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Medicated Artist: When Being Aware Is Weird

ae1594f0cd7211e3b9ab0002c9550094_8This past Saturday, for the first time, I went to C2E2 and took my 4-year-old and it totally BLEW HIS MIND. How many times do you get to see Spiderman, Batman, the Joker, Captain America, a 10-foot-tall real Bumblebee, and get your picture taken with Optimus Prime? ALL IN ONE PLACE. He didn’t really know where to look, until, of course, we found all the tubs of action figures to dig through (which was easily the best part of the convention). We spent about 4 hours searching through all of them.

Medicated Artist: When Being Aware Is Weird

I think, though, I sort of had the same reaction that he did. A kind of amazement, or…I’m not sure, it’s hard to explain. It was just so eye-opening to see that many people completely doing their own thing in their own time and enjoying every minute.

Made me wonder why I’m not like that. And that made me think, “Well, wait, I DO feel like that.” I haven’t always, and didn’t up until maybe 5 or 6 weeks ago. For instance, I played an opening, solo set at the Beat Kitchen on April 4th for the Dirty Generals’ EP release show, and, looking back, it didn’t feel like any show I’d ever played before.

I was in the moment of playing the show, but not lost in the moment of playing the show like I used to be. I used to play a set and not even realize what I’d done after it was through because I was so wound up and worked up…nervous, anxious, excited, happy, depressed, scared, confident…all those emotions going on, plus worried about what everyone else was thinking. The best way to escape all that was to just get on stage and let the performance wash over me so I didn’t have to consider any of those feelings. But then I’d finish and not know what had happened and all those feelings would rush back. I couldn’t get away from them. Also, if I never knew what I was actually doing on stage, how could I ever improve on what I wasn’t doing well? Or recognize what I was doing well? I’d usually come away from a show feeling a broad, general sense of accomplishment, even confidence, in what I’d done, but it wouldn’t last because I had no memories of WHY I felt that way. Not knowing what I’d done would lead me to think I hadn’t done much of anything. See where I’m going with this?

2014_04_12 chicago crafters 2

The Beat Kitchen show was different, though. I knew what I was doing. I went into it knowing I was going to enjoy myself because I love performing. And I was aware up on stage. It was weird, but really great. I could see what I was doing, right or wrong. I could make adjustments. I felt more comfortable interacting with the audience. Most importantly, I got down off the stage and could remember what had happened and felt good about the performance (all the highlights and mistakes) instead of worried if it had gone well or not. Or worried what other people might have thought.

Because what’s it matter anyway? If I don’t enjoy performing, if it just ruins my mood because I”m so worried about everything I can’t really control, why do it at all, right? Why does anyone dress up like a superhero at C2E2? Not because they’re worried about what other people are going to think (well, SOME people might be), but, I bet most do it because they truly ENJOY dressing up. They ENJOY seeing people react to something they’ve worked hard at because they, themselves, enjoy what they’ve done. They can find pleasure in their own accomplishments. They can then be present in that moment, with everyone else, because they aren’t worried about anything. They’re just having a good time doing what they love.

So what changed for me? Why did I all of a sudden start feeling this way? Was I just getting older and finally figuring it all out?

Nah. I switched antidepressant medication in January. This IS a Medicated Artist blog post after all. It HAD to be something to do with that, eh?

I started off on Wellbutrin back in September last year when I began writing these Medicated Artist posts. By the time I got up to full dosage on that stuff in December it was making me APESHIT CRAZY. I felt worse than before I started it. So my doctor (upon me saying “GET ME OFF THIS STUFF”) switched me over to Zoloft. Yeah, I’m one of THESE GUYS now:


After a week or two of transition to the new meds, I started to feel normal. Or, just more like myself. It’s a weird feeling and HARD TO EXPLAIN. Because being depressed used to feel normal and “like myself.” I didn’t feel that way now, though.

It stopped being so hard to do the things I enjoyed and I was suddenly able to find pleasure in them for myself. I feel more present in the moment now instead of thinking about what I had done or what might happen in the future. More grounded in reality even. Each situation I’m in now, I’m more able to be fully invested in and fully present, instead of thinking about what I’m NOT doing.

So that feels good.

It also means that I’m writing consistently again and recording songs again and really enjoying both of those things. And it means I’m excited about performing again too. That’s why I’ve got some shows coming up and more to be added to my schedule. It’s like some self-imposed pressure has been lifted off my shoulders. That’s a little too melodramatic an image though, maybe.

