Friday, May 13, 2005

Andrea has a nervous breakdown

Andrea could write. Oh, boy howdy, could this girl write. Most serious, dedicated writers type away for a decade before finding their voice. Andrea (pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable) didn't just have a voice on the page, she could write arias. She wrote like Joni Mitchell sings -- exquisitely, beautifully, but always a half-note shy of real joy. Andrea wrote in a minor key.

Andrea had problems. By the time she got to my class one spring term a few years back, she'd had to take a semester off to "rest." She wrote about it in a style that reminded me of Holden Caulfield's rants in The Catcher in the Rye. Pure stream of consciousness, but without clutter. Focused. Funny. Sad. Bitter.

"Do you want to talk, hon?" said my mom, hovering over the sofa where I lived.

"Talk? What is talk? I can't remember how to make words with my lips," I told her telepathically. "Just let me sleep, people! Sleeeeeeeeeep!"

What I really said was "Leave me the fuck alone."

She wrote and wrote. Page after page, she explored her descent into depression over a six-month period. Thoughts of suicide. Plans for it. Then, at last, a therapist who understood and listened. Trying Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Effexor, Celexa. A slow, steady rise from the sofa. But still, a struggle to stay up.

At this school, it seems like every other kid is on multiple medications. I've heard them compare their dosages for drugs treating ADD and ADHD, depression, eating disorders, ulcers, migraines. They aren't shy about sharing the medical info. They'll tell each other, tell me. They have to hide their Ritalin and Adderall, they complain, because people in the dorm steal the drugs and use them for study helpers or just recreation. "I took too much Ritalin," says one boy, popping his head in the door to tell me why he won't be in class. "I forgot to take my Ritalin," says another. "I feel like shit today."

This is the over-prescribed generation. They juggle more pills than some senior citizens.

Andrea finally found the right drug that kept her off the couch. But it made her gain weight, which made her depressed. She obsessed about her weight. They all obsess about their weight.

I gave Andrea A's on her stories and heaped on the encouraging words. She was also a good painter and she brought photos of pictures she'd painted in high school art classes. Like her words, she chose her colors in a minor key.

The next semester, I saw Andrea less frequently. I asked around and other profs said she was missing a lot of classes. She dropped out again. I ran into her at Starbucks one morning and she seemed hyper -- the way people with bipolar problems are when they're at the apex of a manic high. I've seen it before. It causes a creative surge.

"I'm writing a ton," said Andrea breathlessly. "And I just got into photography I got this incredible digital camera and I'm learning Photoshop do you know about Photoshop you can make pictures that look like paintings I can't wait to take pictures of my paintings and then repaint them in Photoshop I'm coming back to school next semester I have to finish because my parents are all over me about being a sixth-year senior and if I'm not going to school I have to get a job so are you teaching anything I can take I really liked your class...."

She was a broken but very pretty Chatty Cathy doll.

Andrea never did return to campus, as far as I know. I was shopping one day and saw her behind the Lancome counter in a department store, smiling blankly at a customer in a Burberry headband badgering her about lipglosses. She didn't see me. And I couldn't think what I'd say to her. So I turned around and disappeared back into the mall.

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I remember that I had a nervous breakdown, it wasn't a great experience at all. I just hope Andrea keep getting better and get back to a normal life as she used to do

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