Welcome to Withdrawal Hell

NOTE: I wrote this entry about a week ago and couldn’t get it to post. My symptoms disappeared as fast as they came after almost exactly twenty-four hours, which I really hope is a pattern that will hold for my next reduction in dose.

It’s been about four days since I took my first lower dose and I feel like crap.

It’s not unexpected. When I was a teenager I was prescribed Paxil, which has a bad reputation but was a miracle drug for me. I decided to try something else after a couple years because I let people get in my head about the side effects, which didn’t really bother me all that much (because, for the first time in my life, I felt AMAZING). Withdrawal from Paxil is INTENSE. I remember feeling like a drug addict detoxing. In a nutshell, it sucked.

After a few tries, my psychiatrist finally ended up putting me on Effexor, which works similarly to Paxil. It worked great, and I’ve been very happy with it until this past year when it stopped treating my anxiety effectively. Many anti-depressants poop out eventually, but I’d been on Effexor for about 15 years at this time, so it was a good run.

I knew getting off Effexor was going to be long and unpleasant, and so did my doctor. (I cannot stress enough to go to a psych doctor for your medication. General Practitioners just don’t have the training and education to keep up with these specialized meds and often have people go down in dose way too fast.) I was prescribed a new medication which has worked wonderfully for my anxiety and I’ve been feeling really good for the past couple months, but the time had come to start the process of giving up Effexor.

My doctor knows I had a hard time getting off Paxil so she’s taking me down very slowly. The plan is to get me completely off by the end of the year. So four days ago I went from taking 300mg to taking around 250ish milligrams.

The first couple of days were uneventful, but yesterday I felt my first ‘brain zap’. (if you’ve never experienced them, you lucky dog, I describe it as static electricity to the brain/upper body) Shortly followed by minor nausea and dizziness, as well as a mild headache.

All in all, it could be worse. It’s like when you’re getting over being sick and you don’t really have any symptoms anymore but you generally feel like crap. I just have to rest and be kind to myself while I ride it out.

Hopefully the symptoms won’t last a long time, but they will likely reappear every time I lower my dose. I’m ready, I’m prepared, and don’t have to worry about my anxiety symptoms coming back because I’ve already got other medications on the job. It’s not fun, but I’ve got this.

The hardest part for me is to balance not pushing myself too hard with getting out of the house regularly. My first instinct is to be a hermit and never leave, but that’s my social anxiety and agoraphobia talking and I won’t let them win.

Mental Illness has left me feeling hopeless for long periods of my life, but despite the general sick feeling I’m dealing with today, I feel hope. Hope that things will slowly improve.

So take that, Effexor withdrawals. You’re not going to rule my life.

**DISCLAIMER: I am NOT a medical professional. I am merely a patient who has been treating my mental illness for many years with medication. Nothing I say should be taken as medical advice; go to your doctor for that. I am merely sharing my experiences with others.

Have you ever had withdrawal symptoms while going off medication? How did you deal with it? (If you’ve never had the pleasure, feel free to ask any questions you might have about the process. I’m happy to share my experiences.)

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Missed Dose

I feel like such an idiot. It doesn’t happen often. Being on antidepressants for over a decade kinda drills the routine in your head. 

But it happens. My routine changes, something knocks my world off it’s axis, just a minute amount, and it slips my mind. 

I wake up the next morning and something is wrong. My stomach twists and my arms are tingly and cold. I feel the panic begin to rise. My heart beats faster. Hands shake. I haven’t felt this in some time and I begin to struggle to breathe. I feel the anxiety attack rising. 

There’s a nagging feeling in the back of my head. This doesn’t make sense. I’ve been better. I though I was stable. I want to sob. I don’t want to have one of these days. I have weekend plans, for once. 

An idea drifts to the surface. I did take my pills yesterday, didn’t I? I can’t remember, although that doesn’t mean anything. But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. 

