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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
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and Finally Turn You
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Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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« I'm back. It's hot. | Main | The she-blogging shindig. »
Thursday
Jul132006

A long post about my brains.

As some of my faithful readers will recall, a few months ago I went off of Effexor, an effective if somewhat problematic antidepressant. Effexor, as I wrote, has a shockingly brief half-life, and because I was on a miniscule dosage (as I am a delicate flower and can only manage light sprinklings of medication) if I was even fifteen minutes late in taking it I headed into scary Effexor Withdrawal Land, a place no one wants to be. If you’re wondering what Effexor withdrawal feels like, rap on your temples with a meat tenderizer while spinning around in a swivel chair and sucking furniture polish through a straw. There you go!

 

 

 

Anyway, because the Effexor was meant to help me through post-traumatic stress, I decided that I would only go on it for a year because after a year apparently your brain forgets all about the bad things and goes back to humming little songs to itself and thinking about pudding. I conveniently forgot, when I chose to go med-free, that my brain is primed for things like PTSD. (There were many, many other people on the street that day, and not all of them spent the subsequent weeks cleaning their cabinets at 4 a.m. and shrieking STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT at their dogs). I also chose to ignore the years of depression and anxiety prior to the car-crash incident. I was all better, I decided. No more pills for me!

Can you see where this is going?

I remained drug-free for ten of the darkest weeks in recent memory. Here’s a tip: if you’re going to go off of medication, don’t do it in the winter, right smack dab in the holidays, when you’re financially strapped and trying to buy a house. (Actually, if you’re me, the lesson should probably be: don’t do it at all.) As I approached the lowest of the low moods I wrote this post, and told the world about my filthy pants and oversized shoes and in doing so sounded like a pervert clown, and yet was rewarded with many, many people’s boundless sympathy and support. Shortly after this I had what some might call a breakdown, if they were feeing melodramatic, or an attack of neurasthenia, if they were in a Victorian mood. Whatever it was, it felt neither colorful nor historically relevant. All I remember from the Worst Day Ever is that I called Scott and said, “If you knew how bad I felt, you’d come home right now.” And he did.

I felt that I was strong enough to go without drugs, but after a few days of complete misery I cried uncle and ran to my psychiatrist. I didn’t want to see this psychiatrist again. The biggest reason was that she doesn’t take insurance. When I had first seen her this wasn’t so big an issue; I was making money at the time, her rate wasn’t all that astronomical, and anyway I only saw her twice a year. But then as the years passed, and my insanity showed no signs of abating, I thought twice about seeing her. First of all she always called me Linda. I think the psychiatrist’s credo should be Know Thy Patient’s Name. Also she took notes about me into her voice recorder while I was in the room. “Linda has a long history of depression, marked with secondary anxiety. Also, Linda is wearing clown shoes. And should really have showered before leaving the house. What was Linda thinking?”

Despite my misgivings about this doctor and her new THREE-HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLAR charge for each session, I went back to her. “Why on earth!” I can hear you shrieking. I think you’re also wringing your apron with both hands, and you just dropped the freshly baked pie all over the linoleum.

I went back because I knew her, and I didn’t have the energy to find someone new and go over the whole story all over again. I went back because it was easy, and as much as I’m poor and cheap, I was also lazy and sick.

It was a mistake, though. She decided, during our (expensive) session, that in fact I was bipolar. She had been hinting at my potential bipolarity for a while. ( “My Potential Bipolarity” will be the name of my rock band. Mine mine mine. Don’t you steal it from me.) The bipolar diagnosis is a difficult one to make because the sufferer is more likely to seek help when depressed than they are when in a manic swing, so they’re diagnosed with depression. But she was smarter than that! Oh, she was so proud of herself!

Here’s why she thought I was bipolar. Are you ready? One, my grandfather might have been (according to her), and two, my heart raced at night. I don’t see anything in any of the literature on being bipolar that talks about nightly heart-racing as a symptom; I had rather thought that if I were bipolar I’d be out all night gambling or having sex with shop clerks in dressing rooms. I know I’m generalizing, but sheesh! If you’re going to call me manic-depressive, can’t I have some fun first?

And sure, my grandfather had more of the colorful madness that the rest of us boring crazy people only aspire to: all-night carousing! Writing his own biblical texts! Conversing directly with God! But I’m not my grandfather, and thank goodness for that because I don’t think Scott would want to be married to a 100-plus-year-old Italian guy who also happens to be dead.

So I disagreed, but she was insistent, and put me on a medication called Lamictal. And then I was off to Amsterdam, and didn’t think much about what this would mean, this traveling while on a brand-new drug.

