darkling days

I originally wrote this after a late night epiphany in Hanoi. You know, like when Saul on the road from Antioch to Damascus heard a disembodied voice and fell off his horse with scales over his eyes. Now, I won’t pretend I had better hallucinations. Saul had some serious face-melting going on. But the glass veil did lift, and my life up to now was revealed to be a shallow fable. Imagine it in Vietnamese, as I outline to my mother my gross mental defects and why she really shouldn’t be pushing for grandkids.

“Chapter the first, in which our hero lives a morality play of unrealistic expectations, self-hatred, and misguided ambition, all ending in psychotic depression.” The moral of this particular fable is that you should not look to others for your success or self-worth. I found it really hard to lead a stable, satisfying life because I kept comparing myself to everyone I met and thrashed around trying to be someone I’m not.

This seemed like a pretty plausible revelation, yeah? Nobody was taking, though, the weight in my head still pinned me to the pillow every morning. After that, it would turn into a bargaining chip. I would schedule an epiphany after breakfast and then peer around to see if some invisible 3-in-1 male Christian God was ready to reward my enlightenment. Maybe He felt the simultaneous use of meds was cheating, or it was demeaning to concede the assist to Pfizer.

Drug addictions have never been my problem, but sertraline (what the kids call Zoloft) comes close. I tried to stop cold turkey in Saigon, and at first the waves of incipient vertigo were fun and trippy. Then I started to get lost, and needed to lie down, and thought I was going to black out. It is an awful hallucinogen, because I had to ramp up over 4 weeks to get any interesting anxiety attacks. Then I had to keep fiddling with the dose, because I only felt the derivatives of the serotonin, not the actual amounts. I’m down from 150 mg to 12.5 mg, which is basically me biting off an eighth of a tablet. The accounts on Erowid are not encouraging, especially the person who said that it lessened his enjoyment of black metal and that he trusted ecstasy more. Really, when you have to stop listening to Ulver, the cure is worse than the disease.

Buproprion (Wellbutrin) counteracted the lethargy about 5 days after 75 mg a day, and after that upping to 150 mg daily just made me feel jittery and nervous. Imagine amphetamines, but not being to think straight, and with lethargy returning quickly. This may be due to interactions with the sertaline, so once I’m off that bitter pill, I might try buproprion by itself, just to scare you guys away from self-medication for the mentally ill.

All things considered, taking drugs for depression without finding causes is like stabbing yourself in the side and bandaging over the knife. If you or someone close to you is depressed, I would recommend Productive and Unproductive Depression by Emmy Gut. She describes depression as the body’s mental immune response with well-defined evolutionary purposes, along with ways that one can help or hinder the necessary work of depression. The more popular Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon is a well-written and entertaining account of depression in other cultures and disciplines, but it’s not particularly helpful if you want to get better. Best solution of all is the Tao Te Ching by Lao-Tse, with the Project Gutenberg translation by James Legge, and playing lots of go. I won’t link to the new Stephen Mitchell version, because I don’t want to endorse it. It is needlessly modernized, he doesn’t even read Mandarin, and he changed wives in between the first and second editions.

And if you’re already sane and happy and don’t even think goths are that hot anyway, good for you, let’s keep it on the up and up, shall we.


~ by Paul Pham on 30 January 2007.

3 Responses to “darkling days”

  1. I am actually on 150 mg tablets of buproprion. It helps sparingly, not every day, to counteract the sleepiness of sertraline.

    The best treatments generally combine both therapy and medication. I do not mean to discount the benefits of anti-depressants, especially when they prevent suicides. But I’ve read and heard unfortunate accounts where people drug themselves into zombies without any counseling or assisted introspection.

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