Close Encounters with Science: Picks
Better Living Through Chemistry by Tom Reynolds
In the days of my early twenties I was told by my doctor that I had an incurable disease. And so I did. Then, much later, I was told there was a new treatment for what ailed me. Now this illness was never really fatal, just chronic and debilitating, potentially criminal even, and the treatment was so new that to be allowed to try the drug one had to stay under observation in the hospital. Not because of the illness, but because they weren't quite sure what the drug would do to a person. And what did the drug, and the treatment, and the time in the hospital do to me, you ask?
There were no heart-stopping crises requiring breathing tubes or Penicillin, surgery, or stomach pumping. There were no strange body rashes or convictions that I was the Pope's love child. There was only two weeks in a small room by myself waiting for something to happen. Anything. Something. I read Martin Amis's London Fields from cover to cover, starting on the day of admittance and finishing on the day of discharge. I wasn’t so impressed - though there was a line about a woman's breasts that I still think of to this day. Nothing recommends reading like being alone all day in bed with no TV. For diseases books were made, I think.
So I was released, and kept on the drug because there was nothing better, and I went on, interrupted by the occasional suicide crisis and subsequent admittances. Par for the course. Statistically insignificant.
And, yes, I got worse, or no better, until one doctor's visit I complained, in a round about way, of the symptoms of depression. For all the foundational reasons to be depressed - the vastness and coldness of universe, the certainty of mortality, the uselessness of love, the death of God - none beats good old-fashioned unhappiness and pain.
This seemed news to my doctor. Perhaps I had seemed a cheerful Schizophrenic all this time, but such was not the case. He prescribed an anti-depressant, and then that great bartender in the sky, or cocktail maker in the lab coat, decreed that these two drugs together, blended, reinforced, should result in combination in... my feeling better. Thinking better. Being Better.
I do not now so much think I have a mental illness, as the mental illness has me. I am still me, whole, healthy, real, but this other, separate thing, knocks me around a bit from time to time. But in-between are times I publish books, win awards, give readings, fall in love, clean the house, go out of town, walk the dog, vote, and think, after all this time now, thirty years, "If I did not take now what I did not take then, what would I be?" And the answer is, not me.
Tom Reynolds is from Windsor, ON.