SERIOUS POST (with jokes!): I’ve been meaning to write this for a while. I made the choice to step myself down off of Paxil, for which I am prescribed due to anxiety and depression, and I wanted to tell you about it in the effort to help de-stigmatize mental illness, I guess? I’m probably not the best poster girl, but whatever. I’m actually telling you also so that you know I might be going through an internal emotional light speed rollercoaster, so be gentle? Ha ha ha. Anyway, I wanted to share my experience with you.
I wrote this bit a week a week and a half ago:
I thought today would be a great time to [write about my stepping off meds] since I’m currently experiencing a bit of an anxiety attack!
You should know, dear Reader, I am in the middle of a self-imposed (though doctor-aware), 10-week step-down of everyone’s favorite most-evil anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication, a 20mg daily dose of Paxil.
But back to my current state of not feeling very safe at even though I’m here with my cat (and the dog I’m sitting) curled up sleeping next to me in a (very securely) locked apartment in a pretty innocuous neighborhood, the sun is shining, music is playing, I have tea, I have a day off, and nothing is happening at all. But my heart is pounding and I’m overwhelmed with a feeling of being out in the cold. It’s also like 75 degrees outside.
The trigger was me locking myself out of my apartment last night, around 10:30pm. Everything else was on the other side of the (very secure) door: my phone, keys, wallet, etc. I had the dog at the end of my leash and some Clear Eyes in my pocket. I also had poopy bags, so at least if I needed to suffocate myself, I was set. But I literally closed the door behind me (one of those with the auto-lock things) as I stepped out with a very hyper dog needing grass to piss on, pronto, and I just forgot to pick my keys up from where I had dropped them seconds earlier, and I exclaimed very loudly to myself, “What? Courtney? You BITCH! You just locked yourself out? Fuck? FUCK!”
I had nothing with me. No phone. No ID. No credit cards. In a big, anonymous neighborhood I’ve lived in for a week. Fast forward past me using a stranger’s phone on the street to 411 any 24-hour locksmith and getting shut down by that locksmith who wouldn’t open the door without the very things that were locked behind it, fast forward past meeting neighbor Justin who kindly took me in and let me use his phone (I couldn’t keep other stranger waiting), past an empathetic (and thankfully totally non-creepy) locksmith coming over and working on the door for an hour or so (because it is VERY SECURE), and past me forking over a third of the money I need to get my motorcycle out of the shop in a timely and respectful manner, and here we are, heart pounding, feeling something close to what it must feel like to think Nazis are going to come through your door in the 1930s.
Usually, this kind of thing wouldn’t invoke this reaction in me, at least, not that I can remember in the past 3 and a half years. See, I’ve been on Paxil (but the generic)! It’s an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety pill. I went on it in June 2012 because I had a bit of a breakdown at my deskjob. It was the first medication I tried and it worked immediately. And amazingly. I wrote a 6-part blog entry in two days in the summer of 2012 about my first 7 weeks being on the anti-D. Summary: it was amazing. I started to hear my voice again, I could see my place in the world, I became fearless in the face of perceived criticism (my inner critic), I just wasn’t worried anymore. I felt like I could be myself and love that person for who she is, and not really care about those who didn’t.
For about the next 2 years, everything was pretty much golden. Then one day I got lazy and didn’t go pick up (oh, I called it in!) my prescription for a few days. And I was deprived of the serotonin booster or whatever the fuck it is (why do research when your doctor tells you it’s ok?) for about 4 days. My head was spinning, I was emotionally erect, if not emotionally ejaculating (crying). And my suicidal thoughts came back. Not with the same strength as previous years, but they were there. All of a sudden, death was an option again. Not an option that I would actually do… I’ve felt that way, and this wasn’t that. But I was still sad these thoughts were back when I thought I had conquered them. But that’s what happens when you miss a few days of these meds. And for some reason, it took me months to get back into the habit of taking it around the same time every day, which I found helpful in the past. It was like the encroaching depression was subconsciously, actively, stymieing my ability to help myself get better. WEIRD. (not weird at all, that’s what it does)
I decided that I didn’t want to continue to be on a medication that would make me feel like that after just missing it a few days. I mean, what was I going to do when the shit hits the fan and we’re all running from the crazies with their 2nd Amendment guns or the aliens come down or the Illuminati take over? I’m just saying, when I take things for granted (like having my keys on me, for instance), when I get too comfortable, that’s when I feel like the rug comes out from under you. And being in an intense survival situation and having my brain zap every minute or so doesn’t sound like a party. I’d rather be “addicted” to weed and have to live without that while I survive in a rebel camp out in the desert.
