…But the Drugs Like Me.

I have an on-again off-again relationship with anti-anxiety meds.

And it’s never been because I am against them, or because they hadn’t worked.

I know anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication (same thing, as far as my Dr. says) is a majorly contentious topic. Even when I was looking up memes to put on this post, I kept seeing a picture of a forest that said “this is an antidepressant” with a picture of a pill beneath it that says “this is shit.” That bothers me a lot, because every person is different, and every person will experience something different when on a drug. They will work for some of us, and they will not work for others. Let’s just respect each other on that one, k?

pill for that

But I just wanted to discuss the topic. It’s my blog and I’ll do what I want!

For me, prescription drugs have, overall, been a positive and life-changing experience for me. I don’t care if it was a placebo effect, or if the drug actually does prevent serotonin from being reabsorbed by nerve cells in the brain. Because for me, those little pills do their job. And I don’t care how.

I was hesitant about disclosing what drug I am on, but I figure it probably isn’t a big deal to tell you that I am on Paxil. Those little pink pills have saved me. It’s been the one drug I have been on the most throughout my life, and I don’t intend to stop taking it any time soon. I am stable (ish) on it, and have way more control over how I go about my life.

I first started taking them in my late teens (see this post). I know a lot of people have experienced too many side effects to bother with them – but for me, they have been worth it. Now, at the age of 33, I am on them again, and still, they are worth the cost (minimal, thanks to my work’s benefits program) and side effects (also very minimal).

Sometimes it can be a real bitch when you’re trying out a new medication. That goes for a lot of meds out there: Even when my doctor prescribed sleeping pills for me, there were a couple that basically made me feel like I had injected caffeine directly into my aorta. Not exactly helpful. Drugs can be finicky. But under the guidance of your medical practitioner, you might be able to find something that works for you.

I can’t remember for sure if the first medication I tried was Paxil. It might be that I tried a couple. I might not have seen any results, or maybe I had too many side effects and tried a couple until I found one that worked well in my system. It’s been a really long time. The thing is, I have tried several different types later on as an adult, so it’s possible that I’m mixed up. It probably doesn’t really matter. All the same, it’s been a bit of a rocky road.

When I was young, I wasn’t that great at taking my medicine. I would forget half of the time, and one time I took six of them in one day because I mistook them for Tylenol 3s. They look nothing alike so to this day I do not know how I made that mistake – I just kept popping them because I still wasn’t getting the pain relief I so desperately needed! Don’t worry, I did call poison control and they said I would be fine, but would probably get pretty sleepy. I ended up napping for like 9 hours straight that day. (Coincidentally, I also have a story about how I took 6 Tylenol 3s – on purpose – since they weren’t kicking in as fast as I needed them to. I would not recommend it unless you like having a hot, itchy head, a frightened coworker, and a very, very deep sleep).

The only major side effect I can remember was that if I did forget to take it, especially for more than one day in a row, I would feel very nauseated. I remember that it would often be so bad that I needed to take them at the exact same time every morning. If it took them even an hour later, I’d feel sick enough to want to vomit. I’d struggle through work, and would even stay home. I was also struggling to take my birth control in a timely manner around that time, so it’s possible that that was the reason for the nausea too. I was very not good at the complexities of timing in those days.

I’m currently on Paxil today, and find that I definitely do not notice that I feel as sick as I used to. I’ve totally forgotten them many times, but never was it so bad that I ever needed to take a sick day because of it. I don’t know if they’ve altered the ingredients over time (I have no clue how things go in the pharmaceutical world), or if my own body chemistry just meshes better with it now. Either way, I don’t care. I’m on them, they work well enough, and I am not sick.

A few years ago, when I had re-started my prescription (after a breakdown – that post is for another day), I was going through a particularly rough patch and wasn’t convinced the drug was doing as good of a job as I’d expected. My doctor had me try a couple of other prescription antidepressants, and fuck. It was horrific.

First, I tried Prozac. Not only did I just plain not feel any better (emotionally), but I was always feeling kind of sick and anxious. Not the combo I was looking for. Plus, the goddamn things were gel-caps – those, to me, are horrible. I can’t handle those things for some reason – I feel like they stick to my tongue and they taste disgusting. But since I felt sick for more than a couple of weeks, my doctor said it was unlikely that that feeling would subside, so he wanted to try something else.

I tried Cymbalta.

Cymbalta and I are no longer on speaking terms.

