Coming of Age on Zoloft…, by Katherine Sharpe – Connecting with Others



Part of the reason why the moment on the porch stayed with me for so long was the sheer force of the relief it brought me to connect, in person, with other people whose experiences mirrored my own.


But there is understanding to be gained in such conversations; partaking in stories of one another is one of the purest and most elemental forms of comfort available to us in our sped-up, surface-happy world. When I conducted the interviews for this book, a number of the people I talked to thanked me. They told me that they didn’t speak about these topics very often, and that they were excited to hear what others had to say.


Midterms came, a week of intensely concentrated stress but also a bleary-eyed camaraderie that affected the whole campus and made the time pleasant in its own delirious way.


She thought, for one thing, that almost all people were neurotic to some degree, and that our society tended to make us so. While she didn’t think that neurosis was healthy, she believed that struggling with it was a basic theme in human life. (As if to underscore the idea, she often illustrated her points with examples drawn from world literature.) I liked the way her theories seemed to imbue mental suffering with a meaning, and therefore a dignity, that had always been conspicuously absent from the discourse of faulty neurotransmitters. Thinking about having a chemical imbalance had always made me feel helpless, the victim of forces beyond my control. To my twenty-first-century ears, the word neurosis sounded strange and old-fashioned at first, maybe even subtly non-P.C. But the idea behind it soothed and heartened me, making me feel legible to myself and connected to other people in a way that nothing else had.


Feeling less unique made me able to talk to other people more openly, and listen better too; when I did, I realized as if for the first time how many of my friends and acquaintances also had problems with depression and anxiety, though it wasn’t always apparent at first.


I began to notice how many of these people also possessed a certain cluster of traits: they were sensitive, moody, empathetic, creative, funny, demanding of themselves, self-absorbed at times, but also capable of joy and a deep interest in the things that moved them. I started to wonder whether people like this tended to cluster in the places I’d been drawn to, like academia and the arts. Maybe being a little melancholic was an occupational hazard of being a certain type of person in the world, an annoyance but also a feature that could pull us toward each other. If that were true, then depression lost even more of its sting; it was a potential to be fought by any means necessary when it became acute, but not something that needed to be feared or rejected for any reason other than its simple awfulness in itself.


Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

Life of Pi is the study of life through the eyes of a boy trapped on a lifeboat with a tiger in the middle of the ocean.  Through his ups and downs, his triumphs and his failures, he shares his innermost thoughts on the human experience.

People move because of the wear and tear of anxiety. Because of the gnawing feeling that no matter how hard they work their efforts will yield nothing, that what they build up in one year will be torn down in one day by others. Because of the impression that the future is blocked up, that they might do all right but not their children. Because of the feeling that nothing will change, that happiness and prosperity are possible only somewhere else.

Many times I’ve asked myself “Would I feel better living somewhere else, working somewhere else, removing myself from my current life and starting fresh?”

Somehow I knew it wasn’t a situation or environment that sparked my anxiety. Moving away or changing jobs wouldn’t ever get me away from the source of the problem: myself.

Running away from your problems isn’t going to get rid of them.  Take a good look at yourself and get the help you need.

Warmth came only when the sun, looking like an electrically lit orange, broke across the horizon, but I didn’t need to wait that long to feel it. With the very first rays of light it came alive in me: hope. As things emerged in outline and filled with colour, hope increased until it was like a song in my heart. Oh, what it was to bask in it! Things would work out yet. The worst was over. I had survived the night. Today I would be rescued. To think that, to string those words together in my mind, was itself a source of hope. Hope fed on hope.

The importance of hope in dealing with anxiety and depression is immense. What I’ve learned is hope can come from taking even very small steps.

During tough times, as long as I know I am taking a step towards help, towards being positive, I have hope – that lifeline that keeps us going.

If I’m taking a medicine that’s not working, at least my doctor and I are trying, and now we know I might as well pop Red Hots instead of that medicine.

Even making an appointment with the doctor/therapist brings me hope – cause at least I’m taking a step forward. No matter how small.

I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous, adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unerring ease. It begins in your mind, always. One moment you are feeling calm, self-possessed, happy. Then fear, disguised in the garb of mild-mannered doubt, slips into your mind like a spy. Doubt meets disbelief and disbelief tries to push it out. But disbelief is a poorly armed foot soldier. Doubt does away with it with little trouble. You become anxious. Reason comes to do battle for you. You are reassured. Reason is fully equipped with the latest weapons technology. But, to your amazement, despite superior tactics and a number of undeniable victories, reason is laid low. You feel yourself weakening, wavering. Your anxiety becomes dread.
Fear next turns fully to your body, which is already aware that something terribly wrong is going on. Already your lungs have flown away like a bird and your guts have slithered away like a snake. Now your tongue drops dead like an opossum, while your jaw begins to gallop on the spot. Your ears go deaf. Your muscles begin to shiver as it they were dancing. Your heart strains too hard, while your sphincter relaxes too much. And so with the rest of your body. Every part of you, in the manner most suited to it, falls apart. Only your eyes work well. They always pay proper attention to fear.
Quickly you make rash decisions. You dismiss your last allies: hope and trust. There, you’ve defeated yourself. Fear, which is but an impression, has triumphed over you.
The matter is difficult to put into words. For fear, real fear, such as shakes you to your foundation, such as you feel when you are brought face to face with your mortal end, nestles in your memory like a gangrene: it seeks to rot everything, even the words with which to speak of it. So you must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.