What? I’m just saying I didn’t want to have to rely on something where the withdrawals are almost more dangerous than the disease the medicine is meant to prevent. So, I decided to come off Paxil.
And then a year or so after deciding to do it, I started doing it. I finally asked a doctor, specifically one of my BFFs, the Amazing Dr. J, about stepping down of the meds. She said if I did it over a month, I would be fine. I devised a way to step down that would take 10 weeks. I’m currently on week 6 (edit: as of the posting of this, I’m on week 8). This is a picture of the calendar, taken two weeks prior to the writing of this post (after week 4).
SO. What’s happening in this picture is I’ve listed the milligrams of meds I shall take on that day. It was originally a 5 week plan, but after only one week of alternating between 15 and 20 mgs, I decided I would do each visual week twice. SO. I am currently on my second week of alternating between 5 and 10 (‘member: pic was taken just as I was ending two weeks on 10 mg). And overall, I feel fine.
Except for last night and today. I’ve been feeling a little anxious prior due to some money things (which is generally what my life has been for the past two decades, so I don’t know why I’m not used to it), and getting locked out was such an unexpected shock to my sense of safety and progress (privilege!) that, combined with the stepping down (and also missing a day I think) of the Pax, I got launched into an anxiety attack.
HOWEVER. After taking my pill this morning, making myself some Kava tea and oatmeal (been dealing with acid reflux too, prolly brought on by stress, which was prolly brought on by anxiety) I decided to also smoke a joint, made of hybrid shake (shake = loose bits of buds and leaves, hybrid = combo of indica & sativa strains, allowing a body/mind high).
Full disclosure: I am a chronic marijuana user. I have a medical card here in CA though, so I’m legal. When telling my mother about the process to get my weed card, she said, “That sounds like bullshit.” I said, “It is bullshit. Because it’s bullshit that weed is illegal.” (my mother’s poison, wine, is legal (again), but different drugs for different freaks). So, I’ve been a recreational user for a very long time. When I’m in a good head-space, which has been often for a long time, weed is my creative steroids. My medical reasons for getting a marijuana card? Anxiety and depression.
I don’t want to make it sound like I made up reasons to get a medical card. Weed really does help my anxiety and depression, along with the Paxil. But since I knew I wanted off the Paxil, I wasn’t sure which drug was doing the best work. Well, I had an idea, but I wouldn’t know till I was off Paxil.
Back to this morning and my anxiety attack and lighting up a doob: it worked. The marijuana eased my mind, slowed my heart, and made me feel better. In concordance maybe with today being the second day in a row of taking the reduced meds at the same time, and also it being the morning after a good sleep after the stressful night locked out of my house. I don’t know that the Paxil can do that anymore. Marijuana truly and genuinely helped me off an anxiety attack.
On the Paxil tip: other than this episode, I think this method of stepping down I’ve devised is pretty great, as long as you’re on top of taking the meds at the same time every day. Maybe that’s a placebo effect, but I do think it’s legit. It’s not foolproof, at least not for me though. I’ve had moments of emotions I’m not sure are real, but for the most part it has been a smooth sled ride down, approaching the baseline.
I’ve had a handful of conversations with others who have been through the step-down as well. I think so far it’s unanimously felt as the right decision to be off meds after having been on them. Mental illness medication is very new; who knows what kind of long-term side effects our generation might be looking at, right? (Probably people who do the research, that’s who knows)
Being over halfway through my stepping off Paxil, I don’t feel much different. The past 24 hours I believe were an unfortunate fluke and though my hackles are only barely raised after a day of relaxation, I feel confident now that I can handle life again. I could use an extra $2000, but it’s cool, I’ll make it happen. My point is: I think Paxil also worked. I think I did rebuild those neural pathways, at least enough to where I can step back, within the anxiety attacks and remember that I am feeling unsafe for some reason and try to name it and calm myself down. I’ve yet to have a depressive episode after beginning the step-down (and I’ve *also* waaaaay reduced my coffee intake. Acid Reflux.). I feel like it has been successful so far. But now I’m scared that I won’t be able to handle such anxiety attacks in the future.
So, how about this: I’ll come back here in a couple of months and let you know how I’m feeling. How well this change is going. If you’re thinking of stepping yourself off your meds, definitely discuss it with your doctor, but maybe try this out? I don’t know. Like I said, different drugs for different freaks.
So, there you have it. I’m taking myself off my meds. Since writing all this above, I am currently halfway through my second week of 5 mg per day. Things are going pretty well, but I am *definitely* way more prone to cry. Which will probably be great for when I inevitably start acting again.
I can’t help you make the decision to go on or get off medication, but I will say that my experience was mostly positive, and I am grateful I did it. I’m also grateful I’m done. Or at least so I’d like to believe. I’ll keep you updated.