Lesser of at Least Two Evils


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He listened to me gripe for a bit, listened patiently from behind his desk as I described what was happening, then handed me a box filled with samples of a new drug.


"Try this," he said. "Take your other drugs as usual, but take this one at night instead. And only take it at night."


"Okay."


It didn't seem like a big deal. As it turned out, this "new drug" was nothing more than the old drug I'd been on for 10 years?the same dosage, even?but in a time-release format. His theory was that since most of my seizures seemed to happen in the morning before I had taken my pills, if I took something that would keep the drugs in my system longer overnight, I'd be better off.


Seemed to make sense. So that night I started the new regimen. Regular Tegretol dosage during the day. Newfangled, highfalutin modern-era Tegretol dosage come nighttime.


Over the course of the first few days, what I feared most (at the time) happened. The seizures roared over me, one after another. Not big ones, but a flurry of them. It happens every time I change up my medication in any way. My hands shook constantly. As expected, though, that passed within a week. Everything seemed fine. Smooth and calm and easy, I had slipped into a warm and fluid life in a seizureless universe.


After that, though, something else?and something much more heinous?started to make itself apparent. I would sit and stare at my screen at work, not knowing what I was doing. I'd walk down the street in a daze and forget where I was going. I couldn't think straight. And those thoughts I was able to dredge up were all fuzzy and slow and unimportant. I was suddenly very, very stupid.


Well, much more so than usual.


Normally I'm a heavy sleeper, but soon I found myself waking up in the middle of the night unable to get back to sleep. And, in those rare instances when I finally did drift back to sleep, I was plagued by anxiety-filled nightmares about making funeral plans for distant cousins or being mocked and scorned by people who knew nothing about me, or having all the electrical appliances in my apartment come to life at the same time. After these dreams, I found I couldn't get up in the morning, I couldn't open my eyes.


Last time this sort of thing happened was that year and a half I made the mistake of taking Paxil in a cheap and fraudulent attempt to be a happy person. Only difference in that case was that the nightmares I had were shocking, horrifying, visceral, depraved and much more fun than these new ones were. These were just annoying.


This was all bad news. There shouldn't have been any real difference between the old drug and this new one, but suddenly I was like a creature in an Italian zombie film?I couldn't sleep, but I was never really awake, either, my head a slow murmur of grumbles and soft noises, my feet never getting too far off the ground.


On the bright side, though, the seizures were indeed gone, and everything was, well, nice in a way. Smooth and easy and pleasant.


Problem was, I didn't like smooth and easy and pleasant too much. People were stepping all over me, and I was being nice to them. In response to being knocked around, insulted and threatened, I'd smile and let it roll right off me.


"That's fine," I'd say. "Don't worry about it." Lord knows I wouldn't.


I had become Elwood P. Dowd.


One night after a decidedly pleasant visit to a local tavern, I stepped aboard the train home, saw a flash of plastic orange seat and headed for it. When I reached it, as I normally do, I dropped my hand down to make sure I wasn't about to sit in something noxious. Turns out I was, so I stood back up. Then I saw some more orange across the aisle, so I headed for that, feeling my way along the back wall of the car.


As I got closer to the seat, however, I noticed something strange. I couldn't get close to it. My legs kept hitting something. It was like some strange force field was holding me back. I took a few steps to my right, then tried moving in again, thinking I'd maneuver around the force field, whatever it was, then sit down. Then maybe attempt to figure out what I'd been kicking, or maybe not. After trying to get around the blockage without much luck, I decided to take my chances and sit down anyway. Before I could do that, however, I felt a thin hand reach up, plant itself on my shoulder, and shove me roughly away, back across the aisle.


"Hey, don't you go standin' on me, man," the old voice said. I guess the force field that was keeping me away from the empty seat was human. A human with an awful lot of bags scattered on the floor around him for protection from just such an intrusion.


"Sorry, sir, I didn't see you there. I don't see very well," I offered. I pulled the unused cane out of my bag for useless effect to show him.


"Well you should let me know that," he grumbled.


"How could I let you know if I didn't know you were there?" It seemed a logical question.


"Well do something. I didn't know."


"Now you do. My apologies. I'm very sorry I stood on you."


"Apology accepted."


"All right then, it looks like we're all set."


"Okay then."


"I'll just go stand over here now." I took a few steps forward, reached for the pole, and held on, quietly, peacefully. Time was, my first impulse would've been to crack my cane across his tired skull and take his goddamn seat for myself. Now I was almost tempted to give him my card and invite him to dinner. I really miss those old days.


So here's my dilemma?and, from my perspective at least, it's a biggie. The seizures were destroying me. There's no getting around that. I was crazy and violent and getting more so. I was scaring the people I cared most about. It was clear that one of these days I was going to end up busting myself all to pieces. But at least my thoughts were quick and sharp and I felt alive most of the time.


On the new drugs, I'm calm, and quiet and extremely pleasant to everyone. Just an easygoing kind of guy. Stupid as a post, dull-witted, fuzzy, mutton-headed. But there are no seizures. Dead to the world, pretty much unable to put two words together in a coherent fashion, but I sure am calm.


Take the drugs, no seizures, be stupid. Stop the drugs, be smart again, have seizures, destroy myself. What the fuck am I supposed to do? Most of the people I ask suggest that it's better I stay on the drugs. Yes, fine, but they don't live in this head. These are people I used to have long conversations with, but I can't anymore. Of course, maybe their suggestion that I stay on the drugs should tell me something about what kind of company I am.


It seems like one of those fundamental human choices. Or maybe it just seems that way since I just watched Billy Jack again. In a way, it's like that basic choice so many of us face in our younger days?pot or speed? Nowadays, I know people who use both. Wonderful, creative people, most of them. People I care about dearly, so I'm not passing any sort of judgment here. But when I was younger, I always went for speed. Crystal meth forced me to think about 150 times faster than normal?and things still came out pretty lucid. Pot, well, pot made me feel pretty much like I do all the time now, and I can't say as I like it.


What's more, it looks like the seizures are slowly regrouping, and figuring out how to get around the barricades anyway.


Oh, I'm a mess.


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