Sex and the Ivy

There Has To Be A Better Way

Filed under: Depression, Drinking, Health, Mental Health — Elle December 15, 2006 @ 3:55 am

New rule: No alcohol, period. Rita, the UHS psychiatrist in charge of deciding my fate (well, my prescription), was not pleased with my weekend visit to Stillman. “How can we accurately assess your condition if you’re using mood-altering substances?”

I didn’t have a good answer for her. “It was the only way I thought I could get through the night,” I explained. She told me I needed better ways to cope. I didn’t disagree but it’s not like she had a better suggestion for working through it.

Rita told me two weeks ago that I should limit myself to “one weak drink” per night. This time, she means it. This time, I need to take her seriously. No one seems to be able to pinpoint exactly what I am, and it’s crucial that I don’t fuck up a diagnosis with substance abuse. After I have a session with my therapist Sarah tomorrow morning, the two are going to “powwow” (actual quote) and determine if I should be a) medicated or b) institutionalized. Hopefully, I escape unscathed and without a recommendation for a dosage of anything but love.

Initially when I started therapy, all I really wanted was a prescription, a quick fix that would keep me productive, prevent me from slipping during all the wrong times. But now? Pills are the last thing I want. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being on medications; I’d do it in a second if I really believed I needed it. But I’m not so certain anymore. Sure, there are days when I can feel myself losing it, but I almost always recover so I can’t tell if I’m battling depression or angst. Sure, I can be happy without reason at one instance and completely wind down the next, but does that make me bipolar? My symptoms are so imprecise that I bristled at Rita’s suggestion that I begin taking a low dosage of antidepressants. Even she can’t say conclusively what it is I am. And further, I don’t know how these things are prescribed — at the request of the patient or the judgment of the doctor? How much does my own desire for medication influence her decision to give it to me?

“The thing is, I’m a writer,” I told her. And immediately, she understood. Beyond the qualms I have about my vague diagnosis, I’m scared that the pills needed to dull the aches of my heart will be dulling my creativity as well. Sometimes, I feel desperate enough that I’d throw in the towel when it comes to writing if it means getting through another day. It shouldn’t be like that. There has to be a better way. I asked Rita why it was so hard to stay okay, why the normality that other people took for granted was something I had to fight for on a daily basis. To others, it seems like I’m doing just fine but I’m really treading water, barely keeping above the surface, and constantly scared of sinking. This isn’t fair. It shouldn’t be this hard. I’m not even asking to be happy; I just don’t want to be sad.

Today at Urban Outfitters, I bought one of these memo pads (displayed below). Part of cognitive behaviorial therapy involves changing the way I interpret situations. But I ditched the UHS-xeroxed mood charts Sarah gave me after just two days. Following a terrible Harvard-Yale Game (which I left after a mere 20 minutes), I filled out the chart for the first time and immediately decided it was stupid. I don’t have any desire to rationalize my radical thoughts or to create more balanced interpretations of events. I’d much rather talk about how shitty I feel all the time and this kitschy notepad lets me do just that. I know, I know - -I’m self-defeating. But I can’t help the fact that I would sometimes much rather wallow in this sorrow than really work on getting better. The effort seems futile, because I simply don’t know what it’s like to be just normal. Of everything I’ve experienced in life, “normal” has been last on the list.

20 Responses to “There Has To Be A Better Way”

  1. nyle Says:

    think happy, my dear.

  2. jeane Says:

    that memo pad is awesome. i want one now!

    for me, my doctor suggested i go on medication. the dosage was pretty light, considering how i’m only depressed. the first few weeks seriously made me numb to just about anything, and i my mood fluctuated when i didn’t take them regularly. however, i’ve stopped taking them now and i feel better. so much better.

    i feel ya on this post.

  3. sam Says:

    i’ve been reading your blog for a couple weeks now, and feel like i can totally relate to a lot of what you say. email me sometime if you like, i’d be interested in getting to know you. and if ever i have time, i might be able to provide that site redesign you’re looking for.

