He’s nine years old.
He’s too scared to go on the Round Up, but he doesn’t want people to think he’s a chicken. It doesn’t help that his little sister is riding it over and over, gleefully standing between two teenagers and waving down to us as she whirls through the blue sky. He doesn’t want anyone to see him crying into my T-shirt.
We wander around the exhibition grounds for a while. He doesn’t want to go on the Crazy Bus, the Merry-Go-Round is “babyish” and he’s tired of the Tilt-a-Whirl and the Spider. His friends are going on the more daring rides — we call them “teenager rides” — and he’s feeling left out.
Mostly, though, he’s mad at his height. He had to stop going on his very favourite thing, a funhouse called Raiders, when a different employee took over line duty and told him he was too tall for it.
But that was a few hours ago, and he perks up when he notices there’s now a different person running Raiders.
I was joking, but he bends his knees and slinks over to the line like a cartoon bank robber tiptoeing between security cameras. He pauses as the employee looks at him and waits to see if he’s going to be turned away, but she motions for him to go ahead.
His little face lights up. He’s grinning as he climbs the rope ladder and walks across the bridge, being careful not to run and get banned from Raiders.
(Hilariously, that is exactly what will happen to his little sister just a few hours from now.)
He cruises down the slow, tall slide at the end, and lands expertly on his feet.
I flash him a thumbs-up as he hops down to the ground. He’s beaming. He heads straight back to the line, slinking lower so he blends in with the six- and seven-year-olds rushing up the ramp.
He goes back again and again until it happens: the employee who’s been guarding Raiders is replaced by the same lady who turned him away.
He notices before rejoining the line, and his shoulders slump. “She’s back,” he sighs. “I really wanted to go on a few more times.”
“I know, babe. I’m sorry.” I put my arm around him. We’re both sweaty and dusty from the August sun, the dirt, the hay from the animals.
He looks back up at Raiders wistfully, and then shuffles off towards the big-kid rides. He’s nine years old — halfway to being an adult — and he’s stuck right in the middle of everything. Too big for some things, but not ready for what’s next.
He is tall enough for the Zipper, but says he never, ever wants to go on it — not even when he’s a grown-up. He doesn’t want to go on more of the spinny rides with his friends and his sister. He’s feeling a little sick.
He is too tall for Raiders, according to some employees (but not others), but he doesn’t feel too old for it. He loves the rope ladder. He loves bumping his away through the maze of inflatable posts. He loves landing feet-first on the giant crash pad below the slide.
I convince him to try the Go Gator, which was always one of his favourites. He sits in one of the green kiddie cars between a four-year-old and a two-year-old. He is the tallest kid on the ride and barely cracks a smile as he moves slowly around the curving track.
When the Exhibition returns next summer, he’ll be 10 years old and heading into Grade 5. Too tall to go on Raiders at all. He knows that, I think, but we don’t talk about it.
The sun is setting now. We loop around the grounds again and head back to Raiders. (“Just to see!” he tells me.) There’s a different employee there. He pauses, considering. Is she going to be a stickler for the height chart, or is she going to wave him past without taking a good look at him?
He looks up at me and I nod encouragingly, gesturing that he should give it a try.
I smile as he crouch-walks his way up to the front of the line and is waved through.
The last bit of golden sunlight glows on his cheeks as he climbs the funhouse stairs and makes his way across the rope bridge. I tell myself to memorize the way he looks right now, the pure happiness shining on his face.
We are not a poster household. I loved thumbtacking posters all over my walls when I was younger, but as an adult, I shudder at the idea of hanging ragged paper by poking dozens of holes in my walls. No, thank you.
The thing is … kids love posters. They’re big, colourful pictures of their favourite characters from video games, TV shows and movies. But the only attractive way to display a poster is by buying a proper poster frame, and those suckers are sometimes $40 or $50. Poster frames are shockingly expensive.
Luckily, I’ve found an expected replacement for posters (and their grossly overpriced frames): fabric panels.
That probably sounds weird at first, but hear me out …
I talked to my doctor yesterday, and he confirmed what I had been feeling for a while now.
(Let’s not even get into how I SHOULD have started taking them in 2012 when I suffered from a bad case of post-partum depression.)
I had a surprise hysterectomy that spring that sent me down a dark path, and some other stuff went down — stuff I will likely never write about in this space — that made 2015 feel like the year my whole life went to shit.
” … Mental illness isn’t always obvious. It’s not always the inability to get out of bed, or gaining weight, or withdrawing, or losing interest in what you like to do. Sometimes it’s struggling to breathe while you panic about all of the balls you’re juggling, and wondering how you can possibly get through another day. Sometimes it’s looking at the people you love and feeling like you are completely, utterly failing them. Sometimes it’s laughing and making small talk when you’re not sure you want to be alive.” Me, in 2015
I summoned up my courage. I went to my doctor. I cried. He wrote me a prescription and I gladly accepted it.
I started taking Sertraline. One little yellow pill to get started (25mg) and then two for a few weeks, then three. At some point, I went up to 100mg which meant a big fat orange pill — the equivalent of four yellow ones.
