Incarnate

Gina sat alone at a patio table of a restaurant with a book in her hands and watched a small fire truck and ambulance pull up a half a block away. A group of emergency responders entered the front door of a small business, and within five minutes, they rolled an unconscious woman out on a gurney, placed her in the back of the ambulance, and drove off.

Gina sipped the last of her espresso and imagined the woman on the gurney disappearing through the doors of some emergency room entrance. Sooner or later, she thought, everyone would be carted away for good, and what difference would it make? Much of her life had been a bitter struggle. Her marriage to an abusive husband had disintegrated, yet he was still in her life because she was afraid to force him away, both physically and psychologically, the excuse being that her three daughters still needed his presence although he was anything but a healthy role model. Because she was ashamed of this, she kept others who could help her at a distance.

She had lived a life of depression, and in the midst of a deep slump, she had grown dependent on Effexor. When Gina’s doctor prescribed the drug to her, she didn’t detail the possible effects it would have on her mind and body. She simply said nonchalantly, “Effexor will level you out. You’ll like it.” But after just a few weeks of taking the drug, Gina felt like a discarnate entity indifferently watching the world go by. Her intent was not to stay on it for long, but she was so afraid of getting really depressed again that she kept taking it. She was ingesting the bare minimum, 37.5 milligrams, once per day. She took it at night because it made her sleepy. Moreover, her doctor didn’t want her to stop in the winter, so time just continued to go by.

One morning as Gina was making breakfast, her youngest daughter Misty walked over to her, held Gina’s face in her hands, stared into her glassy eyes, and said, “Mom, are you in there today? We love you, you know. Please come back to us. Please?” Gina finally realized it was time to make a change. She had become vacant and distant to everyone around her. Clearly, her medication was doing more damage than good. It tamped down her emotions to the point where everything seemed the same. Gina wanted to experience a wide range of sensations. She wanted intimacy again with those closest to her regardless of the despair that might come with those connections.

But the process wouldn’t be easy. As Gina weaned herself off Effexor over the next few months, she started feeling overwhelmed, like there was entirely too much on her plate, mainly because when she was in that mode, she didn’t take day-by-day sequences into consideration. Instead, she tried to process everything all at once, which made her anxious and then unable to do anything. This led to uncontrollable crying spells—the tears just came whenever, and they stopped her in her tracks no matter what she was doing. There was no telling what might trigger a crying spell, either. It could be anything from someone asking her if she was OK to simply having to wake up in the morning.

Then Gina began feeling head shocks. She thought of them as audible electronic zaps that concentrated around different parts of her brain. They were quick little moments, like pop rock candy sensations that lasted only a second or two. Some came in ones, others in quick successions of three. They happened when Gina looked to the left or right, turned her head to back out of the driveway, when she was driving and doing a lot of looking around, and so on. As the months passed, the head shocks began tapering off, but Gina struggled with anger, frustration, and dizziness. Sometimes, numbness rippled through her body in waves, which triggered anxiety attacks. She was also easily fatigued and found it hard to concentrate on the simplest tasks.

After researching her condition, Gina realized she would recover, but what surprised her most was that her full recovery would probably take up to two years. She had been avoiding a return to her doctor because she resented being treated with such slovenly, unprofessional, and even dangerous indifference, but she thought she should gain more insight into her situation from someone with a medical background who might understand her circumstances. When she explained that she was weaning herself off Effexor, her doctor nodded casually as if everything was in perfect order, said Gina was doing the right thing, and told her not to worry about the head shocks. That was about it.

Gina ordered another espresso and returned to her book. It was the story of a man so tormented by his struggles that he traveled to Tibet to find peace within himself, only to learn that existence was short, fickle, painful, and to be experienced in the moment no matter where one lived. Gina turned to the last page. The man’s final words before he died were, “They’re all just grasshoppers before the winter, just grasshoppers before the winter.” A few small tears trickled down Gina’s cheeks. She was back in the world.