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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
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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)

Oh poor Alice! You don't know me from Adam, but I have been there and BOY does it suck. Of course, I could never find the words to describe the suckiness, and yet you - YOU manage to describe it so perfectly I made my husband read it. He said, "Yup, that's about it. But how come she gets to keep her sense of humor and you lose yours?" Ahem.

I have been on many bad drugs, but have found one that works and a GREAT shrink. He remembers my name and always asks after the kids and the spouse. And he gives me good drugs and good drug thoughts.

You have a lousy shrink. You need a new one, who will work with you and tell you that going to Europe on new meds is a bad idea. Becuase once you find him or her, and you find the right drugs - the suckiness really WILL end. I promise.

Thinking of you.



July 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterlizneust
Thank you for your honesty. I sincerely hope you find the help you need.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commentererika
I second "bob" above, and believe me when I say that more of us have been there where you are than you can imagine. Medication works because mental disorders are brain/chemical disorders. If the side effects are truly worse than the help the meds provide, then I can totally understand wanting to try other means of help. There are many counselors who accept fees on a sliding scale. Research shows that meds + talk therapy is the best combination for success in treating depression. Take care of yourself.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMandy
I just wanted to add that you deserve to feel better--nay, well!--and you deserve a good psychiatrist. Don't punish yourself for not dealing well with your recent stresses by going to someone who doesn't even remember your name.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMandy
I realize, of course, that this isn't exactly helpful, but your listing here made me wince. Fins Lippy!

http://redbook.ivillage.com/parenting/0,,91r6tb32,00.html



July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJenny
Fins Lippy is my male Dutch alter ago.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenteralice
I blog a lot about my depression and sometimes wonder if it makes me sound crazier than I really am, except that it can't possibly-- because I don't blog about my craziest moments.

I have tried all the meds. Did an extensive web search when I was off insurance and learned that all SRI's do the same thing, but clear at varying speeds; therefore functioning differently in each human being's unique chemistry lab of a body. The faster they clear, the harder they are to come off of. The longer you are on any of them, the harder it is to get off them.

Effexor practically got me high at first, and then I crashed to lower than before I ever even submitted to meds in the first place--kind of the reverse of dieting and losing weight and gaining more than you had on board before dieting, but a similar major disappointment.

It is really not proven that SRI's work, but at least you don't end up shuffling and drooling when you are on them (no, that just happens when you try to get off them.) SRI's are testing out to be marginally better than sugar pills but much harder to come off. In fact give me carbs any day for a pick-me-up!

I know there are people who swear by them, but I really don't think antidepressants help me very much. I am on a low dose of generic prozac because I have learned that I cannot be a mom of 1-going-on-2 preschoolers and go through the withdrawal. It annoys me no end that I am on a medication just because it hurts to much to stop taking it.

What has helped me lately are long afternoons in the sun, in the pool, on our apt grounds. Not exactly resume-building experience but whatever gets me through a day.

Why am I saying this? Oh yeah, I am offering you support! Kudos on getting off them, hang in there with the self-care. I believe that is our best bet in the short and long run.

I want to kick the butts of doctors who diagnose, based on very little evidence and prescribe meds before a trip to frigging AMSTERDAM, without mentioning you should avoid alcohol! Do they not read DOOCE?).......but since when do they ever write a prescription that says spend more time in the sun by the pool?

My five year old has a simple philosophy of life: before you do anything, smell your toes. Don't go anywhere if your feet are dirty. In the summer, that is a pretty easy rule to live by and much cheaper than effexor.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSue G
i've only just discovered your blog, but i've been totally engrossed in the archives, finally catching up to current entries. at the risk of appearing web-stalkery, i've really appreciated every one of your entries, and have laughed out loud to quite a few. you seem like such a lovely gem of a woman- i hope you can find a remedy that helps you to feel 100%. it seems that, far too often, the truly brilliant and hilarious and lovely people are the ones who deal with things like depression and anxiety. that seems unfair to me. but, it also seems like you're a strong woman who will certainly get through this, and we'll be here rooting for you!

be well.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterbostonmel
Okay, I don't have time to read 106 (and counting) comments, but I'm sure you're getting lots of advice (assvice?). I, for one, hate to receive unsolicited advice (assvice?) and try to refrain from giving it. But sometimes I just can't help myself. So try to think of these as suggestions that you can follow up on if you so choose, or, ignore. My feelings won't be hurt ... promise.

