A Robot Speaks to Ralph Waldo Emerson (Part III)

Matt Maday

The counseling session results in victory, however. A psychiatrist diagnoses me with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). When I wander onto the psychiatric stage, I’m wearing my diagnosis as a costume: the narrative I tell matches with the diagnostic script, pill bottle props are waiting to be handed to me from backstage by a pharmacist. My psychiatrist notices the scabs on my hands and asks if I pick them. Yes. The repetitive handwashing, obsessions with symmetry. Yes. Ritualistic superstitious behavior not clearly tied to an established religion? Yep. The psychiatrist prescribes Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s). I win a prize in a plastic bottle.

Once I get a stable level of medication in my bloodstream, the hand-washing decreases and I begin to accept the dirtiness of the physical world. I start to feel like I’ve left OCD behind, until the symptoms switch to focus on a different domain: I fear that I will unwittingly cause evil spirits to spiritually harm me and those I love if I don’t maintain control over the accidental writing of evil words, numbers, or phrases. I’m apprehensive about physical touch because I fear transferring evil and unintentionally behaving in morally corrupt ways. My schoolwork vastly improves because the medication makes it easier to avoid repetitive behaviors such as erasing and re-writing, re-reading, and cleansing, but I can’t clean my mind. I’m left with internal obsessions that lack the corresponding behaviors of classic OCD, a situation psychiatrically referred to as Pure-O (the name sounds like a new energy drink destined to hit the shelves any minute). Although I’m taking SSRI’s, the common first-wave treatment for OCD, the symptoms never reach zero like my psychiatrist wants; they hover around. After consultation with my psychiatrist, I move on to the second wave: antipsychotics.

As I start my antipsychotic treatment, I begin to feel shaky and irritable (like I’ve had way too much caffeine) while simultaneously sedated to the point where my counselor remarks that she’s worried if I’ll be able to make it up the stairs to her office. I have head rushes with an accompanying sense of euphoria, which I find to be the most enjoyable side effect until, one time when I’m at work, I stand up quickly and find myself in a state of complete blindness. I quickly regain my vision, but not before losing my balance, trying to catch myself on a shelf, and falling dizzily to the floor. I get up and make my way to a chair. I clear my head and return to work.

Yet, due to the side effects, I never feel that my head is really clear. I feel like someone working through an injury, but the injury isn’t the result of something like an occupational accident. My side effects are somewhat consistent with the warnings on the medication bottle, but reading the label won’t make someone aware of the effects in the way I’m made experientially aware. When I try to describe the side effects to my psychiatrist, his confused expression leads me to believe they are ineffable. Yet, monitored by my psychiatrist, I go off the antipsychotics.

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