(See Part 1 here.)
Beyond this, of equal concern to me was my dullness of mind. My thinking had become fogged and I sometimes found it hard to come up with the right word. This had never been a problem for me and it was alarming. I possessed enough nimbleness of diction to slip my way around these awkward jarring moments in conversation and leave the impression that I was in command of articulate speaking. Yet this shadow of dullness . . . (what is the verb I’m looking for? . . . strikes? ). . . This shadow of dullness strikes fear into me.
At the time of my first attempt to get off the meds, I had recently relocated to another state in a town far from my sons, but near where my sister and brother lived, and I was looking for work. Since my “field” was writing and editing, thus demanding mental precision, I carried the hidden fear that I would not be able to do the job I might be applying for. “Must be able to perform multiple tasks in a high-pressured environment.” (Pass.)
One instant I possessed a lucid thought and in the next instant it was gone. What was I saying? What was I about to do? I looked up the symptoms for early-onset Alzheimers and was consoled to discover that, foggy though I had become, I did not have moments of forgetting where I was or keeping track of the date. Those faculties were still intact.
I had read a line from the great writer G.K. Chesterton which caused me to pause: “The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in.” Reading this, it struck me that this is what I had lost. Somewhere along the way this sense expansion had shriveled and the spark of imagination that desires exaltation had gone out. The more I pondered this, the more I became increasingly convinced that the brain medication had affected a deteriorating mental lethargy. I began to look into it, and, as light breaks through a cloud, came to see that it is quite common in SSRI patients that the spark of imagination disappears and the “desire for expansion” evaporates when taking these medications. The dullness afflicted me and “the poetic expansion” of the intangible self that Chesterton referred to had deflated. I could cobble together little bits of fleeting insights about some issue now and then but felt incapable of capturing a grand theme or sustaining a meaningful narrative about anything. The SSRI brain desires nothing; it doesn’t exalt and it doesn’t expand. It deflates and is washed about in an aimless sea that it can neither see nor appreciate. I am a writer and my vocation requires that I write. Taking SSRIs had overthrown all that was poetic in me, and writing is hard enough without your creative faculties being chemically sabotaged.
My medication had dulled my mind and had eviscerated my creativity and extinguished the eye for the story that for so long had defined my professional life. My only prayer was that I would regain clarity of mind. I wanted words back. This propelled me to conclude that the medication was working against me now. It was time to stop.
This was the point at which I took it upon myself to begin tapering by cutting my tablets in half at an accelerated rate. This was the 40mg-to-20mg-to-10mg-to-5mg-to- 2.5mg-over-six-weeks regimen that ultimately led to that moment coming down the stairs when I decided to take my destiny into my own hands and end it.
Because I was living far from my sons and their wives and did not have financial resources to travel to visit them, this compromised my frame of mind and preyed upon my emotions. I should have considered this point of vulnerability before tapering but, as I would learn, I had no idea what I was getting into. Then one day, as if being hit by a train, I woke up feeling catastrophically hopeless. I felt trapped inside a cage with its walls closing in on me — moving walls, with spike-like-teeth — moving inch by inch closing in on me. I saw no escape. I saw only a “poof” — a disappearance, the only deliverance from these contracting walls. This is the only way to describe what I felt. I drew it in my journal. I left an anonymous prayer request at the YMCA where I would go to work out. (In this town, the YMCA had a “Prayer Request” box outside their walking track.) There, even as I walked doggedly miles and miles around a track, I dropped a note into the box asking for prayer for my “catastrophic depression” and the grief I felt at the loss of my family. I blamed myself for the ruination of my life. I saw no way out of the sorrow, ever.
This episode lasted for a few days and it shocked me.