Most importantly, all this means I can go to things like C2E2 with my family and really enjoy the experience. Be there with them. Notice what’s going on around me. Get out of my own head. That’s a great feeling because it extends not only to big, exciting events like playing shows or comic conventions, but even routine stuff like grocery shopping or bath time or cooking dinner. And, really, what’s more important than being able to enjoy those small moments? Those routine moments? There are so many of them. They consume every day, week, month. So it’s nice to be a part of them when they’re happening. What else is there?

Medicated Artist: The Past Month Just Drips Away

Note: FULL DISCLOSURE: I wrote this entire post back on October 29. In the week since then I’ve felt like a barge on the ocean during a big storm and some of my cargo slipped into the deep dark water. And then I didn’t feel like that. And then I did again. And on and on and on until today. But, anyway, here’s how I had been feeling up until a few days ago.

Medicated Artist: The Past Month Just Drips Away
This is a guitar. October 18, 2013.

I’ve been thinking about attempting to write another one of these Medicated Artist posts for a few weeks now. After writing this one, though, the floor beneath me just dropped right away. Maybe it had already dropped away, but either way I was feeling completely terrible.


My antidepressant dosage went higher just around that time, about a month ago, and I felt like I just wanted to tear out all my veins. Really. I’d take a pill and just think, “FUCK. DO NOT WANT TO TAKE ANYMORE.”

I couldn’t really concentrate on anything. I was NOT pleasant to live with or be around. I felt angry all the time. I was seriously ready to stop taking the drugs. Here’s what I looked like (this is an actual photograph):

Medicated Artist: September 24, 2013
Self Portrait. September 24, 2013.

But I didn’t have a doctor’s appointment to go over all that for another two weeks, in the middle of October, and so I just kind of GUTTED IT OUT. (“Gutting it out” means that you PLAY THROUGH THE PAIN if you’re playing a sport. I never did that when I played a sport. I did not like to gut it out.)

Anyway, by the time I went to my check up I was kind of feeling better. Like, I looked back and said to myself, “Hey, Self, last week wasn’t so bad, and this week has been a little bit better than that.” And it was getting harder and harder to get down on myself. To feel that small failures were huge. To even notice small failures as anything more than attempts.

I even tried to get down on myself. I’d sit alone and think about whatever usually gets me depressed. And I’d kind of laugh. The thoughts would just kind of float away. Which was weird.

That shouldn’t feel strange, but it did. That doesn’t feel natural to me, but in some way it sort of felt more like me. It’s hard to explain.

And now, a couple weeks later, it still feels like each day gets clearer and clearer (if not more and more unnatural feeling). I look at my face in the mirror and I see something strange. I know it’s me, but it’s a different view. I don’t know what I’m seeing that’s different, or how it’s different, but it is. And, again, the image looks more like me. It sort of looks like this:

Medicated Artist: October 18, 2013
Self Portrait: October 18, 2013.

It’s just like everything that I used to hold on to that depressed me is dripping away. A snake shedding its skin.

Now…how has that affected my art? I’ve been writing more. It’s seemingly easier to do. It’s starting to be fun again. And I’ve been playing more music and enjoying that for once. I’m beginning to look forward to sitting down and practicing guitar, to singing old folk songs. To recording the Talkin’ Headline Blues each week. So that’s been good.

I still haven’t written any new songs, which I’m not too worried about (actually, I’m not worried at all). That’ll come. I sort of feel like I still need to get a hold on how my eyes work now. How my head works when I move my hands (most times it still feels like my head is floating above my body and my hands are moving themselves). I’ll get used to that, though, I’m sure. Plus, I got hooked up to play in a songwriter night coming up on November 4 at the Hungry Brain. Things like that usually have some sort of impact. So that’ll be interesting to see if I write anything in the weeks after performing a show. (It’ll also be interesting to perform since I haven’t since about March or so. Details about the show are here, if you want to see how it goes.)

So, anyway. I’m just rolling along.

Medicated Artist: Are You With Me?

Medicated Artist: That Good Old Wine Snake Feeling

Here’s a short report on how it feels when your head seems detached from your neck and your brain is jello and, also, your hands don’t seem to lay still.

Medicated Artist: That Good Old Wine Snake Feeling
Self Portrait. September 23, 2013.

What I mean is, over the past week or so, when I’ve picked up an instrument to play music, I feel bizarre. Like, it’s a different body holding the instrument, or maybe a different head sending the electrodes to my fingers to make things happen. And singing sounds like when you hear a car stereo go by your window at night. When the noise mingles with all the cicadas.

But, apart form that, I’ll say that at least I picked up instruments (and even recorded some songs). I’ve done that so little over the past year, or two years, or, even probably, three years. Just pick up a guitar or mouth harp or banjo or slide whistle to screw around with. To remember old songs. To struggle. To learn. To just enjoy it. I don’t know where I lost that along the way, but I did.

