By Will Falk
I’ve decided to go off my medication. This decision is one I’ve been struggling with for months. It’s not a decision I make easily, but I think it’s the best decision for me. Ever since I was diagnosed with severe depression and prescribed anti-depressants in November, 2012, I have had a dubious relationship with my medication.
It is true that I have been on anti-depressants and have not tried to kill myself since August, 2013. It is also true that I was taking my anti-depressants each time I tried to kill myself. I know that my decision to stop taking my pills will cause friends and family anxiety. But, I truly feel this is the best decision for me.
And, here’s why:
Taking the anti-depressants made my body hurt. Every morning when I took my pill, I felt like a giant screw was tightening in the back of my neck. There was also a two-month stretch in early 2014 where my medication made it so I could not maintain an erection. Ialready struggle with self-confidence issues. Maybe you can understand how trying to explain to my ex-partner that it wasn’t her fault I did not want to have sex as she did everything she could to wake my body up did not help my feelings of worthlessness.
Missing doses of the anti-depressant made my body hurt worse. I usually took my anti-depressant first thing in the morning. Some mornings, though, I forgot to take my pill until my body reminded me. If the day stretched past noon and I hadn’t taken my pill, I would feel exhausted, spacy, and develop a headache. I imagine this is mildly similar to what an addict feels when he or she cannot find a fix.
The anti-depressants boxed in my emotions. While taking my pill, there were emotional spaces I simply could not access. It was like walls were built in my mind that prevented me from traveling where I would. Of course, I possess regions of darkness that most of the time I would rather not visit. But, before the anti-depressants entered my mind to perform their remodeling, there were sunny places where I used to linger and drowse in warmth.
Sometimes, I need to visit my darknesses to retrieve the wisdom found there. Other times, I could use a lazy afternoon, napping in the pleasant places of my mind. It saddened me deeply to run into the walls I found there.
The anti-depressants artificially influenced one of the sacred means I obtain information –they skewed my dreams. I will never forget the first night I spent in St. Francis’ Hospital in Milwaukee, WI after my first suicide attempt. Of course, there was the humiliation accompanying my naked, intravenously needle-pricked body as the beautiful German-accented nurse made me strip and searched my body to make sure I was not smuggling anything into the psyche ward.
There was the dreadful group therapy session that found me sitting in a sing-along circle as a therapist played an acoustic version of Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” while I thought, “Yes, Will, you did this to yourself.” This group therapy session solidified my belief that no matter how pure your intentions are, some songs should simply never be played. As a poet, I was also reminded that bad art can be more depressing than no art.
But, the worst part of that first night in the mental hospital came when the doctors ratcheted up my anti-depressant dosage producing the worst, continuous nightmare I’ve ever had. Sleeping in a mental hospital after I tried to kill myself with sleeping pills was close to impossible for many reasons.
First, the doctors would not, understandably, prescribe me anymore sleeping pills. Second, bed sheets can easily be torn into strips to be used to hang oneself with, so the bed was covered in a plastic wrap that screamed with every shift my body made. Third, I had to sleep with my door open so hospital staff could shine a flashlight on my face every half-hour to make sure I was still alive.
Then, the nightmare arrived. It was a dark and stormy night in my mind. Freezing cold rain producing mud flecked with frost fell around me. I was naked wandering through a dilapidated industrial zone. Lightning began to flash. Every time the lightning flashed, I was shown a grinning little girl, about seven years old, wielding a bloody, rusty knife. She got closer and closer.
It was not long before this little girl with the knife was upon me and she slowly, surgically went to work carving away pieces of my skin. I screamed. I woke up. I fell back asleep only to find that grinning little girl. I screamed again. I woke up again. I fell back asleep and that little girl went right back to work with her rusty, fucking knife.
It is 3:17 a.m. the morning after I decided to stop taking my medications. I am at my parents’ house. I cannot sleep, so here I am at the family computer writing. I would be writing on my personal laptop, but last week – after the first time I tried to stop taking my medication – my hands were shaky and I knocked my coffee all over my laptop. It will not start. Needless to say, I am scared about stopping the anti-depressant.
I am afraid for the way my mother will take the news. I am afraid I may slip back into the old depression. In many ways, I am not convinced I’ve made the best decision and I am looking for guidance. I often write myself into understanding and I think that’s what I am doing now.
