Prednisone Problems

The “tell your doctor right away if” list . . .

“It’s 11:25 pm, my cheeks are hot, my heart is racing, and I’m as surly as a caged bear.” That’s the one sentence I wrote last night. I’d forced myself into bed out of a rare sense of nighttime responsibility, because my usual habit is to sit in my chair until I can no longer stay awake. I wanted to think that if I lied down and closed my eyes for a few minutes, the sleep would come easily, as it almost always does. But Prednisone was still working its hateful spell. The steroid was prescribed by a very personable doctor at a walk-in clinic near my house for the previous day’s diagnosis of bronchitis, and if I had been asked my opinion of its effects on Sunday morning, I’d have been mostly satisfied: my sinuses were clear, and I even had a bit of my energy back. I suppose the Prednisone was accomplishing its primary function of alleviating inflammation. But the day would unfold with unpleasant complications.

One of my favorite things to do with my eldest son is play LEGOs. Lately, few opportunities have presented themselves. Yesterday, however, it seemed the time had come. It’s true I was sick, but I was following my Prednisone regimen and feeling pretty okay, so Arthur chose a set, we spread everything out on the kitchen table, and after he built for a little while, he got distracted and I ended up finishing it (which is exactly how I like for it to play out, because I think I’ve actually become a bigger LEGO  fan than he). But something went gradually wrong during this LEGO build. Two-thirds of the way through, as I was searching for pieces in the big pile–a tedious but satisfactory chore, followed by the same pedestrian pleasure that accompanies jigsaw puzzle-piece finding–I realized I wasn’t having any fun, and hadn’t been, nearly the entire time. I knew this wasn’t right, and at first I attributed it to the general anxiety that derails my equanimity from time to time. It wasn’t that, though–it felt different, somehow. It was more hopeless than insecure. In fact, it didn’t seem like anxiety at all but depression. The more I thought about it, the more I felt trapped by it. I could only despair: anything I found frustrating naturally, was now, in my current mental state, always going to be that way. Dreams would never be realized; the work wasn’t worth doing. Sounds were jarring, lights too bright, and life demanded of me nothing but drudgery. My kids didn’t really need me. The only thing I could see was futility.

On WebMD’s Prednisone page, under the “tell your doctor right away if” section, one of the potential side effects listed is “mental/mood changes (such as depression, mood swings, agitation).” I’ve always considered this section of side effects to be things that applied to people who were either already in poor health or were such a small percentage of the population that I need not ever really worry about it. Maybe one person out of a million had a certain awful thing happen, so now it had to be included in the list. Besides, lots of people take Prednisone with little consequence, I assumed. But here I was, experiencing one of those specific things on the bad list. Someone close reminded me of the importance of primary care physicians. Had I made an appointment with my doctor that actually knows me, rather than opting for the convenience of a walk-in clinic, I doubt I would’ve been prescribed this medication. I’m not slamming walk-in clinics–I think they provide a necessary and noble service. But in certain situations, one might do well to remember the benefits of having a PCP. In any case, I’ve sworn off Prednisone.

Alan D. Tucker, MA
Content Writer, Essayist, & Novelist

Grad School Hangover

The most acute contractions of our ever-birthing souls are unutterable: inward-wrung and full of psychic ache. Alan, what in heaven is an “ever-birthing soul?” It’s the phrase I concocted yesterday morning to represent the central core of personhood, a terrain beyond vocabulary. I’m leery of this kind of writing—it’s too easy for someone to sound smarter than they are. But this deep questioning of existence was the thing peeping up out of its muddy burrow on a gray Monday—the thing demanding a response. And so I’ll obey, despite the risk of entire paragraphs falling out fluffy, like the sugar-spun drivel of amateur philosophers (I’ve been that guy; I pray I’m not still). Such writing is only tolerable when poeticized by a Rilke or fictionalized by a Kafka. But this is my blog, so I’m taking liberties.

I can’t prove that our souls’ ache has a cause; perhaps it simply is. Like infinitude held hostage. I know this is neither entertaining nor touching, this self-conscious self-examination. And I know the Christian response to the first sentence of this paragraph. But as I did with my thesis, I am approaching this dilemma from a purely human place, free of doctrinal or spiritual association, just to see (just to see!) if these questions that haunt us—these mysteries of existence—can bear the weight of of honest self-directed questioning, without recourse to inherited systems. Drivel, indeed. It’s no fun to read about this stuff, unless it’s cleverly buried in poetry or fiction. This subject is too big for a blog post anyway.

So what’s really going on, I think, is a graduate school hangover. Friday night was Belmont’s December graduation, and I finally secured the master’s degree I’ve always wanted. And while the end of this four-and-a-half year foray into academia brings not only relief but also excitement about new possibilities and free time and choosing my own books to read, there is also something a little like grief. Not a blubbering bereavement, but a quiet, disorienting kind–one that’s left me unsure how to feel for several days now.

It was strange to sit inside that gymnasium at the Curb Event Center, surrounded by celebration, where families cheered as if at a sporting event; seeing all those fresh-faced undergrads brimming with their goals met; and me in the next-to-last row, growing more anxious every moment, tottering between exhilaration and depression (a sensation not unlike puberty). I wonder what the lone Ph. D. candidate behind me was feeling. The experience was so different from when I was twenty-two. The younger me would’ve assumed certain things about what the future held, but the current me holds no such convictions. The current me struggles to see past the thing I’ve lost: my status as a student. I’ve loved being a student.

My thesis advisor told me that writing a thesis changes a person, and that it may be a while before that person realizes just how. As with many things Dr. Paine says, the statement carried a whiff of indisputable wisdom (and he’s advised enough theses to know). I can attest to feeling different, but as to the nature of this difference, I haven’t a clue. Not yet. For now, what I must do is languish in the bone-white comforts of winter; in the straw-colored and misty gray promise of a season of waiting.