One time, about 5 years ago, I was on an antipsychotic medication that was known for being very safe and having few side effects. I will not name it here, because I don’t believe that telling others about my bad experiences with medication is safe or appropriate. This medicine helps millions of people; I was just in a minority of people who had horrible, devastating, contraindicative effects from it. This effect is possible because each medicine reacts uniquely in each person’s brain. A medication is prescribed based on the typical reaction it produces, but the typical reaction doesn’t happen to everybody. For me, this medication was very harmful, and it took several months for my doctor and me to connect the dots between my ever-worsening depression, insomnia, paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, and mixed-state bipolar episodes to that medicine.
I was on this medication for five months, growing progressively worse. Every time I got worse, my doctor increased my dosage. I stopped sleeping more than 4 hours a night and fell deeper and deeper into a dark hole that was filled with overwhelming sadness and psychosis. By the time I got to the point where I had felt sincere suicidal desires for about a week, I started making plans.
I did this most waking hours. Bread knife across the throat, hanging myself with an electrical cord from a tree in the park, strangling myself with duct tape, and buying a gun were all considered. I was hurting so badly that all I wanted was out. The breadknife across the throat was the most troubling because when I was lying awake at night with my soul on fire, that was a legitimate plan for exit; all I had to do was walk to the kitchen to end it. I remember literally “white-knuckling it,” clutching my bedding so hard that my hands cramped. I believed that if I let go of my comforter and sheets, I would go straight to the kitchen and end my life. I felt that I had very little self-control left, and I hated the idea of hurting my family with my death so I would sob silently into my pillow from the weight of the guilt attached to what I desperately wanted to do. It takes a lot of courage to attempt suicide, but in this case, it took a lot more courage to just stay in my bed, clutching the bedclothes.
One day, under a grey winter sky, my mom took me to the river so that she could walk and I could sit and stare at the cold, flowing water. It was an excuse to get out of the house. I sat on a rock ledge under a bridge and watched the river. The river was swollen and muddy; it had been raining hard for days. There were people around: children playing with sticks while bundled up in coats and sweaters, men fishing on a ledge below me, and a group of teenagers smoking a fragrant joint in the parking lot not far away. I zoned out as I stared at the water. My soul was on fire.
There was a collection of massive branches caught against a concrete pillar that supported the bridge. The water was rushing, pressing the branches unevenly against the pillar, and they rocked back and forth, struggling, but never came free. I saw myself in the place of those branches. I was being pinned in place and repeatedly bashed by a rushing torrent. I struggled and was never released to move forward. I sat there for an hour, watching the branches struggle. I began to cry, thinking I would be stuck until I didn’t exist anymore. But then I had a thought. Even though I had watched those stuck branches for an hour, I knew that eventually they would and break free and move. The level or speed of the water would surely change eventually, and they would float down the river for miles and end up somewhere different. This was a certainty to me. I knew if I came back the next day, they would be gone. The river would still be there, but the branches would have moved on. I realized it was the same for me. This is a fundamental principle of the universe; everything changes. Entropy will always increase. Nothing stays still for long. One way or another, we always move. The metaphor of the stuck branches shocked me into that reality.
The next day, without being asked or even making a comment, my mother drove out of her way with me during errands to get to the river so that I could see the branches. They were gone, as I knew they would be. I cried.
Sometimes we get stuck. Sometimes we are stuck for a long time. But nothing can stop change. Entropy will increase indefinitely. And yes, sometimes things change for the worse. But the fact of change gives me hope. No matter how bad things are, they can always deteriorate or improve. This means that things can technically still get better, by which I mean that by the law of entropy and the arrow of time it is always possible for a situation to improve. I didn’t think it could ever get better. Why did I think that it couldn’t ever get better? I was stuck. And sometimes when I’m stuck, all I can see is the pain right in front of my face. But that pain lies to me. It tells me things can only get worse or stay the same. Not true.
After 5 awful months, I made sense of what was happening, and the doctor weaned me off of it over the course of 5 weeks. I started a new antipsychotic, which I still use today, and has been something of a “wonder drug”. Within a month, I was happy, sane, and mostly stable. I was okay, and life seemed worth living most of the time. I broke free and moved downstream, to a different place entirely. That’s what was going to happen all along.