Finding the proper medication, or medications, to treat overlapping mental health conditions is more often a wavy course than a straight line, as exhibited by my own trial-and-error. Eventually, I found I function and feel best with daily Lexapro, extended-release Adderall and the occasional Klonopin for intense spikes of anxiety. I cling to these pills like the lifeline they are, traveling with my meds in a tote bag clutched over my shoulder, pills rattling in their plastic amber bottles, marking each step like psychopharmacological maracas.
With vigilance, plus medication and regular therapy, I feel mostly OK, most of the time. My work gets done, my obligations met; the black-dog days stand stark in their rare awfulness. One important part of the journey is identifying how mental illness and executive dysfunction manifest in my life, so I can address them when they reappear or worsen. My signs of depression and anxiety are agitation, exhaustion and, at the extreme end, a lacerating feeling of self-loathing and futility. Springsteen, by contrast, has referred to his own depression symptoms as a cloud of “toxic confusion.” There’s no one-size-fits-all in this scratchy suit.
It was likely A.D.H.D. that spurred me into buying a last-minute ticket to “Springsteen on Broadway” in July while evading sleep at 1 a.m. This particular form of executive dysfunction is known for impulsivity, after all.
I took my Adderall the morning of the show. Attending unmedicated would have had my mind wandering as I watched Springsteen perform: I wonder what song he’ll do next. You know what song is great? “Candy’s Room.” Oh, man, I should’ve gotten some candy at the concession stand before the show started. Does he need to wear orthotics in those boots, standing for more than two hours every performance?
But once the show began, I was fixed on the legend in the spotlight unfurling his life story from peak to vale and pealing out songs. Nothing else, save for the woman next to me silently weeping, diverted my attention. (I’d have cried, too, but Adderall and Lexapro dancing cheek to cheek in my bloodstream make it all but impossible.) Fully absorbed in the mystical significance of live performance, this was, in a way, the first show I’ve ever completely seen.
The next morning, I was left feeling inspired by Springsteen’s honesty, to continue being open about my struggle, to normalize the process of discovery, diagnosis, treatment and adjustment. Some people can’t disclose their mental health challenges for practical reasons — work, cultural bias, unsupportive family. Some people simply don’t want to. But my mission has been made clear: to extend the hand of hope to anyone who is suffering the way I have.
As I count out my pills, I count my blessings. Isn’t it funny how a cluster of diagnoses can rob with one hand, and, once managed, grant you purpose with another? And isn’t it funny how an entire constellation of thoughts, and an entire way of being, can spin out from a single star?
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