A continuation from
June 16th 2010
“I wave to myself from a country lane.
A soldier returning from war.”
It was Summer in Los Angeles and I was staying at a friend’s place while they were away. It was all very civilized compared to my life in India. Twenty-four hour hot running water, machines that clean your clothes, traffic that moved about sensibly, and a lot less yammering. The house had a sub-zero fridge, an insouciant marmalade cat that was twice the size of the freshly laundered Maltese…and a pool.
I had already been there a week, but the thought hadn’t crossed my mind to take a swim. I spent most of my time in bed, taking hot baths, getting smashed or staring at the TV without understanding it.
After returning from the doctor, I lay on the sunbed, trying to read. An hour later, I was baked and the clear blue pool began to look inviting. I stepped tentatively into the water. (During that time I did most everything tentatively–doing up a button, picking up a shopping basket, turning a door handle — as if rabid dogs were going to leap out at me and tear my face off.)
The cold water startled me. And I noted that I had actually ‘felt’ the coldness, had experienced the skin on my body tighten, my breath shorten a little. For almost a year my senses had been numbed. I had eaten as a functional conformity, had hardly noticed whether I was hot or cold. “Expect it to take a couple of weeks before you see any effect,” Dr. Mishra had said. I had known when he said that that I would feel it much sooner than that, being one of those people (and I suspect there are quite a few of us); ultra-sensitive to chemical changes, who are like canaries in the coal mine when it comes to this sort of thing. But I wasn’t prepared for quite how soon. This is what I wrote at the time.
A bougainvillea flower was floating on the water. It twirled above its soft pink reflection caught in a jet stream with the sun splashing around it through the wind-rustled leaves of an avocado tree. And I had a thought that, as it was occurring, I realized I hadn’t had for a very long time. It was the simplest of thoughts but it might as well have been transmitted from another galaxy. The thought was, ‘How beautiful.’
I can feel the drug coursing through my bloodstream, my skin is tingling, there is a slight metallic taste in my mouth, there is a crack of an opening….
I watched in absolute amazement as my perspective began to widen….the way I had watched in horror at it closing in. How is it possible that I’m feeling the effects of the Wellbutrin so early?* Is it placebo? I quickly concluded that I didn’t care.
I dipped under the water and swam the short length to the deep end. A minute of blue pumping liquidy silence and I burst out, gasping for breath (a year of cheap vodka and cigarettes had taken its toll). I held onto the edge wiping the water from my eyes, feeling the muscles around my mouth threatening to shift into a smile.
Right under my nose, a moth was drowning. As was second nature to me (having been rescuing insects since I could remember; a spider from the bath, an ant from an incoming chair leg) I lifted it out of the pool. I knew I couldn’t put it on the stone while it was so wet because its wings had stuck together and there was a good chance I would damage them. I would have to wait until it dried off a bit.
As I watched this little grey flutterer twitch and wriggle in my hand a few things dawned on me. For one, I realized that I had noticed the moth. I had hardly been aware of bugs in distress, even though they must have been there, getting sucked down a shower drain or glued to a honey jar. They had been there. I just hadn’t noticed them. Like so much else, I thought.
And the very few times in the past year when I had lifted a soggy spider from my sink or moved a slug from a roadway, the act had been completely mechanical. There was no emotional reality to the experience. Like so much else, I thought. But this time my attention lingered. I didn’t just automatically leapfrog over it. I watched that moth struggle to right itself, clean its wings, and fly off towards the sun like it was the last creature on earth. Or the first. And I felt something. An action had connected with a feeling. I felt kinship with this tiny life, as if its fate and mine were bound by blood and oath on that Los Angeles June afternoon.
The cause of my depression was beyond me. But I was determined that the architecture of it would not be. I had been like a person strapped to a bed in an abandoned house. I had been waiting for a time when I could untie myself and begin to explore its rooms, its foundation, its supports, its walkways, its taste in furniture. But there is not much time to explore, because the house begins to evaporate the moment you leave that bed, and then gradually disappears into a brooding enigmatic fog.
The house of miseries was becoming ever-fainter as I stood in its driveway. It was refusing to be seen. It took a legion of effort to try to focus my mind on its ever more formless shape. And then, before I knew it, I was being propelled away from its lonely timbers in a gilted sleigh driven by Dasher, Vixen, and their new colleagues; Buproprion, and his sisters of mercy, Hydroxy-buproprian and Hydro-buproprian. “Wait! Wait!” I called to them. “I need to study the architecture!” But they couldn’t hear me above the din of the sleigh bells.
After a stoned hour or two of gazing at the clouds and drinking orange juice like it was a sacrament, I called a friend who’d had his own battles with depression, and told him what was happening. He listened calmly and advised me to “watch the euphoria thing”. I was reminded of when I had experimented with an over-the-counter anti-depressant in India (well, it was over-the-counter in India), and had been sure I was on the mend until I shot into a night long anxiety attack less than 48 hours later.
By evening, things had calmed down. I was no longer a swirling mass of atoms eyeballing world-systems in the coffee grounds on the edge of a Scotchbrite.
I watched television (and was able to concentrate long enough to actually enjoy it). A reality show where a bunch of people with OCD live together in a big house. (Got me on a roll. ‘Homicidal Nymphos’ where one guy moves in with 15 women. Bret cowered in the basement, dazed and confused, clutching a condom and an axe.) I went to bed at a normal hour. Eleven instead of eight. It didn’t cross my mind to have a drink. And I ended the day with a tiny but unmistakable pinch of curiosity about the next.
NEXT UP: Natural Misery vs. Chemical Happiness
*On Wikipedia I found that: The active ingredient of Wellbutrin is Bupropion that is metabolized to hydroxybupropion by an iso-enzyme called CYP2B6. Alcohol causes an increase of CYP2B6 in the liver, and persons with a history of alcohol use have been shown to metabolize bupropion faster. I wondered if this could be part of the explanation of why I responded to it so quickly since I was drinking quite heavily at the time.