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Monday, July 31, 2017

Prozac and Pain

I woke up last week and realized something startling: I missed my wife.

Jess and I have spent a lot of time apart in our nine years together. Graduate field work, academic conference travel, the logistics of an international partnership all conspired to create separations of anywhere from one week to nine months. Being apart is never pleasant, and it never gets easier. This isn't one of the longer separations - she'll be home in two weeks, she is safe and having a nice time with her family. There's nothing particularly worrying about this separation.

I have always felt I coped okay with being apart from her. Mostly I would go through my day-to-day responsibilities and not think of her much. The sadness confined itself to ten or fifteen minute sessions a few times a week: a deep longing so painful it left me nauseous and unable to breathe; passing with a few tears. These moments were dreadful, but survivable. There was even a shameful feeling of freedom when I would spend hours doing things that could be seen as selfish - sewing, talking on the internet, absurd activities that I curtailed when we were together.

Now...this time...I miss her. I feel her absence every moment; when I get up and eat breakfast alone, when I spend hours on those absurd projects. I made bread for myself and felt sentimental over how Jess wasn't there for me to nag in to eating it (even though I know she doesn't like it.) I pick up my phone and send her messages without thinking of the time difference, or the absurdity of the lover's shorthand through which I repeat my love to her.

And this is a good thing.

People talk a lot about how psychiatric medications change someone, and make your emotions inauthentic. They make you artificially happy, the argument goes; you will lose touch with your actual feelings.

What I think gets forgotten in this is that depression, and other mental illnesses themselves - those are standing in the way of our authentic feelings, too. That person who could calmly say goodbye to my wife at the airport and move on to be on my own, that person isn't me. That strangely numb attitude is not who I wanted to be. And now I am.

I expected Prozac to give me happiness back. But it also gave me sadness, and I embrace it.

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