A tree is not a book by Susan Cooper.

The interesting part of the January blogging challenge is that it expanded my writing to slightly beyond diarist. There was a quantity of hopefully widely-applicable navel-gazing, to be sure, but less current information was shared than is my usual trend.

This means that up until now, I haven’t shared that I’ve been struggling with the effects of serotonin syndrome. It’s not so severe that I’m being monitored in hospital, but there’ve been some consequences—bits and pieces of physical issues and mental problems I only recognize in hindsight.

It’s interesting to me that we tend to treat our current circumstances as both normal and eternal. What’s now is what always was. It’s what I told my son’s father when he came home and found me, a week before I was due to give birth, with all the ceiling lights in the house down on the counter to be cleaned, screws included. I always clean this way, I told him. We are our present.


My dad once taught me how to pass any test in the world. I like to think he told me the story just before I left for university, but I doubt it. That’s movie-of-the-week symmetry rarely found in real life. I’m pretty sure he borrowed it from some comedian or other – I’ve come across similar versions of it not credited to my dad over the years – and if I had to guess, I’d say British. He has an affection.

It goes as follows:

To pass any test in the world, become a world expert on something. It doesn’t matter what the something is – ants, the battle tactics of third century Picts, or the history of Chanel – as long as you’re an expert. It takes less time to develop expertise than people realize: three books in, and you’re already more informed than ninety-nine percent of the population.

Once you’re the queen of all things Susan Cooper, the secret’s in the sauce. Or rather, in the execution.

Q: Describe the growth cycle of the deer fern in the forest of the Pacific Northwest.

A: The growth cycle of deer ferns is nothing at all like the sequence of events introduced by author Susan Cooper in her fantastical series, “The Dark is Rising.” You then carry on imparting what you know. I never tried it in practice, but I’m sure it’ll work.

I’ve been aware of serotonin syndrome for decades. In the early days of medicating, I was terrified of it and exceptionally diligent. I assumed it was immediate, severe, and fatal. Cold medicines never crossed my lips – they can interact with antidepressants in an unpleasant manner, so I battle many a runny nose unrelieved, comforted by lack of fatality.

I paid attention to my meds and asked about interactions when new drugs were added. Time passes, however, and fears recede as they remain unrealized. I became pretty sanguine about possible side effects over the years.

Serotonin syndrome occurs when high levels of serotonin are present in the body. It doesn’t make you exceptionally happy. It isn’t the opposite of severe depression. In its extreme form, however, it’s fatal. Until recently, I was unaware that gradients were possible.

It can even be chronic: I think I might have been flirting with that issue for some time. I got casual about drug interactions, you see, when my pain started getting severe, and sleep became, even with sleeping pills, a memory. What to do? Why, up the pain meds and reallocate the nerve blockers, of course. Three at once is the same as three spread out over the day, right? Who needs advice from pharmacists?

We pause for this community service message: never get casual about your medications.

Milder levels of serotonin syndrome aren’t fatal, but they are unpleasant. Among other things, it can cause intermittent gastro problems (I threw up in the grocery parking lot), problems regulating temperature, mental issues, insomnia, and agitation. Unfortunately, I tend to discount real symptoms. I worry too much about being perceived as a hypochondriac, so I only recognize problems in hindsight. I’m always paranoid and hyper-anxious; why?

I don’t think I’m the only one who decides that “normal” is our current reality. It’s not the best quality in a species. [i]

I started considering serotonin syndrome six days ago when my legs began cramping up. It’s not something I usually do, and it tweaked something in my memory.

The good news is that mentioning possible serotonin syndrome gets doctors to attend to you rapidly. The bad news is there’s no immediate fix: I can’t “cold turkey” my way off the added meds, so it’s going to be a couple of unfun weeks while I reduce.

I’m not telling most of the people in my life about this. They’ll respond with “of course,” or “typical,” or something similar. It’s not an inaccurate response – I collect bad luck at times – but it’s hurtful, nonetheless. Jokes at other people’s expense are rarely as funny as we think.

Searches brain frantically for a segue to ‘what kind of tree am I?’


As to what kind of tree am I, if I carry on channelling my inner Susan Cooper, the answer is rowan. I’d protect people against dark witchcraft and enchantment, a valuable service I’d look lovely doing. If I’m restricted to local foliage, however, it’s the Bigleaf Maple. I’ve been maple-adjacent my whole life: I’m pretty sure the love I have for them has been added to my DNA.

Rowan with berries.
Bigleaf Maple

[i] It’s probably a survival trait, but those aren’t always the best when we’re not in a survival situation.

Bloganuary 29: what kind of tree are you?

7 thoughts on “A tree is not a book by Susan Cooper.

  1. The first thing I noticed is that you missed yesterday’s prompt. I’m curious to see how other people responded. Gotta go check it out, though it might be hard to find stuff from 2 days ago.

    Yikes. I actually never heard of that syndrome. I hope the ‘unfun weeks’ pass by quickly.

    Liked by 2 people

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