Breakfast holds no appeal, so I grab the bag of mini donuts I keep for this very reason. Two tiny chocolate covered pastries help me swallow the five tablets in my pill case. I say the colors to myself as I take each one, to make sure I don’t miss anything. Two maroon, then blue, white, yellow. 

I’ve developed a routine for days like this. Step one is a comfort show. I choose Castle, putting the first disc into my DVD player as I think once again how much easier it would be if it was streaming somewhere. 

The first season has 13 episodes and I know all of them nearly be heart. The familiar theme plays and I breathe a sigh of relief, feeling my anxiety recede just the tiniest amount. 

I drink my coffee, more out of routine than for pleasure. The pilot episode plays and I can’t help but smile at Nathan Fillion’s antics as the playboy novelist Richard Castle. 

I know how this goes. At best, I will feel “off” for the rest of the day. Periodically there will be little zaps to my brain, unpleasant but not painful. That will ease as the day goes on. I probably won’t get much done. It’s entirely possible that I’ll finish season one by tonight. 

I struggle to not yell at myself and call myself names. I know it won’t help. I’m not perfect. This has happened before and it will happen again. I know what to do. I take deep breaths and pull out a coloring book while Castle quips on the screen. With any luck, by tonight I will feel normal again, or at least my usual baseline “normal”. 

It’s just one day.

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What Having Depression Means

(This post originally appeared in my personal Instagram account, but it’s message is still utterly accurate so I wanted to share. There may be a few more like this.

2/12/17

Having depression means when you wake up happy, it’s unsettling. Instead of enjoying the feeling, you’re suspicious. You wonder why you have a smile twisting the corners of your mouth. Why is it here and when will it go away?

(Because it always goes away.)

It makes happiness hard to enjoy because you’re constantly questioning it. Constantly accessing it. Is it just a fluke or did you do something different? Was it that good therapy session? The new Vitamin D tablets you started taking? Is it the result of a normal upward swing in your serotonin levels? 

Unsettling though it may be, one thing you do not do is waste it. Depression sucks, but it does make you more appreciative of the good times. You cherish them, make the most of them, because you never know what the morning will bring. 

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My Stolen Imagination

imagination photo

When I was a kid and a teen I had a huge imagination. I had so many story ideas I couldn’t write them fast enough. I kept

lists of novels I wanted to write, ideas that I wanted to explore.

I loved going to bed at night. I would close my eyes and daydream, usually about members of boy bands meeting and falling madly in love with me. Or I’d pretend I was one of my characters and mentally write scenes that were yet to come and exactly what I would write down the next day.

But when I got depressed, that all ended.

I stopped writing, except during November of each year, for Nanowrimo. But I never wrote new ideas, only ones I had come up with years before. I chipped away at my list of novels I wanted to write. When November ended, I turned off my laptop and never went back.

I didn’t daydream anymore. I genuinely couldn’t think of anything to daydream about. My life was so dark and colorless that daydreaming was pointless. Instead, when I went to bed I read fanfiction for endless hours. The familiar characters comforted me. I didn’t like reading original fiction anymore. The idea of reading about new people made my stomach twist into knots.

 

alone photo
Photo by My name is Randy

 

When I finally admitted my depression and went on medication to fight it, everything started coming back. First was my motivation. I wanted to do things again. I cared about my surroundings. People didn’t have to drag me out of the house. I had things I wanted to do.

When we moved here two years ago, I made a rule for myself that I could only read fanfiction at night. No more going back to bed after meals and doing nothing but read fanfic and nap. I had the ability now and I was going to take advantage of it.

Then came reading. I’d never stopped buying books, but they’d sat unread on my shelves. I bought books I knew I’d have wanted before I was depressed, and they were all sitting on my bookshelves, dusty and waiting to be opened.

Lastly, my imagination came back.

For the first time in years, I have new novel ideas. In fact, I’m starting to build up a list again of things I want to write. As I read, ideas pop into my head I need to jot down, complete scenes, characters, little blurbs for future books.

It hit me today how much I’d missed my imagination. Depression had come like a dark cloud, covering up all that was beautiful in my life. It had done so so slowly that I didn’t even realize what was gone until I came out on the other side.

