Thursday, September 10, 2009

Good & Evils of Effexor

Sooooooo, I'm weaning myself off of Effexor.

I had planned on not telling you all, because I was trying to maintain the illusion of not being crazy--and then I remembered that if anyone knows I'm a little crazy, it's you all.

(Way to go, Ash, broadcasting your craziness to the internets was an A++ idea).

Remember how I got on Effexor around 2 years ago and made this huge heartfelt, shame-ridden confession post and everyone was like..."So? That's all?" Then I started getting emails from others realizing they could use a little prescription help who thanked me for talking about it and I felt good about sharing and making other people feel normal (or less alone in their craziness). So, I've decided to use my Google Page Rank for good instead of evil and share my experiences with Effexor with you all.

First off, even in light of all of the negative effects, I still believe Effexor was exactly what I needed and I might even go so far as to say it was life-saving. I wasn't suicidal, but my anxiety was driving me so crazy that I could have ended up there eventually. I had a lot of real-life stress going on and was just torturing myself about everything on a minute-by-minute basis. It got to the point where I slept with a notebook and pen by the bed so I could make lists in the dark of things to remember to worry about tomorrow. I was so worried I couldn't think straight. Then I would get depressed because I couldn't accomplish anything. Then I would be even more anxious about all of the stuff I couldn't/wasn't getting done. My poor brain was a jumbled mess. My heart would pound and my thoughts would race and I would feel like I couldn't breathe. I was also irritable and yelling at everyone all of the time because I was tired and crabby. Man, it seriously fucking sucked.

So, my doctor prescribed 75mg of Effexor and after a few weeks, it worked! I didn't worry about anything. Ever. Anything. At all. Ever. Nothing. Never.

No worries.

For anyone that spoke to me during the 6-8 months I was on that dosage, I apologize because I spent that time trying to stare at your eye/forehead region in some semblance of interest while waiting for you to be quiet. I dreaded when Mr. Ashley came home because I knew it would involve at least 30 minutes of pretending to listen. Didn't care about anything, anyone, any problems. I didn't mind anything either, making me fairly pleasant to be around, and I rarely had opinions which also makes me easier to be around, I suspect.

I remember during this time feeling very separate from everyone and everything. I felt like I was watching the world from underwater or through a thick sheet of glass. I often found that I had no idea what day of the week it was, only a vague idea if it was the beginning or end of the week based on the weekend days Mr. Ashley didn't go to work. I noticed this mental fogginess, but it didn't bother me. It rarely mattered what day of the week it was anyway.

Blogging during this time S-U-C-K-E-D. It would be interesting to go back and read (or maybe not). Dealing with you all was a chore that I dreaded daily and every once in a while I would think that I should just admit I had run out of things to say and wish you all well, logging off and being done with it. Nothing was funny. Nothing riled me up. Nothing felt worth mentioning.
I knew I was in my own little self-made bubble of isolation...but it was nice. It was calm and quiet. There were no problems (other than other people trying to get into the bubble and talk to me, disturbing the peace with their chatter). I liked me and found myself easy to be around, it was a pleasant change from being my own worst enemy.

A mini-mental breakdown happened around the time my dog Heidi Louise died. Despite my detachment from the world, I was so sad (understatement of the decade). I ran out of medicine right then and couldn't rouse myself to get more. Two days later, Mr. Ashley and I had the fight of a life time, I disowned my toxic mother-in-law in an all-too-honest email to her, and broke up with my group of best friends a day or two after that. It was quite a week of bridge burnings. I felt again, and felt nothing but mad and sad. I was also physically sick from not having my medicine, throwing up, having vivid nightmares and sweating. Despite all of the feelings I was feeling again being miserable ones, I realized how zombified I had been and wanted off of the medicine. I was too sick to be without it but too broke to go to the doctor and find a way to get off of it safely.

