very steep hill, seemingly very rapidly, so who knows what things will look like from up top?

(If there is a side-effect, and I’m not sure it’s a side-effect, that I want to get over, it’s the change in either my taste in coffee, or in my ability to make it. Every damn coffee these past two weeks has tasted horrible. Maybe I’ll have to revert to Blue Mountain, or Turkish coffee.)

For the sake of consistency, all long-term writing projects are being put on hold as I try to find and organise my writing space anew. I guess in this respect, I am experiencing disruption, although of a secondary nature, and ultimately as a productive process.

I’m not too fussed about the ‘suffer for your art’ nonsense. I’ve never believed it. It’s always seemed to me that suffering’s relationship with creativity is as a side-effect of being sensitive about gaps in the world; gaps that the creative seek to fill in the first instance, irrespective of any suffering. My ‘suffering’, if reflection serves, has at any rate only ever hindered my creativity.

Perhaps if I was going to be made insensitive, to be anesthetized, then I’d worry. But as I’m feeling things more, rather than less, this isn’t the concern. The trick, I think, will be in not forgetting my past with The Black Dog, and thus taking my newfound clarity for granted.

We’ll have to see if and how this alters my prose and argument as things run their course.

~ Bruce