Here’s another tip: don’t go on a new medication before traveling. The best I can say about the Lamictal is that it didn’t work. The worst I can say about it is it made me intensely, miserably ill. For the entire trip. Every morning I had to get up early to drink gallons of water just so that the nausea would abate enough so I could leave the room. I felt awful all day. I wanted to go out and carouse, as our sponsors were (I guess) expecting us to tell of our adventure-filled days and liquor-soaked nights, but I could barely manage one museum before a nap, and then at dinner I could manage maybe one beer. And Melissa would pat me on the head and say, “It’s okay if you're not a partier,” and I would try to say, “I'm not, it's true, but this is a little weird,” only I couldn’t get the words out because I was falling asleep. My dad wondered why I needed to nap every afternoon as much as he did. I mean, a 70-year-old getting over heart surgery, sure! Nap all you want! But a 37-year-old? That’s just sad.

Then I got home and told my psychiatrist what happened. Her response: “Oh, you can’t drink with Lamictal. I didn’t tell you that? It causes extreme alcohol intolerance. Oh, no no no no. That would make you quite sick.” She then posited that maybe, hmm, I wasn’t bipolar after all, maybe I had one of those, what do you call them, anxiety disorders. Yet somehow, instead of kicking her in the teeth, I handed her another three hundred and fifty-dollar check and got out of there.

I didn’t want to write about this on the blog for a few reasons. Sometimes I wish I had never opened up this particular can of brain-worms. The more I’ve divulged, the more I’ve felt pressured to continue this level of intimacy, and that sometimes makes me want to hide under my bed. Also, writing about mood disorders tends to bring out, well, the mood-disordered, and then they write to me and ask for advice. And I don’t give advice to people I don’t know. I don’t believe it’s helpful. I don’t want that responsibility. And I can barely manage to email my friends, much less strangers in crisis.

On the other hand, not writing about it has brought on some kind of weird blog-malaise. It’s hard to push past all the stuff I don’t want to talk about to get to anything else that’s fun or interesting. And even if I haven’t written about this directly, I’ve read my past few months of posts and I think it’s evident that I have not been at my sunniest. So I needed to get this out there.

I kept waiting to write about all this when I was on the other side, when I could look back and laugh about what a mess those few months had been. It’s still pretty messy, though. It’s not as bad as I was, but I’m not 100 percent. And I know I could go back on medication, but I don’t want to. I’ve had enough of side effects. I don’t have prescription drug coverage. And I just don’t want to.

I’m fiddling around with nutritional therapy, and I would say more about that but I’d bore you to tears. (Don't believe me? Amino acids! No more sugar! STOP CRYING!) Although nothing’s offered a dramatic, Effexor-style cure, I do feel better. And I know this is an unsatisfying post that could really use a triumphant finish. I do wish I could give you one of those.

Reader Comments (189)

i wandered in due to your writing about effexor as I am one of the prescription helped (numbed?) masses

i give you huge kudos for going drug free on your own and for trying to focus instead on nutritioanl support

I quickly become unable to function without my effexor, as evidenced by a recent attempt to go cold turkey

glad to have wandered in

be well
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermama kelly
Linda, I don't know if you're crazy but I do know you sure are one hell of a writer.
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered Commentervictoria
I remember reading about your effexor withdrawals... and I didn't comment because I was in the middle of them myself. And therefore couldn't focus long enough to come up with a coherent sentence. Now I am effexor free and loving life.I remember days when I did not get off the couch. At.all. Because if I did then I would get dizzy and a headache in about point two seconds.By the way...I have a three year old and a two year old.Sounds like fun, right?
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKelly
It takes a lot of courage to write about, you know, brain problems. I know I'm a timid thing when it comes to sharing my issues.

When I read a post like this, where someone talks about it, acknowledges it, CONFRONTS that silly beast... It sort of gives me courage, too. Or at least an insane (HAHAHAHahahaha... oh.) sort of comfort. You know, like I'm not the only freak in the corral.

xoxoanonymousey
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered Commenteranonymousey
I find that so true too. That when there's something clinging to my insides I can't write much else until I get it out somehow.

Also, Alice....I'm tearing up....I think it's so sweet how you wrote this whole post to make me feel like less of an alcoholic.

[Mouthing] 'Thank You'

You'll give us the finish and it won't be perfect or tied with a bow but it will be perfect exactly how it happens.