Hmmm. How to make a long story short? My daughter is almost 1 year old, but her birth was very traumatic, and we had lots of problems early on (screaming, not wanting to nurse, etc. ... if you really want to know more about it, you can read Part Nine -- yes NINE! -- of her birth story on my blog). I finally came to the conclusion that it was related to the trauma of her birth, and through a long and circuitous process, stumbled upon something called craniosacral therapy. To preface this, let me say that I'm an engineer, and tend to approach things in a rational, scientific manner, and am not really a far-out, new agey type of person. But. The effect that CST had on my daughter was so incredibly profound, that I found myself going for treatment as well (and am also considering getting trained in it and making a career change), and I'm now stumbling onto all manner of incredible things that can be used to help heal emotional trauma and the ways in which it has manifested itself physically. So, without further ado, here are some resources that you can check into. If you want.

The Upledger Institute is the brainchild of John Upledger, who "invented" CST.

Here is the definition of CST and SomatoEmotional Release.

Here you can find a practitioner in your area. We see a massage therapist who charges $30/session for my daughter (30 minutes), and $60/session for me (1 hour). Make sure you find someone with lots of training, and that they are skilled with SomatoEmotional Release (you can see all of this information on the search page).

I was just introduced to the practice of Auricular Therapy yesterday, and in fact, am still walking around with little needles in my ears. I don't know a lot about this yet, nor am I able to direct you to a site to find a practitioner, but in a word, this stuff is amazing. I broke down on the table and cried like crazy, and felt tremendous emotional releases while this was being done. I don't know how it works. But it does.

I think homeopathy can be used to support emotional healing, although I'm still on the fence about the legitimacy of this.

And that's all I have for today. I am sorry things have been so rough lately, and I hope that you are feeling better soon.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterShasta
For a while, I was stuck with a general practitioner who always called me Susan. (Stuck because of the evil that is health insurance coverage. Grrr.) I corrected him many times, and then gave up and started purposefully calling him by the wrong name instead. It annoyed him no end, since I called him "Dr. Wiffles". He learned my name pretty quickly, though.

What amazed me was that when squabbled over this, he would say that there was only one of him versus his many, many patients. So we should all remember his name, and he shouldn't be expected to remember ours. I pointed out that he had the advantage of having a chart with our names on it right in front of him - so how challenging could it be? That, and when a doctor can't get your name right, it makes you worry that they also can't get your medical history right - or remember why you are seeking treatment in the first place. It's not exactly a reassuring bedside manner.

July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKris
I loved this post ( actually I love all your posts!) because I somehow forgot to take my Effexor for 5 days...FIVE DAYS! How? Who knows but somehow I still have a family that appear to quite like me ( or are they just terribly afraid?) I pretty much know that I will take them my whole life, how brave of you to stop taking them, I hope you can find the answer for your brain troubles....although it's hard to believe that someone who can make such a dreadful subject so hilarious can be depressed!
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterHelen
*smooches*

I have recently come to the realization that my hormones play a huge part in my mood stuff. We're both women of That Age where it can become an issue, you know? I'd suggest having your OB/GYN do a once-over, look under the hood, etc., just so you know if anything's happening there. (Maybe nothing is. But before my hysterectomy my GYN informed me that I was in Premature Ovarian Failure and probably had been for years. Which explained... quite a lot, actually.)

And... ummm... as big of a supporter and lover of DRUUUUGS as I am, I'm finding there are lots of other ways to cope with anxiety, too. Do what feels right to you, and get yourself back to a place where you feel like YOU. I've been in that "I don't feel like myself" place and it's no fun. *hugs*
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMir
Thanks for sharing. I got your back.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLisame
I have been on a light dosage of Zoloft (because I am delicate as well). I have tried going off of the drug a dozen times. I have finally come to the realization that EVERYONE (kids, myself and hubby) are so much more able to deal with life when I am on the drug. I have reluctantly adjusted to the fact that I will keep taking "the happy blue pill" for the majority of my adult life. Sigh.....

Good luck!
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commentertallulah
Just a quick note to give you lots of hugs, to tell you that I'd read your grocery list if you posted it, and to thank you for telling us about your downs as well as your ups - but I hope that you have more ups than downs in the future.