  4. Real Truther Says:

    The thing about medication is you have no idea which one or how much until you try. Everyone has unique chemistry and doctors are usually just going with the probability that what has worked for people with similar symptoms to yours will also work for you.

    Meds that work do NOT make you numb to everything–if that is happening then it’s not right for you. When you find the right type and dosage, you will notice a big change, mostly in a much less swingy mood pendulum. At first it may take some getting used to the lack of extreme lows and highs, but over time you’ll notice that you are more able to cope with just about anything.

    Also, the destruction of creativity by meds is a bit of a myth. Writing, at least, does not seem to suffer. In fact, I’ve found that the change in perspective (from mood swingy to mood stiffy) provides insights that feed the creative process.

    There are few things worse than wasting precious time feeling like crap for no apparent reason, and while you can always choose to get off meds and go back to the romantic highs and lows, you owe it to yourself to see what it’s like to sail through life for a while on an even keel.

  5. Frances Says:

    I’m no psychiatrist or anything, but I think you diagnosed yourself much better than any of these talking heads that you’ve visited has: you’re a writer. You’re supposed to suffer.

    Personally, I’m afraid these people will put you on Zoloft in order to give the pharmaceutical companies even more money without thinking of the damage they will do to you as an artist. Think back in history to how many writers were put in insane asylums or given medication or anything like that just because they were a certain type of creative person. I disagree with the post above- no good art every came about from happy people. Seriously, every genius writer was fucked up in the head. So you have to make a decision: is your art worth your happiness?

  6. Real Truther Says:

    Picasso was a happy guy.

  7. M Says:

    What a bunch of bs (in reference to Frances’ comment). You can’t be happy and artistic/creative at the same time? That’s a disturbing and depressing thought in and of itself. I do think we are overmedicated as a society (the whole “Prozac Nation” problem) but for some people, it really does help. And Zoloft or Paxil or the like are a far cry from, say, lithium. If you have the right doctor and you decide together that medication is the right course of action, you will end up playing around with different drugs and different dosages until you find what works for you. It won’t numb you, but help you to cope with what life throws your way without feeling the neccesity of numbness. I’m not anti-partying but I don’t think everything (or anything, really) in life is compartmentalized. Just like things don’t need to be one extreme or the other. There is a happy medium; for example, there exists quite a large gray area between one weak drink and black-out drunkenness requiring a trip to the emergency room. It’s all about balance, however elusive it may be.

  8. Ilyana Says:

    Hey mama, I suffer from the same affliction,lol.

    Writing is probably the best therapy you can get….. I tred zoloft a long time ago, like freshman year of college. It makes you more indifferent to things, but who wants to be indifferent!!! Emotions can be a pain the ass, but diluting them is almost worse:(

    But enough about that, do what I do. Buy shoes!!!

  9. Infornographer Says:

    It is a dilemma. The pills affect your writing only because they affect your emotions. The catharsis doesn’t happen for some reason when the pulse is this slow.

    Then again, when you’re on them for awhile and starting to feel reasonable, going off them leaves you intolerably vulnerable and self-conscious. And feeling vulnerable can lead to more self-destructive behavior.

    I guess what I’m saying is that it’s a big decision that you can’t easily turn back on.

    …all of this is from personal experience.

  10. ben Says:

    my god, you said that banner would be temporary or “limited edition”. it’s been up waaay too long.

  11. Real Truther Says:

    fuckin A, thanks M. this stuff is way too serious for peopole to be dispensing bullshit advice on. LOOK you can always get off meds and be back to your same old self. right now, your brain is ettling into a fucked up chemical chaos that either does or doesn’t work for you. you can feel like shit or do something about it so that you don’t. that’s not to say that your life and (especially) the world ain’t more fucked up than anyone should have toi deal with especialy someone sensitive enough like an artist to know things are fucked up. but honestly? do you want to die of consumption at 35 like those super genius artists> naw. see what the other half lives like and then decide. this from a form er uber depressive harvard undergrad. fuck it elle, do your own thing and live with it, if you can/want to.

    some of us have managed for over ten years out of the hole.