I just woke up from a strange, but beautiful dream involving driving volunteers in and out of the Unist’ot’en Camp on snowmobiles. I recently returned from the Camp where most of my time was spent driving volunteers up and down the forest service road on snowmobiles, so that in itself is not strange. The strangeness came in the form of a feeling the dream produced when Unist’ot’en Clan spokeswoman, Freda Huson, and her partner, Toghestiy, entered my dream.
In waking reality, I have explained that one of my goals in life is to convince Freda and Toghestiy that I’m not a total idiot. I’ve said this primarily as a joke because I count Freda and Toghestiy as friends and they are both wonderfully patient people despite mistakes I’ve made at the Camp.
For example, one time in Freda’s kitchen I forgot to flip a gallon jar of old-fashioned peanut butter upside down before opening it so the oil could mix in. I spent the next hour stirring the peanut butter and apologizing because I could have been doing something more helpful like working on an outhouse that was being built or helping with some shelves in the root cellar. Both Freda and Toghestiy teased me, but then explained kindly that I didn’t have to be so hard on myself.
In the dream, though, Freda and Toghestiy approached me on the bridge that crosses the Morice River and forms the gateway to their territory. Upon entering Unist’ot’en territory, visitors must answer a series of questions called the Informed Prior Consent Protocol. Not only does the questioning serve the Unist’ot’en Clan as they seek information from those who would visit their lands, but it also serves the individual answering the questions. The Protocol gives each individual a chance for self-reflection and self-awareness.
Freda and Toghestiy did not say anything in my dream. They just stood in the middle of the bridge while the Morice sang over flowing stones beneath them. They looked concerned.
That’s all. They did not gesture. They did not ask me to do anything. They just looked concerned and I woke up and here I am trying to make sense of it all.
Maybe the dream is just residual anxiety from my recent trips to the Camp? Maybe the looks of concern are simply reflective of my desire to do a good job supporting people I look up to and admire so strongly? I can see both Freda and Toghestiy getting a kick out of the idea that I’m still so worried about what they think of that damn peanut butter that I’m now dreaming about them. Then, again, maybe the land really is trying to tell me something and the voice of the Morice River and Freda and Toghestiy’s looks of concern in my dream were the best ways the land knew to speak to me?
I have written extensively about the profound realizations I’ve experienced spending time at the Unist’ot’en Camp. I do not support the Camp so I can have profound realizations. I support the Camp because I believe the fate of all of us is bound up in the fate of places like the Unist’ot’en Camp.
I do think, though, that places as strong as the Unist’ot’en Camp are more than capable of offering direction when asked for. I have also written extensively that part of my recovery from suicidal despair has been my realization that the natural world is filled with living subjects like rivers, trees, stars, and snow who I can form relationships with.
So, in my last visit to the Camp, I stood over the Morice River and asked the River for guidance. The stars pinned me to a snowbank on the first clear night in February and I asked them for help. I asked for help with my essays. I asked for help with my poetry. I asked for help knowing where I should go after leaving the Camp. I asked for help knowing what to do with my medication.
As I am sitting here attempting to read the unfolding patterns in my life, I know that I really miss the Unist’ot’en Camp. There are too many reasons to love the Camp for me to ever finish writing about it, but I am starting to understand that on a personal level the aspect of the Camp that touches me most deeply is my lack of suicidal thoughts while I’m at the Camp.
Seemingly every chore, every conversation, every action at the Camp comes with a fullness of meaning I have never found anywhere else. Where does this meaning come from? Does it stem from the traditional teachings informing the Camp? Definitely. Does it come from the ever watchful wisdom of snow-covered evergreens? Absolutely. Is it provided by the ancestors who lived lives in a way that made it possible for future generations to thrive on the land? All of these things and more.
How does this play into my decision to stop taking my medications? Despite what many therapists have told me, depression is not simply a chemical imbalance that can be corrected with a pill.
The depression I suffer from is rooted in an awareness of the destruction raging around us. That awareness lead me into a pain so deep I convinced myself the only way to stop the pain was to kill myself. The Unist’ot’en Camp has shown me that resistance is not only possible, it feels really good. No anti-depressant can do that. In many ways, working for the Unist’ot’en Camp is the best medicine I’ve ever taken.
Time may tell me to go back on the pills, but for now, I will keep working for the Camp.