A friend (and I love you forever for doing it for me, M. if you're out there) sent me generic 37.5 mg from an old prescription of hers until I could get to the doctor. I realized that the lower dosage was way more appropriate for me. I wasn't worried, but I could still feel amusement and communicate and watch movies and read books again (didn't want to when I was zombified because I didn't care what happened to the characters and thought it was all boring and pointless). I could also think very logically and clearly, with less emotion and anxiety. I went to the doctor for a lower dosage and stayed on it for another year or so. I'm so grateful I was on it during this time because I realized that the only solution to our housing problem was to move. My emotional self would have never been able to calmly come to that conclusion and get us here without full-on hysteria. I was able to take some major steps up in life because it helped me focus and re-prioritize.

Even on the lower dosage though, I still feel more like I'm watching the world than participating. I love that I can consider a problem rationally and come up with a solution or write it off as something I can't do anything about and go about my floaty-headed merry way. But I miss feeling curious, I miss some of my racing thoughts, I miss having opinions and the need to express them, I miss cracking up laughing or feeling funny, I miss getting teary-eyed at diaper, dog food and greeting card commercials, I miss feeling overcome with emotion, I miss wasting tons of time on creative endeavours, I miss feeling sexy or romantic, I miss caring about people, I miss having so many thoughts to share with you all that they pile up in my head. I miss me. I also miss the $100 a month I spend on this shit and the days I feel sick for forgetting to take it.

For about a week now, I've been taking 1/2 of a pill every 2nd day. The first day I was so dizzy I could barely stand up and my ears were ringing. The second day I threw up right after taking it and napped a lot. The third day I slept for 17 hours and then took a nap. The fourth day I felt better, but sleepy and dizzy. The fifth day I still felt dizzy, but more energetic. Today is the 6th day. Every day so far I've had what I call the "swooshy-head thing". I think I've heard other people call it brain zaps. It feels like my eyes and my brain aren't connected--like my eyes move and then my brain catches up and the delay makes me feel dizzy or swooshy. I also see things out of the corner of my eye, shadows, movements or shapes that aren't there.

So that all sucks, but I also feel again. And it rocks. Even the feelings that suck. And I know the novelty of emotion may wear off again and the anxiety or sadness could creep back up at any time, but I'm hoping I can remember that "Can you solve this or do anything about it?" detachment that came with medication and find some other coping techniques, because feeling and being is what life's all about.

It's embarrassing to share with you all because life would be easier without people observing my return to unzombification. I could've pulled it off as one of my many mood swings without this announcement but now you'll all be watching, so I blew that. But I do want people to realize that although the medicine can be a godsend and an absolute life saver when you are having difficulty coping, it is serious stuff. It's also easy to get so comfortable in your own world that you never bother coming up with an exit strategy to get off, or even easier, to find yourself unable to afford the time to suffer through sickness to do so--I never realized the extent of how addictive it is.

So there it is, another not-so-pretty chapter in the life of Ashley. And a warning that the old me is on her way back.

I did not intend for this to turn into a freaking novel. "Don't make it a big deal" was my whole goal and then I write a War and Peace-esque blog post about it. LOL. Sorry so long, I'll reward you with a Big Kid video later for reading it! This is also a good reminder that I'm a lot more talkative off of the meds...

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

I too was on Effexor for 2 yrs, it was a bitch to get off. I know too well the brain delay, the shadows, seriously screwed up my world for about 2 weeks. Day by day my friend things thats all we can do.

Doodles said...

I know what you mean people seek help for many many things but the second you need help for something like anxiety or what not you start to feel like you might be crazy and unfortunately their is a negative conotation for being crazy or a little bit off and needing medical help. Thank you for sharing your experience. I have been on Zoloft for almost 6 years, I have times when I get off it but then something hits the fan and I need it again to help with the depression and anxiety. I am so glad that things are working for you. (sorry for spelling errors I can't spell to save my life)

jenn said...

I HATE the swooshy-head thing. I get that when I forget my Paxil even for a day. I agree that it's definitely a tough choice between being an anxiety-ridden wretch (for me it's always anxiety, never depression) and being a bland Stepford wife. For now I'm sticking with the Stepford, but only because my last bout with anxiety was so hideous. I flip back and forth all the time.

Anonymous said...

No offense but I've always gotten the crazy genius vibe from you. One of those creative folks who are also a little whacky. I think it's good for you and I mean it as a compliment :-) You can do it! Look forward to seeing more of the old you!

Stephanie said...