It’s not like the more I started performing, the more playing music became like a job (and thus a BIG BORING CHORE). It’s more like, I just didn’t give it the time. Or I didn’t take the time. Or I didn’t think I had the time. Or, maybe even, music just wasn’t giving me what I needed. Or I wasn’t taking from it what I needed. So maybe it did become a big boring chore? Hmm….

But, anyway, the past week or so, I felt like it was an okay thing to do, even though I felt like I was melting or like I had a cactus in my chest while I was doing it.

And, I don’t think I’ll even say: “I have NO IDEA why I decided to start playing music again.” I’ll just go ahead a chalk it up to the antidepressant medication. It’s not like it’s working in a way where all of a sudden I say things like, “Oh, hey, I’m HAPPY!” It’s not even been anywhere close to that. But I could probably say something like this: “Oh, hey, I’ve been doing things like writing and playing music, and I’ve been enjoying them lately, even though I’ve still been depressed and acting like a SADSACK.”

And this isn’t to say that I’m also thinking all these positive thoughts about these enjoyable events. I’m still able to tell myself afterwards, “Well, there’s no point in this. Well, why are you doing that? Well, geez, WHAT THE FUCK?” So that’s been really great and not frustrating AT ALL.

I’ve also felt a little bit like a WINE SNAKE lately. Yeah, go ahead a click that link. That’s how I feel. It’s sort of scary to not feel like yourself. Or, maybe a better way to say that is, not so much feel like a different person, but, rather, sort of feel like a different version of your own self. And you aren’t sure if that different version is good or bad. It’s just different and feels odd so it’s throwing you off.

Sort of like if you’re stuffed into a bottle and then a pot of hot pickling liquid is poured over you and the bottle is corked BUT YOU DON’T DIE. (And, of course, whoever uncorks that bottle better be prepared for a FANG TO THE FLESH.)

So that’s something to report in this Medicated Artist experiment. Conclusions so far:

Still a SADSACK, but able to do some enjoyable things again, while feeling a little strange.

The end. Goodnight.

Medicated Artist: On The Move

Note: Now, I know I said I wouldn’t really get into the day-to-day of how I’m feeling in these Medicated Artist posts and I’d stick to mainly just talking about how medication is effecting my ability to create art, but this is directly related to that.

I’m not sure why, but while I was driving back home from my day job today I was all of a sudden in a TERRIBLE MOOD. Yes, sitting all day in one spot at a desk that COMPLETELY SURROUNDS YOU will do that to anyone. It just wears you down, which is weird because it’s the most non-physically-straining and non-mentally-straining thing to do. Ever. But, I don’t think that’s what it was that got to me.

Medicated Artist: On The Move
Self Portrait. September 12, 2013

I wasn’t feeling worn down. I hardly really feel that way much at all anymore. I have ENERGY! I can feel my heart GOING! I feel TWITCHY! But not in a bad way. Not necessarily in a good way either. Just feels different. Or, I’ve felt that feeling before, but not for extended amounts of time. It’d come and go. Like…it’d be there coming down from the stage after a performance. Or, immediately in the aftermath of writing a song that took 3 minutes to complete. Or, even after seeing a really giant spider stringing a web from the garage tops in the alley.

So, I’ve got that going on. And sometimes it’s hard to know what to do with that energy. Especially while sitting all day in one spot, like I said.

And then sitting in one spot in traffic.

And then Busta Rhymes comes up in the song shuffle and you start thinking to yourself, “Hey, I’m just never going to perform music ever again. I just don’t want to. There’s no need at all. And, I’ll also never write anything ever again. It’s stupid to do that. I feel okay and I’ve got all this energy and, yeah, that also makes me feel really terrible.” (You think a lot to yourself sitting in traffic.)

Like, the only thing you know you want to do is NOT play guitar, or not write, or not do that thing you love most and makes you feel human EVER AGAIN. And that’s like just handing you a shovel and saying, “Here, dig yourself a hole and then just KEEP DIGGING.” Eventually the sides of the hole cave in when you get too far down, ya dig? The Earth piles on top of you and you think there’s pretty much nothing else.

But then you hear a song that you wrote about your daughter. (Yes, I listen to my own songs. They help me know where I’ve been and where I’m headed. They tell my story, in a way, I suppose. And it’s good to remember that sometimes. It’s also good to say, “Geez, that song was bad. Can’t believe I let anyone else hear that.” It can be humbling. [Yes, this is how you spell “humbling.” I checked. It’s weird, though, isn’t it?] But also, I have a HUGE EGO.)

