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“You’re gonna have to call in a prescription for more adderal,” says an instant message from my friend S. “My head is all fuzzy.”

Oops, that wasn’t for me. S. hastily explains that he was trying to chat his wife, but got the wrong window. He’s been diagnosed with ADHD for ages, he says, and the last couple of weeks has been trying to cope with it without the meds, but it’s not working. “No worries,” I chat back. “I used to be very anti-meds until fluoxetine1 pretty much saved my life.” One revelation deserves another.

Earlier today I was thinking about my friendship with S., which is one of those rare (for me) friendships that just happens, born of little besides cigarettes and Radiohead. We couldn’t be more opposite in a lot of ways — he keeps posting facebook rants about, for example, the bigotry of that Chick-Fil-A guy, and how super-duper Obama is — but for some reason he’s easy to be with, and our disagreements sometimes make for good conversation. I congratulate myself on how much he would have intimidated me if I had met him five or ten years ago, with his tattoo-covered forearms, athlete’s crew-cut, and penchant for casual swearing.

His ADHD doesn’t surprise me, any more than my depression surprises him. It’s almost a plus, in my book. Not because chemical imbalances make people deeper somehow, but maybe the other way around: it does seem to be true that the more wires you have, the more likely it is that some of them will get crossed, short-circuited. I get along well with people who have lots of wires, especially if the wires are in disarray.

My brain mystifies me. One of the unexpected side effects of Prozac: I don’t seem to mind spiders any more. What kind of sense does that make? I’ve never been terrified of them, but they’ve always made me feel creepy. Now I look at them and see something intricate and well-conceived, like a clever piece of clockwork. Did I hate them because they reminded me of my own creeping, spidery thoughts, the ones that used to sneak up on me from between the folds of some innocent reflection? Did the Prozac fill in some crack in my brain, some microfissure where evil thoughts (whether of spiders or of self-loathing) used to be able to find purchase?

No idea, none. As I drive home from work today, I think of a passage I just read in Sheed where he discusses the differing states of the Blessed: how, in Heaven, we’ll all be as happy as we can be, we’ll all be full to capacity; but that our capacities will differ depending on how much our hearts were stretched, enlarged, by our time on earth. The difference, he says, matters more than we can imagine now. Yet we’ll all be perfectly happy.

I briefly wonder whether the meds have stunted my growth somehow, and whether this era’s tendency to over-medicate is producing a generation of moral dwarfs. The man who couldn’t stand to see the butterfly struggle, and slit open the cocoon to give the insect an easier time crawling out, stole the butterfly’s chance to be strengthened through struggle. Have I given up my chance at being strengthened?

Oh, maybe, maybe. I don’t care very much, because I’m strong already, and getting stronger. So I tell these thoughts to be quiet, and miraculously, they do — it’s a new ability of mine, almost a superpower, this ability to shut down a train of thought when it’s heading for a cliff. Besides, my life isn’t without struggle.

And I remind myself for the hundredth time that most people aren’t sane because they’ve managed to overcome an army of invisible demons. They’re sane because they never had to.

1 I’m okay with the idea of meds now, but maybe not quite okay enough to be able to type “Prozac” without a little embarrassment.

13 thoughts on “Spiders

  1. Rebecca

    I was reading something by a saint where she started complaining to Jesus about how He had now taken away suffering from her. ‘Just when I had started to love it!’ (this must sound crazy to someone not educated in the saints.) He said it wasn’t suffering or non-suffering that was important in His eyes, but the union with His Will. With this union, joy or suffering are wonderful, have incredible meaning in the order of grace, and it doesn’t matter which of the two God has disposed for us at the moment. If we are not lovingly united to His Will, joy is shallow and suffering is meaningless.

    Reply
  2. RR

    Thx for this post. The last line brought tears to my eyes and I’ve been thinking about it all day. I’ve been seriously considering antidepressants for oh, ten years. Might be time but it scares me. I really, really appreciate you sharing your thoughts on the whole process.

    Reply
  3. anthony

    “They’re sane because they never had to.”

    i hope that i misunderstood this last paragraph. if not, i do not know if i can read this blog again. because you have fallen prey to the “gay” ego.

    the practical application of the dogma of original sin is that everyone has many demons to overcome….from ancestral past, the sins they commit and the consequences of those they hurt and sin…..

    no one gets a free ride, we all deal with the mess we are born into, the hurts done to us and the hurts we do to others….to think there is some special class that has it easy is just nuts.

    again i apologize if i misunderstand, but this is one of the most knucklehead statements i have ever heard. it seems to me that our pain should give us more empathy into the human situation and not be a source of judging others?

    Reply
    1. Steve Gershom

      Yes, Anthony, I think you misunderstood. I didn’t mean that anybody gets a free ride, although I see now that it sort of sounds like that’s what I meant. I just meant that not everybody deals with actual mental illness, and that if they don’t, it’s not necessarily because they’re stronger than me, but just because they didn’t happen to be given that particular cross.

