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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
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Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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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 for one was very glad to have had access to your brain-worms. Without them, and this is the honest truth, I might not have known what was happening to ME during the nightmare of Effexor withdrawal. But I DID know, because I'd already been through it with you! And thus, I did not totally lose all of my mind through that process. For that, and so much more, I thank you, and think of you often.
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBelinda
No shame, only strength.

I'm up to the wazzuuu with thoughts about labels, medication, tolerance, and respect.

I can understand your reluctance to continue the story, but also the desire to "write it through" and show that even famous-bloggy-people can have mental health issues.

You are wonderful.
July 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKari
Bi-polar must be the in-vogue diagnosis because the pshrink that I saw before Christmas when in the midst of another depressive episode tried to tell me the same thing...and yet, I've NEVER had anything even remotely approaching a manic episode. Huh. Last time I went to that guy.

In any event, what you are doing is hard and commendable and I wish you all the luck with whatever therapy you choose! I pray that it works for you and that you continue to feel better each day.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterCariP
Your honesty and willingness to bare your soul is astonishing and frankly, quite refreshing. I'm sending up a little prayer for you today. Have a good day!
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMitzi
Obviously you are not bipolar since Lamictal didn't work for you, and only made you nuttier. My mother takes it, and she is EXTREMELY crazy bipolar, and it makes her (a little) more sane. I hope you find the non-medicine answer. It's no fun to not feel at home in your own body.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMrs. CPA
Linda--I think your candidness on this matter is refreshing.I cringed reading about your psychiatrist. The people coming to see her are obviously in need of better than that---it's a shame that with all her education she isn't at least aware of that.I think you are wise to explore other options and I hope you find some answers. I know several people who have had success with nutritional therapy. Just like everything though, it's not the answer for everyone.I hope you find peache, you have a lot of eyeballs and keyboards that think a lot of you.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAngela
I think that post was plenty triumphant in itself.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterkirala
I just wanted to offer a little support and sympathy. I too am trying to beat the "anxiety disorder" without drugs. Everyone thought I was crazy (well, duh, people) but I am doing well. Some days are harder than others, but I'm more okay than I have been in awhile. I know it doesn't work that way for everyone, but I thought it might be encouraging to know it works for some people.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMegan
Alice, just know that many of us out here who have made our way back to the sun are holding your hand as you walk through the dark woods. Everyone has to find their own path out (and you will). Look inward.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterchristine m.
I just want to call you Linda... Badly. Best of luck with it all. I have decided (since I have good insurance, God Effexor is expensive...) that I can't live without my meds. My problem is that without them I want to die. Yeah, if I forget my pills I spend the entire day feeling like a bug swirling down the drain, but when I remember them I feel... normal. I wish I was brave enough to want to try without them.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle
Another mental health delurker. I've stayed away from medication, even though in retrospect I should probably have tried it. I'm mostly better now. (Who knows why. Changed life circumstances, probably. Also watching my blood sugar, getting sunshine, exercising occasionally, and writing more. Seriously.) Sure, there are still bad days, and they're more frequent than I would like, but the darkest months are gone (knock wood). Hang in there - it will happen for you too.

You can get through this, Alice. You're a strong woman, even when you feel anything but. Sending good vibes: {{{ping, ping, ping}}}

July 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterwonderer
I am grateful to people like you and Dooce for writing so eloquently about struggling with depression. I think it helps everyone -- people who are drepressed, people who know and love someone who is sick, even those who have never brushed up against mental illness in any way. Thank you for being so brave and putting yourself out there.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterlynn
Effexor is awful. Truly awful. Causes rebound depression and the withdrawal will have you crawling is circles trying to get away from the crunching sound in your brain. I found a way to beat anxiety and depression without medicaion after suffering for years with debilitating depression brought on by post-traumatic stress disorder and a reaction to some very negative experiences, and using anti-depressants. It is too much information for this comment section but please do not hesitate to email me if you are interested. It has been over a year for me and I feel great. Really great. I might be able to help you. It's worth a try.

All the best.

