This week was my latest scheduled catch-up with my psych. As it turned out, it was well-timed.
I’ve been getting some really lovely, thoughtful comments recently on my brain weasels post. One comment particularly struck me, from someone who is being treated for their own brain weasels for the first time in their life. I’m scared, they said. I don’t remember ever being any other way.
I recognise that fear. When I began taking medication for my mental health, I was nervous too about how it might change me. What if I became a completely different person?
It wasn’t just concern about side effects, although that was part of it. But on a fundamental level, it was acknowledging that this person with all her worries, her relentless thinking and planning for possible outcomes, her bursts of intense creative energy and her inevitable burn-out – this was the person I saw as me.
This was the person I was used to being, the only person I had any experience of being. How much could I change without becoming essentially someone else?
The answer to that, as it turns out, is both more complicated and simpler than I could have imagined.
I’ve been in a writing drought for the last week or two. Not through lack of inspiration, much to my relief, but simply through lack of time and – which is just as important thought less often discussed – lack of mental and emotional resources to spare for it.
This week, though, I’m finally back in the saddle with plans for a brand new story. I have themes and characters and a general shape, and it’s all brimming with potential. And so I find myself confronting the single most hair-tearingly difficult challenge of writing: actually putting words down.
One of the books recommended to me as part of my fiction-writing journey was Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. It’s a book I have mixed feelings about (though I think that’s less of a reflection on the book, and more on the lessons I need/ed to learn not being the ones it was trying to teach me), but one moment in it that got me thinking was a short diatribe about the word “OK”.
The clonazepam has created an immediate and very measurable transformation – enough so that, for the first time, I feel like I’m in a position to observe the differences in my patterns of thought and behaviour with and without anxiety.
So I’m recording my observations. If you’ve never had anxiety (or if you don’t know if you have it), I hope this helps you understand what the world feels like to someone who does.
Part one was about the “obvious” (in hindsight) effects of anxiety; this week is about the rest of it. Before clonazepam, I would have said that anxiety was just one of a suite of problems my brain had in functioning. It turns out they were a lot more related than I’d realised.
Brain weasel update: I’m lucky enough to have found a psychiatrist who really seems to listen to me and to have good ideas about what I need (it only took two tries – would that everyone in the mental health care system could be so fortunate).
After concluding fairly definitively that my major (perhaps only) weasels are variations on anxiety, he’s put me on an SNRI antidepressant to try out (SNRIs can also be effective in treating anxiety) – and since this style of antidepressants take effect only after four to six weeks, and since we’re ramping my dosage up slowly to see what happens (therefore requiring even longer), in the meantime he’s also put me on clonazepam, a benzodiazepine-class tranquilliser.
I’ve had a couple of people ask me about the descriptor I use for myself at the top of this page: “brain weasel wrangler”. So I figure it’s time to explain a bit about the weasels, and to talk about my journey from denial to acceptance.
This is a longer post than my usual, but I hope it will give some of you something to think about when facing your own brain weasels. Warning: discussion ahead of mental illness, brief mention of suicide.
A couple of years ago, at the height of the craze for such things, a couple of people gave me adult colouring books for Christmas. They were beautiful things, full of intricate spirals and minutely detailed images, each one a blank canvas open to a thousand possibilities for filling it with glorious colour.
And my first thought was, What if I get it wrong?