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Let's Panic: The Book!

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

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« Preschoolers can be fun! | Main | I have separation anxiety. »
Tuesday
Oct042005

Chemicals and me.

When will I learn that I CANNOT DRINK COFFEE? I love it. I love the coffee. But I am a delicate flower who trembles uncontrollably after half a cup. HALF A CUP. Then I start to write in ALL CAPS.

This morning I had two caffeinated beverages. TWO. And OH MY GOD MY HEART. It can’t take it. I was out with my friend and our children were not there and we were so happy! So happy, and so drinky-drinky with the coffee! And now I am trying to find the right keys on this keyboard thing and it’s hard because my hands are a blur!

Speaking of chemicals in the body…

One year ago, the above-mentioned friend and I and both our children were standing on the corner, being neighborly, when two cars collided. We screamed at the sound of the crunching metal and screeching and then we ran out of the way when it looked like one of the cars was coming right for us. Then we stood there, trying to comfort our crying children, as everyone around us screamed and ran for help and we realized that the people in the cars—who were right there, the shattered glass was at our feet—were in bad shape.

But we were okay. We were safe. We backed away; we showed our children that the firemen and the ambulances were coming to help. We retreated to our homes to regroup and try to make sense of what happened.

That night my heart began to race. The next day it was still going at breakneck speed. My heart wouldn’t slow down; my hands wouldn’t stop shaking. I jumped at every sound. I kept thinking about those cars. If I had been at the corner a second earlier, the car would have hit us. If my friend hadn’t been there, I might have been crossing the street. If, if, if. I began to think about how my son wasn’t safe here, living on this busy street. Who knows what would happen the next time we crossed it? Indeed—who knows what will happen, period? There was no way I could keep him safe! Ever! In life! Because life is unpredictable!

I began to think about death. As in, all the time. Death! It happens! No stopping it!

So I began to clean, all the time. Clean clean clean. The cleaning wasn’t really working at drowning out the constant worrying and crying, so I strapped on my iPod while I cleaned and wept and I tried to think about something, anything else.

When I couldn’t wear my iPod or clean, I read the dictionary. You think I’m kidding, don’t you? But the dictionary was the only thing I could read that didn’t depress me in some way, that didn’t bring up some intimation of death. Or life—which just leads to death, as we all know.

My husband told me to go to the doctor, and I was furious. You don’t get it, I shouted! We’re all going to die!

I felt like I was surrounded by the pod people; like I was the only one fighting off sleep so that they wouldn’t come and take my brain. I had to keep up my frantic pace of worrying and fretting and weeping and cleaning, or else.

Finally, when my parents had to come and take my child away for a couple of days so he could spend a few carefree moments not worrying why Mommy wouldn’t stop crying, I thought, hmm. Maybe a doctor isn’t such a bad idea.

The doctor took one look at me and said, ooh, hello, post-traumatic stress lady! You’re nuts! (She may not have said “nuts.” Maybe.) She prescribed two things: A breathing/meditation course, and an anti-anxiety drug. First I took the breathing/meditation course. Which, oh lord, was the silliest thing I have ever done, but the first night of that class? My heartrate went down for the first time, from around 150 (I had been obsessively checking it ever since it began racing) to 65.

Although the course worked wonders for me (I would be happy to share details about it with any of you, if you want to email me), she still wanted me on the medication. So I, the obedient patient, took it. I didn’t notice any dramatic changes, but then, I was already cured, or considered myself to be.

So now, a year later, we’ve both agreed that I should go off the medication, which happens to be Effexor.

Here’s the thing. Effexor has the worst withdrawal of any of these drugs. (Except we can’t call it “withdrawal”! It’s “discontinuation syndrome”!) I have taken it before, and I have gone off it before, and I know what can happen.

But because I’m on a minute dose (see above, re: “delicate flower”) my doctor won’t acknowledge that I will have any problems, or that I need to wean myself slowly. Even though going off this drug cold-turkey is a terrible idea, a surefire recipe for physical and emotional misery, she insists that this is what I should do. Even though all evidence points to her being a moron.

