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Better Living Through Altered Brain Chemistry.

When I began college in 2007, I was still working at the fast food job that I have now been working at for the past ten years. I lived alone, in my own efficiency apartment. It was an amazing period, as I felt as if I were actually doing something, working towards something, accomplishing something.

Two years later, as I was ready to declare a major in Integrated Linguistic Arts so I could be an English teacher, things at first appeared grand. Horrible in high school, I was now getting close to a 4.0. I had even passed a class on Logic with flying colors — which I found odd, as I’m horrible with math and the system really is not all that distinct. Confidence was up. I felt I could really be a teacher, do something meaningful and get paid for it. I could have the kind of job many writers have had as they engage in moonlighting, writing short stories and novels in hopes of getting published and making a difference through the written word. I felt as though might have a good future.

Then I had my first speech class.

The first day, we had to go up in front of the small class and give a short introduction of ourselves. This was where I discovered that the anxiety attacks that began (so far as I have been able to trace it back) in high school were not something I had grown out of. It was a twenty second speech and it felt worse than death. After I sat back down, embarrassed, I felt myself uncontrollably shaking for the remainder of the class. I left class that day and never went back.

As my English class that semester was centered on group work — part of the college’s new war against introverts, evidently — the anxiety rose to an unbearable degree there, too. I went to that class for perhaps two days before I couldn’t take the constant anxiety anymore. I only had one class remaining, my art history class, and I began attending only on occasion.

Suddenly, things had gone to shit again.

And that was about when I went down to the college health center and got myself a psychologist who could refer me to medication. I tried to see if they would simply allow me medication without the talk-therapy, but they didn’t. Desperate, I did it, and he referred me to an exceptionally kind woman that first had me try Zoloft, Celexa, and finally Effexor XR.

Things didn’t get better right away, though it was hard to tell given I had by that time all but given up on college and hardly attended Art History. I was in danger of failing the class. Though I refused to let my psychologist talk to him and give me special treatment, he did talk me into emailing the professor and asking if I could do a project to save my grade, which I realized was essentially the same thing. The professor expressed his reluctance in a return email, but accepted given I do a perfect paper. In any case, he liked my paper, it would seem, as I passed that class.

Still, there was the fact that my one class as opposed to three dropped me below the requirements necessary for the FAFSA loans and the grant I had already gotten. The money I no longer had and couldn’t pay back. After the semester ended and I stopped attending college altogether, the loan bills came in, the credit collection agencies, and the few times I tried to pay them back it hardly made a dent in my debt to them and only increased my debt elsewhere, as I got behind on my bills as well.

I got a doctor at a local hospital and got my Effexor through him and my insurance covered most of it. Twenty dollar co-pay for doctor visits; five to ten dollar prescriptions. My mood improved; my fear subsided. I could even change the trash at work when people were sitting at tables nearby, which I had always avoided because the anxiety would creep up and consume me. I could drive home at night without fearing that I would get in a crash. There were even periods when I got laid.

I note, however, that even the Effexor was evidently not enough for me in the five years I took it. When the weird shit started amping up again in 2010, I began drinking at the bars in that college town every weekend. I began drinking at home in order to sleep. I the end, I realize that I essentially moved back into the college town and gained a roommate so I could continue my weekends at the bar with my group of friends at a safer distance. And, granted, so I could catch up on my bills. That was the plan, anyway. The drinking in our group got out of control, however. and I found it hard to stop.

I began experiencing incidents of rage at work that got so intense that one one occasion I began having the scintillating scotoma of my migraine auras (as always, without the headache). It was the incident at Sadie’s party, though, that finally inspired the change. Once a happy drunk, my mood while under the influence had begun to spiral out of control. My roommate had gotten drunk along with me and neglected to take me home as I had promised and I reverted to a child, screaming at him, demanding he take me home. I felt as though I was losing my mind. I managed to stop drinking shortly thereafter, but only when switching my habit to smoking pot.

