Monday, November 12, 2007

Getting Personal

I've been debating whether or not I would even write this post, but decided to go ahead with it. Who knows, it might actually be of help to some of you out in blog land.

For the past 7 1/2 years, I have been taking the anti-depressant Paxil (generic: Paroxoine). Paxil is one of the SSRI (Selective Seretonin Reuptake Inhibitors) class anti-depressants, similar to Prozac, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, and others. Seretonin is a nerotransmitter that aids in regulating mood, as well as other things. The SSRIs essentially work by preventing a neuron from reabsorbing seretonin it releassd into a synapse before the receiving cell has a chance to catch it.

I initially began taking Paxil when I was diagnosed with severe depression in college. While I could go into the details of the events in my life that triggered it, what seems most important now is that I am in a happy, content, stable time in my life, and I don't want to have to rely on a drug to keep me that way. So I decided it is time to try to go off the meds.

Unfortunately, Paxil is the SSRIs known to have the worst withdrawal symptoms of this class of drug, due to its extremely short half-life. Since going off the drug 10 days ago, I have developed what is often referred to as the Paxil Withdrawal Flu. I am dizzy and nauseous and experiencing with many Paxil users have dubbed the "whoosh" effect. Essentially, if I move or turn my head (or even just move my eyes), it's like the world kind of moves in slow motion and it takes a moment for it to catch up and allow me to focus again. I have waves of tingly-ness that wash over my body, but are concentrated in my face and fingers that feels rather like a mild electric current. I'm hyper-sensitive to any sort of motion, and bright light worsens my constant headache. I've even had a couple of mild anxiety attacks, something that is attributed 100% to going off the meds. I also have a hard time concentrating, focusing, even carrying on a coherent conversation (or writing a coherent blog post). And did I mention how exhausted I am? Needless to say, it's not pleasant.

There are some upsides here (and being a glass-half-full kind of person, I feel the need to point them out). First, despite what I wrote in my last paragraph, my symptoms are fairly mild compared to what many people experience. After reading about what others have experienced at QuitPaxil and PaxilProgress I have realized that it could be much worse. So far, I am at least able to function in my normal daily routine (even if I feel like crap while doing it). I can still walk the dog, go to work, make dinner, run errands, and all the other stuff that is necessary in life. Second, I've found things that help alleviate symptoms a bit. Deep breathing, taking a few minutes to just close my eyes, and...knitting! And cooking! It's wonderful! The two things I love doing most help! They provide just enough mental and physical distraction to keep the symptoms at bay. Even if once dinner is made, I feel too nauseous to eat it (tonight Psycling had the West Indian Vegetable Curry I made while I had Raisin Bran), just making it helped me feel better for the time I was doing it. So I'm finding it's also the perfect time to teach myself a new knitting technique, and I've cast on for an entrelac blanket. And third, I'm staying focused on the fact that while it sucks big time now, putting up with this for a few weeks is all I need to do to not have to take the Paxil ever again. This is the big motivator for me. It is the light at the end of the tunnel.

You may ask why I bothered to write this all out. First, it helps me just to get it out, to let people know what's going on in my life (after all, that's what a blog is for, right?). But also, when I was on the meds, I was never shy about it. There is such a stigma in our society (still) about people on psychoactive medication, and so much of it is due to ignorance. So by living my life as a productive member of society who just happened to be on anti-depressants, I hope that I broke down a few of those stereotypes about mental illness. I have offered myself as a resource to people who have been going through depression, answering questions as honestly as I could.

But the flip side about being open to being on the meds is being open about what it's like to go off them. When I first started taking this drug, NO ONE told me that it could be addictive, that going off the drug would be so difficult, what all the side effects were and how it could affect so many aspects of my life. If they had, I probably would have asked to know about alternatives, drugs that might be more "user friendly" so to speak. I find myself angry at the doctor who prescribed this for me for not telling me, and for leaving me to go through this. So, for those of you who have read this, I charge you to take control of your health care. If a doctor wants to prescribe a drug like this, ASK QUESTIONS! Do the research (If you google Paxil, on the first page you find a link to lawsuits related to the drug. If you refine the search by clicking on the "warnings" button that google gives you, you get many hits on Paxil lawsuits and warnings about addiction). I don't want to be one of the angry anti-paxil ranters that can be found be found all over the internet. But I do want to put my story out there. Maybe it will be able to prevent someone from going through what I am. Maybe it will just help others who are going through it know that they aren't alone. Maybe it will encourage someone to ask the questions that I didn't. Or maybe, the sole purpose is the catharsis that this type of venting provided for me.

So, if you've noticed a slow down in my blogging recently, now you know why.