Yann Martel brilliantly describes the progression of an anxiety attack / depressive episode with these steps:

starts with doubt > becomes anxious > turns into dread > experiences physical discomfort > dismisses hope and trust

In the midst of an attack, it’s impossible for me to pick apart the details of the sticky mess in my head.  But reading Martel’s description of it broken down into stages – digestible little snack-size pieces – makes it seem a little less scary.

But there’s more to it. I will come clean. I will tell you a secret: a part of me was glad about Richard Parker. A part of me did not want Richard Parker to die at all, because if he died I would be left alone with despair, a foe even more formidable than a tiger. If I still had the will to live, it was thanks to Richard Parker. He kept me from thinking too much about my family and my tragic circumstances. He pushed me to go on living. I hated him for it, yet at the same time I was grateful. I am grateful. It’s the plain truth: without Richard Parker, I wouldn’t be alive today to tell you my story.

In this excerpt, the main character describes his appreciation for Richard Parker – the tiger, his only companion as he drifts in the middle of the ocean.

The author has created an extreme circumstance – a boy trapped on a boat with a tiger in the middle of the ocean. This goes to show just how horrible depression and despair can be if someone’s happy to be in the company of a giant tiger instead of being alone.

It tells me not to hesitate to use those around me as a source of comfort – even my dog as he lays next to me with a terrible bout of gas.

Despair was a heavy blackness that let no light in or out. It was a hell beyond expression. I thank God it always passed. A school of fish appeared around the net or a knot cried out to be reknotted. Or I thought of my family, of how they were spared this terrible agony. The blackness would stir and eventually go away, and God would remain, a shining point of light in my heart. I would go on loving.

The worst pair of opposites is boredom and terror. Sometimes your life is a pendulum swing from one to the other. The sea is without a wrinkle. There is not a whisper of wind. The hours last forever. You are so bored you sink into a state of apathy close to a coma. Then the sea becomes rough and your emotions are whipped into a frenzy. Yet even these two opposites do not remain distinct. In your boredom there are elements of terror: you break down into tears; you are filled with dread; you scream; you deliberately hurt yourself. And in the grip of terror – the worst storm – you yet feel boredom, a deep weariness with it all.

High calls low and low calls high. I tell you, if you were in such dire straits as I was, you too would elevate your thoughts. The lower you are, the higher your mind will want to soar. It was natural that, bereft and desperate as I was, in the throes of unremitting suffering, I should turn to God.

Shadowlands, by Erin Farwell

Shadowlands is a whirlwind of gansters, prohibition, family betrayal and murder. Caught in the middle is our hero, Cabel Evans, a shell-shocked war vet asked to solve the murder of the daughter of one of his soldiers.

I related to the anxiety Cabel dealt with inside, and the struggles he had to hide it from everyone. Here are a few quotes that resonated with me.

“I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to see you. I knew you’ve been back for several months, but you’ve kept to yourself. I’m sure you needed some time to adjust to being home, but I’m glad you’re here now. Maybe you’d like to have dinner with Mabel and me this Sunday? She cooks a lovely roast, and I know she’d be delighted to see you.”
Cabel opened his mouth to speak but no words came forth. His head spun with thoughts and feelings he could barely identify, except for fear. That one was an old enemy, so close to him as to almost be a friend.

He looked up to see Dr. Lewis observing him as if he were a patient.

“Don’t worry, my boy. Life works best one step at a time, eh?”

Cabel’s chest tightened with deep grief and a fearsome rage as he thought of his best friend. Why the hell had they gone to fight in a war that wasn’t even theirs? How could their parents have pushed them to do their duty and have their glory with no thought to the cost? Why couldn’t Jon be sitting here now, safe and whole, instead of the shattered vestiges of the man Cabel had once been?

He felt himself slip into a blackness deeper than any night. Rather than fight against it, he leaned back in his chair and let the darkness pull him down. Pictures flashed through his mind like so many postcards scattered across a table. The pictures slowly ordered themselves and became a moving picture show.

The lawyer ended the handshake more quickly than was socially acceptable. Here was a man who knew the worst that Cabel had done and judged him soundly for it.

A sense of exposure, so complete that Cabel felt naked, had every muscle tightened in preparation to flee. His forehead and palms were damp again, and his heart raced with a speed that he wished his legs could match. As if in a nightmare, though, he remained rooted in his hell.