Teach Me How To Feel
Abby Norman

This is why you need to get with your prescriber — and I hope to heaven it’s a psychiatric specialist of some kind, not a GP, because bless their hearts, GPs do like one rotation in Psych and then poof.

I still have my feelings and my intensity. They just don’t break me unless it’s *life* that would break me. I was lucky: we only needed to tinker a little with which SSRI (Celexa, turns out, is nicer to me than Lexapro, and they’re cousins) and how high a dose (answer: nothing that will send me hypomanic). I feel like I’m getting to be the person I should have been all along, mentally speaking.

A good doctor or NP should be able to hear you out on what is sounding a little like anhedonia and help you figure out what to do next, but here’s what helped me help myself best: becoming a total nerd about my meds and what they were up to. Understanding the ins and outs of my hell, other people’s hell, the ways we have responded differently, the ways we seem to respond the same.

Don’t accept the old artsy party line that meds will stop you being fulfilled in your creativity. They won’t. God, I had a writing teacher in high school who tried to tell me that. If I’d listened, I’d be dead. No, I still go on all-night writing jags because the words need OUT. I don’t draw as often as I used to, but I’m trying to get into a sketch-a-day habit. I reach for poetry more readily now than ever, more sure that it will work because I have been taught some amazing things about form over the years. And nothing, but nothing, will stop the songs from bursting out of my lungs when I must sing.

I cry. I grieve. I don’t feel every single grief as intensely as the last. This was a pattern for me, and not a healthy one. I am not Jesus. I do not have to die so that the world can be saved. It won’t work anyhow. I didn’t stunt my passion; I learned how to be passionate in a productive, healthy way. This may be why I maintain a social media presence. Slacktivism is what I’ve got to work with, given ill health.

Remember also: it’s not meds alone. It’s meds *and therapy*. And looking at your family: do they have dysfunctions you recognise in yourself? (Turns out a ton of this is hereditary brain chemistry on my end.) Or are you having a legitimate response to a terrible situation? This is why we have trained professionals working from a body of scientific evidence. In Woolf’s day, this was not a thing; in Sexton’s it was only just getting started. You have, at twenty-six, a plethora of options that might have saved the lives of the women you idolise. We cannot say whether they had to die. Maybe no intervention would have worked. Some depression is treatment-refractory. But you can’t say that after one type of treatment.

I was seventeen when I had the breakdown that stopped the death spiral. I went to the only person in my life I knew was totally safe and present: my band director, who with his wife had been helping me claw my way toward first chair. Which, by the way, I achieved. :) He told me it would be okay. He told me I was still people, that panic disorder didn’t make me less in his eyes even if I did run offstage at Eastman. And he started the ball rolling on real interventions for me when my own parents were too caught up in themselves to notice. To this day they care whether I’m happy and healthy, long after my parents got with the program. Thirteen years later, I’m still here. My mama can tell Mrs. B, in a completely coincidental phone call, that I lived. I will live. And so can I, when I see her. That I might have my moments of going through hell, but I will keep going.

I wish for you that very assurance. Don’t give up yet. There’s help you haven’t met. But you can.

xoxo M.

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