Every day I see a little more of ME come back. And I swear on everything I love that I will never forget to be grateful. Because when the black days come back, I know that the bright days will return.

And the bright days make everything else bearable.

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Things Left Undone- a rare poem

I have to be honest, I’m not a poetry fan. I don’t read it, I don’t write it, I just don’t particularly enjoy it at all.*

*with a couple of rare exceptions, such as Charles Bukowski, Sylvia Plath, and ysome Dorothy Parker.

Last Sunday I took a bathroom break while reading the book “Every Last Word” by Tamara Ireland Stone (if you enjoy YA at all I strongly recommend this book)and when I sat back down this popped into my head and I had to write it down.

So, without further adieu, I present the only poem I have written since my teen years.

 

Things Left Undone

 

sometimes I look around
and all I see
are things left undone

books to be read
crafts to be finished
kits to be sold

a storage box I never filled
mugs never put away
folder laundry sitting there waiting
dresses that should be hanging

a yoga mat gathering dust
oh the dust
there’s so much dust

projects I haven’t started
pictures never hung
paper that needs to be filled
notebooks never defiled

a planner I do not write in
a shirt I will not keep
outfits I have yet to wear
canisters just sitting there

everywhere there’s a place to start
a step to take, a move to make
instead I sit here typing
wondering why
I cannot seem to move
I cannot seem to do

 

I shared this with my therapist yesterday and she found it insightful, so I thought I would share with my readers. If the mood strikes you, I’d of course love to know what you think.

Do you write/read poetry? Have you ever felt inspired to write poetry, even if it is not usually something you write?

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10 Weird Things I’ve Learned Researching Novels

The subject recently came up on Twitter about the strange things you end up knowing from novel research. It’s a favorite one of mine because you can’t help but retain bits of information that when repeated in polite company make you look like a psychopath.

Example:

Random Person: Joe got in a car accident yesterday.
Me: Is he okay?
Random Person: Yeah. He punctured a lung, but the doctors said he’s going to be fine.
Me: Yikes. Can you believe that some people get collapsed lungs for literally no reason? Like, they’re just walking along and bam! Lung collapsed, trouble breathing. Some people it happens to regularly.
Random Person:

Another Example:

Friend: (watching a crime show) Can’t they just dig up the body and test the DNA?
Me: Depends what’s left of the body. Flesh is all gone by this point. And depending on the soil acidity there might not even be bones left anymore.
Friend:

 

Yup, it’s interesting, to say the least, being friends with a writer. I’m full of all kinds of useless* facts and frequently frighten my friends and family.

* It’s actually all completely necessary. Knowing what to do if you’re confronted with a bear could come in handy someday!

So, without further adeau here’s a few of the miscellaneous pieces of information I’ve acquired while doing research that may or may not make me look like (more of) a lunatic on a daily basis.

1. Hearing aids are itchy, sweaty, and are pretty gross at the end of the day.

Ear wax gets everywhere, ya’ll.

2. Getting a family member’s body exhumed is a lot easier than you’d think.

It requires a judge to sign off, but moving Aunt Judy’s body to a closer cemetery isn’t that much of a hassle.

3. If you live in a building with a doorman, depending on his duties, you might not need to hire someone to feed Fluffy while you’re on vacation.

They’re also very useful if you frequently lock yourself out of your apartment or get heavy packages delivered.

4. DNA and blood testing results do not happen quickly.

Most take weeks or even months to come back from the lab and contain a lot less useful information than shown on TV.

5. A child with selective mutism may talk perfectly normal at home but clam up the second they are in an unfamiliar or uncomfortable situation like school.

They also might speak to selected people in that environment, often whispering in the person’s ear.

6. You can’t inherit a rent controlled apartment in NYC unless you can prove you were living with the relative for at least a year prior to their death.

Basically, forget everything you learned on Friends.

7. There aren’t any bears in Maine that are likely to attack, and even then the chance of you being killed are statistically minuscule.

