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 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 I Medicate My Mental Illness

Why I Medicate My Mental Illness*

pills photo
Photo by .v1ctor Casale.

Every morning I take four pills. Three for Anxiety and one for Depression. I’ve been taking the first three for nearly a decade. I have no plans to stop.

Medication for mental illness is a hot button subject. Everyone has an opinion, including people who have no experience with which to form said opinion. Some are for it, some against it, and some think it only should be used in the direst situations. 

I, for one, am pro-medication. That doesn’t mean I’m a pill pusher, or that I think it’s the answer for everyone. It just means it’s worked well for me and I would never advise someone to avoid it.

A year or so before my seventeenth birthday I had finally hit bottom. The anxiety disorder I didn’t know I had had been stalking me for over a year, manifesting in near constant nausea and the inability to focus on anything but the unpleasant physical sensations that were plaguing me. I followed my mother around the house, terrified to be alone. At that point, it was obvious something needed to change.

My doctor prescribed Paxil. It was new to the market, the new miracle anti-depressant. I was so convinced there was something physically wrong with me that I agreed to medication without even realizing what it was for. It wasn’t until I left that I realized she had prescribed me something for my anxiety.

Paxil was like a miracle to me. Within a month not only had I been pulled out of the deep hole I’d been living in, but I felt better than I ever had in my life.

Suddenly, my whole life made sense. All those little eccentricities I had as a kid? Anxiety. The strange fears that cropped up? Anxiety. The way I’d never been able to handle anyone being angry at me? Anxiety.

I remained happily on Paxil for a few years until the side effects prompted me to find an alternative. On the second try, we found one that worked for me nearly as well as Paxil had.

I take that medication to this day, along with the two others that were added over the years (if you’re looking back at the first paragraph and wondering if one of the side effects is losing the ability to do basic math, I take four pills but only three medications. Two pills are the same drug.).

I am one of the lucky ones, someone who responds well to most medications. They don’t cure me, they don’t change me, they just give me the ability to get up in the morning and be me, not Anxiety.

I will take these pills for the rest of my life if I need to, the same way my father will likely take heart medication for the rest of his life.

And I will never be ashamed.

 

*in addition to therapy, which is an integral part of treating mental illness. I’m very lucky to have found a great one. (Hi Julie!)

 

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