The Agonists and the Ecstasy

At this moment, my body and brain are shutting down. It’s 2.45pm. I need a nap. This is partially because I suffer from chronic insomnia (and have done for well over a decade), and partially because I am simply exhausted. I’ve had breakfast, indulged in some domestic drudgery, been shopping, had some lunch and had a short twitter with a friend on the demon drugs that are called dopamine agonists.
Dopamine agonists make you do stuff. Compulsively. Obsessively. Some of us eat and eat, some of us shop, some of us gamble. Some of us find other activities around which to structure our lives. Whatever these drugs made us do, they gave us the energy, clarity of vision and directness of purpose to fulfill our needs. And when we weren’t fulfilling them, we were grooming them (so to speak).
Make no mistake, agonists are pernicious, irresistible and wildly seductive drugs. They can, and do, destroy lives. They change your personality. They can make you behave in quite appalling ways – and I don’t mean this as a ‘sorry, but it was the drugs, not me’ excuse all, but I can certainly pinpoint aspects of my behaviour over the past fourteen years that do not make me proud. And I can point directly at the agonists. Of course, now that I have kicked them, I am, once more, utterly and sickeningly perfect.
Agonists make your priorities realign, and this can easily end up with third parties feeling wronged and aggrieved at our agonisty behaviour. The sad truth is that, in the grand agonisty scheme of things, they probably weren’t that important at the time when compared with the object of our obsession. Like several individuals I know, my particular compulsion was sexual. I indulged it as and when I wanted to. Which was all the time. People don’t want to talk about this because it’s generally considered bad form to indulge your every sexual desire as and when it pops up, so to speak – especially if you’re a woman, when you’re immediately labelled a ‘slut’. Forget sexual equality and sex positivity. The woman on dopamine agonists whose compulsion is sexual is simply hounded. As a man, it becomes almost an object of amusement. You’re ‘living the dream’ and so on. I was interviewed on Radio 5Live’s Men’s Hour on the subject. My intention (god, how naive was I?) was to have an intelligent discussion about sexual compulsion and Parkinson’s. The presenter simply tried to get me to tell him and the listening public exactly how many women I had slept with. For some reason he didn’t ask about men. Go figure. At the end, he asked if discussing this belittled my condition. I was meant to say ‘no’, but then he was meant to have asked me a question other than ‘how many, eh, eh?’ and ‘it’s every man’s dream, eh, eh?’ His surprise when I said yes was palpable. After I’d left the studio, he asked the show’s resident Doctor or his view. The Doctor said he’d heard of erectile problems with Parkinson’s but not anything like this. Way to utterly descredit me, dude. Oh, and I had anything but problems in that sense. I had, well, stamina, let’s say. And people wonder why we aren’t more forthcoming …
Back to the agonists. If they are so bad, why do I miss them so much? Well, they gave me a clarity of thought and purpose, a drive that made me unstoppable. While I was taking them, I published three books, wrote three novels, two plays, thirty short stories, fuck knows how many blogs, did a fuck ton of editing and still found the time to keep extremely fit, play a lot of cricket and sleep with quite a few individuals. Sometimes pretty much simultaneously. My life may have been crazy and basically self-destructive, but it was great fun (I admit it), and even if the highs were accompanied by the usual lows, the highs were awesome.
Dopamine agonists do seem to kickstart one’s creativity – or, at least, one’s creative impulse. They do not miraculously endow the individual with any talent, however. They are responsible for an awful lot of really bad art. Not mine, obviously. When I started to write in earnest, I was already in possession of a PhD in English Literature/History of Ideas, and had taught for several years at university level, so I knew my way around an essay. The agonists certainly helped my production of words, though they also seemed to accentuate my propensity to finish one thing and move on … just as having sex five times with one person wasn’t as agonistically pleasing as having sex with five people, so my writing became a matter of never mind the quality, feel the width.
Dopamine agonists seem to accentuate one’s desire for life (albeit with a very narrow definition), for new experience (no matter how similar it is to the old experience), and when I took them I greedily sucked up everything (and everybody) that life presented me with. I was lucky in many ways, as I put myself in a fair few very dodgy positions because of these drugs and came away unscathed. I dread to think what might have happened were I female – our society is wildly intolerant of women who take what they want, no matter how we pretend to find it wonderfully empowering. Unsurprising that even side-effects can be sexist.
Now, agonist-free for over three years (good god, being on agonists in lockdown must have destroyed so many people), I am prey to more usual Parkinson’s-influenced behaviours. I suffer from debilitating levels of apathy. On a good day I can work for three or four hours (the idea of writing a 60,000 word draft of a novel in 19 days as I once did astounds me now) before my brain begins to crumble. Anything more and I pay dearly. If I don’t sleep for half an hour in the afternoon, I can barely function for the rest of the day. As it is after two or three o’clock I’m not much use to anyone or anything. I don’t remember the last time I had a good night’s sleep, let alone slept through – I usually manage 4 hours of ‘sleep’, sometimes a little more, and that is fitful and accompanied by the constant need (and by constant, I mean every ten minutes or so) to change my sleeping position.
The fact is, I am dying by degrees. And as my body progressively surrenders itself, as it must, to a disease beyond its control – and before you start shouting ‘positive attitude’ at me, be aware I have had this disease for over fourteen years, and have, by general consensus, done remarkably well – so, too, does my mind. The words are starting to dry up. I don’t mean the creative ones (though I haven’t written a creative word in four years), I mean the actual fucking words. I regularly stop mid-sentence as a perfectly normal, decent word refuses to let itself be known.
So, why not start taking them again? Really? You need to ask that?
There is a lot of chatter about dopamine these days. How to get the ‘happy’ chemical. But dopamine, and the dopaminurgic system, has a dark side.
I may be disintegrating, but I’m doing it on my terms, not the whims of a pharmaceutical.

2 thoughts on “The Agonists and the Ecstasy

  1. Hey Pete, thanks for keeping it real and continuing to speak your truth about living with YOPD, dark side and all. Your writing is by far the most honest and interesting I’ve found on the reality of YOPD. You represent more of us than you know.

    • Thank you Jen, it means a lot to hear this, as it sometimes (ok, always) feels as though I’m whispering into a void …

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