  12. MWR Says:

    I think you are lucky, because to me your willingness to explore whether your own brain chemistry may be a source of your “discontent” suggests that either (a) it is not, or (b) you have caught the problem pretty early. In my experience it can be a characteristic of problems arising from brain chemistry that the sufferers are either unaware of them or or are most unwilling to submit themselves to medical evaluation and treatment. The downside of (a) is that there won’t be a pill, but these organic illnesses are nothing you would wish for.

    You write that “[t]o others, it seems like I’m doing just fine but I’m really treading water, barely keeping above the surface, and constantly scared of sinking.” I found there are few things worse for self-esteem than the feeling of leading a double life, believing that you are fundamentally not the person you show the world, believing that you are pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes (and they are too dense, preoccupied or self-focused to realize it or care). Choose your buzz-word: cognitive dissonance, alienation, etc. At the worst, in this state, you can be actively concealing yourself from others and shutting out those closest to you, at once thinking “if you people had any idea” and despairing that even close friends and family can’t see how much you are suffering behind the mask you erect for them. It’s pathological, of course, misleading people about how it really is for you and then feeling alienated when they indeed fail to see how it is. It can feel like you are the only one who has ever been in your state, even as you know intellectually that that can’t be true. Blogging helps, surely, but the blog persona is just a character. My guess is there are all kinds of things you don’t write about. There is a lot to be said for what you already probably are doing at UHS or BSC, telling everything to someone whose actual job it is to listen. It took me years to fully understand the difference between privacy and having debilitating secrets, and to realize that I would not actually die if I told someone some awful secret. And that my good friends would remain good friends even after learning awful truths. As I think I did in some earlier comment here, I usually express this lesson as “People care both more and less about you than you imagine.”

  13. AMZB Says:

    The mood pad is fantastic. I need one.

    I’ve been thinking recently about abusing alcohol to avoid dealing with my problems. Do you recommend it? I’m looking to expand my repertoire of bad coping mechanisms. I’d value any insight you have into this one’s advantages and disadvantages.

  14. Mrs. Colleen Van Ken Says:

    Dear Ms. Chen,
    Yes, indeed, there are “better ways” of treating depression than taking selective seratonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs like Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro). Depression is not a disease that has to be treated with a pill. Depression is a human response to environmental factors. Small modifications to your environment can have significant effects at alleviating your depression. The trouble with the post-menopausal old ladies who work at UHS Mental Health is that they are legally obligated to suggest SSRIs, but SSRIs are not the only way to resolve your problem. Nor is a mood journal. Here are a few suggestions:

    1) Exercise. Doing anything that gets your blood flowing can help (yes, even sex), especially cardiovascular exercise. Even if for only 20 minutes a day, exercise can really improve your mood and reduce anxiety and your stress response. We aren’t designed to sit in front of a computer all day. There are several credible scientific studies that support this.

    2) Eat right. Make sure you are getting a balanced diet with all the nutrients that your body needs. You could even try taking flax seed oil for the Omega-3s. Try to minimize your intake of really sweet things like high-fructose corn syrup or table sugar, for they can have a significant effect on your mood.

    3) Get some sun. Especially during the bleak Cambridge winter, it is important for your body to be exposed to sunlight. Some people are prone to Seasonal Affective Depressive Disorder (SADD), and this can be cured with light therapy.

    4) Don’t be introspective. Do things to get your mind away from your own problems. Try volunteering (there is always someone worse of than you) or some random hobby like baking cookies or stamp collecting. Also, some might argue that talk therapy doesn’t really help you break out of depression because it just reinforces self-defeating introspection. Stop thinking about yourself so much if you want to be happy.

    5) Listen to upbeat music. Depressing music can make you feel depressed. Sure Radiohead and Sigor Ros can make you feel “happy being sad”, but you’ll probably be less depressed if you listen to music that makes you smile.

    6) Avoid depressed people. Sure the parties at the Advocate that your emo friend takes you to are really hot, but depressed people tend to pull you down with them. Positive people tend to cheer you up.

