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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

A story

It began when I couldn't sleep.

The thing insomnia does to you is this: it removes the filter that's in your head that tells you what is real and what is not. There's a good reason it's the literary device Fight Club uses to blur the line between the neurotic self and the unrestrained self. At some point, when you haven't slept for seventy hours, the days blur together and you can't remember if something you were just considering actually happened or not. So in the age of pharmacy, I went to a doctor. That's how it started.

The thing they don't tell you about the trials is that they're going to believe what they're going to believe, and the experiments with the blocks and the ink-stained paper are just for your peace of mind. Once they see your family history, you're a goner. Your opinion just confirms it all the more. Those five hundred questions, the little bubbles to fill out? You may as well guess "C" on every one. The thing is that they lie to you. It's all voodoo. But you trust them, becuase they're wearing white and so you put on the metal frame that holds your head in place for the MRI and when they tell you that there's something wrong you just say, "How do I fix it?" because what they're selling is reality, and you have to know that the one they're pushing is better than the one you're living since they have the prescription pad, and all the sweater vests in the world can't hide what that represents.

How do you know if your own brain is lying? They say that what happens is synapses fire when photons interact with the chemicals in your eye, and those are processed in the occipital lobe and then projected inside your head against the front of your skull where the frontal lobe watches them with popcorn and a Coke, and ascribes meaning to all the chaos. Sometimes if that meaning is right, another part of your brain smiles and open up a champagne bottle of endorphins. Of course, for you, sometimes this just happens anyway. That part of your brain is an alcoholic, and he guzzles endorphins like it's the end of the millenium. But they have a twelve step program condensed into a capsule that can be billed to your HMO and picked up at your local CVS.

I tried. The first time, I really did. One pill in the morning, one in the afternoon. I slept. But I never really woke up. I had traded an insomnia with twenty waking hours for the same fugue state with half the amount of time spent conscious. I could feel my mind grasping for thoughts that were always just out of reach. My friends kept asking what was wrong. They thought that I was depressed. The fact was I couldn't be depressed. The world was a place where all the edges had been removed. Emotional childproofing.

The thing they don't tell you is that you're trading the wilderness of volitility for a gilded cage.

The pills and I came to an agreement. I would stop taking them, and they would stop making my life a purgatory. The first days after I was no longer on the meds were the worst. The thing is that they don't leave you right away. They linger. They hang on like a desperate ex. But after some time my head began to clear.

There are times when it's better, and there are times when it's worse. Now it's worse.

I remember some years ago seeing The Matrix. There's a part where Morpheus offers a choice between pills - one to see the real world, and one to continue living in a dream. The rest of the movie paints this portrayal of heroism in the choice to accept "reality" over the infinitely more interesting and colorful fantasy. Choose gruel and steel grating to the ability to fly. To have whatever you want. To reach beyond the unexceptional life. This isn't a terribly uncommon conflict for many people. Do you really want that life, though? What's heroic about it? What's more "real"?

When I first picked up the Depakote prescription, I noted with a certain sense of irony that the pills were, in fact, red.

What if, in Plato's cave, it turned out that the images projected onto the wall were more vibrant than the shapes from which they were cast? Would it still be the duty of the philosopher to find his way out? What if, instead of being dazzled by sunlight, it was into the cave where one had to go find the world? That's the question the meds pose. Allegories of this type always seem to illustrate reality as more amazing than the imaginary, but it's almost always the other way around.

Plato is being deceptive. What he's actually saying is: would you prefer the dank recesses of a cave where you can only see shadows? Or would you prefer the warm, bright, sunny world with more detail? But you don't get more detail. You lose sharp focus. Sure, your retinas aren't burned by the sun any more, but you also lose the ability to hold up your head and look to the sky.

Functionality is overrated, and reality is what you make of it, and besides: insanity is an affirmative defense.

cranked out at 3:37 AM | |

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