Missing The Old Me

By Henry Boy Jenkins

I had just stepped off the stage and was winding my way towards a table of friends when a fan approached me. Staring earnestly into my eyes he asked a simple question: “I understand you’re on antipsychotics now, but can you get off of them, somehow? I miss the old Henry Boy.” I was taken slightly aback, but found myself able to reply after a brief pause to collect my thoughts. “A year ago I suffered a psychotic break and tried to kill myself,” I told him, candidly, “so I think I’ll stay on the meds.” He nodded and faded into the crowd.

I knew what he meant. I could feel it, too. My voice was more confident than ever, but my stage presence was nil. I watched the video. I just stood there in front of the microphone like a cardboard cutout of myself. Gone were the trademark mannerisms that might have signaled “Rock Show”. I took my place in the spotlight and delivered the songs with all the gusto I had, and that was plenty, vocally. It was the stage persona that I’d cultivated over the years that dropped to zero charisma. He was right. In that moment I missed the old me, too.

There are times when, if it’s brought to my attention, I can notice that the natural exuberance is missing, that the interconnectedness of everything is minimized by the meds. The talent is still there, but I’m delivering it through reduced affect, an emotional blunting that appears regardless of whether emotion is actually reduced or not. This is rock and roll and I’m leaving it all on the stage, except that it’s only noticeable if you close your eyes. And there’s the rub. Same thing goes for conversation. I might be delivering the funniest one-liners ever, cracking my friends up over brunch, but my hands and face aren’t engaged in the convo. It’s a vocal delivery system. Fine for the phone, not so much for the interpersonal touch.

My friend Nika had come to the show and was engaging as ever, regaling us with stories of theater productions she’d recently seen or been involved in. While I listened intently, one would hardly notice I was at the table, I was so seemingly disengaged. My head barely tracked back and forth as patrons passed by, pausing only to bob up and down when a friend would stop to greet me. Again, little to no animation. Just the Andy Warhol affectation of boredom, or so it would appear. In truth, I was ecstatic. In demeanor I was lifeless.

Reduced affect is defined as a lack of emotional expression. It is most commonly seen as a symptom in schizophrenia, depression, trauma, and autism. The individual appears unresponsive to outside stimuli. This differs from apathy in that, rather than lacking, emotions may just be going unexpressed. Body language, tone of voice, or facial expressions may not be exhibited. Reduced affect is considered to be one of schizophrenia’s negative symptoms, but it can also be equated with the side effects of certain antipsychotic and antidepressant medications. I’m on both. Hence the blunt.

In print media this is moot. I’m not required to physically interface with the reader. The words do all the work. My body takes a break. My face is a photo in the “About The Author” section. In a world of texting, I’m safe in my flatness. But the world isn’t flat, as our ancestors once thought. No ships sail to the edge and fall off, and no emotion rides that tide into oblivion. Statistically, only seven percent of our communication is verbal, with the other ninety-three percent being nonverbal. As a performer I had honed a persona that audiences had come to expect a level of showmanship from. Social custom would anticipate a more animated member at the breakfast table, too. Either way, not so much the zombie, but that’s what I bring to the conversation now.

The blunted affect is not all that dissimilar from anhedonia—the loss of enjoyment, happiness, fun, and satisfaction. I’ve experienced the lack of pleasure due to anhedonia, and now find the side effects of my chems to produce a startlingly familiar result. When I was sick, my emotions relating to pleasure weren’t expressed much because they were literally decreased by my disorder. Now I’m faced with a similar experience induced by the very medicines that keeps me together. It’s ironic, and a tradeoff that I’m having to come to terms with. What will happen to kissing, laughing, coziness, and comfort? Only time will tell. For now, I’ll stick with the new me no matter how much the old me is waiting in the wings. This stage ain’t big enough for the both of us.

7 responses to “Missing The Old Me”

  1. Monica says:

    WOW HBJ…I just had this same conversation with my son. I finally have a name for what he describes and what I see happening with him -anhedonia-
    It helps to know that this is a part of what takes place for my child. Again I say thank you for always being right on time and putting into words exactly what I need to read!!!
    Once again and always…YOUR WORDS = OUR GIFT
    Be blessed my friend…take care!!!

    • Henry Boy says:

      Thanks for writing in, Monica; it’s good to hear the progress you and your son are making. Anhedonia is a difficult symptom to wrap one’s head around. I have trouble with it still, although as I said in the blog, now it’s more of a phantom induced by my meds than the real thing. I hope your son can come to terms with it and understand that it’s not his fault if things go limp. It’s just the symptom. Take care and God bless.

  2. Kathryn N says:

    Thank you Henry for sharing your story with such transparency, honesty. Seems like every day I do research and this problem comes up with people arguing their point on weather to take the med and live. Or not take a med and risk another suicide attempt, or worse yet, the suicide attempt is successful. So I want to say thank you again because your story, your journey might have saved a life today! Respectfully yours, Kathryn

    • Henry Boy says:

      Thank you for such kind words, Kathryn. I have never thought of my blog as having such a dramatic effect, but you may be right; if so, I am grateful for the magic of words. Thanks again.

  3. smileandrelax says:

    Henry. Ever look at Sean Paul? Or Sean Combs? The former is a Grammy award-winning reggae entertainer whose seventh album is soon to be released. The latter is a three time Grammy winner as well as a Council of Fashion Designers of America winner and an entrepreneur across many diverse industries whose net worth is estimated to be $750 million. One thing they both have in common is that both are known for a stoical appearance.

  4. smileandrelax says:

    This is Sean Paul’s latest video. 29 million views since published on 1/10/17.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzU8KqOY8YA

    • Henry Boy says:

      Thanks for sharing the video, s&r. Very cool. Stoical is an apt description. When a video of our recent performance was posted, one person commented that I rocked, which I couldn’t see from the position I was feeling it from. Like I say, if this is the new normal, I need to adjust. Thanks for the encouragement, as always. Good to hear from you. Cheers.

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