In the last hundred years enough has happened to justify us in believing that the pen’s response to the challenge of force is at least not ludicrous and hopeless; indeed, it is perhaps the one serious hope we have.
- C.M. Woodhouse
I’ve been a bit moody lately.
Life this year, for those of you who don’t follow my blog lately, has come at me, to defer to the cliché because there’s no better way to put it, all at once. I won’t go into it all again here. But I have, quite simply, suffered.
Had I written that sentence a month ago, maybe two, I might have meant it just the way it reads, hinting at the bitterness with which we usually read such statements. But the past few weeks of my life have been defined by a drastic shift in attitude. Today, when I write that sentence, “I have, quite simply, suffered,” it is with a deep sense of gratitude and awe. The why me of six months ago, with all of the anger it entailed at the perceived solitariness of my pain, has transformed itself very suddenly into a why me of perplexed gratefulness. The question is no longer “Why am I the one who has to go through this?” but “Why am I the one who gets to go through this?” I feel my spirit getting stronger, the way an athlete watches her body chisel itself because of – not in spite of – sweat and exhaustion, and I wonder why it is that not everyone gets the same opportunity. I actually feel sorry for the people who have easy lives.
In an effort to quell my odd neurological problems, my doctors and I decided to experiment with taking me off of my antidepressants for a while. My psychiatrist was hesitant, since it’s become quite evident that depression is as much a physical and hormonal thing than a situational thing for me, but the physical pain had become so unbearable that I was desperate. I had to do something.
What I hadn’t expected, however, was the reversal of the other side effects, most noticeably my inability to think clearly. The medications seem to be effective on me because they block a certain part of my brain where the Sad Chemicals are stored. Unfortunately, due to what appears to be a result of the chaos typical of neurological bureaucracy, an oversight left the Smart Chemicals in storage in the same room. When the door got locked the Sad Chemicals got trapped, but we also had no access to the Smart Chemicals, which left us spending large parts of our days staring open-mouthed at blank walls and finding them, I must add here, much more interesting than they warranted. And so, when the door went and got itself unlocked I told my psychiatrist to just let it alone.
Staring at blank walls, especially when you have the constant and nagging urge to turn them to murals like the one in the Sistine Chapel, is no way to live a life.
The problem, of course, is that the Sad Chemicals got loose and have been wreaking a bit of havoc. It’s not necessarily that I’m ready to jump off a cliff, merely that life, both the up and down parts, are incredibly more intense than they would have been otherwise, and I’m having to hold on a good deal tighter to make sure the roller coaster doesn’t buck me off altogether.
And so I’ve been doing my best to struggle through this my next level of training, the part where they take away the net and force me to fly without it. It hasn’t been easy; I got my grades back yesterday – grades I nearly killed myself for, since I was in and out of the hospital – and they were C’s. The first two C’s of my college career. In grad school. My first reaction was to do things the old way and panic, to tell myself that any chance of teaching at Harvard has just gone out the window, that I’ve just lost the respect of the entire academic community, etc. etc. But when I stopped and reminded myself what I personally had had to do to get those C’s, they turned into Olympic gold medals. I could have run a triathlon, even with the headaches.
The point is, I am having to learn to live life differently. Every moment. And it isn’t easy. Especially since, because I am doing it out of a necessity very particular to my own mind, I’m having to do it very much by myself. It’s a baby step thing. But it occurs to me, even in my most difficult moments, that each of these baby steps doesn’t just teach me to be more compassionate toward myself, it teaches me to be a little more compassionate toward other people. If I want to be a fully empathetic person, I have to know what it feels like to be depressed and what it feels like to have a swollen neural membrane and what it feels like to get C’s. And then, because I’ve been blessed (and terribly, terribly cursed) with this need to write, I can put it on paper and reach even more people, and hopefully in the end it’ll all be a good thing.
I know there are a lot of people out there who love me and who would love to be able to help me. I know that there are also people out there who want to ‘fix’ me just because they like to fix things, and when they see me I kind of resemble the intoxicating temptation of a broken toaster. But I’m not broken. I’m just undergoing metamorphosis. What kind of butterfly I’ll be in the end is anyone’s guess. But at least I’m trying.