My experience with my new medication gives me a perhaps unique – or at least uncommon – opportunity to observe and comment on the difference between a normal state of mind and a depressed state of mind.
Usually, the climb out of depression is slow and gradual. And, I think, usually people are just glad to be out of it and move on. They don’t necessarily want to reflect on it.
As for me, I’ve had no choice but to reflect on it because that’s how have I coped and survived. Had I not deliberately reflected on it, consciously analyzed it and applied my intelligence and talents to developing coping strategies for it, I never would have survived this. So, after a couple of decades of coping, I’ve catalogued a lot of observations and developed a lot of survival strategies.
I’ve often wondered, if I could push a magic button and make the condition disappear completely and permanently, would I? When I was in it, I wasn’t sure. The only meaning I could find in my life was in battling the illness. I couldn’t see beyond that and literally couldn’t form a mental picture of a life without it. I tried to imagine life without the condition as clearly as I could so that I could somehow plot a course to get there but it was as if my brain was incapable of forming those thoughts.
So, now here I am and a ‘magic medication’ pushes that button, at least for brief periods of time and I see the stark contrast between what the Universe looks like with the condition and without.
Now, that I see that, would I push the button and have it gone for good? Probably yes. The difference is so stark and dramatic in so many large and small ways I would opt for life without this condition.
But, I don’t have that option. The medication is only a partial solution, at least so far.
First, I can’t be sure it will continue to work. I’m terrified that I will develop a tolerance for the medication which will require me to take more than I can safely take without dangerous side effects.
Second, when it works it’s only for brief stretches that it’s really optimal. I mean an hour or two at most. Then the condition starts to creep in again. It’s not always safe or wise just to take more medication. The roller coaster ride is difficult to deal with.
Part of the reason it’s difficult is that there’s a whole lot of momentum behind the condition after a couple of decades of living with it. The brain is plastic. The short version is that the number of neurons that we have is more or less set by the time we’re in our mid 20s. There are a few areas of the brain where new neurons form but not that many. The number of ‘wires’ and connections between neurons is amazing though. There are about 86 billion neurons in the average human brain with 16 billion of those being in the cerebral cortex. But each of those neurons is connected to tens of thousands of others meaning that there are tens of trillions of connections. And each of those connections is not just an on/off connection like in a computer. It’s very sophisticated and has many states. The total state of the brain is continuously changing. It’s continuously rewiring itself. The wiring of the connections are changing. The characteristics of the connections themselves are continuously changing.
In some ways this is a fast process and in other ways it’s very gradual. When you learn a new word, for example, there’s a rapid change in your brain’s state that is lasting. When you’re scared by a loud noise there’s a rapid change but it is probably not lasting. But, other aspects of our conscious experience only shift slowly over time.
Maybe it’s accurate to say that the overall ‘shape’ of our brains changes slowly but the details can change rapidly.
My brain is connected up, over decades, to be depressed and that is going to be slow to change.
But, with the help of the medication, I have the experience of having many details of my experience change suddenly during the periods that the medication is working optimally. I think this is what I am seeing.
It’s manifest in so many ways that it’s difficult to know where to start to inventory them.
Why is it even important to inventory them?
Because there is great joy in experiencing every one of them while they last and that’s what keeps me going when the effect fades.
So, when I started this post, my mind was is that, more or less optimal state. I had wanted to go on but that state is already fading and I have to save what’s left for other things that I have to do. So I’ll have to continue later.