      I’m not sure what that has to do with being gay or with the “gay ego”. It does seem self-evident to me that some crosses are heavier than others.

      Reply
  4. J.B. Toner

    Well there’s different levels of sanity, aren’t there? I think Steve was talking about that elusive demographic which for convenience the secular world calls normal people–those chiefly concerned with (wholly legitimate and honorable) pursuits such as work and health and family and relaxation, but not disposed to think overmuch of the eternal. “Above” that stratum (in a sense) you have those who are not sane or normal, either by our standards of the secular world’s: people who are fighting their demons and losing, for whatever reason–and it may be through no fault of their own–but are at least aware of larger concerns than the mundane. (Or, does anyone mind if I say “quotidian”? I love that word.) …than the quotidian. And then above that you have your slowly blossoming saints, the people who have fought their way through the harrowing and begun to find the peace that passeth understanding. Obviously, we never quite get there in this world. But that only reinforces my point, which is that sanity is an extremely complex topic, and probably not easy to encapsulate in all its nuance in a single paragraph.

    Hence, I shall use two. In short, I think Steve’s point is a reasonable one as long as we’re strictly talking about your “normal” people, those who have not yet engaged their demons. Of course they have them–as you say, everyone does. But not everyone chooses to take them head-on. That would be crazy. Or, if you will, Catholic.

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  5. Melissa

    Hey Steve – I don’t know if meds are in general producing “moral dwarfs” but I think of taking meds such as Prozac as something that allows you to be the person God intended you to be, doing the things which glorify Him. Kind of like using a prosthetic limb so you can keep doing your job. Just my two cents’ worth ;)

    Reply
  6. anthony

    thanks for the clarification, i will have to let it percolate and see if i get the point. but let me clarify my use of “gay ego”. i use the term to mean a certain tendency for gay men to fall into a certain victim mentality and get caught up in a certain self pity/ woe is me attitude, that can end up becoming their default setting to view all of life.

    the focus is not on the challenges i have, the gifts i do have, the mission i have in life to accomplish…….and then use all my gifts and resources to accomplish them.

    take chastity for example, so often a gay man will sound like chastity is a great cross and i am missing out on so much and people do not know how much pain i must bare etc. and i want to shout at them: “Do you even know what chastity is? Do you think it just means lack of genital activity? Have you ever seen the beauty of chastity, the great freedom it gives and see what a beautiful expression of love it can be? Do you really desire this way to love and fruit of the spirit in your life? yes, we must suffer for it, and it will cost blood and tears but it is for such a great good……and not just something we endure so we will not go to hell, but something that radiates the presence and power of divine love in a beautiful way. IMHO, and i hope it clarifies a little?

    Reply
    1. Steve Gershom

      Anthony,

      Thanks for the followup. I think you’re definitely right about the danger of the victim mentality. I know I have that tendency, although I don’t think it was on display in this post.

      I think the main reason I posted what I did is that I spent so long thinking that all of my problems came from the fact that I wasn’t strong enough, or brave enough, or resilient enough, or *whatever* enough — and that if I were, I’d be just as emotionally healthy as [x]; and that everyone who had (apparently) better emotional health than me had it because they had somehow overcome all the things that I still struggle[d] with.

      When it finally occurred to me that not everybody had even *struggled* with these things [I don't mean SSA, but various neuroses & phobias], and that my failure to overcome them didn’t therefore mean that I was somehow weaker or more defective than everyone else — that was a big revelation, lifted a big weight, and helped me like myself a bit more.

      SG

      Reply
  7. Maria

    I used to say I loved complex people and sort of suffered-enjoyed having billions of broken tangled wires other people didin’t seem to have.
    Then one day a nun heard me rant for about 5 minutes and told me: “Praying simplifies the soul”
    I.DON’T.WANT.TO.BE.SIMPLE right?
    But I do.

    Reply
  8. Peter

    For some reason, this makes me think of a quote from Deepak Chopra: what we call “normal” is only the psychopathology of the average. To me, that means that “normal” should never be our goal — only being the best person (most joyful, compassionate, humble, helpful, etc.) that we can be within each day, given what we have to work with in that day. It may be that anything more is, as they say, above our pay grade. :J

    Reply
  9. April

    First of all, I want to say how big of a blessing your blog has been. It’s one of the main places I go on the internet when I’m down, as it usually gives me some perspective, some hope, or at least a sense of not being alone in suffering. So thank you for this.

    I take an antidepressant, and initially when medicine was recommended, I was super resistant, and had many of the questions and concerns you share. They still persist, and it’s been years, but two things have helped me make a peace with them. Somewhere along the way I started saying a prayer every day over my medicine; usually that God’s will be done, and concerning my fears/questions. It surely makes me feel less helpless before the medicine, and more like it’s another tool in my life, constantly chosen and used.

    Also, someone once suggested I view medicine as the arm floats children use when they are learning to swim. Their role is to keep me from going under while learning to swim. I can’t really explain right now why that has helped (not to mention I already have written a novel – I apologize), but it has.

    Reply

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