I was a sickly child. When I was 18 months old, I had spinal meningitis. It damn near killed me.
I was in a coma for weeks, and my heart stopped beating for a while and when it was all said and done, I was alive but had seizures and some brain damage and a neurologist that would be a part of my life for the next 15 years.
I had to learn to walk and talk again (some people say I have been making up for lost time on the talking ever since) and had periodic EEG’s to check brain function and medicine – oh yeah, the medicines.
There were medicines to prevent the seizures and medicines to calm my brain and medicines to help me with the headaches caused by the other medicines. I grew up like that, so it didn’t seem weird to me. It was just a thing I did. Other kids had sisters or played basketball – I took medicine.
I was a really small kid for my age, but dad was short and mom was short and so that all seemed natural, but I hated it. I wanted to be tall, and strong. When I was 13 and had my first normal EEG ever and I came off the meds, I shot up six inches in 18 months. You could almost hear me growing. I heard Mom talking about it to a neighbor at church, and her theory that the medicines had held back my growth.
“Just imagine how big he would have been if he never took them,” the neighbor said.
It’s funny how you can hear a thing and it hardwires your brain. The meds did this to me – the meds were why I had been scrawny. I hated the meds. Meds are bad. The meds broke me.
I was still on meds for my ADHD, and I didn’t like how they made me feel. I don’t know how to describe to you what it feels like, taking meds that slow your brain down so you can sit still in a class room, so you can pay attention when your girlfriend wants to talk to you, so you can sit in a cubicle and make money for the man.
The closest I can come to describing it is to say it feels like molasses. Like you live in molasses.
So I talked to mom and told her all of this. She was already pissed at the neurologist because of the growth thing, so I came off the ADHD meds.
And I was free.
My grades dropped, but not precariously. I developed coping mechanisms, and read books and figured out how to live around my different brain. Mostly it worked. It helped I was smarter than some folks, and it helped that I had good communication skills and could argue my case, and it no doubt helped that I was white and male and likeable, and so the white teachers wanted to help me.
So I survived.
* * *
“Hugh is a moody child.”
That is what my teacher told mom in the parent-teacher meeting, while I sat in the chair next to mom and ostensibly read a book I had brought with me.
She was right. I was a moody child. I had serious mood swings that would last for days. One of the reasons I came to love reading was it was a socially acceptable way to not talk to people when I was in a dark place.
I confused my parents. My family does stuff – dad would spend his spare time building things or working on cars or so on, and mom would work in the garden, and me? I would be right there with them, unless I was in one of my moods, and then I would lay on the couch and not move. Mom said it was like I was either on or I was off.
I was neither – I was a depressed kid who had ADHD.
The diagnosis wouldn’t happen for another 12 years or so, when I was trying to figure out how to survive after my marriage ended, but in retrospect I see it everywhere.
I remember reading Conan-Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, and reading Doctor Watson’s description of Holmes, and his black moods where he would lay on the couch for days, and thinking, “That’s me. That is exactly me. “
When I was sixteen, the black mood caught me and damn near killed me, but it didn’t. I began to develop coping mechanisms. I would learn when the moods were coming on and develop strategies to deal with them. I would shift into what I came to call “maintenance mode”, where I did the least amount humanly possible to survive, knowing I would slide back into “normal mode” eventually and pick up the pieces. I took jobs that let me create my own schedule, so when the black days would come I wouldn’t get fired.
So I survived.
* * *
The black periods were usually short-lived. Sometimes as short as an afternoon, and sometimes as long as a week or two. When I went through my divorce, it lasted a couple of months, which is what drove me to therapy for the first time, and a diagnosis and medications and all of that.
But the stories we hear as children are always part of us, and all I could think about is how medicines broke me as a child, made me less than I was capable of being, stunted my growth and limited my potential. And they still made me feel like I was in molasses. So when I got past the crisis, I convinced my doctor to ween me off the meds, and once again, I was free.
In April of this year, the shit hit the fan. I got very publicly betrayed by some people I trusted, and people had to choose sides. People I was convinced were my friends didn’t choose mine. I no longer knew who my friends were, who I could trust. Not only did I lose friends, it looked like I might lose the work I had spent ten years building.
It was dark as hell. People were worried about me. Renee had a list of people to call if I looked like I might hurt myself. I sat on the couch for long periods, unable to move. I would start sobbing while driving down the street, for no apparent reason.
I slipped into maintenance mode. And I haven’t come out for five months.
Depression doesn’t look like you think it would. Depressed people laugh, sometimes, and depressed people go to work, sometimes, and depressed people still write and build things, sometimes. But mostly, you just watch the things you love go away.
I was convinced it was temporary. It’s situational, I would tell myself and others. It’s like when you break up with someone – I will bounce back. I always do. And I kept waiting.
A few weeks ago, I suddenly became afraid that this time, I wouldn’t. I was afraid my inability to act would cost me my job, and cost Renee and I our dreams and cost my community their place to be and my employees their jobs. You can only be in maintenance mode for so long.
So I called my doctor, who reminded me that I hadn’t had a physical since 2011, and who told me to get my ass in there. Yesterday, I went to the doctor and he poked and prodded and I suffered various bodily indignities and when it was all said and done, he prescribed me a white pill I take twice a day now, as of this morning.
I wish I didn’t have to take meds. The little kid in me is convinced they will stunt my growth, or slow me down or somehow break me. I am really afraid of feeling like I am in molasses. I am afraid of being dependent on this little white pill to function. I am afraid of losing my independence. If I am honest, I am afraid of losing my creativity.
But goddammit, I also want to survive.