And someone may have said this above (I haven't read all the comments yet), but if you have a regular doctor you like and trust, get a recommendation from him or her for a therapist they think you might click with. You can get your drugs from your medical doctor and therapy from a non-MD, which certainly will be cheaper, and probably more relaxed and talk oriented.

Hugs, hugs and more hugs.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterliz
Hi Finslippy, just wanted to share something that's really been helping me with my depression lately.

I was reading stevepavlina.com where he wrote about how whatever we focus on consistently is what manifests in our lives. And I realized that I absolutely had to shut up that voice in my head that keeps saying "I want to kill myself" or berating me or getting angry at the husband. So about a week ago I started chanting "I want to be happy" whenever these bad voices start up. And amazingly, I've spent more time being happy.

I think you are just so brave for discussing your depression on your blog. I could never write about my depression where people I know in real-life might find it. Also, you could absolutely never bore me with discussions of nutrition vs. depression; I totally love reading about that stuff. Actually, I love all of your writing.

I'm sending out some good vibes to NJ for you right now!
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLauxa
hooray for you for this post and all posts and for your wonderful funny insightful smarty-smart brains! the only tiny thing i can toss your way is 5HTP. i'm sure you've already heard of it and have dimissed it for many and sundry reasons but i have been taking it for about 5 weeks now and it's really helping with the depression and anxiety. just one gal's thoughts.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterkyra
I sort of wandered onto your site and got caught up in your post. I identified with a few of the things you wrote about and could sympathise with your resistence to go back on the drugs. I just wanted to wish you much luck in changing your life and I hope that the amino acids and lack of sugar don't bore you to tears however much you think they bore us.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSarah
Hi: Have you tried liquid St. John's Wort.....alcohol base not dried and 1/2 dropperful 2x day in half glass of water ....tastes like weak tea.....no side effects.... has been used for decades in Europe....need to do this for one week to notice difference.....really like "HerbPharm brand"....it worked for me extremely well.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLiz Andrade
I think that actually you did give us a triumphant end to that post. You are working on this problem in a way that if comfortable for you. I admire that. Hope you and Henry and your mister are having a great night.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterRenee
Alice, good for you. Stick with the nutrition. White sugar will mess you up. (I say this having eaten two doughnuts and a Frappucino today.) (And? Messed up.)

About the weird level of intimacy thing, if you'd like, we could all just pretend you never said anything. But I bet it does feel good to knock down that wall.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBrooke
i'm not a medicator by any means. i hate having to depend on a drug but i have a bad case of panic disorder where i have anxiety attacks and chronic worrying and all the fun stuff that goes along with it. my dr (actually my obgyn b/c i'm too broke to go to a psych) put me on zoloft and it worked wonders for me!! i was only on it about 8 months (just long enough to break the worry/panic attack/worry i'm dying/panic attack cycle) and have been able to come off of it and be fine. i still worry and have anxiety but no more attacks. i say all this to say that sometimes, medication is needed...not necessarily because we can't cope (that was always my assumption--i thought i was just not a strong enough person to deal with my problems) but b/c we honestly have chemical imbalances! if you think you can do it without the medication then more power to you! you have all my support but just know that if you have to have the medication, you are NO LESS OF a person!
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterashley
I went to a family practioner ONE TIME who "diagnosed" me bipolar after meeting me for five minutes because I talked fast. Every female in my family talks fast and that? That was a b.s. diagnosis. I never went back.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterkim
Dear gods I fucking hate nutritional therapy. I was on an elimination diet for a loooong time for various reasons and was utterly miserable, because what was this no sugar thing and what do you mean I can't have a popsicle in the middle of a 100 degree day, I have to suck on ice what the hell!

I was going to ask what you thought of Effexor, but I'm not sure if that falls in the advice category, so screw that, I'm just offering sympathy and a link to an awesome site (because awesome sites are the internet version of expensive chocolate): Imagination and Hell of Falling Sand are fun to play with if you like watching soothing, sort of repetitive things. Or setting fire to people. Also: cute pandas singing about mango biscuits.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNire
Oh my dear Linda Fins Lippy,

I hope that you are feeling better soon.
July 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKaryn

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