Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
“Oh – Let’s go” *Clap*
“How do you think I’m gonna get along
Without you when you’re gone?
You took me for everything that I had
And kicked me out on my own
Are you happy, are you satisfied?
How long can you stand the heat?
Out of the doorway, the bullets rip
To the sound of the beat
Another one bites the dust” *
Wow – who thought it would be a whole week after lowering my antidepressant dose and being in a kind of withdrawal before I could/would write again.
The first few days in withdrawal were hairy – big black hairy, smelly balls – but much more in a physical sense than an emotional one. I know the antidepressant tablet I use has a half-life of over five days. So, it was way too early for “discontinuation syndrome”. But for some reason – be it psychosomatic – it hit me hard and fast. I’m competitive that way.
Nausea, headaches, fatigue, a sense of disconnection from my life and…. well, yeah, fatigue.
I hated to feel useless or reliant on other people or unable to achieve. Which could be part of my lesson in this whole withdrawal thing, I guessed. Though – does there have to be a lesson in everything? That’s an entirely different blog. In my view, sometimes life is…well, just life.
I was ready for nausea and headaches, and body aches. Mainly because I withdrew from benzos about 20 years ago. Cold turkey- and that memory was never going to leave my mind. But – I guess I was still on an antidepressant when I endured that withdrawal – and I was 30.
There’s a lot to be said for being younger.
I did have 3 little kids and had just had a stroke. But still – this was hitting differently. Hmm. Maybe I was just getting soft. Who knows.
I have a theory that it is easier to do a tricky thing the first time. Still, once your brain knows how hard it ACTUALLY is…it kicks up more of a fuss when you think about doing it again.
After the ‘benzo incident’ (don’t you love how I can make it sound like such an insignificant thing), I decided to separate from my kid’s father. He was probably very, very relieved. But the significance of this was that it was one of many important decisions I decided to make when I should have been hibernating in a locked, soundproof cave in outer Mongolia.
By the way, I went cold turkey with the benzos because I am an idiot. Don’t do it. Get help. There is tonnes of support available out there. I was an independent, stupid, ashamed, belligerent child with a bit of a death wish at the time.
Benzos at the level I was swallowing them affected my judgement and personality, and ability to self-monitor. More on all that another day – we need more time for that. But always get medical help for this. Another big decision that I should not have been making. But – well – belligerent child.
With this withdrawal, I was in the middle of planning a huge move to another state. Where I knew no one and had never been.
My advice to my clients has always been – if you are going through something challenging – DO NOT MAKE BIG DECISIONS. I never, ever do what I know I should. I knew the thought of change would make me anxious – but – “carry on, soldier” and all that.
So… During my first week of withdrawal, the J-man (my warrior) went away one weekend and bought a house I had never seen, in a place I had never been. I sat at home and watched True Crime to try and calm my change-induced anxiety. I was totally in on this whole moving thing, by the way. But, truthfully – I had dissociated.
My life has always been like the game Jenga. Stack upon stack of stress bricks – with weird unknown forces pulling pieces out at random times until it all falls. I sometimes even pull some parts out all by myself for shits and giggles.
I seem to stack up the stress until I feel completely overwhelmed.– probably competitiveness again. How much can I handle and all that: martyr, child of God, salt-of-the-earth, holy man, holy person, canonise, paragon, godly person, altruist.
Also – feeling stressed is a state that I was in so much as a kid that it almost felt comforting.
I have almost zero patience, so I want it done now when I decide to do something. Full steam ahead. Not a great idea at that time and one of my huge life lessons.
“Gently and all in good time”, I tell every single person I love.
Not quite got that one sorted out myself, though, and I certainly don’t have it sorted when I become anxious and disconnected. Lowering my meds was making me anxious and disconnected.
I’ll try and explain the disconnection the way I feel it. I find it to be one of the more disturbing side effects of mental illness. And a difficult one to explain to the people around you.
On the weekend, during my “discontinuation Syndrome, “I went shopping with the J-man. Probably insisted I was “fine” and demanded to go.
We had shopped in the same way, at the same shops for almost the same things for around 8 years. But that Saturday, we walked around, and it felt like I was doing something completely new.
Things I had seen a million times before felt new.
I knew they weren’t, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was in a completely different environment. I’d gone up Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree to The Land of Far Beyond.
Shopkeepers I chatted to regularly seemed like strangers. Apparently, I had a look of wonder on my face and told a lot of stories to the J-man that he had heard a lot of times, but I insisted he hadn’t.
I saw colours strangely and stared at my hands and body, wondering whose they were.
Probably should have been at home, like everyone had suggested. Still, my pigheadedness and desire to make everything okay for people around me – and not cause a disturbance – had caused a disturbance.
I didn’t recognise our car, and my clothes felt incredibly strange against my skin. My skin felt weird to my touch.
My body did not feel like the one I was used to.
This lasted a few days. And I tried so hard for it not to affect other people around me. But I think by doing this that I may have made it worse. I pushed people away. Conversations I had later made me realise how very hopeless some of the people who loved me felt and how hurtful it is was when I pushed them away. Let people who love you help you. End of TED talk.
Luckily for me, for a couple of days, I was alone. This was so rare but so well-timed. When I am alone, I don’t have to speak out loud or interact with anyone. So any oddness in my behaviour, speech, or demeanour is hidden, and I judge myself more gently.
I hide under the covers and read. I adore books, but my mind might, even now, tell me that this is selfish or self-indulgent. Okay – so it often does.
Hopefully, by the end of this withdrawal process, I softened my self-judgement. Plot spoiler – I know the answer to that now.
I’ll quickly explain the SSRIs as I experienced them because I need to say that they probably saved my life.
They worked for me by dulling me – my world became grey. I did not get REALLY depressed, but I also did not get REALLY happy. I just hung around a sort of emotional mid-point.
Which might sound great – except being happy for other people and showing it is one of life’s pleasures.
Back to the day I originally wrote this, I realised that the drugs had been profoundly affecting me physically. All five senses.
I was walking – which I had been religiously doing for a year to keep my anxiety under control – and I stopped dead in my tracks.
I felt something I had not truly felt for a long time. Happy. Content.
Colours “felt” different.
Sounds “felt” different.
And my physical stress level had dropped.
I’d been living for a while like I was driving with the accelerator and the brake on at the same time. That day– both eased off – for just the smallest while.
Oh yeah – and I cried – in a way I had not been able to for years
And in among all of this – I was trying not to feel angry. Because “angry” also came back. Angry was not allowed in my house. So this new anger was disturbing.
But I was angry:
About the lost years of colour and sound, sight, smell, touch, feeling, connecting.
That I may have missed moments with my kids because I was dulled.
“Ooh, shout out
There are plenty of ways that you can hurt a man
And bring him to the ground
You can beat him, you can cheat him
You can treat him bad and leave him when he’s down
But I’m ready, yes, I’m ready for you
I’m standing on my own two feet
Out of the doorway, the bullets rip
Repeating to the sound of the beat oh yeah”*
*QUEEN. Another One Bites the Dust. Release Date
July 1, 1980
Please seek medical advice on absolutely anything to do with your own mental health. This was my own personal experience and opinion at the time and every person requires their own medical assessment and advice. I was under strict supervision and being carefully monitored at all times.