You'll figure it out. I love you even if you have to nap.
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommentermelissaS
Just wanted to say that there is hope to go it medication free (if not forever, at least for awhile)...I, too, had a distict "breakdown" episode of depression and anxiety for which I was treated - but upon a good pysch evaluation I realized this had indeed been an ongoing background of my personlity for years. I stayed on meds for over a year and then went off. That was 5 years ago and I've really become in-tune with my body since...I know that I have lows due to my cycle (mid-cycle, PMS etc) and also am sensitive to blood sugar issues and such. Once I recognized contributing factors I could figure out what normal was for me and not freak out over bad days and I (so far) prefer this to meds. Hope you can make it work for you, too, if that's what you'd like to do. I also think birth control pills can be factors...something to look into, perhaps.
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterRachel
I'm glad you wrote this, and I hope you fell better after getting it off your chest.I had a really weird thought when I was reading it. What if your name really is Linda? And what if this is one of your multiple personalities coming through, and all the while you had thousands of adoring fans who thought there really is an Alice, when really there is a Linda.And then I remembered that you went to BlogHer and people met you in real life, and I felt a lot better.Whew!
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterapril
As one of the happily medicated, I don't see where the implicit virtue in remaining unmedicated lies. But, you know, that's me. Everyone I know who struggles with depression and anxiety has their individual journey. I think you'll struggle with yours for a while, and you will either feel better on your own or you won't. And you are a smart lady, so eventually, you will figure out what works.

Just don't worry that you won't get to a happier place than you've been lately. You've got a gift for writing and a wonderful family that will, uhm...dare I say it? Be the wind beneath your wings?

I'm banned from the comments now, aren't I?
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterVelma
oh Alice....all I can say is add me to the list of fellow sufferers on this road to finding the ever elusive health and happiness....hell, just feeling even would be good.I struggle with my own writing as well b/c there is nothing else but this hell of sadness and inertia and taking care of our little ones.Finding the right dr is the main thing I think, but who has the energy to go out searching, much less advocating for oneself in the face of insane diagnosis.You are loved.
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDeb
Okay, I'm a lurker. I will admit it.

I just had to post because I know how difficult it is to deal with depression and anxiety while raising a child and short on funds. It's beyond miserable. I used to think that dealing with a cold was the end of the world. How can I possibly care for my children when I feel so HORRIBLE?! I'm dying over here! My husband must come straight home from work to help me, because I obviously am in no condition to be caring for children! I must rest! WOW. Now I realize that having a cold is NOTHING compared to feeling mentally unwell. And when you're always having to scrimp and are living almost paycheck to paycheck, that only adds to the problem. It does make you feel like you're stuck between a rock and a hard place because life just seems too damn difficult and you can't see a light at the end of the tunnel. But there always is one. You are trying to find a way to do something about the situation. You are not wallowing. That is a good thing. You are looking for an answer, and you will find it.

In my situation (which I won't bore you with), I finally resorted to a low dose of Prozac. I felt like such a psycho at the mere suggestion from my doctor. (That particular brand has such a stigma attached...visions of straight jackets and rubber rooms...yikes!) But boy oh boy, has it helped. I do worry about weaning off it someday, though. Because although I am not in the Tom Cruise camp, I'm not one to take medication unless it's REALLY necessary. (And I am a delicate flower myself -- even half a dose of Dimetapp seems to take a week to get out of my system.) So the idea of taking this medication on a long-term basis really bothers me. I don't blame you at all for stopping the Effexor (and yes, I've heard the horror stories about weaning off that particular drug!).

I wish you the best of luck with changing your diet, and I admire you for trying an natural method instead of sticking with the "quick fix." My son has lots of gut issues and is on a very restricted diet (he has autism). His special diet and various supplements and vitamins have helped him quite a bit. I've learned more than I ever wanted to know about how foods we eat can affect us physically and mentally.

If you aren't already, seeing a nutritionist who deals in natural treatment (vitamins, supps, diet, etc.) is a great idea. They can take a thorough history and even order some testing that can help them figure out what you need to add or should eliminate from your diet. You might spend more money with a trial and error approach than if you just cut to the chase and book an appointment with someone who knows what they're doing. (And I KNOW it won't cost you $350 for an appointment! That is insane! Pun intended!)

You might have already known about all of this and already saw a nutritionist and I'm babbling on and boring you to death. And if so, I do apologize. I just felt compelled to write because I really do feel for you. And you have brightened many a day for me with your witty posts, so I hate to "hear" you hurting.

Please don't feel bad about not writing anything "entertaining." You remind me very much of myself, in that when I'm feeling down I love to make people laugh with my writing. But I know that once you hit that lowest of lows, you can't even muster up the ability to type a humorous statement. And that's a scary thing.

Hang in there, Alice.
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKarina
I'm so long-winded that I got cut off...ay yi yi...

