I held the pill in my hand and examined it. A stereotypical capsule, half white and half green. It was small, but had the potential to be powerful. It was already meaningful. I had fought for this pill, while fighting against it at the same time. I remember my now ex-boyfriend begging me to find some other way to deal with my emotions. Others told me that if I just prayed hard enough, my depression would lift on its own. I had a conversation with my mother and she said, “Are you sure you're depressed, and that it's not just because of your fights and your break up with that boy?” She doesn't know because I hid it so well; I hid it for years, hoping that it would vanish on its own once I just got more mature. But it didn't, and now external circumstances have fallen apart to the extent that I can't hide my emotions anymore. I remember the numb realization that I wasn't just exceptionally bad at dealing with my emotions, but that there were deeper implications. The doctor's sympathetic face as she looked at me and said, “The next time I see you here, I hope you'll be feeling so much better.” She was kind, I could feel it in the way that she gave me a quick hug before I walked out of the room. But at the same time, I don’t want to be deserving of her sympathy.
I wonder how much difference this pill would make. I am disgusted that I had to take it to be normal, but at the same time I am hopeful about what “normal” could feel like. Maybe I won’t cry every time I get upset. I wince, remembering how my ex broke up with me because he told me I couldn’t handle any discussion beneath a shallow surface level. He hid the issues he had with me because he knew that if he brought them up, I would just get distraught, and nothing would be solved. Surely I’ll be able to hold more difficult conversations without tears sneaking down my face. Maybe when I’m normal, I won’t feel so hopeless all the time, like the odds are stacked against me. I’ll get my sense of motivation back. I won’t be subject to panic attacks overtaking my consciousness, sometimes for a reason, sometimes seemingly random. I hope most of all to stop feeling so broken. I want to stop giving excuses when I have trouble letting something go, or when I can’t seem to get out of a bad mood. “It’s just my depression talking, this isn’t actually a problem” is something I’ve said way too many times.
I take a deep breath, put the pill on the back of my tongue, and gulp it down with water. I screw the bottle shut, then put it back in the medicine cabinet, next to the other similar bottles that belong to my older brother. I feel a new closeness to him, knowing that we suffered from the same mentality. We always had a good relationship. We talked more than ever before in the last few weeks, though, and not just about trivial things, but about intimate details, the secret thoughts that we hide from most people. Talking to him, though sobering, makes me less alien. There is someone just like me, not just out there anywhere, but here in my own family, living with me. He had the same struggles before that I was having now, and he survived.
I notice one side effect soon. When I sleep, my dreams burst and throb with color and senses. They are more vivid, more strange, than ever before. The nightmares are how I feel inside now, when I wake up. Fear, anxiety, sadness, all run rampant. I am always worrying that people will betray or abandon me, and my bad dreams reflect that. But the happy dreams, even the exceedingly odd ones – the sights and sounds, the adventures, the feelings – maybe those foreshadow my future, in a way. In one dream, someone whose face I can’t quite see comes over to the side of my bed and holds my hand, telling me in a deep, soothing voice that everything is going to be ok. I start to believe that.
The brilliant scenes in my sleep are a consequence of my brain working to reorder itself, to adjust to this new chemical being fed to it. Neurons too long unused start firing again. For a while, there are two versions of reality: how I would have reacted not so very long ago, and the calmer reaction I can now choose to take. My emotions aren't dulled. It's just that I can make sure they're in the right order now, that I'm controlling them rather than the opposite. I laugh more. It isn't as if my happiness is fake, synthesized. I now simply notice more reasons to be happy. My overactive imagination puts itself to humor and creativity rather than worry and self-doubt.
It is a slow transition, but it has noticeable effects. Even though I ended a relationship of two years in length, my first relationship at that, I don't feel lonely. My former love becomes undeserving of my affections, for not being willing to wait through my troubled period. It is his loss that he didn’t have enough patience, and doesn’t get to see this newer, happier version of myself. I have enough spunk and audacity to flirt with my next conquest. I start reading again, singing, writing, drawing. I look to my life ahead, applying to and visiting colleges, anticipating the future with happy nervousness. Jokes come out of my mouth more often now. One of the times I sit down with my brother, I tell him, “The pill looks like those capsules from the dollar store that turn into sponge animals when you put them in warm water.” He is a pharmacy major, and knows more about medications than I do; he laughs and tells me, “They work on the same principle.” I tell my doctor about this the next time that I’m in her office. We laugh and imagine the tiny sponge animals swimming around inside me, and speculate that maybe they come out to play at night while I sleep. I can picture the cheerful, brightly colored animals eating up my depression.
The scars, physical and emotional, start to fade. Panic attacks lessen, and I find more constructive ways to deal with anxiety when it bubbles up under the surface again. I stop crying myself to sleep. The shame for having to take a medication to be “normal” fades, and I am empowered. But it isn't all easy. The pills don't give me a fake reality. I still have highs and lows, regular emotions. I'm fully capable of feeling disappointed, betrayed, confused, or broken. My dreams still flutter between hopeful and terrifying, sometimes visiting the extreme of one side, most times hovering somewhere in the middle. My waking experiences do the same. I begin to wear black. It is metaphorical for me. I look down at it and think, “It is always darkest before the dawn.” Sometimes I let bits of red sneak into the fabric. “The first rays of sunlight,” I tell myself.
But I remember one experience in particular, lying in the arms of someone unashamed of my scars and my history of emotional battles, a new love, one that I am more hopeful will last. We fall quiet for a moment and I reflect aloud on how well I have been doing lately, how long it has been since an anxiety “episode,” or a situation that would have been handled better by a “normal” person. A brazen thought crosses my mind, and I hesitantly voice it. “Maybe… I won't need these pills forever.” As those words leave my lips, wholeness spreads through my body and soul. I don't feel broken, like something is wrong with me, and I don't feel “normal” either. The feelings are amplified as my lover tightens his arms around me; I can feel his hope and excitement coupled with mine as he presses his lips to my forehead.
I feel exceptional, strong and free of the sickness that tried to destroy my brightness. I am no longer between normal and broken, but I have surpassed them both.