So! I am now going to wean myself. And in the interest of public service, I am going to document here my weaning process. (Not in painful detail, you understand. I will try not to bore you overly. )

I’m nervous, but ready. I know what to do. I have done the research, and I am cheaper than my doctor.

Here’s hoping no more cars crash around me in the meantime.

Reader Comments (140)

Good luck with the Effexor, Alice. Wean sloooowwwwwlyyyy, if you feel you need to.

It took me months to wean down, and now, over two years Effexor free, I still get the little 'brain-shocks' if I sleep too long at a time.

Sometimes I think the makers of those drugs have a bigger racket going than tobacco companies ever dreamed possible!
October 4, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAmy
Good luck mate! May I suggest a visit to a naturpath for a detox while you wean yourself off. I know how much it sucks just take your time and don't be scared to take a few steps back if you're struggling.
October 5, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterSassy
I wish you the best of luck, Alice. I'm also a little worried to hear all of these horror stories about Effexor because, well, honestly, Effexor is the only reason why I am still alive now. However, I have a chemical imbalance so I don't think there will ever come a time when my doctor suggests I stop taking it. When I'm not on it, I think about throwing myself out the window. Since I live on the 26th floor, that's not a good idea.

Anyway, I hope everything goes well for you.
October 5, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterDM
Oh gosh, good luck! I take Effexor as well, and I've had the misfortune (aka poor planning) to run out of pills twice. I vividly remember both times as... well, let's just call them "intensely uncomfortable."

Give yourself permission to be a little weird and DON'T make any life-altering decisions while you go through this. It's going to be a bit of a strange ride.
October 5, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterDreadmouse
As a long-time reader and someone who has been on some type of anti-depressant almost continuously for the last 12 years, I just wanted to chime in that I don't remember having any withdrawal symptoms when I stopped taking Effexor, so it must not have been so bad. Of course, I immediately started taking Zoloft, which is what I'm on right now, so that probably helped. I hope this doesn't sound too glib- obviously a lot of people have had very bad withdrawal experiences. I wish you all the best.
October 5, 2005 | Unregistered Commentereve
Oh, Lord. I know what you mean. I tried the Effexor weaning and ouch! It was like the apocalypse had hit. It is important to taper as slowly as you possibly can - everyone else who has weighed in has great ideas on that. Make sure your husband knows about the withdrawal symptoms, too, and is willing to help...get your parents in on the act, too, if they're sympathetic. I was sleepy and cranky a whole lot, and had the shakes and shivers, too. It helps to have no obligations or other stuff to do, and to just hang out in your pajamas till the worst passes. I'll be thinking of you. Best of luck!
October 5, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterBad Hippie
(delurking is dangerous!)

When I went off Effexor a few years ago, the exact same thing happened to me. I am also a super sensitive drug person (the "gentle" sleep aid ambien once made me hallucinate that I was a pirate) but my Doctor thought i was being dramatic. So I weaned myself as well, successfully, with the help of a few massages and the knowledge that I knew myself better than my doctor did. Wishing you the best - - -
October 5, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMarlespo
Good luck with the coming off the Effexor. I am on what my psychiatrist calls a teensy tinsy dose, but if I forgot it in the morning OH MY GOOD LORD! Within hours I get faint and dizzy and trembly and headachy and miserable. I can't even imagine what it's like to come off of it completely. But, it is my miracle drug. I have been on it for 15 months with no other side effects. Huzzah!
October 5, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle
I went through a period where I had the "sudden flash of realization" that everyone/everything dies. It was pretty bad for awhile. In retrospect, I probably should have gotten help for it, but was single at the time - I could have used a Husband pushiing me towards those meds.
October 5, 2005 | Unregistered Commentercagey
Good luck coming off the Effexor. I haven't taken it myself, but my husband did. He was on it for around 3 years or so, and when he weaned himself off it, everybody in the house had a hard time. It took between 2 weeks and a month for the "discontinuation syndrome" to subside. I'm not sure how being on a low dose will figure into it, being that you are sensitive to chemicals, but I do wish you all the best.
October 5, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle
Oh bugger! I took effexor and I liked it because it didn't have any withdrawal symptoms for me! (I, too, have a delicate constitution and hightened sensitivity to "side effects" and such.) fuck, dude! I just told sweetney this was why I liked effexor so much! crap! Now I'll tell her to come read your post today! PS: i hope you kick it soon. withdrawal is a motherfucker. xoxoxo
October 5, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterstyro
Thank you for being honest about your meds and thank you for sharing your experience with tapering here. Too many people run around pretending like they flawlessly absorb all that is scary and evil in the world, and that makes the rest of us think we must be crazy to want to interpret all these things and find meaning in our lives. I, for one, am relieved to hear that someone else has had an existential moment at least once since high school and another time since giving birth. Because Giving Birth Changes Everything.

