13. Getting flatter

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I’ve been taking the antidepressants for a week now, and the one thing I can tell you with some degree of certainty is that my inside is getting flatter. The waves of moodiness are smaller, the turbulence is receding, things are assuming their appropriate proportions, or at least what I assume to be appropriate proportions. People don’t freak out about random aches and don’t hyperventilate when someone raises their voice, after all, so I’m just going to go ahead and claim that the medicine is already working.

When you’ve lived in a state of constant inner turmoil for a few years, reaching a state of relative mental calmness can feel like a wasteland where emotions go to die. It makes sense: when all you’ve experienced are untameable passions, deep anguish, great exhilaration, to stop being whipped about by internal forces can feel like you’re losing a part of yourself. What to others is a meaningful emotion, to you is just a gentle hint. You start to wonder: do you love your spouse enough, are you committed enough to your relationship, are you a good enough mother if you’re not terrified about the dangers your children face on a daily basis?

Renormalizing your inner self is quite a process. And I’m not talking about the past few days—I don’t have enough experience with antidepressants yet, and the doctors say their full effect will be felt in another one or two weeks. I’m talking of what you’re left with after years of taming your brain’s quirks, what remains after you’ve become more capable of dealing with everyday stimuli, and I think I’m getting an enhanced version of this with the antidepressants. Yes, life becomes more bearable, and not everything you experience challenges you to the extreme, but you might also feel like you’ve become less of yourself. And that doesn’t really matter, as long as you’re happier, calmer, able to finally sleep at night, able to function like “normal” humans around you seem to function, almost effortlessly. Actually, having a more even mental background—I’m coming to discover—is such a blessing: day by day, I’m becoming more stable in my reactions and more capable of dealing with small disturbances. Man, the drugs do help.

But what about art? The tortured artist is a well-known stereotype: can you truly create good, moving art if you’re not suffering, if you’re not constantly processing layers of deep emotion that color your life experience? For my kind of writing, the writing that’s meant to put you in a character’s shoes, make you feel their agony, shake you and take you as far out of your comfort zone as possible, not being able to feel—or translate the emotion to words—is a big impediment. What will become of my ability to write, then, if the medication balances my mental state?

It’s true that, sometimes, the anguish of the moment transforms itself into words that serve to ease my mind—On a night like this is a good example, as well as the poetry I wrote as a teenager—but I think for a novel it’s enough to be able to relate to those emotions, to access them in your memory, or to extrapolate from what you’ve already experienced. I’m not absolutely sure about that since I haven’t been able to write much—except blog posts, obviously—since this adventure started, but it seems plausible, right?

In any case, the fact remains: I’ve never felt so balanced before in my entire adult life, if not longer. I asked a friend the other day, “how did I not know I’ve been anxious all this time?” and she answered, “because you’ve been anxious all this time.” It makes sense: I trained myself to a different baseline, and now that baseline is changing.

Yesterday, I tried to write a paragraph in the book I’m currently writing, just to see if I could. Dimitra—always my first beta reader—said it was fine, it was Nora-worthy. In this, as in nearly everything else, I suppose I’ll just trust her judgement.

11. Panic Attack Thursday

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When I was growing up, Thursday was spaghetti with meat sauce day (or Spaghetti Bolognese, as the Germans would say it, or makarónia mé kimá, as we Greeks call it, or ragù, as my Italian buddies insisted we call it, back when we were studying in Heidelberg).

Um. Where was I? Thursday traditions. It seems that a new one is currently in the process of being established: Panic Attack Thursday. I have to say, I don’t like that one at all.

The thing is, my fifteen-year-old hypochondria raised its ugly head. It knocks on the door sometimes—mostly during periods of stress—but the past months have been especially hard. A ballet muscle injury that’s apparently healed but still causes me pain, compounded by a second injury that an MRI couldn’t find a physical trace of, has me nearly immobilized for months. I mean, I walk around, sure, but it hurts. It always hurts. Then an idiot doctor (whom I’m never going to visit again) threw around the word “degenerative,” and now every little sting of pain in my other leg—the good one—has me thinking that no, this is not just an injury, and yes, I have some horrible degenerative disease, and I’ll be in a wheelchair soon, for whatever little time I have left before I die in pain from not being able to breathe as my muscles stop working.

Side note #1: My leg muscles are fine. I just did thirty-two squats, just to establish functionality, and I didn’t even break a sweat. Can somebody inform my fucked-up right hemisphere?

Anyway. Yup, that’s a panic attack for you.

So, Thursday evening. As these thoughts started spiraling in their well-known, intrusive way, I recognized them for what they were early enough to call for Urban to bring me the Lorazepam. I took one and had him stay there with me in bed and stroke me for a while. What a dream of a husband, you’ll think, and you’ll be right.

After a while, and as I was getting cold and my muscles were starting to shake, he remembered something: “You know that panic attacks are in the side-effects of the anti-depressant, right? And so are muscle pains.”

This didn’t really soothe me, but I asked him to bring the insert and read me the side-effects. “Are you sure it’s a good idea?” he asked, but I told him that yes, it’s a good idea, at least I can ascribe pretty much everything I’m feeling to the drug, and that will definitely make me feel better. So, he brought the list and started reading.

We giggled at “sleepiness-insomnia,” and by the time he reached “painful erection,” both of us were laughing at the insane range of symptoms—many of which are “often,” not even “occasional” or “rare.” It dawned on me that, for a drug with so numerous side-effects to be so successful, what the drug is treating must be way worse, and then I contemplated how debilitating anxiety and depression are—so debilitating, in fact, that you’d rather have painful erections, vertigo, muscle aches and constipation than deal with your own brain attacking you.

Yeah, human beings are fucked up.

Anyway, I’m still not sure that I don’t have some horrible degenerative disease, but I’ll just allow my brain to be illogical for a while longer. Sometimes, these things take care of themselves. Hey, I made it to thirty-eight, while battling phobias, depression, and a faulty personality. It’s not a small success.

Of course, another huge problem presented itself when I woke up on Friday: what the fuck do I have for breakfast?

I was too tired of this shit, so I just had a cappuccino and didn’t have breakfast at all. I mean, if I emerge from this a couple kilos lighter, it certainly won’t be a tragedy.