So if we get in an ugly debate, you can now officially say “Levi’s off his meds!”… At least for a time. Last week I decided to go off my modest dosage (20 mgs) of paxil. There are a couple of reasons I decided to do this. First, and above all, I just hadn’t been feeling much of anything in the last couple of years. It’s not that I felt bad. I just didn’t feel any highs or lows. It was almost like being a Vulcan or a reptile. Nothing really affect me. I’d feel a small irritation here or a bit of joy there, but overall my affective life was just characterized by a feeling of “meh”. Everything slid off me and I almost felt as if I was watching my affective states from the outside, like I an observer of myself. I don’t want to continue feeling like that. The second reason is that now is just the most convenient time. I’m not teaching this summer. Aside from the minor changes I need to make to Onto-Cartography, I have no major deadlines to meet. And I’m not doing any academic travel this summer. This is simply the greatest expanse of empty time I’ve had to do this in a while.Please understand that I’m not denigrating anti-depressants. Paxil, despite the remoteness it produced in me, gave me the emotional distance and freedom to deal with a number of issues. I think that was invaluable.
Withdrawal symptoms? For the last week I’ve been getting the dreaded “brain zaps” and have had a bit of dizziness. No one really knows what brain zaps are– some hypothesize that they’re mini seizures –but as for their phenomenology, they feel as if your head has momentarily received a mild electric shock, and your tongue kinda swells for a second like you’ve touched it to a 12v battery. As some of you might have noticed, my compulsiveness is back at the level of writing. It’s as if I just can’t write enough and feel compelled to say something every twenty minutes. I suspect this will calm down as my brain chemistry adjusts itself. I can say, however, that I like this. I had forgotten what it was like to speak and write breathlessly like Zizek or Adrian Johnston. My temper is back as well. One of the reasons I went on anti-depressants in the first place was that I could easily fly off the handle at small things (without violence, mind you), flipping out and sometimes even destroying friendships. I’m hoping that I can moderate this either through some form of “emotion journal” keeping, meditation, or exercise. I really don’t want that to come back.
Finally, I’ve been having really weird dreams/nightmares. I find this fascinating. As a Freudo-Lacano-Guattarian, I of course think of dreams as formations of desire. Yet these dreams clearly seem to be evoked by changes in my neuro-chemistry. Why is it that a change in my neuro-chemistry would lead me to having a nightmare about having a heated discussion with Judith Butler over whether or not we should get a dog in our apartment, when we already have cats? Why would a change in my neuro-chemistry lead me to have a dream that climate change caused Dublin to become a desert wasteland where you can’t find good corned beef anymore and where Michael O’Rourke can’t wear his cool jackets anymore? Why would such a change make me dream of my junior high girlfriend suddenly appearing in her adult incarnation in my apartment after driving here in a muscle car called a “cobra” and wanting to go for chicken wings? All of this leads me to wonder about the relationship between chemistry and signification. I’m pretty firmly convinced that dreams are veiled statements about our desires, but there’s something else going on here as well. How to think about the relationship between these things?
I’m not sure why I’m writing about all of this publicly. Dejan would say I just like talking about myself because I’m the “narcissistic cat”. That’s true enough. I guess I also feel that talking about it publicly helps me to take responsibility for these changes and monitor them, and also perhaps helps others to fight any stigma or shame they might feel for being on psychotropics to treat conditions such as anxiety or depression. A few years ago there were very ugly discussions about psychotropic drugs following in the wake of the publication of Fisher’s Capitalist Realism (and Mark K-Punk wasn’t guilty of this), where it was basically said that those of us using psychotropics are somehow shills for neoliberal capitalism. In other words, the manner in which these drugs have helped many of us and rendered our lives manageable was somehow portrayed as us being duped by the ravages of capitalism and contemporary labor and as ways of not addressing the real problem. The idea seemed to be that if we wish to fight our debilitating depression and anxiety disorders, we must first topple capitalism. Ever since then I’ve felt a sort of moral responsibility to speak up about my own relationship to these things– with full awareness of the often horrible side-effects some of these drugs can have –and to contribute to awareness about mental illness (though I hate that term). I guess this puts me in the position of people being able to say “he’s gone off his meds”, but so be it. I think we need more complicated, nuanced understandings of psychic space that think the interplay of the signifier, social forces, interpersonal relations, and brain chemistry, that aren’t so quick to reduce certain psychic structures to products of the signifier– I recently read a distinguished French psychoanalyst contend that cystic fibrosis is a form of ordinary psychosis!?!?! –but recognizing that not only is there an interplay between the sociological, the signifying, and the chemistry, but that there are also organic disorders that aren’t a matter of the signifier at all.
At any rate, I’m happy to bid my mistress paxil adieu, and am thankful for the time we spent together. I’m trepidatious about our future apart, but also confident that things will go well so long as I take care of myself and do not betray the truth of my desire or self.