Going off of Effexor was hard for me too. In fact it was too hard so it took me 3 times before I actually got off of it! Good for you! You are in the ending phases of weaning yourself off it. It will be SO MUCH better next week. I hated the dizziness when coming off! I've been off now for about 3 years and I can say that I am so glad. I definietly needed at the time I was on, but I was glad when I finally came off too. There are times when I ask myself, "do i need to go back on?" but they are few and far between. Good luck to you and here's to being connected!!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you got off of that. Life is too short to spend it in a fog. Every emotion is meant to be felt, even pain. You're a strong woman! I would suggest getting good vitamins (from a health food store, not a Walmart) with probiotics so you can begin to heal your body. When you body is in optimal condition, so is your mind. Good luck.

Mom2Gizmo said...

I'm glad you posted this. My husband tried to go cold-turkey off of his...that doesn't work!

Rachel said...

Why is it a not-so-pretty chapter in your life? You were going through a lot (understatement, I know) but you got help. Your family and relationships are better for it, I'm sure. Additionally, by discussing your struggle an the steps you took to deal with them here in this forum you have helped so many other women as well. You should be proud of yourself; I'm proud of you and I don't even know you!

Good luck with the weaning process. Remind yourself of how stong you are because you CAN do this!

carla said...

I feel your pain (and brain zaps). I tried to go off of Effexor in the Spring, but ended up going on Pristiq instead. Even with it, one pill forgotten leaves me woozy. It's a PITA. I've wanted to get off meds totally, but this time of year, I'm afraid. I already feel the Fall Sadz coming on. At least with the Pristiq, I feel SOMETHING. Best of luck to you. I've researched theroadback.org for weaning tips, but it sounds like you're on the tail-end of it.

Jennifer said...

It takes a strong person to realize they need help, and to ask for it. Good for you.

Anonymous said...

I went to the doctor with mental health stuff here in the UK and they got me into Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Group work is not expensive and it teaches techniques to deal with the crazies! It has helped me no end, and is not just whining about my non-problems like psychotherapy was.

Ms. Attitude said...

Hang in there! I know you will be okay, we're here.

Anonymous said...

glad you posted this! i've tried to get off so many times and can't because of the withdrawals. i always thought i was extra crazy for being that way. maybe i'll try it your way. good luck!

Jen said...

So glad you're starting to feel better! I had PPD, and anxiety as well, I feel your pain. And you're right, the meds made me feel like a zombie, whilst the made me not have anxiety, I didn't want to go anywhere to enjoy the non-anxious new self:)
Take care of yourself, such a huge step to take, go you!

Charity said...

I think your awesome, for getting the help when you needed it and knowing when to go it alone. I had severe withdrawals when I was on Paxil, even when I took it an hour late. Lexapro was my big life saver, it allowed me to feel but only to a certain point. I haven't had insurance for 2 years (not offered through either of my husbands two jobs) so I have not been able to get the new RX that I need. I have learned to pay attention to myself and when I see the warning signs, I talk myself through it. I try to find something positive out of every situation, no matter how small. I warn my family and apologize ahead of time so that they know it's me, not them. Depression and anxiety are really hard to admit to and deal with so it's reassuring to hear others battle it also.

Buttercup said...

Sounds like a great time, and a great plan to stop the effexor. I agree with the previous commenter that you are an ARTIST and therefore pardoned of all that is quirky!

I'm in a bridge building mood if you want to drop me a line or two.

onefinemess said...

Thanks for sharing. My wife refers me to your posts from time to time, and they're always interesting.

I had a similar, MUCH SMALLER encounter with Zoloft in college. "Here take these free sample pills, sure we've got enough for you to stick with it for a couple months or so" ...so I did. And like you describe, nothing really mattered that much. It was kind of nice, but also very scary. I was still "me" enough to realize that this wasn't "me" and that the old me would have been disturbed shitless by the level of emotional detachment I was feeling.

So, I quit cold turkey. I can't remember what withdrawal symptoms I had, but they were nothing like yours. So, kudos/pros/dinosaurshapedmonkeys for doing it.

Funny in my mind said...

