By Julia K. Agresto
I haven’t slept in days. The crushing anxiety that plagues every waking minute of every day won’t let up. It’s a constant feeling of being deeply afraid, although of what specifically I don’t quite know. It’s a strange combination of caring far too much about everything and nothing, and no longer caring much about anything at all.
Each day begins the same: with a tearful phone call to my father. Or a phone call where I don’t say much and don’t cry, but I call anyway because I just need to feel someone there, to feel somehow less alone in my loneliness. I’m unsure which of the two is worse for him. In either case, I feel like an impossibly heavy burden. I know the weight of my sadness and his inability to remedy it are slowly destroying him. I know he is at a loss for what he can say or do. I wonder if, like many others who have seemingly disappeared from my life because they too are at a loss for what they can say or do, he debates whether it would be easier to just let me drift away. But I’ve already drifted. I am standing on a tiny island in the middle of a colossal sea waving my arms desperately, waiting to be rescued. Nobody sees me.
One day during our ritual phone call, my dad says, “You can’t do this anymore. You’re not sleeping. You’re missing work. You’ve hit a wall. You need to go on medication.” I resist. I’ve long operated under the misguided notion that medication equates to weakness. That succumbing to this last-ditch solution would mean I’ve admitted defeat. I’m terrified of side effects. I’m terrified of gaining weight, even as I’m withering away to nothing, so severely depressed that grocery shopping and cooking have become too emotionally taxing to deal with. He tells me that he’s found a psychiatric nurse practitioner in my area who can see me that day to evaluate me and prescribe something for the anxiety and depression, and to help me sleep. I am so completely drained and exhausted that I finally agree. The thought of never escaping this hell that I’m in finally becomes more painful to me than the stigma of being medicated. I figure that things can’t get much worse (this turns out to be untrue, as I’ll soon learn that the adjustment period to these new meds is complete and abject misery).
I get into my car in a haze, which has become my new normal, and drive the five minutes down the street to the NP’s office. Even this feels like a monumental effort, and by the time I arrive I can’t even remember how I got there. It’s difficult to explain if you’ve never experienced it, but it’s as though every single day becomes an out-of-body experience. You’re on the outside watching yourself go through the motions, but you don’t feel like you’re actually in it. Complete detachment. Merely existing, just trying to survive from one moment to the next. Nothing feels real. Ironically, I can’t sleep and yet I always feel like I’m dreaming. Like I’m trapped in one of those awful, endless nightmares that seem to go on forever, and when you finally wake up they stay with you, and you have to remind yourself that it didn’t actually happen; that you’re okay. Except I don’t wake up. The moment of realization, of being okay, never comes.
I walk through the door of a small, sterile office with a musty smell and soft instrumental music pouring from indiscernible speakers, which I deduce is meant to relax me. I choose a chair in a corner of the small waiting area. I look around self-consciously, half expecting to see someone I know and shrivel up in embarrassment like a slug doused in salt. I’m mere seconds from reconsidering this whole thing and bolting for the door when a portly woman with glasses and bangs emerges from behind a closed office door and calls my name. I look around again, as if someone else will respond. Surely I can’t be the one about to receive a psychiatric evaluation.
This time I’m forced to choose a chair directly across from this complete stranger who knows nothing about me or my life or what I’ve been through, and yet is about to size me up based on a few canned questions. There’s no hiding now. I may as well be sitting there naked.
The nurse takes out a sheet of paper and begins the inquisition.
Are you sleeping? No.
Are you eating? No.
Are you suicidal? No.
Do you feel depressed? Yes.
Do you feel anxious? Yes.
Do you feel you need medication? Yes. (Want? No. Need? Yes. I’m half asleep and quite frankly feeling half dead even as I sit here talking to you).
She pushes me on the suicide question. I tell her that I don’t want to die, but I don’t want to go on living this way. I feel tired, helpless, indifferent. I can’t get out of bed. I can’t take a shower. I can’t make a Goddamn salad. I’ve spent my entire life becoming who I am, and now it’s all unraveling. Now I’m unbecoming. It’s a slow burn to nothingness.
Before I know it, she’s writing two different prescriptions: one for Sertraline, which is a generic of Zoloft, and another for a sleep med. She asks me where I want them filled, says she’ll call them in and I can go pick them up and start taking them right away.
I drive to the pharmacy, already ashamed when I walk up to the counter and give them my name. They tell me it will be a few minutes and as I’m going over all of the potential downsides to the meds in my mind, the pharmacist emerges from behind the back counter and half-heartedly, almost sarcastically, asks if I have any questions about side effects. He then proceeds to read me the riot act about how awful antidepressants and sleep meds are; how overprescribed. In my half-zombie state, standing there waiting for the pills I don’t want but that are my absolute last resort, I feel like telling him to go fuck himself.
When I get home, I stare long and hard at the boxes of medication, willing myself to take them, telling myself this is necessary, that I haven’t failed, that I’ve tried everything else and I have truly reached the point of crisis. I would take capsules filled with battery acid right now if I thought it would help.
I’d like to say those pills were the magic cure. They surely helped, but the truth is at some point I had to accept that I didn’t get to where I was overnight, and I wasn’t going to get out of it overnight either. The only way out was through.
Some days I’m still afraid I’ll slip back into the chasm that opened up beneath my life. I fought so hard to find my way out, and it all feels so distant and indistinct now. Yet I’m still keenly aware of the possibility that I could get knocked off course at any given moment and lose everything all over again. That I am healed, but perhaps still more susceptible to falling. That I’m one disruption, one setback, one failure away from another collapse. That the darkness I was submerged in seeped inside of me and is somehow a part of me now, barely perceptible but never truly gone. That I will spend the rest of my life running from it, looking over my shoulder, afraid it will catch me again.
Julia K. Agresto is a writer, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, girlfriend, lover of words, and a survivor, residing in New Hampshire.