My son has lots of "gut issues" and is on a very restricted diet (he has autism). The diet and various supplements and vitamins have helped him quite a bit. I've learned more than I ever wanted to know about how foods we eat can affect us physically and mentally. I really admire you for giving the natural route a try.

Please don't feel bad about not being "entertaining" in your posts. You remind me very much of myself, in that when I'm feeling down I like to make people laugh with my writing. But I know that once you hit that lowest of lows, you can't even muster up the ability to type a humorous statement. And that's a scary thing.

Hang in there, Alice.
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKarina
The thing I like about you and dooce is that you write so honestly and openly about mental health issues. It's so brave to put yourself out there, so those who do not suffer from mental health issues get the opportunity to understand what it is really like without getting into all those awful stereotypes. More importantly it gves permission to those who may be struggling in secret, trying to keep it all together without going postal, to get help. Because getting help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Getting help is starting the path to getting control, to creating the life you want for yourself, and by extension your family. Thank you for giving us a window, and for seeing that there is a way out at the end of the tunnel. Hang in there. Pinky
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterPinkPoppies
Oops -- I guess I didn't get cut off, so now I sent a repeat...ARGH... It's been a long day and I need sleeeep!!!

Leaving now. I swear. Really. No more posts from me.
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKarina
*hug hug hug hug hug hug hgu hug hug hug hug hug hug hug hug hug hug hug hug hug hug HUG*
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered Commenteramy
warm fuzzies! rooting! warm fuzzies! Rooting!
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterk
It takes a lot of guts for you to write that post. Good for you. I've had anxiety issues in the past and I know that it's hard admitting it out loud, but it can also be a huge relief. We're here for you!!
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterChristina Shaver
You are very brave, saying all that. I saw your bit about amino acids -- have you read "The Mood Cure?" Not so much a cure, but something to try. Hang in there. Isn't it heartening to know how many other people are amazed at how often they feel like shit? Oy.

July 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAmy at Fannfare
I love your blog and love your view on things. I love that we are the same age w/a lot of the same issues to deal with daily. THIS knowledge doesn't change a thing - except endear me to you more for being so open. You even made PTSD/depression 'funny' which will speak to more people can you can ever imagine. Don't sweat it. We're still here, we still like ya - no advice asking, giving, or judgements. I find it oddly comforting to be reminded of the baggage we all carry & try to repack or reduce each day of our lives. Thank you. I appreciate your writing & now you too. Sending you supportive & healing vibes......
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterTeresaLynn
Mood disordered, checking in!

Seriously, I so empathize with you. I've also dealt with PTSD, dealt with it successfully a year and a half ago, went off my drugs and all was well until six weeks ago. But this isn't about me. I just wanted to say that I sat here, nodding my head, through this entire post. It's tough stuff, and I hope you find something that makes you feel better, soon.
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterRobin
I will not give you advice. I will just send you powerful West Coast Beams of Love and Support.
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSuebob
How does she get LINDA from ALICE? You look nothing like a Linda! You look everything like an Alice!

What's her name? To spite her, I will start calling her Olga. Unless, of course, that's her name. Then I shall go with Gwendolyn.
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNothing But Bonfires
I am rooting for you. I am in the process of going off anxiety meds, and it sucks. So does the $540 an hour my shrink charges me when I see him. And the anxiety around having anxiety. A big hug to you and I wish you all the best.
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterCara
Big hugs from Seattle. Love you to bits, baby.
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermom on a wire
Lurker uncloaking here.

I was bipolar before it was trendy. :-/** (that's me, drooling when I'm not on meds.) Unmedicated, I'm not worth a shit. I can function and can actually be productive with them. It does take a lot of time and effort to get the pharmaceutical cocktail right, and it's hard when you don't feel good. And why bother, when you're feeling good?

I believe in the insulin/diabetic analogy. I appreciate you coming out of the Mood Disorder Closet. I appreciate *everybody* doing that. I may choose to be private about BPD, but I'm not keeping it a secret anymore. I'm tired of the stigma.

Effexor withdrawal is not for the timid, that's for sure. I had brain zaps so much that I tapered for almost a MONTH.

You can take or leave my assvice, but you need to take care of yourself. Find a good pshrink, do take your records or have them sent. If you're absolutely unwilling to take meds, kava kava is good for anxiety. St. John's wort can work for dysthymia. I'm not sure if they can be taken at the same time, somebody chime in here.

Alice, big hugs to you. Whatever you decide,I wish you good health.
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterdiane
I went back because I knew her, and I didn’t have the energy to find someone new and go over the whole story all over again.


I stayed for years with an unsuitable spouse for the exact same reason.
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDel

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