That stuff was the most wicked stuff I’ve ever taken. When you first start taking an antidepressant, you will normally feel a little out of sorts for the first few days, or even for a week or two. That’s normal; your body is adjusting and the symptoms don’t usually last too long. That was somewhat the case with Prozac and me – except the nausea never truly went away. Same goes for Paxil. Sometimes you’ll feel a little loopy – maybe in a bit of a haze. That’s what Cymbalta was for me. But it never went away. And it was intense.

I felt very alert, and very, very woozy on Cymbalta. The whole time.

One thing with prescription drugs is that you should never stop taking them abruptly, or even try to wean yourself off without talking to your doctor first.

Even when you do switch up prescriptions under the direction of a doctor, things can be shitty.

Cymbalta and me were not getting along. Since I felt super loopy and spaced out, after a couple of weeks, I was done. I went into a walk-in clinic (my doctor works there, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to see him that day), and begged to go back to my safe, predictable Paxil. The doctor said “sure” and said I could simply switch that same day. I had run out of Cymbalta anyway, but still had lots of Paxil at home, so it would be no big deal.

Except it was such a big fucking deal.

The next day, I started experiencing what I can only describe as hard-core withdrawal. As someone who has never taken recreational drugs to the extent that I have been addicted and, uh, jonesin’ (…what’s the lingo here? Sorry, I am not cool.), I figured my ailment was akin to Joaquin Phoenix’s rehab scenes in Walk the Line.

I was now taking my Paxil, as directed, but simply stopped taking my (rather high) dose of Cymbalta. I felt so sick, so spaced out, and incredibly dizzy. I felt like the entire world moved every time I moved my head an inch. I was sitting at my desk at work, unable to focus on anything. I went into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror after holding my head in my hands for a good 10 minutes. I was sweating and my pupils were totally dilated. Very pretty.

I then did what any reasonable person would do: I had someone pick me up and take me to the doctor I Googled my symptoms, convinced I could find myself a cure. As it would turn out, a lot of my symptoms were pretty consistent with symptoms of vertigo. I texted a friend who legitimately has vertigo, and further confirmed my self-diagnosis. Now I was on all fours, moving my head around like a weirdo, trying to mimic the Foster Maneuver.

It didn’t work.

I texted my mom and she was horrified that my doctor hadn’t stepped me down off of my medication, and suggested that I visit a pharmacy to see if they could give me 2-3 pills so I could ease myself off the drug slowly. Clearly I needed some of the drug back in my system so I wouldn’t be so dopesick (thanks, Urban Thesaurus). Luckily for me, there was a pharmacy directly below my office. Off I went. Staggered.

I recall feeling very dazed and confused as I waited in line to speak with the pharmacist. I question whether there was even a line to be standing in. I was studying the label of some Cold FX and trying to figure out how to get myself and my car back home in one piece, since I could barely look at the wall without spinning out. I felt like I had to look at that Cold FX package – I was experiencing some tunnel vision and if I lost focus, I would probably pass out. When I finally got to speak with someone, they (surprisingly) would not hand over random prescription drugs to a random girl who looked incredibly strung out and could not form a cohesive sentence.

Dejected, I went back upstairs and proceeded to [who knows? I was way too high and messed up to even remember. Maybe I worked? Or maybe I napped George Costanza-style under my desk. It’s impossible to know].

I never did talk to my doctor about the withdrawal episode I encountered. It did wear off after a couple of days, and a social-anxiety fiend such as myself was more than happy to take a couple of days off in lieu of dealing with my issue in a reasonable manner.

As I mentioned, I did continue to take my tried-and-true Paxil, and do to this day. There have been a couple of times when my doctor suggested trying other drugs (since my panic attacks do not seem to be willing to chill out, even on Paxil), but for me, it’s been better to stop toying with things and just pop an Ativan when things get tough.

You know, coping at its finest.

Paxil isn’t a cure-all. If it was, I would not be in the midst of a 6-week work hiatus as we speak. But it keeps me level enough to make real life decisions and face most days without too many issues. Paxil ain’t broke (well, not overly), so I don’t try to fix it.

And as Marilyn Manson said, “I don’t like the drugs, but the drugs like me” … kind of.

logo white

Background Part III.

Ah, meds.

funny-meds

This has become a very controversial subject according to the interwebMDs.