    7) Great suffering is not great. David Sedaris’ quote, “And because her pain was significant, she wrongly insisted that her writing was significant as well,” really sums this one up. Sure Elizabeth Wurtzel and Sylvia Plath provide for some great entertainment, but please please please do not aspire to _be_ them.

    Faithfully yours,

    Mrs. Colleen Van Ken

  15. Real Truther Says:

    Don’t be introspective–I love that one! Depression is a human response to environmental factors, eh? Well newsflash–so is cancer! Or migraines for that matter. Get migraines? Just try not to get them, and surround yourself with people who don’t get migraines–people with headaches are always complaining and that give you headaches.

    While there is certainly a point to be made that there are many factors that can contribute to depression that can be handled without meds, and though the pharmaceutical industry is absolutely corrupt and meds too often prescribed, there is no reason to dismiss meds out of hand as the previous poster does.

  16. Ilyana Says:

    I”m co-signing Real Truther,lol.

    Depression is a disease, a REAL disease, and though environmental factors can exacerbate the symptoms or mitigate them, they do not cure it. I can fall into depression VERY easily, but I can also be happy quite easily. I have no buffer to my emotions. My skin is more like guaze, it soaks everything in.

    With that said, I TRULY believe this is quite common among creative people, especially writers, many of whom drink alot,lol. It’s definitely something to be managed, but a good sense of humor ( and I am sorry if someone thought my reference to buying shoes as a cure was trite) is important more important than anything. And shoe shopping has ALWAYS made me feel better, and I have a feeling you love your shoes like I do.

    Again, with that said, we often write not looking for advice, but validation, and as an outlet. So, forget everything we all say here, and just try to get through one day at a time, some of which will Rock, and some will seriously suck ass.


  17. Dave Goodman Says:

    I have a close family relation suffering from attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. He has been helped greatly by neural bio-feedback, a process of retraining the brain (damping down the brain’s need to be over stimulated all the time) by treating electrical impulses. Unfortunately, this therapy is very expensive and out of reach for many people without financial assistance. Good luck…

  18. Anonymous Harvardian Says:


    I also see Sarah at UHS(she’s great!).

    I’m bipolar, and here’s my experience with medication:
    I was on Zoloft for over a year. It made me feel very numb, dulled my sex drive and actually made my mood swings worse. I didn’t do much about it, because I thought it would eventually make me better, or that taking something was better than nothing.

    Now I’m on Lamictal (1.5mg a day), which is actually targeted at bipolar symptoms (it works as a mood stabilizer), and it has really made a difference. Basically, I just feel more able to handle overwhelming or stressful things. I don’t feel radically different, the way I did on Zoloft. It also hasn’t had any noticable side effects.

    I am a writer too, and I don’t feel like my ability to write has been compromised, although that was something I worried about initially. In fact, I feel like I spend less time mindlessly procrastinating than I used to, and my grades have improved significantly.
    I also used to cut myself (sometimes quite badly), but I haven’t cut in almost 2 months, which is the longest I’ve gone since I was 15.

    I know that people say medication is not for everyone, but it *definitely* does work for some of us, and I wouldn’t discount it as a possibility.

    What’s important is that you communicate with your prescriber, especially in the first two months of taking a medication, and if something doesn’t seem to be helping, tell her right away. There are more options out there than you think, but it can take time to find something that works for you.

    Hang in there and best of luck.

  19. Anonymous Harvardian II Says:

    Don’t take this the wrong way. I really love you the way you are. I love you so much I don’t have the balls to say this with my real name at the bottom by comment.

    Prefaced with that, still this isn’t meant to be a judgement, just a suggestion.

    Have you considered you may have Histrionic Personality Disorder? something to think about that is often overlooked quite often.

    Oh, and Anonymous Harvardian (not the same person)…. that was really brave of you to admit that. Harvardians are not fucking robots. People need to stop pretending their perfect and just understand that everybody is severely fucked up in the head equally.

  20. Mr. Beer Belly Says:

    I’ve never met a nympho before. :(

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