Citation: Mackay. "My Struggle with Depression: An Experience with Various (exp38090)". Erowid.org. Mar 1, 2008. erowid.org/exp/38090
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I'm in college and have a curse: I need a constant high level of mental stimulation to stay happy. In addition to my course work, I'm usually in the middle of a novel (Dickens, Trollope, and Scott are my personal favorites) and studying a foreign language. From all outside appearances, I'm extremely mellow and laid-back, but I need to fill the seconds of the day with intellectual pursuits even to feel normal. When I'm studious, I'm on top of the world: I hesitate to call it a feeling of godly power, but it allows me to function. I can go to classes by day, follow my own interests in the afternoon, go socialize in the evenings, and then read a bit more before bed. When I'm up, I can get by easily with 5-6 hours of sleep a night. I sometimes think that I'm manic-depressive, but my fits of mania can (and do) last for months on end, ending only when the mental hustle is removed.
I noticed a pattern in my high school years: during the school year, I was happy and kept a very healthy life, balanced between monastery-like introspection and study and the typical high school/college 'good times' of going out on a party and getting trashed. During the summer, I'd feel down and it could be a struggle to get out of bed in the morning, let alone go outside. In short, there are two strange things about my life: the first, the more I privately study, the better I'm able to socially function, when the prevailing thought is the opposite; the second, that my 'seasonal affective disorder' works in reverse: I'm absolutely miserable, listless, and socially stunted in the thick, oppressive summer air, while I feel great, energetic, and invigorated by the crisp winter air and the clear blue winter skies. I live in Virginia, so winters are mild here.
However, there is one episode in my life that I'd like to forget, even though it's probably the most valuable, and brought with it tremendous personal growth. After I graduated from high school, I went to college. The various stressors made me ill at ease, and distracted my mind. I'd be five hours from everyone I had ever loved or cared about, among a thousand complete strangers, with not one classmate from high school, living on my own for the first time ever. I was unable to focus on my personal, studious life, and fell into a deeper depression that summer than most. When I got to college, it was good for a time, but then the reality set in.
I met people there, but you can't be friends with people you've known all of a month or two. There were various drug hookups and many good times; I liked being around my 'friends' (although you can't really call them that), they around me, and for about three weeks, I eased my way into the water. Then the first work hit. My major problem was that I didn't know anybody. Because of this, I never quite felt at ease, even though I enjoyed being around them. I was never able to get back into the cycle of my life -- soak up all the world's knowledge by day and get hammered with some good friends by night -- and couldn't get myself collected and focused enough to get into a novel. And here the troubles started:
Some people hate to read. For me, books are like amphetamines in themselves. Reading stimulates the mind in ways that speech can't; I can write better having recently read something, if even for one short chapter, just from having the verbal parts of my brain tickled. When my brain feels alive, and when I can write well and easily, I feel both very happy and very stimulated; mental energy gives me physical energy, and the feeling of having my brain rushing into glorious action makes me aware of the glory of the intellect and serves as a fantastic shot of self-confidence. The result is that I can get by with little sleep, walk for miles without feeling at all tired, make conversation easily, comfortably, and rapidly (between my verbal center having been roused into action and my newfound sense of optimism, energy, and self-confidence), and generally be both extremely happy and extremely productive.
Essays come and go as soon as I think them; five pages of critical thinking can be produced in an hour and handed in for an A or a B. I don't mean to brag; it's just that this is such a fundamental part of my mindset that this story can't be told without its mention. But I was very ill at ease, and I had work to do. I went to one of the 'amateur pharmacists' in my residence hall and got some Adderall for the sweep of inspired energy I needed. For a few days, I was sped; I was as productive and prolific as ever in my work and social habits. I felt great. It didn't last.
The drug had burnt through my already-depleted stock of feel-good chemicals. When I had taken speed in high school, I was fine the next day and even regarded the infamous crash as a myth, or as the result of a blood sugar plummet after not eating anything. But this time, when my supply ran out, I was completely ripped to pieces. I cried all the time for no reason. I felt detached from the world around me and stared off into space for most of the time. It took every ounce of energy to get my body out of bed, and for two days I slept, cried, and skipped class. On the third day, with no improvement, I went to the college doctor.
I had been through a depression all summer, had but a slight lift when I got to college, and now was lower than I had ever been; I was almost non-functional and immobile. I've never had any mental problems in my life; I had been a daily pot smoker for two years, freely dabbled with psychedelics and amphetamines, and managed to excel in school while teaching myself Latin, Spanish, and Italian on the side (as I studied French in school) and had invented, on my own time and for fun, a heavily inflected form of English, with no irregular words, for no reason than that it was terrific fun, while relishing those triple-decker Victorian novels that most people wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole -- all this, with no ill effects. But now, I had taken a mini-binge -- maybe 80mg of Adderall a day, for three days, with food and sleep -- and was a wreck of a human being.
I didn't want to admit that I had been taking amphetamines, so I kept mum. It wasn't a lie on my part: I honestly felt that I had been depressed for quite some time, and Adderall only brought on the crash. The doctor put me on Lexapro for what was clearly an open-and-shut case of major depression. I felt better immediately, knowing that I had only to wait a few weeks to be lifted, and that I should soon return to my previous productive heights.
I started to feel an effect after about two weeks, after taking 10mg of Adderall every morning to give the energy I needed to go to class and do my work without breaking down. This low dose had no negative effect, only positive. I decided never to exceed 50mg in one day, and, if at all possible, to restrict myself to 20mg. Even at that time when moderate could throw me into a disabling depression, these were 'safe' dosages, and I got only good effects.
