When the pills take over, are you even yourself anymore?
Words by Benjamin Pabla
I did something very stupid the other night. I was talking on the phone about my day with the girl I’m seeing. At one point she said something totally unimportant and innocuous (which turns out I actually misheard so what follows was even more needless then it already was). What I thought she said isn’t important, which means I save the embarrassment of me stating it here. What is important is that it made me feel so insecure that my thoughts went into a self-loathing mode like they were trying to set a new world record. I felt not good enough, in every sense, and I felt very sorry for myself. It needs to be said that it wasn’t just what I thought I heard over the phone that sent me on a ride. I was having a low week anyway. This was just the Ass-Cherry on top. Unfortunately, self-destruction seems like a brilliant idea when you’re unhappy with your human foundations. It’s like a demolition project: Doing something drastic in the hopes it unveils the lesson you never learned but so needed to.
“You’re not good enough. If only… (insert ridiculous notion of choice). F**k it! Eat this, drink that, try this drug. Just forget what you know is bad for you, ‘cause something is missing here. My routine isn’t working. Maybe doing this will actually help?”
You don’t need to be a Psychiatrist to see the flaws in that plan. But you also don’t need to be a Psychiatrist to see why that plan would seem attractive to someone in a bad state and in need of help. A person who’s desperate and not thinking clearly. They just want to stop the pain. Stop the intrusive, punishing thoughts. They want it to stop more than anything that a drastic measure will do.
These are the thoughts of mental illness. They’re not really who we are. They’re not us, just thoughts. But sadly they can be the loudest thoughts in your head sometimes. The analogy I use is this: It’s not you thinking. It’s just your brain talking.
I hope you get what I mean.
So what did I do? Well, I take medication for Generalised Anxiety Disorder. The medication is called Pregabalin, and it’s pretty good. I’m not a Doctor so I won’t go into the drug itself too much. But it has helped me a lot in my recovery. I’m a cynic for most things, especially pharmaceuticals. But this medication has helped (along with regular therapy and improving my lifestyle).
I’ve had to work with it for a long time for it to work effectively. The dosage of Pregabalin a person takes is tailored. Two people could be taking it for the same thing, but one might need 200mg a day, and the other 500mg to reach the same results. So a period of trial and error must be taken with this drug to find what dose works for you. Too little and I can feel like I can’t think in depth. Too much, and I can over think to the point of paralysis and be crushed with depressive thoughts, even suicidal. Anyway, despite making good progress this year I have had the odd doubt if my dosage is right. So after feeling very frustrated for a while with not feeling “right”, and now feeling massively inadequate, I decided to just take a higher dose that night. Because screw it.
I know that doing that was beyond stupid. It was dangerous. And please, if you’re on medication yourself do not do that. That aside it proved to be a very interesting couple of days. I knew that the drug would alter how I’d feel and my thoughts, therefore changing my perception of everything. I was expecting a change.
Luckily I was able to see the change otherwise I wouldn’t be able to document this.
After being on a steady dose for a long time, making progress, reforming beliefs, building a strong foundation of identity, all that good work… Taking a higher dose quickly changed where I was mentally, to an uncomfortable place. How I saw myself, how I perceived others, handled situations, processed information, and even the articulation of my speech changed. It all changed. For the worse. Just, I was much more anxious in every sense. Such little cognition. And I was aware of this change and curious by it. I knew it was just the higher dose so I just had to remain calm and ride it out. But I really was like a different person. And I didn’t like what was going on. So many insecure thoughts that I put behind me a long time ago came rushing back
“What if I’m just useless? Maybe I am. Just accept it. No one would ever want me like this, and this is all I am… Why doesn’t she love me? I’m not good enough. I’m really not good enough. Life won’t improve”.
I was thinking all that and more. If I didn’t have the insight I had learned from my therapy they would be thoughts, they would be real. Not thoughts, but beliefs. Facts. But, luckily, I had made all that good progress to see that this clearly wasn’t all real. I really knew that this was just a side-effect.
“Wait a minute. I haven’t felt like this in years. This is just the Pregabalin. How I’m feeling is because of that. This is a drug after all, it has strong effects. Don’t fall victim to these thoughts, just observe them. It’s just a ride”.
What really scared me though, prompting me to write all of this, was that the influence of this medication on my character really made itself known. I didn’t know how dependent I was on it. It was unsettling. And I asked, “How much of me is me? And what is just the Pregabalin?” It’s a true and uncomfortable notion that who you are isn’t completely up to you. Identity isn’t down to a matter of choice, nor some kind of essence. To think that who I am, what I do, think and believe myself to be is actually in-part supported by some kind of pharmaceutical scaffolding scares me.
“What if I come off it? Am I only this person because of medication?”
I was told when I started this medication that it’s a possibility I might be on it for the rest of my life. And I don’t mind that. It can be scary for me to think about how feeble my mental structures are. But perhaps I’m being too half glass empty. I have a bloody mental health issue after all. My brain doesn’t function properly, right now anyway. But look how good I can be with a little help: It’s fine. Better than fine.
Which is what I’m taking away from this.
That it’s not that I am who I am because of… It’s that this is who I always should have been, but I just needed a little help.
We think we know who we are, and we have no need to doubt that because we think we’re set. But no, not at all. Anyone who’s tried Mushrooms or LSD could tell you that. (But those lovely fellows don’t get given enough credit or faith). But it’s true. Here I was thinking I’ve made all this progress and I’m now “this” person. But this person is easily effected. This mind and personality are fragile. Being supported up. And I couldn’t help but feel like I’m was lacking in quality as a person: I’m not the result of my own choices, I’m dependant on something that I don’t want. But that’s not true. We are all a result of outside stimuli whether we know it or not. We’re more nurture than nature, always have been. And no one can say they are who they are because of them completely. There’s a whole heap of shit in your sub-conscious that’s pre-learned crap creating cognitive short-cuts to decisions you’re not even aware of. And if you ask Sam Harris, even free will is up for debate massively, and the concept of “I” is an illusion (a well-held idea in eastern philosophy).
Where I’m coming from is, I or you don’t need to be scared if help is needed in some way. It’s still you. If it supports you so that you can see over the horizon, then enjoy the view. My mind is ill at the moment. But it’s getting better.