The Spring of My Mind

Escaping from sleep is a relief.  From the glimpses I’ve seen, my dreams would make an awesome horror show with infinite episodes, so it is a relief to escape into consciousness.  Waking up is like finishing a marathon and finally being able to rest.

There was rain last night—rain in the land of endless snow.  The temperature is a balmy forty degrees this morning with crows cawing outside the open window.  Darkness lifts slowly, carefully.

Let me tell you about a spring I remember; it was the best spring of my life.  It was 2001 and I had stopped taking drugs.  I had taken drugs—“psych meds” by another name—every day for twenty-six years.  Now I had stopped.

That spring was the warmest, softest thing I’d ever experienced.  The colors were spectacular as the flowers began to blossom.  The air was indescribable as it brushed my face like downy feathers.  The birds sang with rejoicing—I’d never heard birdsong!  Can you imagine—can you begin to understand—the awesome mystery of spring returning after the long winter?  Of life growing out of death, of hope replacing despair, of each day being better than the one before?

Life was exciting!  Just to get up in the morning and go out to discover each morning’s miracle—no snow where there always had been snow!  Melting!  In a land that sees ten feet of snow every winter, melting was a major concept.  Listen to the water running downhill, filling the sewers and the stream!  Watch the geese returning, the ferns shooting through the sodden soil, the days getting longer.  It was an awesome spring and I couldn’t understand why the general populace wasn’t stopped dead in its tracks, stunned by beauty, and exclaiming about it all.

This went on for a couple of weeks, then I finally figured it out: this was the first spring in twenty-six years in which my central nervous system wasn’t filtering sensations through a fog of antidepressants.  That’s what psych meds do to you:  they take away spring.

One morning I found part of a robin’s egg.  Its pale blue was breathtaking—that there could be such a thing of beauty!  And the fragility of that egg—can you imagine life—LIFE—existing and being kept whole is such a fragile thing?  It was the unimaginable made manifest.  I cradled that shell all the day and when my best friend came to visit I gave it to her as a loving gift.  She ooh-ed and ahh-ed and then went home, leaving it behind on the garden bench.

She was on psych meds.

You cannot see or feel or think when you’re taking psych meds.  You don’t know it.  You start taking meds and generally the first thing you notice is that your mouth is dry.  I don’t know why, but an awful lot of psych meds cause dry mouth.  The second thing you notice is relief from pain.  That, after all, is why you’re taking the psych meds:  to get away from the thoughts or feelings that are causing you pain.  (Marijuana is just as good, has fewer side effects, and is a whole lot more fun.)

So you get through the first side effects and into the intended effects, and after that you don’t notice much.  You’ve got this whole system around you—doctors, nurses, social workers, case managers, sisters—all these people who are convinced drugs are good for you and they’re forcing and reinforcing every little perception that you’re doing better because you’re taking drugs.  Of course, they’re not taking drugs!

Drugs are manipulated, increased—never decreased—and changed, changed, changed.  You’ll be fine as soon as we find the right drug.  Hope lies in pharmacopeia.  And so it went, for me, for twenty-six years, and then I quit.  Well, my central nervous system was in shock and torment.  Can you imagine?  Can you imagine spending half your life altering your biochemistry and then quitting?  It’s akin to spending a quarter of a century training a rosebush to grow on a trellis and then pulling the trellis out.  And there is your beautiful rosebush trying to stand alone.

Withdrawing from drugs had its very tough times, but the good times were phenomenal, and one of the goodest times was the first hour of the day. I would wake up, sick beyond belief, struggle to the bathroom and then collapse back into bed.  And then an amazing thing would happen:  I would start to think.  Thinking is the process of connecting two or more disparate thoughts, e.g., this spring is wonderful; this is the first spring without drugs, ergo, drugs interfere with your ability to experience life.

If, at any time during the twenty-six years I took drugs, you had asked me if I was thinking I would have replied that of course I was.  But the fact is that I wasn’t doing anything near what I could have been doing.  I was just going around in circles.  The drugs had effectively nailed one of my feet to the floor and all I could do was circle around and around.  Without drugs, I became capable of linear thinking.  My mind would leap and bound over hilltops and mountaintops.  I could think again!  I could see the big picture, put facts together in logical sequence, make analogies, create hypotheses and rationally test them.  I would lay in bed in the morning, too sick to get up, and watch my brain return to functioning.

It was the spring of my mind.  Winter was over.  The mental death induced by drugs had come to an end.  Life was returning; the ability to think was returning.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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