I am going to share my thoughts on the matter,  because my choice to be medicated is legitimately the difference between being able to participate in the outside world, and developing what I know would have been a pretty decent case of agoraphobia.

In Part II of my story, I shared my inability to do anything alone. I also mentioned that I still struggle with that. But I am no where near as bad as I used to be.

When I wrote that I couldn’t go to the mall alone, I mean it. It’s not that I’d be there and something happened so that I never returned. Nothing bad ever happened that prevented me from wanting to return. It was the thought of going out on my own that cloaked me in so much fear, that it just wasn’t something I could do.

I avoided it completely. It was not an option for me.

It was a flashback scenario. PTSD-style. Being seen alone brought me back to the times I had to spend alone in front of my entire high school every single day for months.

bathroom
Fun Fact: Public toilets don’t tend to have lids.

Remember this scene from the movie Mean Girls? This was me for a while in high school. For most people, it’s kind of entertaining. But for someone who lived that – it hits the nail on the fucking head. I make an awkward scrunched-up face during this scene.

I spent nearly every lunch hour alone, hiding in an aisle in the school library. I would pretend to do homework, but since I had more than enough time to complete that stuff, I’d actually just be reading Sweet Valley High books.

But our library forbade food and drink, so I always needed to eat my lunch before going in there. A bathroom stall was the natural choice. It was the only place that offered any sort of privacy.

The underlying reason for all of this was not simply that I had nothing to do during my spare time. My goal was to disappear. I would consistently bump into old friends who knew I was on my own, and it was humiliating to be seen. This flooded past just the ones I knew closely. For me, every single person at that school knew I was a loner and a total loser for it.

This intense feeling followed me. I did eventually make new friends, but things were never quite the same for me. Instead of being the outgoing one with all of the ideas, I became reclusive. I hung back. I went along with everyone else’s suggestions. I hoped simply to be invited along for the ride. It meant I just had someone to stand with at school.

It is nearly impossible to go about daily life successfully as an adult if you are in that world. We routinely need to go to the bank, go to job interviews, buy groceries, attend doctor’s appointments. My issues with doing things alone didn’t truly fuck up my life until I was an adult with responsibilities.

There was no thought process behind my inability to do stuff. I never thought to myself “I cannot go shopping, because I am very anxious, and my anxiety is preventing me from doing it!” It was moreso that if no one was available to go with me, it just was not a consideration to go at all. I wasn’t going to go someplace I’d be judged and watched. Would you walk into a flaming building? No. You don’t make that decision though a step-by-step, well thought-out process. Your knee-jerk reaction is “fire. Hot,” and you stay away naturally. You don’t need to think about anything except the results.

For me, going to the mall was like going into a flaming building. It was just obvious that I could not do that.

Anxiety rarely presents itself as anxiety, especially when you have just begun dealing with it. It is just your reality. It’s just how things are.

When I began university, I also began taking anti-anxiety medication. I quickly graduated to the highest dosage allowable, and it was then that I discovered I was capable of doing things.

Just doing things.

It did not happen overnight. It took a while to adjust to the medication. I got over a woozy feeling it gave me that lasted a few days, and recognized quickly that forgetting to take it on time would make me feel nauseous. But aside from that, I was lucky that I have never encountered many side-effects on this particular drug.

Side Note: I have tried several other drugs over the years, all of which I did not continue using because of the intense side-effects I experienced. For anyone considering trying an anti-anxiety med, you can’t expect the first one to be The One. I’m not even 100% sure that the first one I tried is the one that worked for me long-term. But I do consider myself very lucky that I was able to find a drug that does not make me sick or loopy or more anxious than before. It is a tricky business.

The magic that did occur, however, was that over time, I realized that I was doing things the way a normal adult would. I had started, for instance, going to the mall alone, and without even realizing it. My mind no longer considered the mall to be a dangerous burning building. It was just a regular place. My reality had changed.

For me, medication stopped those feelings of being overwhelmed. It wasn’t that there was a medication that went BOOM and I was brave and thought “I know what I’m gonna do today! I’m gonna go to the mall! I am not anxious about it!” It was simply an absence of the feelings that would have prevented me from even considering it in the past.

Anxiety meds taught me that with their help, I can do normal, everyday activities, and that nothing bad happens. That’s all – I can just do stuff.

Stuff like going back to school, building a career that I’m proud of, talking to a cute dude, and creating a life for myself. I did those things.

DOING STUFF IS AMAZING.

🙂

logo white