(To my dismay, as I required a bear to attack two young boys in that particular story)

8. Depending on the soil content and the conditions under which the person was buried, bones can decompose in a matter of decades, leaving little to no trace of the murder victim.

Which would be a much less interesting episode of Bones.

9. A large percentage of foster children wind up homeless within a year after aging out of the system.

A haunting statistic.

10. Probably the easiest, least traceable way to kill someone is by injecting air into their veins, causing an air embolism which is often written off as a heart attack or stroke.

I swear I’m not going to kill you*.

*Outside of a book. And probably only is you piss me off.

What kinds of strange (but interesting) kinds of information or tidbits do you know? Has sharing that information ever caused your friends or family to worry that you were going to murder them in their sleep? Share your stories, my readers. I love learning and reading about new things. Maybe that’s why I’m a writer. (possibly a blog post for another day)

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My Motto for 2018

“Be better, not perfect.”

I’ve decided this is going to be my mottofor 2018. I’m a terrible perfectionist and have a tendency to avoid doing things simply because I know I can’t do them the way I want to be able to. This is the year I’m going to put that aside.

Those of you who suffer from mental illness likely know what it’s like to feel paralyzed. You see all those things that need to be done, like cleaning, and all the things you want t

o do, like writing, but you can’t seem to get yourself off the couch and actually do them.

It’s a terrible and frustrating feeling. Especially when you know that getting certain things done will do wonders for your mental health. I don’t know about you guys, but when my apartment is clean and decluttered I feel a sense of satisfaction whenever I look at it. I can’t help but feel better.

But that nasty perfectionism comes and bites me in the butt.

I’ve always struggled with it. It likely began with my mild case o

 

f OCD. I can remember as a kid my mom would send me to clean my room and two hours later she’d find me putting the finishing touches on alphabetizing my bookshelf. I couldn’t see the bigger picture. Everything had to be done just so. To this day my bookshelves are more organized than the rest of my home.

This year I want to put into practice something that I’ve learned from reading books by The Fly Lady (Sink Reflections), and more recently, UnF*** Your Habitat. Both books focus on building routines and doing something rather than nothing. Dust for ten minutes. Give the worst spots 20 minutes every day. Or ten, or five. ANYTHING you do is better than doing nothing.

On an extra hard day, it might mean cleaning my bathroom i

 

n increments over the course of the day. One bathroom trip I might wipe out the sink. Another, clean the toilet. A third, shake out my rugs and leave them in another room so next time it’s easy to run my vacuum around. At the end of the day, it might not be perfect, but it’s a million times better. And instead of putting it off another day because I can’t do everything at once, I’ve divided the chore into short steps that don’t seem so overwhelming.

Life is still frustrating. I was all excited, feeling like my new medication was kicking in and feeling ready to take on the world. Unfortunately, I was sick for the last two weeks of December and by the time I could get up and move, all that motivation was gone. I feel hopeful, however. Maybe the next dose increase will be the one that sticks. It’s obviously working at least a little.

Until then, I’m not going to let myself get tripped up by perfectionism. It’s an ideal I can never achieve and it will only cause frustration and hopelessness.

Be better, not perfect.

Do you have a mottofor 2018? Does perfectionism get in the way of your getting things done? Let me know in the comments. I love hearing from each and every one of you.

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Why Turtles All the Way Down Was Really Hard For Me to Read

I’m not a rabid John Green fan. I like his books, but I wasn’t waiting with bated breath for his next novel.

Until I heard it was about mental illness.

After reading a short interview with the author, I opened up Amazon and pre-ordered myself a copy of Turtles All the Way Down.

The package came right on the day of release. The dust jacket was colorful and coated in something soft that made it impossible not to pet. I eagerly anticipated cracking it open.

The next day I did. I was immediately sucked into the story, into the journey of Aza and Daisy and Davis. But after reading about a third of the book, I had to put it down.

You see, reading this book was hard. Not because it was boring or pretentious, but because it was real.

