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Last week, Simone Biles shocked the world by withdrawing from the first week of Olympic competition because the “mental” wasn’t there.
To a curious but largely supportive public, other gymnasts tried to explain the “mental” part of gymnastics and the dangers of jumping when that part is off. When you get the “twisties,” they explained, it’s as if your brain and your body aren’t connected, which is obviously very dangerous when you are twisting in the air and need to land.
The twisties is as good a description of life when I am “off” as any. Going through a jump, or life, when your body is disconnected to your brain, when you can’t tell your body what to do or how to feel, is paralyzing.
When I get the twisties, my bed seems the only safe place to be. In my case, it runs in the family.
Growing up, I didn’t think anything of the fact that it was my father who woke us every morning, made breakfast and sent us off to school. My sister remembers that if she came home from school early, the beds were often unmade; my mother would scurry around doing last- minute cleanup before we came home. My mother ordered four large kitchen chairs, even though there was room for five smaller chairs for a family of five. When we went out to dinner, she never ordered anything. She would encourage me to order her favorites, like baked stuffed shrimp, and then she would lean over and eat mine, later lamenting that I was chubby, while she was still barely 105.
It drove me craz(ier), but I didn’t have any names for it. When you’re a kid, everything is normal: I thought it was normal for the dad to get up and do everything while the mom stayed in bed. Imagine. By the time we got to the kitchen chairs, I knew something was up, but what? When my father left my mother, she went to
bed. I spent the holidays in an unheated dorm at Dartmouth (the energy crisis) rather than sleeping on the sofa bed in her claustrophobic apartment.
My mother’s depression came along too late for most of the miracles of chemistry. At one point, my Uncle Al got her to see a psychiatrist at his hospital, the Beth Israel, who was an early prescriber of Prozac. But even my moth- er’s respect for her uncle, an amazing man named A. Stone Freedberg, wasn’t enough to keep her driving to Boston for therapy. And the doctor, for very good reason, insisted on the combination of medicine and therapy.
Recently, I went through what turned out to be a harrowing experience of changing commercial insurers. The human resources department of my old firm cut off my coverage retroactively without notice, which happens to be unlawful under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, as if that matters in the moment; and my secondary insurer thought it was still secondary and, in any event, had changed its Rx program. The pharmacy was sitting on thousands of dollars of prescriptions that it had not delivered. I will spare you the details of unwinding this, except to say that by the time I did, I was literally flat on my back. Going off all your medicine at once is not something I would recommend.
But as an experiment, it proves that medicine works.
Without my particular combination of antidepressants (in my case, it is Wellbutrin and Pristiq), I’m a pretty close copy of my mother in key respects, beginning with not getting out of bed, not to mention living only on bagels and orange cheese. Blue genes. It is rather terrifying, even to my adult children, and I understand exactly why.
Within a week or so, I am up and running (walking and biking), prompting the question that my old friend Elizabeth Wurtzel asked in her longtime bestseller, “Prozac Nation”: Which is the “real” me?
I know my own answer. I’m the woman who swings for the stands. Provided, that is, I take my medicine.