I remember the night I knew something had to change.
I was lying in bed, not sleeping, angry at the hand I had been dealt, when I suddenly thought, “passport.” I knew exactly where it was. I mentally packed a bag, tried to remember how much cash an ATM will allow you to withdraw at once. Alli would take me in, no matter what time of night I arrived. She’d pour me a bourbon and tuck me into the guest bed. And Alli lived 15 minutes from the Cincinnati airport. From Cincinnati, I could fly… anywhere. I would stay with Alli for a few days while I decided on my final destination.
Hiraeth is a beautiful Welsh term meaning a yearning for a home you might never have realized you were missing. A combination of hir, meaning long, and aeth, meaning grief, hiraeth’s literal translation refers to a homesickness for a place that might not even exist, a longing to be where your soul resides.
I had hiraeth in spades. I wanted to be somewhere – maybe anywhere – other than where I was. I imagined myself in a cabin somewhere in the Smoky Mountains, staring at trees, drinking cappuccinos, writing. Renting a trulli in Tuscany, those cone-shaped, white-tipped houses that look as if they’ve been perpetually dusted by snow. I would eat olives and drink wine. Maybe the French coastline, buying fresh bread every day and wearing long fisherman’s sweaters to ward off the chill.
I had been fighting for so long. The fight part of my stress response was depleted, had switched to flight. The list of places I longed to escape to was endless. Anywhere alone. Anywhere but here. I had never wanted out of my own life more.
That’s when I started taking Prozac.
Let me explain why this is such a big deal. I have spent the last twenty years witnessing the ups and downs of mental health pharmaceuticals as my husband and daughter have attempted to balance their neurobiology. Going on and tapering off mood stabilizers is our normal.
Paxil, Clonidine, Lamictal, Hydroxyzine, Depakote, Zoloft, Ritalin, Risperidone, Abilify, Clomipramine, Propanolol. If it’s FDA approved, we’ve probably tried it in this house.
The people I love most have brilliant brains that are both genetically predisposed to suffering and extremely hard to medicate. The sort of brains that stump prescribing psychiatrists because the meds rarely do what is promised and often cause surprising side effects that leave those docs scratching their heads about what to do next. I can recall the dosages and side effects of every last attempt. That one made him suicidal. That one gave her screaming nightmares. That one left him jittery. That one left her a zombie.
So, for me, starting an antidepressant was… complicated. It’s yet to go well for anyone I love, so why would I assume it would work for me? David didn’t want me to do it. My mom didn’t want me to do it. One friend suggested it would kill my sex drive. Another warned I would gain weight. Yet another predicted it might dull my creativity and I wouldn’t be able to write.
All I know is that I wanted to live the life I have, not constantly yearn to run from it. Which is how I came to swallowing 20 mg. SSRI every morning.
Prozac has swept me off my feet and the honeymoon stage is glorious. My doc said it would take two weeks before I noticed anything at such a low dose, but I felt it the first day, a butterflies-in-my-belly sort of feeling as the serotonin receptors in my gut woke up from their dormancy. On day three I noticed I was smiling for no reason at all but simply because I felt good. A month later and it’s as if the color has been brought back to my world. I’m less hopeless. More optimistic. More like Erin.
I’m no longer daydreaming of escaping my life. The hiraeth I was feeling was really just a homesickness for the true me.