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.)

Continue Reading

#MakeChesterProud – One Year Later

(From a series of posts I made on Twitter on the one year anniversary of Linkin’ Park frontman Chester Bennington’s death; placed here as a  permanent memorial.)

When I got the email last night from @TheMighty about the anniversary of Chester Bennington’s death I didn’t think it would impact me. My first thought was to wonder why people kept track of the day. Today I put on the playlist #themighty put together and I understood.

Last year when I saw the news that Chester Bennington had killed himself and read about his history with mental illness his death hit me in a way few celebrity deaths do. Suddenly I understood why Linkin’ Park’s music meant so much to me as a teenager. Why those songs meant what they did to a scared, anxious kid who didn’t understand why her mind was hurting her.

When #LinkinPark first came out with “One Step Closer” I was 15. To me their music was a complete game changer and I probably listened to Hybrid Theory a thousand times. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before. When I was frustrated at the world I would pull out my Walkman and put my headphones in, blasting the album until I calmed.

Today my heart ached as I listened to “One More Light”. I realized how much of his music I had never heard. When “Leave Out All the Rest” played my jaw dropped in amazement. How eerie it is to listen to on today of all days. We all fear never making an impact on the world or the people in it, Chester put it into words.

If I could say one thing to Chester Bennington today, it would be that he did make an impact. That his music made a difference in so many people’s lives. He will not be forgotten. Even through his death, he’s helping. #MakeChesterProud guys.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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. 

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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?

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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. 

 

Continue Reading

I’m Happy Again (here’s why!)

 

First of all, this is a totally sappy and self-indulgent entry about my new kitty, so plan accordingly. It’s full of pictures and obnoxiously cute captions and I’M JUST GETTING THIS OUT OF MY SYSTEM, OKAY? Onto the entry:

Shortly before I started this blog my cat of nine years, Mr. Muggles, died suddenly.

Maybe a week old here. I watched him grow up with his siblings before I taking him home.

I was heartbroken. We’d had no warning.  He got sick one day, we took him to the vet, and the next day he was gone. I had no idea losing at pet would affect me that much. I remember crying when I realized I was going to have to update the about section because it mentioned him.

I changed it to mention his memory b/c I couldn’t bear to erase him completely.

I’ve been really depressed ever since. It’s affected everything in my life, especially my writing. I knew I didn’t want to live without a feline in my life, but I had to put it off, first because my parents were both grieving too, and then because my nephew’s wedding was coming up and we were going to be gone several weekends.

Then this week I decided to just go to a shelter and take a look. There didn’t seem to be many kitties available at the local shelters, but there was one or two listed online that looked promising.

I didn’t really expect to find a cat that day. I hoped, I really hoped, but I thought it might take a few visits to find just the right kitty for us.

That morning, two eight-month old kittens had come up for adoption. Their owner was moving and couldn’t take them with her and they’d both just been spayed. Another person was in the kitty room playing with them.

They were cute, but I was more interested in Patches, a beautiful gray adult. Truthfully, I only played with the kittens because I was too shy to ask to take a different cat out. I figured I’d work up to it eventually, but until then I’d just enjoy being around them.

I was starting to get braver and I reached out to scoop up one of the kittens. I wasn’t even sure which one I’d grabbed, the shy one, or the outgoing one. Providing she didn’t freak out, I was going to give her a snuggle and tuck her back into her cage so I could take someone else out.

Sure, just lay there. It’s super comfortable for me.

To my surprise, she didn’t protest being held at all. Instead, she leaned into me, purring up a storm. After a few minutes, she climbed onto my shoulder. I thought she wanted to get down, but instead, she just laid down (or tried too, she really isn’t little enough to nap on shoulders anymore).

Ignore me. I look terrible here.
She just curled up and fell asleep.

I think I knew the second I picked her up. As much as we loved Mr. Muggles, he was a very difficult cat. He was affectionate, but only on his terms and quite frankly if he’d ever been in a shelter I don’t think he would have gotten adopted. He had too many behavioral issues. We had to be so careful when people came over, we never knew when he was going to lash out.

It was immediately evident that this kitten was the polar opposite of Mr. Muggles. She just wanted to purr and be held. She curled up in the crook of my arm and melted my heart. When I finally put her down, she came over to my chair and stared up at me, waiting until I picked her back up so she could snuggle some more.

I think it was obvious to everyone that I’d found my kitty. I wish I could have taken her sister too, but it was evident that they weren’t particularly bonded so I didn’t have to feel too guilty.

She’s a girl, she totally needed this collar.

We picked her up the next day and brought her home. I’d planned on keeping her in my bedroom for a few days while she got used to things, but by the second day it was clear she was fine and we let her out to roam. She follows me around the house all day and she loves to be scooped up and snuggled.  I’m loving every second.

Just snuggling her mommy. (yes, I’m one of those people)

The whole experience has been so healing. I don’t know how I survived being without a cat as long as I did. I had no idea just how important being a cat owner had become to my mental health. (That will be a future blog entry, I’m sure.)

I’m still a nervous wreck, despite not being a first-time kitty mama. I’ve spent a lot of time on Google (Is she peeing enough? How much should I be feeding her?) and worrying about squishing her (she weighs seven pounds, less than half what Mr. Muggles did).

I have a kitty again. And she’s the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time. It’s been exactly a week since I met her and I’m already having trouble remembering what it was like without her.

Everything about her is dainty, even her tongue.

Meet Nutmeg. If you follow me on social media, you’ve already seen her and know just how besotted I am, but this is her official blog debut. Expect to see much more of her in the future.

Continue Reading