Thomm Quackenbush, author

Feels Like Home | 2010 | In the Cards

10.25.10 10:14 a.m.

Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those, who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear, which is inherent in a human condition. .  

-Graham Greene

 


Here There Be Demons

Xen  
"Do... do you see him too?"

I am not broken, nor do I think taking St. John's Wort makes me so. However, ignoring the issues within me would leave me broken, would be accepting defeat rather than an herbal hand-up that could bring me closer to my clarity. My life is not perfect - even were it perfect, I would find some imperfection so I would have room in which to grow - but this is a way I can bridge a gap, can remediate this chemical deficit that flickers within me. This brings me to a place where do not flinch at social invitations, where I can feel nearly myself. Where I do not have to make rules to compensate for my inner scaffolding of neuroses. I don't feel my personality is any different, but relieved of walls, blasted through by a Kool-aid Man Ganesh.

Even mentioning the pill by name makes it seem silly. I am not swallowing some modern medical goblin, Ativan or Lamictal, tradenames designed for Satanic invocation more than prescription medication. I am taking an herb in a gel cap. I'm not saying this to minimize but to provide self-justification.

I got this stress, this pressure, this electric stickiness behind my eyes. I couldn't quite cope, I would feel inclined to catastrophize. It is hard to remember all of the occasions when it has occurred once I got out of my teens and stopped burdening everyone around me with it because I had internalized I am not how I feel in any one moment. It is like the stickiness gave me amnesia in fleeing from my brain. I know I didn't feel well, but I don't know the details. The pills, for whatever reason, have an effect.

I went to my parents house for pumpkin carving Friday and I had this gloom about me. Melanie called because she was going to head down to my apartment early, having forgotten the pumpkin carving plan. At first, she said she was going to stick around college unless I wanted her to come to my parents, whose pets she does not much like. I had trouble telling her to come to me, but finally popped it out.

Returning to their house, I decried to my parents the pill was not working. I had starting taking it at night because it made me feel a little fuzzy all day, like I was wrapped in a sheet of cotton wool. Melissa says this feeling was dissociation, but I remember the days clearly. I remember, if anything, being more articulate and cogent than I am inclined to be outside my head or a keyboard. I marked this a good side effect, that the pill didn't stop me from articulating myself. Within 15 minutes of decrying, I felt the stickiness leave all at once. When Melanie got to me, I was head over heels and more than able to engage with her in the frenzy of one of my family's social functions, loud sounds and irritable tots in profusion.

I will admit the trigger of late is Melanie (which is worlds different than her being the cause, as I hope is clear). She is going through a crisis of Ericksonian dimensions on top of shouldering a courseload that would give Atlas a neck ache. These additional stressors have colored some of her interactions with me, and I slipped into the muck helping her out. She is one of the most important people I know, someone with whom I imagine a future, and I tend to take her moods as gospel (even as I refuse to accept mine as anything more than tabloids).

The pill does not adversely impact my writing either. Even the smallest decline in capacity or inclination would have banished the pills from my medicine cabinet forever. If anything, the pill brushes away some of the hesitancy to put fingers to keys or stylus to screen (neither of which has the romance of "pen to paper", but there is no use pretending my process is anything but computerized), the feeling I am not worth your attention.

The pill rubs as with an eraser at my fear, my tendency to bite off a painful truth with a lame joke. Or, perhaps, it just makes me aware of the lameness and the truth behind my intentions. It may sound as though I have acquired an extra wall behind which to keep hidden, but I am more inclined to polevault over them and speak my mind because I don't assume everyone is secretly weaponized.

When this feeling most recently surfaced, when I decided self-talk wasn't tool enough for the job, I sat at my apartment, glaring at the walls and wishing I could talk to someone. I was quite aware I had a phone one foot away from me, which made the situation worse, because I did not feel I could divulge myself to anyone. I didn't trust anyone well enough to give my pain to them, except for Melanie who I do not wish to burden any more than I must. I worried how my calls would change me in their eyes, whether they would gunneysack my vulnerability for use at a future date. This paranoia was my issue, not theirs, but this awareness did not change how I behaved then.

The demons are clever, because they assure me I shouldn't call anyone I know when I am having problems, that I will be a burden. I know people say this is what friends are for but I felt almost politically minded. I can't imagine confession if I am not tracing ten steps ahead, figuring out how saying this is going to get me what I want. It is a form of manipulation, but my demons want me to see all conversations are chess matches. I can't reveal myself to someone without imagining their motivation, their endgame. For fear of saying the wrong thing, I say nothing at all. As such, my tension is pent up without an outlet. I know some people think I am a dullard and I let them, because it is easier to be underestimated. I can't help but feel like a cliche, the writer who secludes himself and then wonders where everyone has gone. But I guess cliches exist because they happen from time to time.

I don't think I'm mentally ill, any more than most of society. I am just a bit more open with my crazy. The taint of mental illness is persistent and pejorative. One does not despise a stranger for having had chicken pox or breaking an ankle, but society perceives a psychoemotional cold as incurable because the mind is still marked on maps as "Here There Be Dragons". One can never be healed according to the world at large, just in a fragile remission.

I know the direst side effects of this pill is increased ideation of suicide. I'm too invested in the story of my life to have the final page read "and then he stabbed himself in the forehead with a kitchen knife." I don't buy into the conceit that artists need some Prozac to be functional human beings, even as it kills their creativity. I donít think the pill makes me other than I am. It just removes the negative feedback: feeling bad, then feeling bad I feel bad, then feeling bad I feel bad I feel bad.

For all I know, I am experiencing the placebo effect. One of the problems of someone like me is I overanazlyze everything, so I would be delighted were it a placebo because I would not need the pill to maintain the baseline. However, according to my research, St. John's Wort is more effective than a placebo in a quantifiable way.

I do not want to sound as though I am giving myself over the the belief that this one pill changes things, especially given the low wattage. It makes the demons a little more transparent, though. It makes me more willing to get off my sofa. I'm not a giant advocate of psychopharmacology, feeling it is often used in lieu of confronting the underlying issues. However, I know people who rely on the medication prescribed to them by doctors for emotional survival. I do not believe I will need this pill much longer, just when I can, with more authority, tell the demons to shut the hell up.

Soon in Xenology: Maybe a job, Halloween.

last watched: Fast Times at Ridgemont High
reading: 1984
listening: Yann Tiersen

Feels Like Home | 2010 | In the Cards

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.



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