July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLinda
My goodness, I just wrote the same exact post as PinkPoppies. I didn't copy from her, I swear!
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterlynn
Thank you for being so honest and candid with your feelings. Please know that sharing this doesn't bore me, it helps me know that I'm not the only one out there with these issues. Silly, silly brains. Best of luck; hope all goes well. And I really would be interested in hearing about alternatives to medication!
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJanell
I admire your strength.

I've been around the block with meds too (currently on Effexor AND Lamictal! Fun!), and I know how desperate one can get for something, anything to alleviate the pain/anxiety/racing heart/racing thoughts.

And hell, I've had all this while ON the meds.

So, please know that I say this out of a lifetime of experience.... hold on. Even if some days you're holding on by your fingernails and it feels like you're slipping off the edge -- just hold on. It may not get better as quickly as we would like, but it does, eventually, get better.

Much support-lucy
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSparkles Anon!
Misery is miserable.

If you don't want to take meds, by all means, don't. But! If it's because of the money, please try again to find someone less crazed and expensive, and more knowledgeable. Spend the money on yourself.(I have a friend who has a very delicate constitution, and she takes a few grains of Buspar, and has had good results.)

Also, I am here to testify that nutritional therapy really works. More protein, less sugar is a miracle combination.

Also 2.0, you are still going through a huge adjustment with the move. It may take your brain a while to catch up, fo rizzle, yo.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterpaper napkin
Oh, how I feel for you! don't you wish we could take a break from these brains of ours? Just for a while? They could be miserable together! They could think catastrophically and have anxiety attacks together, and we could just lounge around...not too bright, but finally relaaaaaxed.I'm sorry for making light of it, but you know that I truly do understand...and if I don't laugh about it, well something not so good may happen! Like...more craziness! And frankly, I have enough of that to last me...
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterTree
Thanks for posting this, Alice. At almost 48, with an advanced degree in a "helping" discipline, I've just now finally gotten around to accepting how profound my anxiety disorder really is and have begun exploring treatment options. Your post gave me courage. You don't know how much that means. You'll be in my thoughts.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commentergosling
Please find someone who you can afford to talk to. And please consider meds. My wife had to forgo meds when the kids were nursing and it was hell for about 3 years. (by the end of the 3 years she was frequently considering suicide.) She found some psychiatric help and Prozac. She was a different woman. It was amazing. She stayed on prozac for 15 years. I really do understand not wanting to take medication, but if they help you..... Also, a new doctor who you can get along with and trust would be able to guide you to whether or not meds are what you need. SSRI's are amazing and even if overprescribed they are remarkable for what they can do. Going off meds during peak periods of stress (buying a house, BIG life change) maybe isn't the best decision.

You do what you feel is right, but please don't unilaterally refuse a potential source of help.

Just my opinion. I hope you find the answer you are looking for, I'm pulling for you.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterbob
Man, that was a good-looking pie, too. And now my apron is ruined.I have lots of sympathetic things I want to say, but no new way to say them, so just know I'm pulling for you.And if this is you when you're not at your sunniest, I really have to go back and read your archives. You're brilliant.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMelanieinOrygun
Hugs Alice....

I think that most people are more similar than they are different. Your post could have been written by any of your readers. I to try to manage my depression with a healthier lifestyle and leave the drugs alone. It's not ideal, but the side-effects are much safer.

Thanks for sharing of yourself.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJudi
Someone back there in the earlier responses mentioned EMDR -- I'm in the middle of it now and am stunned by the experience. It is approved by all the major psychiatric and psychological bodies as the treatment of choice for PTSD. It is quick -- usually about 4 sessions, and covered by most insurance plans.Check it out -- there is no need to grin and bear it when there is a solution. Good luck.Book of case studies: "EMDR - The Breakthrough Eye Movement Therapy for Overcoming Anxiety, Stress, and Trauma" Authors - Shapiro and Forrest
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterjudy bakker
Sorry your brains are not behaving themselves properly. I do have to say though, that I really really like your brains - they make me laugh and think and laugh and laugh and laugh. Here's to better days!
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterEuropean
Best wishes as you work through this, and my thoughts are with you!

Unsolicited advice: I've had some luck keeping my anxiety disorder at bay with both diet and exercise. Even when I want nothing more than to lay on the couch, I try to at least walk the dog. This has helped it stay somewhat managable rather than all freakout all the time.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commentere

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