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.