Twenty-six months ago, our unit psychologist, a well-meaning man, a man I trusted, looked at me and said, "Getting on medication would be the adult thing to do. The responsible thing to do."
So, I went on Prozac. Switched to Lexapro shortly thereafter. Stayed on 10 mg of that until September, 2016, when I tried to hang myself in a closet. In the aftermath, while at the hospital, I bumped up to 20 mg, the highest recommended dose. I was on a train to crazy town, but I had no idea what that really meant.
March 28, 2017, was my last day in the military. Here I am, just about a whole year later. Off meds. A hard core combination of therapy, time in the woods, and the patience and grace of a number of folks I owe a lot to, has brought me to a level of self-understanding and self-possession I never would have reached if I'd stayed in the service. Or stayed married. I use phrases like, "I perceive you as xxx" and "I'm needy. I'm not going to apologize for being needy. I am going to apologize for not managing my neediness." And "No." I really like that one. I can cogently look at my decisions and figure out if I'm making them from a place of ego or not (I still do make decisions from that place, more than I'd like). I can monitor my internal monologue, shift it in real-time. Take feedback, criticism, irritation with an open mind. Be disappointed. I don't tear myself apart over this shit, anymore. Boundaries. It took a cataclysm to learn them.
Shit still happens. A classmate used the phrase "pink mist" on Thursday. My eyes glazed over. I excused myself. Took some breaths. I've watched that happen, in real-time, in color. Not in person, fortunately. I was grateful to him--I had no idea that was a trigger. I've slaughtered animals this year, but I may need to rethink my ability to legitimately hunt. Good to know.
My life is a bit of a chaotic mess at the moment--divorce will do that. I was staying on a couch for about a month. Still, I'm grateful for this opportunity, too. It says a lot when I'm happier on a couch in someone's living room than in my marriage. My emotional stability and mental maturity increased, if anything, in the aftermath of my departure.
The pieces of my life were disparate, in the service. I felt separated from my self, disassociated. I had to be, to be who I had to be. I wasn't very good at compartmentalizing. My social life was cramped, uncomfortable, or non-existent. All the people I might have socialized with were also in competition with me for resources (people were "resources"), awards, accolades, promotions, or they were off-limits as friends because of an arbitrary line dividing commissioned officers from enlisted. My ex lived nine time zones away. My work was demanding, stressful. It took place inside a building with no windows and no functional climate control. Twenty people clacking away at keyboards, engaged in busywork, in a room originally intended to be a dormitory and sized for ten desks, at 110 degrees F. Equipment broke. Computers took weeks to re-start. Programs crashed if you had too many tabs open. Years worth of dirt and grime coated everything. I went home sweaty, filthy, exhausted, yet hopped-up on caffeine after sitting at a desk all day. I did nothing except go to work and come home and sleep. My mattress was on the floor in a corner, without sheets. I never did bother with a bed frame. I exercised less self-care than I had in college, even.
I was supposed to supervise people too, which is ridiculous in retrospect. What 23 year old has any significant insight into themselves? How are they supposed to lead other people? Props to you, if that's you. It wasn't me. I was blind, in comparison to now. And I imagine that a few years down the line, I might look back at this moment, this evolution, as equally as blind, though I now call myself "See."
Enter: Lost Connections, By Johann Hari.
I connect to this book. It might have been more useful to me as a manual about a year ago, or even two years ago, but chances are good that I wouldn't have had the resources--mental, physical, spiritual, environmental--to put anything into practice. Funny how that works. Tragic.
Solid read. The author wrote this book as a personal project--he shares his own experiences with the escalator of psych meds he started as a late teen. I appreciate that kind of passion in an author. He traveled all over the world, talked to experts in a variety of fields, looked at the social psychology of depression, its prevalence (or lack thereof) in different cultures. He distills his findings (which he does not claim are comprehensive) into two main sections, which I will briefly cover.
Disconnection: Nine Causes of Depression and Anxiety
The story is that people are depressed because of a chemical imbalance. It's not their fault; it's like a birth defect in the brain. They need crutches--permanently. That story is becoming less and less accepted by medical professionals, but big pharma has a lot of money in drug pushing, and prescriptions for anti-depressants are as high as they've ever been.
If it's not a chemical imbalance making us all crazy, what is it?
Hari talks about things that will make intuitive sense to most people. We're disconnected from our work, from other people, from the environment. These are easy. Quit your hated job, call a friend, get outside and moving--these are pat pieces of advice for somebody looking a little down. No shocker there.
Then there are the more interesting items. Hari proposes we're disconnected from status and respect. The vast majority of us work jobs where we have no control, where our entire lives depend on the benevolence and mood of someone who may not have any respect for us at all (and vice versa, of course). We don't exist in a space with a clear hierarchy, but we do know that the vast majority of us are on the lower end. Especially in the US, where we have some of the highest levels of inequality in the world:
"After I learned about this, I began to wonder--especially as I interviewed many depressed people--if depression is, in part, a response to the sense of humiliation the modern world inflicts on many of us. Watch TV and you'll be told the only people who count in the world are celebrities and the rich--and you already know your chances of joining either group are vanishingly small. Flick through an Instagram feed or a glossy magazine, and your normal-shaped body will feel disgusting to you. Go to work and you'll have to obey the whims of a distant boss earning hundreds of times more than you.
Even when we are not being actively humiliated, even more of us feel like our status could be taken away at any moment. Even the middle class--even the rich--are being made to feel pervasively insecure. Robert had discovered that having an insecure status was the one thing even more distressing than having a low status." (Chapter 5, p. 120, 2018)
We face "pervasive insecurity." Our society has been intentionally designed that way--to keep people from pushing back, changing the social or economic structure to something that might ensure there's a little more of the pie to go around. We face a constant, unseen, unacknowledged threat to our status, our very lives. Of course we're depressed.
We are disconnected from meaningful values, too. Consumerist capitalism is rapacious, destructive, for our own happiness and for the planet. Hari calls it feeding us "junk values." We want more--a bigger TV, a nicer car, a nicer house, a nicer body. Everything we want has a materialist solution. We believe the pursuit of such objects will make us happy. We extend this to our careers--a high powered job is a proxy for more money which is a proxy for more stuff. Accumulation. Like King Midas, our greed is destroying us:
"...All these materialistic values, telling us to spend our way to happiness, look like real values; they appeal to the part of us that has evolved to need some basic principles to guide us through life; yet they don't give us what we need from values--a path to a satisfying life. Instead, they fill us with psychological toxins. Junk food is distorting our bodies. Junk values are distorting our minds.
Materialism is KFC for the soul." (Chapter 3, p. 96, 2018)
It's with this section of the book in mind that I delete Facebook, finally, after a year of ambivalence. My separation is the catalyst but not the cause. I feel lighter, in the aftermath of that terminal 'click', than I have in a long time.
How do we fix this shit? I'm a fatalist--some of this shit will not be fixed. We're not heading towards a Swedish paradise of democratic socialism, a reduction in inequality, free health care for all. No, we're heading for collapse. People will be more equally destitute, I suppose.
Hari hasn't read my blog, though, fortunately for you. In Part Two (coming soon!), I'll discuss some of his proposed solutions.