Best of luck.
October 5, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterDorothy
De-lurking to offer you my support--I have gone off MANY, waaay too many meds and you are so doing it the right way. Slow is the way to go. Get a pill cutter or dump out some of the beads (can't remember if those effexors are hard pills or capsules). Take care of yourself!

And yes, you are not alone on the coffee thing. I had a caramel mocha the other day and 30 minutes later I found myself scrubbing the baseboards with a toothbrush. Yay for caffiene!!
October 5, 2005 | Unregistered Commentermelanie
De-lurking to comment Re: Effexor - I love your blog btw.

Are you taking effexor XR? If you are, and you want to go to a lower dose than the smallest capsule you have (37.5?) you can't just open it and take it with water. You have to sprinkle it on applesauce or something similar and swallow it without much mouthing. That way the little time release capsules don't get broken open prematurely.

Someone else mentioned that taking a small dose of prozac (fluoxetine is the generic) helps. The reason why is this: effexor has a very short half life in the body (5 hours). This is good in the sense that you get your levels to a steady state in the blood quickly, but bad in the sense that when you stop taking it your body's levels fall dramatically quite quickly. That's one reason why the withdrawl is so bad. Prozac has a half-life of 2-4 days, so your blood levels stay more stable.

The other reason the withdrawl is bad is that effexor is not an SSRI, aside from seratonin reuptake, at doses of ~225 it also affects norepinephrine, at at the highest doses it affects dopamine (the same this wellbutrin acts on). Getting off a norepinephrin reuptake blocker is very difficult because norepinephrine has a lot of physical effects. The precursor for norepinephrine is tyrosine, which you can get from various dietary sources like bananas, so supplementing that way might help.

Anyway, I'm not a doctor, so take this info as you see fit. Everyone is different. I'm on effexor xr myself, hence all the research. I think tapering slowly is obviously the right choice, but don't get yourself all worked up over the horror stories b/c that can actually lead to a reverse-placebo effect.

Good luck and hugs.
October 5, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterBree
Effexor XR was a wonderful addition to my life some time ago. I had maxed out many other depression drugs and effexor was definately one of the best that i ended up on. I was on about the max dose for a year and my doc had the bright idea of taking me off of it cold turkey and onto something else...thinking the something else would make the withdrawal not happen. he was WRONG!!!!!! after a week of heroin-type withdrawal i went back on the drug, found a new doctor and begun to taper. Even after a 6 moth tapering process where i got down to the smallest amount of drug possible, the first day with nothing was still death-on-toast. But it only lasted a day and i was finally ok. Now, after 6 years of drugs and therapy, i am mostly depression free and have been drug free for 2 years. yay!

taper taper!! and if you do have any withdrawal symptoms, remember how lovely you feel for the 15 minutes after puking...sweet relief...until the feeling like crap comes back at least.
October 5, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterbetsy
I was on Effexor and Lithium for almost 3 years. (I was diagnosed as bipolar.) This regimen seemed to help enough that I could get the rest of my life together, and after making some large "lifestyle changes", the doc and I agreed it was time to try some time off and see how that worked. He had me go half dose for a week, and then off totally. That was his idea of "Taper" - 2 weeks.