I have to agree with you although my drugs of choice were Zoloft, Celexa and Wellbutrin. It was either Zombie state like you described or full force go go go with no sleep. My brain never shut off, even at night. That foggy feeling was nice after constant emotional outbursts and anxiety but it was nice to have a little emotion. I too quit except I did cold turkey and it is better now although winter is a bad time for me. I am planning to keep myself busy with projects. Good luck to you!

Native Mom said...

Thank god someone besides me has that mind-racing, keep a notepad by the bed, creative streak thing. I've been on medication for 6 years, and will probably have to stay on it for the rest of my life. I'm learning to accept that I'm manic depressive and roll with the ups and downs. It's really comforting and life-affirming to know that someone else out there is just like me in at least some small way.

Dannielle said...

Zoloft is the best thing that's ever happened to me!

I was on Celexa, then Lexapro and remember sitting in a college class thinking "Hmm.. If this room blew up right now, I wouldn't even care!" I gained weight, quit doing my homework, etc. The depression/anxiety were gone, but life was "eehh.." That was 4-2.5 years ago and I quit them cold turkey.

When the anxiety started creeping back into my life this past spring, I was hesitant to try something again for fear of the weight gain/apathy. I talked to my Dr. & he suggested Zoloft and it has been a blessing. My husband has even told me "It's like, you're back!"

I think everyone is just different in their needs for meds. It's not a weakness to be on them (a concept I struggled with immensely).

I feel for you! I watched my best friend go off Effexor recently and she was telling me that it made her poor brain hurt.

On a side note, reading your blog has also been really good for me mentally. You make me laugh daily and for that, I will always be thankful :)

Melodie said...

I had to wean myself off of the Effexor when I got pregnant, and it was definitely NOT fun. Since having the baby last month, I have not gone back on it, and I'm hoping that I don't have to. I didn't have a problem with how it made me feel so much as I had a problem with it making me gain 25 pounds in one year. Even with the baby weight I gained, I'm currently down 15 pounds from my pre-pregnancy weight, all thanks to quitting the Effexor. I'd rather be thinner and a little crazy than fat and not care about it.

mmunford2000 said...

I was on it for about 6 months and when I got off of it it took me 5 weeks without the dizzy feeling. Good luck! I hope all goes well.

Missives From Suburbia said...

Big, big, big hugs.

Kristin said...

I so know how you feel. I prefer to be my "crazy self" than the emotionless zombie I was when I was on Lexapro. I was only on it for a month and decided the side-effects were too much (it totally screwed me up in the bedroom and *that* was not cool with me). Coming off, even after being on it for a short time, was horrendous.

Good luck and I look forward to reading the "real" stuff!

mlatulip said...

So.... Is this some sort of inroads on maybe a (gasp) friendship?? You know you're loved, right

I like the random smiley face.

Amy said...

Wow - I thought those shadows at the corners of my periphery were my own craziness reassurting itself. Good to hear it's just a side-effect of withdrawal. Good luck getting off Effexor - I should be so strong. I'm on four different drugs for depression and anxiety. I've tried to get off drugs, but unfortunately I do get suicidal when off my meds. I know what you mean about seeing life through a thick sheet of glass. Maybe someday I'll be able to be drug free as well.

AnastasiaBeaverhousen said...

Just catching up on the Closet goings-on (congrats on Reggie - he is AWESOME and I may have to get me a Jersey hedgie!) but needed to tell you this was an awesome post. Seriously. I went from Effexor to Pristiq which has been way better for me, but my goal is to someday not have to take anything at all......although I dread the fucking brain frazzes that come from stepping down/stopping. Having you put it out there, explain it and own it, means a lot. I am one of the few people I know who take something and most people don't understand why or what the medicine is for so I don't talk about it. Which is why your honesty and candidness is so nice and it makes this journey (to quote a "friend") a lot easier to bear. Here's to a med free future for you and hopefully for me....

Anonymous said...

I just recently found your blog about a week ago and day by day I delve just a little bit further into your daily life. You are honestly an inspiration to me. I've always wanted to be a writer but haven't found the time nor the subject to write about. Since I've started reading your blog, I've definitely felt a little more inspired to just write something, anything! Perhaps I'll start out just the way that you did, with my own personal blog.

-Murphy