I worried about the summer slowly giving way to autumn. Long, bright days make life’s challenges easier to face at the best of times — and this is not the best of times. But I’m recovering. Slowly.
I’ve been back on fluoxetine (Prozac) for five weeks. I took the drug for about eight years up until last autumn. It’s most commonly used as an antidepressant, but also to help treat OCD. It took the edge off my anxiety when I first took it, but last year I wasn’t sure it was doing enough to be worth staying on it. This time around it has been transformative for my mood. I’m not exactly in that dark hole any longer — I’m sitting on the edge of it dangling my legs over. When I fall, the lows aren’t as deep and they don’t last as long. Despite writing a month ago about that dark place, I didn’t realise quite how much of a depression I was in. Fluoxetine has touched the anxiety too. Not as significantly as my mood, but it’s nonetheless making things a little easier.
Together these two changes are allowing me to work hard on the things I’ve been doing with my psychologist, and to draw on the wealth of things I learned with my counsellor last year. Fluoxetine helps, but only in so much as it affords me the breathing space to do the real work.
The other day I wrapped both hands around my warm Starbucks mug, rested my elbows on the table and looked out at the changing seasons. I managed to not baby-wipe the mug or the furniture. The year’s first sip of pumpkin spice latte brought last autumn flooding back — me and my life flooding back. For the eight months since Dad died and my OCD worsened, enough of my life has been on hold that I’d forgotten what it feels like to be me. The taste of cinnamon and the orange of pumpkins above the counter reminded me of being bundled in a woollen scarf, long coat and warm boots last November. Getting used to people calling me Laura. Working: being capable.
I wore perfume yesterday for the first time this year. My getting-up-and-out-the-house OCD routine can easily be three hours without the nice little extras, so things like making sure I smell any better than acceptably clean have tended to fall by the wayside. But I’m gradually finding the pieces that make me who I am and putting them back together again. I’m returning to photography. It’s something that is an intrinsic part of who I am. Yet I haven’t become good at it because poor mental health has repeatedly taken it away from me over the years. I think it’s no coincidence that I’m turning to something which can offer me a different way of seeing, when I’m trying to correct the skewed perception of the world that OCD has left behind. I’ve not yet shot anything that’s going to make it into a frame on the wall. But it’s helping me to appreciate the burnt oranges of autumn trees again.
Opening my mind to recovery is scary. Writing about pain is easy: prod at any of my wounds and the hurt pours out onto the screen. But it’s taken over two weeks of procrastinating for me to write this post, because looking towards recovery brings a vulnerability that wallowing in pain strangely does not. The OCD feels like chain mail, protecting me from the outside world. But really it’s keeping me in chains. That’s the paradox of OCD — things I do to make me feel safe are harming me more than the feelings I’m running from. I’ve known that all along. But I’m beginning to be able to do something about it again. It’s time to shake off the chains. Time to look through a new lens, spray a little perfume and put my autumn scarf back on.
Header photo: Laura Smith