It was hell, wait, no, it was HELL! Like going thru the slow descent of depression backwards in slower motion. I cried and cried, I couldn't get out of bed, much less go to work. Even trying to phone the dr was too much. Eventually, I recovered (2-3 weeks? a month? time was a foreign concept) Anyhow, I recovered and looked up the taper on the internet. The manufacturers give a 2-3 month time-table for a taper, I wish the dr and I knew about that ahead of time.

This was a couple of years ago, so look on the internet to see what's current. BTW, I've had no relapses, I just monitor for when I get too anxious/panicy for too long and address that before it snowballs.

ps - I had gained lots of weight during the drug treatment, I had hoped when I discontinued the drugs, the weight would leave too... no such luck. I found some med journal articles on how carbs affect serotonin uptake, and decided to try a low-carb diet. Not only did I loose the weight, my mental state was the best it was in years!!! ymmv, but this was my experience. I'm praying for the best for you!
October 5, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterRosalie
As soon as I read the word "Effexor," I knew there would be assloads of comments, which I did not read. I am just here to add on to the pile to say that my wife was on Effexor for a few months, it made her feel crazy, then she went off it and felt even crazier. So, uh, your're not alone. I think Old Hag even has a blog dedicated to it. I'm not joking.
October 5, 2005 | Unregistered Commentersac
Reading this post reminds me of what I would have posted on my blog last year, if I wasn't paralyzed with depression and sick withdrawals from quiting my own anti-anxiety medication (celexa).

Be careful. And thank you for sharing.
October 5, 2005 | Unregistered Commentergeeekgirl
"I have done the research, and I am cheaper than my doctor."

You're a great lady, Alice. Good luck.
October 5, 2005 | Unregistered Commentersunny
Oh boy breathing exercises do I ever need them send them to me please. I puked on the edge of a park and startled several baseball players after a work function several weeks ago and would like to avoid repeats.

Secondly, I went off P@xil once upon a time, and I was also told that going off it would not be difficult. Then I had hallucinations, cold sweats, exhaustion, and paranoia. I'm glad to hear that you've been through this before and know better than to quit cold turkey. Good luck, and thank you for documenting the process. So many people hide these kinds of things, but I know that I am strengthened knowing I am not the only person who has had these experiences.
October 5, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterschmutzie
Wait! wait! Don't wean! Well, wean, I'm down with the weaning, I approve of the weaning, the weaning is important so you don't go looloo at the dinner table and send your family hiding into other rooms, but KEEP UP YOUR PRESCRIPTION! Because I need them. Because I was in the car accident 2 months ago, and suddenly, suddenly, alice, oh thank you ever so for the anxiety clarification, suddenly, my halted screaming everytime a car zooms up to a stop sign makes so. much. more. sense. yeah. send those on over, k? cool.

super. ps, document away, because we are obviously captive, as I am comment number 71, or some such thing.
October 5, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterlis
Good luck Alice. I hope the withdrawl symptoms are minimal. Assvice, but if you don't already do it, maybe try yoga. It's great for breathing and de-stressing.
October 5, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterTB
I was also on the minimal dosage and my doctor told me to go cold turkey - BAD IDEA!! I recommend weaning yourself slowly - take one every other day for a week and then every 3 days or something like that. I had a terrible time! The withdrawals only last for about 2 or 3 weeks but it was hell!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I'm fine now that I'm off Effexor and I did like it whiel I was on it, but why torture yourself with the withdrawals?? Take it slow. Good luck!
October 5, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterNatasha
Ooooh. Good luck.
October 5, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterPsycho Kitty
Wow. I think you need to get a new doctor. I know they have liquid paxil for withdrawal but I don't know about liquid effexor. I always shop around to find the nice girl right out of medical school...I hope you can as well. Someone I love is on effexor. I guess...we'll just keep him on it until the kids grow up. Is that bad? I mean, why stop if you don't have to? We don't really have time for any withdrawal kind of thing.

Just out of curiosity--did the pill make you stop obsessing about death? I can't seem to find a pill that does that but it would be nice.
October 5, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMiel

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