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by Branden Hart
When Melissa first asked me what it felt like when I was on Xanax, I told her it felt like I was drunk. She said, “I thought you’d never been drunk before. I told her she was right, but that my dad had taken one of my pills one day and told me it made him feel drunk. For me, it felt good, like my head might float away, or my limbs were rubbery. But really, the only thing that I cared about was that when I was on the pill, I didn’t have to worry about panic attacks. The point is, when you are on Xanax, you know you’re on Xanax.
The same doesn’t go for Prozac. You don’t feel anything. You simply wake up one morning, like I did, and realize you don’t care about doing some of the things you normally do anymore. Activities or situations that used to terrify you just aren’t that big of a deal after you’ve been on the medicine a couple of weeks. You sit on the edge of your bed, reeling from the fact that you don’t care about whether or not you wash your hands before you go eat breakfast. Then you realize you didn’t wash your hands the night before either. You’re a little frightened about the fact that not only didn’t you wash your hands before bed, but you didn’t think about the fact that you weren’t washing them.
But pretty soon, that fear subsides as well.
In the middle of second period, you realize with a start that you haven’t used your hand sanitizer all day. You would have used it countless times just yesterday. But here you sit, not concerned about the germs crawling around on your hands. They might make you sick, but who cares? Everyone gets sick every now and then.
You walk down the hall and touch things. You explore the texture of surfaces that used to make you gag. You use the water fountain by the bathroom--the one you wouldn’t even go near a week ago, even if you hadn’t had water in days—without worrying about who else might have had his mouth on it, or whether germs from the bathroom had migrated out, just waiting for an unsuspecting victim to pounce on.
At lunch, you buy your food from the cafeteria for the first time ever. You don’t worry about whether or not it was prepared in a sanitary environment. After all, you’ve never heard of anyone getting food poisoning from the food at school. But even if you get food poisoning, it doesn’t matter. Pretty much everyone gets food poisoning sooner or later.
Pretty much everyone.
You walk up to a table of guys and girls where there is an empty seat and ask to sit down. It isn’t something you’ve ever done before. They look at each other and eventually invite you to join them. Before you know it, you’re eating pizza that tastes like cardboard and laughing it up with everyone. You make jokes, and you don’t worry whether or not people are going to like them. In fact, the one time you do make a joke that nobody laughs at is when everyone (yourself included) eventually laughs the hardest.
You make plans to go to a party that weekend, and go to your next class feeling excited. You don’t even notice that you touch something wet on the garbage can when you’re throwing away your fruit cup. You just wipe it off on your jeans and keep going.
That afternoon, you go to the library and pick up a book. You don’t look on the inside front cover to see how many people have checked the book out before you, then calculate how many hands that means have touched its pages. You flip through, page after page, until the pages are screaming by, then you put it back and get another one. You do this with several books until your hands feel grimy. And even then, you never think of reaching in your bag for the hand sanitizer.
You check out several books. You write your name on the sign-out card using a pen that’s probably been touched by hundreds of different people. You don’t really care. You carry your books to the bathroom and drop one on the floor. You pick it up without even thinking about what’s on the bathroom floor. After taking a piss, you consider washing your hands. It is the first time this has happened to you for as long as you can remember. Washing your hands after going to the bathroom has always been a necessity—not a consideration. You leave without doing it.
Of course, this doesn’t happen in just one day. It happens slowly, over a period of weeks. But looking back, I can see what a drastic change it was, and it almost feels like a day, it happened so quickly. How the medicine turned off whatever switch it was in my brain that served as the conduit for all my obsessions and compulsions—in hindsight, I still perceive it as something that happened overnight. Prozac is a hindsight drug. You don’t even realize it’s working until you look back on your actions and thoughts and examine them.
One would think that such a change would be constructive and meaningful. That whoever this is happening to would be grateful that they are “better,” that their “sickness” has gone away.
But there’s one missing variable. People like me—the obsessive compulsives of the world—we love control. Losing control over any situation creates a significant level of anxiety in us.
I didn’t notice that the medicine had stolen control from me for the first few weeks. I didn’t notice it when I was going through my day and leaving behind rituals that had become my companions. When I was at the party, dancing with Melissa, telling her I was better and planning a date with her for the following evening, I didn’t notice it. Over the next two weeks, when I started making new friends at school, hanging out with different groups of people, raising my hand and talking in class without the least bit of anxiety, it never registered.
Then one day, Mr. Granger calls me into his office.
“It’s been awhile,” he says. “How are you doing?”
“Great!” I answer happily, smiling. “Better than ever, in fact. I’m on Prozac. It’s doing some amazing things.”
“I can tell. You only walked through my door once!”
It wasn’t supposed to be a remark of any significance. In fact, it was supposed to be comforting. Mr. Granger was simply highlighting the progress I made. I understand that now, but it doesn’t change the way I felt when he said it.
What I felt when he said that was a complete and utter loss of control. I understood then that the medicine was controlling my mind. I felt like I wasn’t me anymore. The person that I had been no longer existed, and it scared the shit out of me.
When I leave Mr. Granger’s office, I run to the bathroom. I begin washing my hands. I dry them off. I wash them again two more times, each time using three paper towels to dry off, each time motioning toward the waste basket three times before actually pitching the used towels inside.
It isn’t that I need to because I’m worried about getting sick. I don’t care about that anymore. Germs are the farthest thing from my mind. The only thing I’m thinking about is control. The control the medicine takes away from me, and the control I intend to take back.
I pull the bottle of Prozac out of my backpack and empty the contents into one of the toilets. I flush it away. Then I go back to the sink, where I wash my hands one, two, three times…