I got a semi-colon tattoo. I started feeling braver about talking about my mental health. I’d been so freaked out at the idea of taking medication, but really, it wasn’t a big deal. It was a relief.
“… I’ve heard people describe depression as feeling like they were moving through life underwater or in a fog, and they said taking antidepressants helped them feel like themselves again — helped them feel clearer. What I learned was that I wasn’t in a fog or under water. I was clinging to the edge of a shore — just my head and shoulders in the heat of the sand, and freezing water rushing over the rest of my body. Taking antidepressants has allowed more of my body to crawl up onto the sand. To feel the warmth of the sun. To feel like myself again.” Me, in 2015
I complained to my doctor at some point of being cloudy and in a haze. We decided I should step down from 100mg (big orange pill) to three yellows (75mg). Then I tried just two (50mg).
And then … for a long time … I did nothing.
I didn’t dare to adjust my dosage again, because whenever I went up or down by 25mg — one little yellow pill’s worth — I would have 24-48 hours of being a hot mess who cried ANGRY TEARS OF RAGE over not being able to find her hole-punch. Really. That happened. It was easier to just … stay.
Pills were fine.
I was fine.
Life was (mostly) fine.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
But was I actually still broken?
And if I am, had the pills ever “fixed” me anyway?
It’s very strange. You choose to go on medication because you are depressed and/or anxious and you need help with your brain’s wiring, and yet you’re supposed to trust THAT SAME BRAIN to tell you when it’s time to stop?
In some cases, I suppose people use them to get through a bad-but-temporary situation and then they know it’s time to taper off.
But what about those of us who have struggled with depression and anxiety since they were teenagers? Those of us who spent 20 years living with mental illness before taking any mediation? How do we know?
Sometimes I look back through pictures of me, BP and AP — Before Pills and After Pills — to see if I can detect something different in myself. How was I really feeling back then? How did the pills change how I feel?
I don’t find any answers.
In some BP pictures, I look heart-breakingly sad. But then that same day, there are pictures of me being silly and laughing.
But it’s the same with the AP (After Pills) photos. There are no clues.
There are just smiles. Poses. Brooding expressions. Who the hell knows how I was actually feeling, other than (apparently) in a selfie-taking mood?
That’s just it, isn’t it?
I was depressed.
I am depressed.
I was anxious.
I am anxious.
I used to think the pills had fixed me. I used to think they bubble-wrapped my emotions and kept me safely protected from the demons in my head.
But the truth is that I’m not necessarily any different than I was, on that summer day four years ago, that I cried in my doctor’s office and asked for a prescription for antidepressants.
I was happy.
I am happy.
I had bad days.
I still do have bad days.
I’m the same.
I can’t explain why I started feeling like I wanted to try life without Sertraline. I have no idea what brought it on.
Maybe just a feeling of … curiosity? Would life feel better and brighter, or terrible and depressing? Would I feel happier and more engaged with everything, or would I be filled with feelings that were too strong?
I always joke that ever since I’ve been on antidepressants, “I can’t cry human tears.” It’s true. I literally CANNOT cry while taking them, unless I’m adjusting my dosage and having temporary rage-cries over office supplies. What would it be like, I wondered, to be able to cry? Is crying a good thing? Am I actually glad to not be able to cry?
(It’s a little like having a period — another regular experience I haven’t had in 4+ years and have trouble remembering.)
Four years ago, I had two small children at home with me. I was recovering from a life-changing surgery I hadn’t expected. I was struggling to earn a living as a work-at-home journalist. I was dealing with the aforementioned “other life shit” that was making me feel like I was drowning on a daily basis.
I want to go back and hug 32-year-old me. She was very tired. She was going through hell. She was struggling, and she talked to her doctor about it. I’m very grateful she did.
I’m four years older. I’m four years wiser. I’m four years stronger. I’m a 36-year-old mother, wife, business owner, and all-around ass-kicker.
I’ve also learned SO MUCH about managing my own mental health. I understand more about myself now.
I know that I still have bad days when I’m on medication. I know it’s possible that I might feel those bad days more strongly without the gentle fog of the pills. What I don’t know is how I’m going to react to them since it’s been more than four years of having that cushion.
I am saying that I could easily be BACK on them at any point.
I am not too proud to start them back up if I feel I need them again. Believe me.
My doctor’s appointment was yesterday.
He suggested I start taking just one pill (instead of my usual two) and maintain that for a week or even two, before tapering off to just one pill every second day, and then none at all. He isn’t anticipating I’ll feel many side effects, but he wasn’t there when I screamed and cried and probably threw a hole-punch the last time I adjusted my dosage. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I wasn’t sure when I’d start tapering. But then I slept like hell last night and came down with a cold. My throat hurts and I feel like crap, so I figured I might as well combine the feeling-like-crap days.
I brushed my teeth, slathered on my day cream, and took only one pill.
I feel spacey today, but that’s likely just having a cold. I feel a little sick to my stomach, but I often do when I’m sick. I have not yet cried over office supplies, but that’s potentially happening tomorrow or the next day when my system realizes shit is changing. But who knows? Maybe I won’t feel much of a shake-up.
I don’t know if going off my antidepressants is a good idea or not, but it feels like something I need to try.
Something I want to try.
And so I am trying.