The Lexapro did kick in. I felt noticably smoother and more able, with few side effects. Only one gave me any trouble: urine was very slow to come and I had 'urinal shyness' even when I was alone in the bathroom. Only five to ten seconds of effort could produce a flow, and even that was a trickle. This led to some personal embarrassment when someone else was in the bathroom, but I didn't mind it much because I was feeling better. The other side effect was that I couldn't control my marijuana use. It wasn't that I was trying to escape the side effects; rather, I just had no willpower. I went to class stoned, I did homework stoned, I smoked after waking up, and I smoked before going to bed. I knew that I was overdoing it, but desparate times call for desparate measures, and I was still making very good grades. I never got below an 85% on an assignment, even when I was absolutely blasted. I felt guilty at times for spending so much money on drugs, but life went on.
Around this time came the point of no return: my doctor, concerned that I had spent four weeks and hadn't had a dramatic turnaround, increased my dose to 15mg a day. The side effects exploded: I now had to sit down to pee (after waiting for a minute or so while on the pot), I was high for every minute of every day, and I couldn't be stimulated to orgasm: I stayed away from girls during this time before the only way I could get off at all was to masturbate for 40 minutes to erotic situations. Having sex was no longer erotic; I had to seek out increasingly weird, twisted, and perverse sex stories to be excited, featuring horrific perversions that had disgusted me before and ever since. They were the only way I could get off.
Two new side effects raised their ugly heads at this time: one, it took hours to fall asleep. I got as far as possible to the point of falling under before I suddenly snapped awake -- this was extremely frustrating and absolutely maddening, as well as leaving me exhausted all the next day. The second side effect was that I found myself absolutely apathetic. I knew that to get good grades, I had to go to class and do my work, but there was an odd disconnect: I knew that I had to do certain things, but I didn't and didn't feel bad for not doing my duty, nor for wasting the tuition money. For some people, SSRIs work wonders. Lexapro turned me into a worthless turd of a human being. I have nothing against the drug because I see now that I probably didn't need it and was just fucking up my delicate neurochemistry. For people who actually need it, it's wonderful that it's there.
A week after increasing my dosage, I had descended into near-madness. Thankfully, this was during fall break. I -- the polite, gentle, mellow creature, who had never had a violent exchange with anybody since 6th grade, and was universally beloved for it! -- got into a violent confrontation with my father when I got home over a trifle. I pushed my mother away when she tried to hug me, I don't know why, but being touched by anybody felt awful and unwanted, and he reprimanded me. I went off my head, threw stuff, threatened to beat him up while standing over him with wild eyes; I screamed and verbally tore him to pieces while he sat on the couch, covered his head with his arms, and -- he, the reserved, serious-minded gentleman, whom I had seen cry all of three times in my life -- burst into tears. The asshole on his feet tore a new one for the good-hearted father, stormed off to his room, felt that he needed to piss, stood over the toilet for five minutes, let out a primal howl, and then went back to his room, took his pill bottle, emptied the contents (how quickly they slid out! all in a half of a second) into the toilet, and flushed. The long nightmare was over.
We made up the next day. I told him that the drug had been turning me into a madman since the dosage was increased, and that I had been hiding it from people because I didn't want them to know. We embraced, for the first time in years. A week passed, and I gradually got back to normal. I grudgingly did my work, I fell asleep easily and slept through the night, my sexual perversions ended forever as quickly as they had begun, and -- the best part -- I could walk into a bathroom, walk up to a urinal, leave my contribution, flush it, run some water over my hands, dry them, and walk out, all in a minute's time.
My Lexapro-free life was still not near perfect. I felt down a lot of the time, I couldn't work effeciently, clear my head, relax, or feel good or happy. Between depression and insanity, my grades had eroded: when I did my work, I got excellent grades, but I had reached the absolute limit in terms of attendance and I was one tardy or even late assignment away from flunking out of college entirely. Still, I pushed on.
About three-quarters of the way through that first semester from Hell, I faced another awful week. I had two tests and two essays, and had missed enough of the test material to almost ensure a bad grade, which would put me over the edge and flunk me out of school. I bought some speed and studied. I got all my work done and got As on all four major assignments, tests included, but the inevitable crash came. Thankfully, it was over the weekend. On Monday morning, I woke up and, although it was the thing I wanted least to do in all the world, dragged myself to my Monday classes. A strange transformation took place.
I struggled through classes and sat down to homework immediately afterwards, hoping to get it done quickly before falling asleep for 20 hours or so and waking up for the next day's classes. After I finished, I smoked a little pot and flipped through my textbook. I found a passage that grabbed my interest, and started to read. Several hours later, I found myself in the middle of Little Dorrit -- my first novel in five months -- and felt the old rush take over my head. I felt good, happy, energized, and self-confident: completely at peace and optimistic, for the first time since I had arrived. I had come home. That evening, I hung out with some 'friends', whom I had neglected for weeks in my hellish fits, and enjoyed myself. I fell asleep that night, woke up early the next day refreshed, and it struck me: I had come home. I had found the answer to all of my problems -- and this realization gave me even more energy, purpose, and happiness.
In the next weeks, my drug use had dropped to respectable levels. I was no longer smoking pot just to be able to drag myself through another day, but rather, because I enjoyed it. I tripped on mushrooms a few times and took a good amount of Adderall -- without the crash. I became popular again with my classmates and rediscovered the ability to write A essays at will: and I owe it all to my own fortitude, with some help from Charles Dickens. The semester was too damaged to get anything but a 3.0 average, but I was back, and I was happy. The next semester brought me a 3.8 and I'm doing just as well in my current, third, semester of college.
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