Posted by: comfortjunkie | September 7, 2008

Storytime: The Mayor of Crazytown

Coming on twenty years ago, I was diagnosed as having an panic disorder, much to my relief. I was relieved because prior to this diagnosis, I had thought that I was going insane. That’s one of the things they don’t really tell you about going crazy, that you can see it creeping up on you. I knew that something was wrong with me, but I had no idea what. For no explicable reason, I would suddenly become overwhelmed with a cold sweat. Waves of nausea would envelop me and I was reasonably sure that I would suddenly collapse on the floor, heaving and throwing up. I felt like I was going to die, literally die. To avoid this certain embarassment, I would rush to the nearest bathroom and stand over the sink or hide in a stall until I felt normal again. Afterwards, I would try to rejoin whatever activity that I fled from but this wasn’t always successful. My panic attacks happened most frequently in restaurants and I would get up from the table four or five times during dinner, often not able to eat a bite of what I ordered. I told no one what was happening to me and I avoided restaurants whenever I could.

Of course, after the restaurants were eliminated from my life, I began to have panic attacks in other places so that over the course of a year, I was left with no where I could go without fear of this terrible, debilitating problem, so I just stayed home. I stayed home, rarely leaving, for almost a year before describing what was happening to me to a counselor and being told that it sounded like panic attacks, very common, especially in women. So with that knowledge I found a shrink and after a few tries, we found a fairly benign drug that could help control the attacks. I took this drug every day for years and years without a single problem.

The drugs did help with the panic attacks and since I also have a generalized social anxiety disorder, it helped with that too. The panic attacks grew less frequent and I started to reclaim my life, although any new place I went caused me great anxiety. I was young when I started having these attacks (17) and I know that the self-assurance that comes with age also helped me recover. I went on and off the drugs several times. I would go off for a while then some new trauma would occur and I’d start having bad anxiety again so I’d take the drugs. I never liked the idea of having to take pills my whole life but I was willing to do anything, anything to avoid another panic attack.

Each time I would go to a new doctor, we would review my medications and they would say the same thing, “Oh, that drug is old school. There are many new drugs on the market that are more effective.” They would then offer to prescribe some new, fabulous wonderdrug that was supposed to improve my life and make me prettier, taller and smarter. I always declined. That is until I was held up in an armed robbery about a year before I moved to Mexico.

It was very traumatic, the robbery. There were two things that set me back years and years. The first is that during the robbery, I froze. Always a person of precise and determined action, being immobilized by fear was one of the most horrible feelings I have ever felt and it is the exact same thing I felt when I found out that the love of my life was in an accident, an accident that proved fatal. I couldn’t make a choice then (do I grab my keys and drive the five hours to the hospital? Do I pack? Who do I call? Am I safe to drive? Do I try to call the hospital? The only thing the police told me was that I should hurry if I wanted to say good-bye) nor could I make a choice during the robbery. Should I run like some of the other people, towards the bathrooms? Should I hide under the table? Would they shoot me if I ran? Would they shoot me under the table like a dog? And worse, I couldn’t look away from one of the men with the guns and we locked eyes and I was sure that I was going to die. So needless to say, in the weeks after the robbery, I took some side trips to crazytown. Smart enough to know that I was not doing well, I sought help and got myself another shrink.

I didn’t really want to be shrunk, but I did want drugs and I wasn’t about to get one without the other. I ended up really liking my shrink and after a few trials, she prescribed me a newfangled wonderdrug. Eventually through the drugs and/or the therapy, I was significantly less crazy than the first time I walked into her office. So then it comes time for me to leave the country. Worried that I won’t be able to find the wonderdrug, I asked for some alternatives and what would happen if I stopped taking this drug. She said I would be fine and if I had any bothersome side effects like a headache or dizziness, to take 1/2 a pill and that would be that.

Well, that would not be that. There came a time last year when my business was failing and my writing hadn’t started making me any money that I was beyond broke. I couldn’t afford to feed myself, let alone drop $80 a month on drugs so I decided to stop taking them. Bad move.

I can’t even describe to you what my life was like over the two weeks that I detoxed from this medication. Overcome with grief and a swirling hole of sadness, I cried all day, every day. I was neither motivated enough or energetic enough to kill myself, though I surely would have tried if I’d had any pep at all. What I really wanted was to discard my life, like one of my billions of unfinished projects and simply start a new one in another time, in another body. I just wanted the one I had to end. Now, just to clarify. I have NEVER, EVER not in the blackest moments of my life, been suicidal. Ever. Never ever. So while these thoughts consumed me, I knew somewhere that this was not normal. Beyond the uncontrollable sobbing and wishing for death, my brain was sending out a series of electric shocks to my body. It was if I had put a fork in an electrical outlet. For no reason, I would receive painful jolts throughout the day. I was exhausted. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I didn’t have the energy to eat or get dressed but I couldn’t sleep. Instead I would lie awake, being shocked, brain spinning, dizzy and exhausted whenever I wasn’t at my store. Now, I’ve been through some terrible shit, but nothing comes close to this two weeks. In the end, I gave up. I sold something, I think, and went to the drug store and bought the new and improved version of the same drug. Every day thereafter, as my brain received the wonderful chemical fix it had been hounding me for, was sweet, sweet relief. Nothing could touch me. I spent the next couple of weeks in a drugged out haze. There was no joy or happiness, but there was no sadness or pain either. I was comfortably numb and it suited me just fine.

What bothered me then and bothers me now is that in order for drugs to have that kind of effect on my body and my brain, they must be poison. Those are the kind of side effects that people get when they detox from crack and heroin. Ever the control freak, I did not like a chemical dictating what I could and could not do. I was angry that I was basically a mind-controlled slave. Stop the medication and wish for death or buy the drugs forever. Nice choices. I’m only 35. Will I have to take this drug whether I need it or not until I die? Maybe another 50 years or so simply because I can’t physically be off of it? Well excuse me but that just fucking sucks.

And so this last week due to some money management issues and some banking problems, I found myself without enough money to buy this medication. I had already cut back to 1/2 tablet for several weeks, which had for the most part gone smoothly except for one particular day where I had some “stability” problems, so I figured a day or two without the drugs wouldn’t hurt. Now I’ve got money again and I’m thinking I don’t want to buy any more. It’s the fourth day cold turkey and other than some exhaustion and dizziness, I’m not too bad off…yet. So I’m going to stick it out. I want off this poison and its mind-controlling bullshit. I quit smoking cold turkey after something like 10 years without a problem so if I had that much trouble kicking this “wonderdrug” I’ve got to think it must be some truly evil shit.

The problem with the SSRIs (seratonin inhibitors) is that it’s a chemical seratonin and it prevents your brain from making its own, so when you come off of it, you’ve got zero of the pleasure chemical in your brain. Hence the hideous withdrawals and demands from your brain for more drugs. Even more so today in the time when it’s no longer a question of whether or not you are on antidepressants, but rather what kind, I do not want to be a hostage to a pharmaceutical company or a pharmaceutical. It’s time to stop the madness.

So if I act a little crazy this week…well, now you know why.

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