Things have changed. Not just the little things my doctor expected, like less stress, more calmness, better interactions and fewer fights in our family. Yes, these aspects of life are improving, but they’re not what I want to talk about today. The more surprising changes are the ones I didn’t expect, the big ones, the ones regarding those ever-present problems in life I thought were solid parts of me and my mental state.
Turns out, my brain has been tricking me for the past two and a half decades.
They told me the SSRI would take about three weeks to reach its full effect, and they were absolutely right. First of all, it took three weeks for the tinnitus to stop. Now the buzzing’s completely gone. And one or two of the chronic high-pitched components are gone, too. If this isn’t an advertisement for this drug, I don’t know what is.
On Thursday, I went to my psychologist with a list of all the changes I’ve noticed after these first three weeks. If I’m honest, their magnitude has shocked me. It’s not because I didn’t know that I was troubled, but rather because I hadn’t realized just how much and for how long. Trying to think back to the last time I was in my current state of mental calmness brought me back to my early childhood, and that’s certainly a shocking statement.
Just think about it: we’re talking about a whole lifetime of anxiety. Which is one thing, sure; but the most painful aspect of this is that I had no fuckin clue. I didn’t know this wasn’t normal—if anything in life can be said to be normal or abnormal—I had no idea I was living in a constant mist of anxiety which intruded into and corroded every joint holding the parts of my being together.
At my psychologist’s office, I took out my list and started enumerating all the changes I’m noticing.
“I can fall asleep,” I told her.
“Couldn’t you fall asleep before?” she asked.
Duh. Of course I couldn’t. Ask my parents: it started when I was eleven or whereabouts, and falling asleep has been a difficult business ever since.
“Is that not normal?” I asked her. She shook her head. Apparently, most people can fall asleep.
“I don’t binge eat anymore,” I continued.
She knew about the binge eating, of course. We’ve discussed it before. What she didn’t know was the disgust and self-loathing that goes with it, the unconquerable compulsion to ingest sugar in any form, the powerlessness to stop even when it makes you physically sick and you’re mortified at your own self-destructive urges. She didn’t know about the constant state of hatred toward your own body, the guilt at every bite—even at healthy bites, at the things you’re supposed to be eating; you shouldn’t be eating anything, after all, you’re fat, repulsive—and she didn’t know about the shame of eating in public, the constant, intrusive thoughts: are people looking at me? Do they know I’m a disgusting pig? Do they think I’m hideous? Do they see me as I see myself? And with that comes the dysphoria, the feeling of being trapped in a body you can’t accept, that nothing else matters, only what others see, and what they see is layers of fat, a revolting being who doesn’t deserve to be desired or to call herself a woman.
But three weeks of antidepressants, and the binge eating just… stopped. Poof! That was it. Twenty years of trying to manage my eating habits, of diets, attempts at mindfulness, at listening to my own body and heeding its needs—mindful eating is the goal, after all—and all it took was 21 pills. And, suddenly, the self-loathing has receded, it barely even registers. My body has its flaws, sure, but it’s mine, and it’s fine.
“I don’t hate my body anymore,” I told her.
“Why would you hate your body?” she asked.
Well, why not? Guys never liked me, and in today’s society, being desirable is pretty much the only widely acceptable measure of a woman’s worth. So, how could I like myself without any affirmation? Where I grew up you were ridiculed for gaining a couple pounds—and oh boy, did the pounds pile on when the binge eating started. In the society that shaped my subconscious, men are misogynist and cruel. Young me wasn’t liked by young men—and it wasn’t just my appearance, they didn’t like my character either—brash, aggressive, troubled, anxious, clingy, phobic, and intelligent and ambitious to boot; altogether too much work for those twenty-something-year-olds who preferred easy booty and had a disinclination to be challenged in any way that put their own perception of their masculinity in danger.
The psychologist let me ramble on about it for a while, then put down her papers and leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees. She looked at me with that expression people sometimes get when they think you’ve been greatly deceived and see it as their responsibility to set things straight. “You’re an attractive woman,” she said.
Well, sure, okay. But I’m also a practical person, quite obsessed with problem-solving, and, although her observation made me think about the possibility of her statement being true, it’s not like I’ll ever be able to really internalize it, to actually feel like an attractive woman.
Or will I?
This drug is making me not only see things differently, it’s making me approach things in an emotionally new way. Interestingly, it’s annoying, and my ego is suffering slightly because of it. I battled these problem for years, and now, 21 pills and they’re gone. Was my mind not strong enough? My willpower? My logic? I pride myself on my methodical brain. Why couldn’t I solve this for so long? God knows I tried my best.
“You wouldn’t blame a diabetic for taking insulin,” Tyler says. “They have a condition, and they need to take medication to survive. You have a chemical imbalance in your brain, and you take the medication to get better.” In short, I’m sick, he says. Contrary to what society sometimes tells people with mental health issues, this is definitely not my fault.
I asked my doctor if I could continue the medication for longer than the couple of months she had initially envisioned. I explained to her that this is not just a stressful phase, this has been my life for practically as long as I can remember. She said I don’t necessarily have to discontinue, and a huge weight was lifted off me. Sure, I might want to try to see if I can manage my stress without chemical help, but my doctor understands, my psychologist understands, my family understands, and my friends understand.
What’s more, I don’t think the antidepressants affect my ability to write.
So, Tyler is right. This is what I need, and I won’t beat myself up about not being able to solve everything with sheer willpower anymore.