And then you hear Sister Rosetta Tharpe sing “What He Done For Me?” And you think about how it’d be a good idea to write on your blog about how low you can get and how it just comes on all of a sudden. And (maybe because of all that) you then have like 4 or 5 ideas for new songs or new directions to go.

That can be how it is.

Which is weird to think that just considering DOING SOMETHING makes my mood shift like that. It’s like a flood coming down. You just gotta jump out of the boat or roll with it.

It’s a strange feeling and I’m not sure if the medication I’m taking is the cause or the effect of that. If it’s clouding up my brain. If it’s making everything move so fast. If it’s a good fast or a bad fast. Or if it’s not doing anything at all.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s going on at all. Sometimes everything makes sense.

Medicated Artist: Observations After One Week

I’m not really up for writing a bunch of observations like this, but I’m going to do it anyway. Sort of, like, do it for the sake of doing it, ya know? Most of the time that helps me get through some sort of creative block. Like, I’ll just not want to write any music or ANYTHING at all, but I know if I force myself then I’ll get through. That’s what the New Song Blog is all about. That’s what every iteration of The Talkin’ Headline Blues is all about. That’s also, actually, what these Medicated Artist posts are all about too. Just a simple way to keep working.

Medicated Artist: Observations After One Week
Illustration by a.f.t.b.

Now, enough of that and on to some observations on how the antidepressant medication effected me the first week. Or, how it did or did not effect my writing, music, and all that. Here goes (in list form!):

  1. Picked up my guitar Sunday night for the first time since I sat down to record this song back on August 26. Here’s how that felt (as a SUB-LIST!):
    1. After about 20 minutes my hands started to ache.
    2. My voice has gotten so out of practice since I haven’t performed in like 6 months (or done much of any playing of any kind) that singing for too long kind of hurt.
    3. I don’t really remember how to play any songs. Mine or any others that I used to know. I just don’t really remember them. I probably don’t really have that great of a memory to begin with, so to learn songs I used to just play them, over and over and over, constantly. Not doing that, they just slip right out of my head.
      1. Note that the one song that I probably won’t ever forget is this one. Mainly, because I sing it every single night.
    4. When I did attempt playing a song, usually I got bored with it pretty soon after starting.
    5. No desire to write anything new.
    6. But, it did feel good to just sit down and STRUGGLE through a bunch of songs that I thought I still knew. And, surprisingly, struggling through them, relearning them, remembering them wasn’t frustrating at all.
    7. Now, I don’t chalk any of that up to the medication. Most of it is the cause, probably, of the depression. It’s like digging myself into a hole. I didn’t feel up for music and then, if I did, I was insanely out of practice and got frustrated and quit. So, maybe the drugs helped that aspect out a little. Maybe they just eased it a little bit. Or maybe not. Right now I don’t feel like they’re easing anything like that. I just want to DELETE all this. WHAT’S THE POINT.
  2. In general, I think I probably didn’t feel like a BIG DRAG all the time. Only sometimes, and maybe not at all. So that was a weird thing to notice. It’s hard to explain. It was just sort of a little easier to get through the day.
  3. Also, for the most part, sitting down to write, either these blog posts or just free writing with no particular aim, was a little bit less hard to do. No idea if this has anything to do with taking medication or not. (Do you see yet how I OVER ANALYZE?)
  4. On Monday I wrote the 92nd version in the Talkin’ Headline song series that you can listen to right here. It’s something that I meant to do every week when I first started, but it got harder and harder to keep up with and I’m not really sure why. Those songs are so easy to write. I don’t even have to do anything except go to and find headline phrases with words that rhyme. SO EASY.
    1. I’ll say this: When I sat down to record this tune, I just really did not want to do it. Took all my effort to not just pack it in and go to bed. Somehow I got through that.
    2. Also, it was sort of strange, or felt strange. Like, I didn’t quite feel like myself or something while I was recording the song. That was kind of weird.
  5. And then, of course, I took the time to put together this sort-of-critical, over-the-top, why-am-I-doing-this blog post. I understand that even when I think it’s silly or stupid to do these, it’s something to work on and gets me back to writing. I’m willing to risk upsetting my comfort and disturbing my perceived privacy in order to get back to work, ya dig?

So, I stuck pretty close to just talking about how the medication is effecting my creativity. (I think I did that. Did I do that?) So far, I haven’t experienced any of the fears I talked about in my first two posts. That’s something, I suppose. Or, maybe the drugs haven’t even started working yet. Then what? Am I to believe that I don’t even need them? Hmm…