I not only read but FELT Aza’s pain. My stomach twisted in knots as she worried away at the callous on her finger until it bled, feeling the pain of myself picking at hangnails and my lips in such a similar way. My eyes filled with tears as she isolated herself, both literally and figuratively, from her family and friends.

My fears are not Aza’s fears. But intrusive thoughts? I’m no stranger to them. I know what it’s like to have your brain take one passing thought and send it down a twisted path so fast you get mental whiplash. I know what it’s like to yell at yourself but be unable to listen to your own good advice. I know what it’s like to be so involved in what’s going on in your own brain that you can barely see what’s going on around you.

John Green has stated that he also suffers from Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He clearly poured himself into this book. He took his own fears and thoughts and applied them to Aza in a way that explains them better than any other book I’ve come across.

Turtles All the Way Down was an amazing book, beautiful and touching and honest.

But it was really hard for me to read.

Have you read Turtles All the Way Down? Do you intend to? Did you like it? Have you read other books about characters with mental illness that were difficult to read? I’d love to hear your thoughts, whether or not you suffer from mental illness also. 

 

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5 Facts About Nutmeg

5 Facts About Nutmeg

Today marks the two month anniversary of my adopting Nutmeg. To commemorate the occasion I’ve decided to share five facts about my furry little friend.

 

1. She tricked me into

adopting her.

Remember this? I do…

 

The cat I brought home from the shelter was cuddly and subdued. She curled into my neck and purred constantly. Little did I know this was not her natural state. In actuality, she was sick and didn’t feel well. A round of antibiotics later I was suddenly faced with this crazy, energetic kitten constantly staring at me and waiting for me to entertain her.

 

2. She doesn’t play by herself.

 

I have bought dozens of toys of all kinds and Nutmeg has laughed in the face of 99% of them. I consider it a win if she half-heartedly bats at a toy. The only thing she really loves is Da Bird, which requires me to wave a stick around for hours a day. She will occasionally play with her own bird (I bought refills and let her have the old one) but for the most part it’s all on me.

Those cute little websites that say you just need to play with cats for 15 minutes twice a day? THEY LIE.

 

Yes, I bought her a toy that waves the feather around for me. I’m tired!

 

3. She hates wet food.

 

I was so ready to spoil her. I went out and bought a bunch of different grain free wet foods and the first time I served one she tried to BURY it. She barely even sniffed the food I so lovingly provided for her. Cheeky little brat. I have discovered she likes boiled chicken so it looks like she’ll be getting homemade food eventually. (because wet food is so much better for cats and she’s totally spoiled.)

 

4. She loves water.

 

You gonna turn this on?

 

When we brought Nutmeg home my mother said we were not going to teach her to drink out of the faucet. She was just going to drink out of a bowl. Guess who was the first person to carry her to the counter and offer water?

She’s not picky either. She happily accepts tub water upstairs and still drains her water dish daily. This is one cat who will never be dehydrated.

 

Of course I’m not going to leave wet paw prints on your pillow after this.

5. She’s a climber.

 

 

Mr Muggles never climbed anything, so I wasn’t quite prepared for a cat whose skills rival mountain goats. She can scale window frames. I was out on the porch one day and looked over to find her in the window, all paws extended like a suction cup Garfield.

(I wasn’t witness to it, but apparently there was also an incident involving a bug and the screen door.)

 

Bonus Fact: She’s very patient.

 

Unlike other cats who meow and climb on you and generally beg for attention, Nutmeg takes a much more passive approach. Instead, she sits in front of me patiently and stares until I notice her and give her what she wants (usually food or to play). I’ve seen her do it for a half hour straight, barely blinking.

 

I’m waiting.

 

So, that’s my Nutmeg. She’s getting more chill by the day and has already gained a little weight because I buy her the yummy food. And, I suspect, to fit in with the rest of the house.

 

 

Tell me about your pets! Cats, dogs, rodents, whatever. What kind of odd behaviors/habits do they have? I’d love to hear your stories!

 

 

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