Friday, March 27, 2009

Finding Myself: On Medicating and Meditating

March 28, 2009 1:59 am

Finding Myself: On Medicating and Meditating

For the record, I consider Alice in Wonderland a memoir.

Oh, ohm already. This concludes February’s Great Mediation Experiment and despite the placid front, it’s been a doozie. It ended in a good place with me discovering that meditation is a far more powerful tool than I previously ever gave it credit for. It helped me find a place of peace in myself that I didn’t even know existed. But before I can begin to tell you about the finding, I must first tell you about the losing. Allow me to back up.

I am not a peaceful person.

I have been many things: Energetic, morose. Friendly, moody. Gregarious, overly sensitive. Dramatic, empathetic. But never peaceful. As my father put it, I’m a thrasher. It took me 25 years to figure out that not everyone walks around feeling like their skin is on wrong ways out. But as is often the case, that which we lack is what we need the most.

And so I have sought peace - and found it with varying degrees of success - in many different places over the years. In high school I was a mess. I don’t know that anyone who knew me in high school reads this blog with any regularity (if you’re out there, feel free to shout it out in the comments!) but it’s true. I was the class Valedictorian. But with ulcers and an eating disorder and, of all things, an illiterate boyfriend. One of the most common things people said to me then was, “Just when I think I get to know you, I realize I don’t know anything about you at all.” Which is because I didn’t know anything about me. There was no peace for me in high school.

In college, I found a measure of peace in cognitive behavioral therapy and volunteering in the campus crisis center and dancing and a troupe of friends who managed to be both hilariously insane and functional. And then the Very Bad Boyfriend arrived to steal my fledgling sense of self and left me dashed on the rocks of my own self-doubt. Graduate school gave my manic energy an outlet but revived the ulcers and, unsupervised, took the eating disorder to a whole new level. This is also the time in my life where I first started having horrible panic attacks, later “diagnosed” (if one can really diagnose a syndrome) as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, that would send me to the hospital multiple times; my only complaint being that my body was trying to eat itself from the inside out. There was little peace for me in college.

After college there were many who worked hard to stabilize me. My life, as it has always been, was enacted against the ethereal backdrop of my faith, bordered on each side by the tightly-woven curtain of my family. Which is why it always pains me to talk of my deep sadness. Because it causes them to cry, “How did we fail you?” when the truth is that they never did. Well, no more than what is merely human, anyhow. The failing - or the falling - was all mine. It was my crazy wacked out high strung self. Blame it on brain chemicals, hormones, genetics or - my personal favorite - a deep seated fatal flaw, but don’t ever blame it on them.

It wasn’t until the tailspin brought on by my first miscarriage and then the death of my first child, a daughter Faith (also known as the reason why I often write on here that I have birthed four children and yet when you look at my FAQs page, you’ll only see three cherubic boys), that I ever considered medication. I don’t even remember how the conversation came about - perhaps it is de rigeur for mothers of dead babies - but my family doctor gave me a prescription for Celexa. I took it. It made me dizzy. But it also evened me out. It didn’t take much; I am what they consider a “responder” to medicine. One Vicodin renders me unconscious for 6 hours. Narcotics are so overwhelming to my system that I refuse to take them ever, for anything, even after childbirth. And so it was with the Celexa. Within a couple of months I began to chafe at the chemical bonds that bound in my euphoria as much as they bound up my tears. I quit it cold turkey after three short months. Every medical professional will tell you that you are never to do this. I had a rough month or so but then it was out and I was fine. And I was me again. I took up yoga to help quell the panic that had come back but, in my frenetic spirit, I only did the kind of yoga that made you sweat and shake and count your breaths in your head.

The next time I took an anti-depressant was Wellbutrin. The need came after more than a year of caring for a dear family member with a chronic illness. In addition, I was overwhelmed after my son’s recent birth, sad to have recently moved, sad that it was winter. My gynecologist prescribed it to me. That was a mistake. Wellbutrin is not for people with a history of eating disorders. It is also not for people with anxiety problems. I took it for six months until I was so irritable that I irritated myself with how I brushed my teeth. I went cold turkey. Again. Fortunately, for me anyhow, it was easy to stop taking it. In fact, I immediately felt better. I was me again.

Third time’s the charm right? If you will recall, last November I started taking Cymbalta - this time prescribed to me by an actual psychiatrist - to help with the anxiety brought on by the dark days and also to help ameliorate my compulsion to over exercise. It helped. But I didn’t like the side effects. After several months of going back and forth over the cost-benefit analysis of the meds, I decided it wasn’t worth it. And did it again. Cold turkey. This time it was a total freaking rush. Two weeks of “brain shivers” - an event I can only describe as exactly that: as if my brain were shivering inside my skull and isn’t as unpleasant as it sounds. I got my energy back, my sex life improved and my thoughts were no longer fragmented into a puff of paper snowflakes that swirled around me with every eddy, never settling and never coalescing. It was so great, I was tempted to go back on the Cymbalta just so I could have the pleasure of going off of it again. That was a month ago.

So why do I tell you all this? Well, for one, I have a penchant for oversharing. You may have noticed. But mostly I wanted to say that if there ever was a girl who needed meditation, it would have been me. In this time and this place. And I think it’s working. I really do.

The best part of this Experiment is that it didn’t work in the way I wanted it to. I lost no weight (gained 3 lbs actually!), I had no life-changing epiphanies, and I had no better luck regulating my breathing while running through side stitches. But it gave me something better - the realization that I do have the potential, nay even the ability, to be peaceful in myself. And I have the rest of my life to keep working on it.

How did your month of meditation go? Anyone else have a love-hate with their anti-depressant medication?