It was not until a few months back (or has it been longer?) that I stopped taking Effexor. First, I totally screwed up the “obamacare” thing, so I had no medical insurance. I kept sleeping through my doctor appointments and went through a few brief periods without Effexor — which brought on withdrawals far more frightening than I could have imagined. Then my doctor left the practice. I made another appointment with another doctor, still without insurance, and then got the bill — which I could not pay. Still have not paid. I tried another doctor and slept through one or two appointments. Frustrated with myself, I threw up my arms and said: fine, I just won’t be on medication.

I suffered for a week or two before doing some internet searching for over-the-counter substitutes, or at least something that would combat the withdrawals, which to my utter fucking horror were not going away. It was like that feeling I got sometimes when I stepped off an elevator and could still feel myself going down despite the fact that I was standing on sturdy ground, only here it was as if my head was falling forward despite the fact that it wasn’t. Then the sensation would end, my heads would snap back together, as it were, but the finale would be accompanied by what I can only describe as a lighting strike inside my brain. When that was not happening, I still felt lightheaded and off balance.

The withdrawals did not ease with the multivitamins, B-12, and 5HTP, but I finally felt some relief when I began taking Ginkoba. No more “head trails” and cerebral lightning strikes. I began meditating as well, focusing the breath by counting from one to ten or with the mantra “in, out” and worked on gently pushing away intrusive thoughts.

Even so, increasingly since I stopped taking Effexor XR I have felt my emotions intensifying to an overwhelming degree. They are extreme and unstable. My moods swing from rage and hate to fear to suddenly being something approximating okay. Though I have always been hypersensitive in many respects and certainly emotionally, these last few months have brought extremes I would not have previously considered possible. My emotions are entirely off the rails and frequently all-consuming. The slightest, most subtle comment or incident sets me off. Bouts of depression have been so deep my thoughts have scared the living hell out of me; fear so gripping the thought of death pales in comparison; rage so all-consuming I cannot even hear myself think over the sheer volume of the emotions attacking me. In short, I feel far worse than I ever recall feeling before having taken Effexor.

Trying to articulate how I had felt all my life and how I often felt at an even more extreme degree, I could only think of pulling back on a bow further and further, never releasing the arrow. Being stuck in that moment right before you leap, that moment when someone steps out of nowhere and scares the shit out of you and you have yet to catch up with what is actually happening. It was like being stuck in that moment of high-tension just before the climax, though the release of orgasm never came. It was not until the random word came into my mind as a sort of internal voice about a month ago — “hypertension” — and I looked it up online that I realized this was exactly how I felt. Evidently it is a symptom of PTSD. I was never raped, never molested, never physically abused, though, so how the fuck would I even qualify for this?

My current state, however, may be due to — or is being exacerbated by — “discontinuation syndrome” or “seratonin syndrome” as a result of abruptly stopping the Effexor. Or perhaps five years of being medicated has gotten me used to a less turbulent emotional life and now the strength I once had to handle them in at least somewhat of a mature manner has atrophied.

Fucked if I know.

Regardless, I have once again — as I have quite a few times, particularly in the last month and a half — come to rest on the conclusion that nothing could be more obvious right now than the fact that I need medication. I would even take Effexor again, which I have until now sworn off, even when accepting that I needed prescription medication in general.

It is indeed strange, where we end up, where we ultimately find ourselves. For years I had sworn off drugs. Back in highschool, I would not take so much as an Aspirin despite the clear and present fact that I was essentially living through an endless headache. As available coping mechanisms failed and other angles proved fruitless, drugs — over the counter, prescription, as well as socially-embraced and illicit ones — began filling up my arsenal for my ongoing war against whatever the hell it is that is wrong with me.

At 35 years of age, I’m still struggling in life, fighting to accomplish the most mundane and typical things, and my age and the fact that I still feel like a child (at least emotionally) brings with it a whole new hefty layer of frustration. I keep thinking: emotionally I am five but my body is five years away from forty. I remember like yesterday when my own parents were forty. And I know its pointless to measure yourself against others, but I look at almost anyone my age and I feel like a total impostor. Its just one more way that I feel as if I just don’t belong.

I am not my body. I am not my thoughts. I am not my emotions. And I should have gained some mastery over them by now, I feel, but they seem to have gained the upper hand, stretching evermore skyward.

It feels as though I have become a slave to everything around me, all I hold within. I know if I did not have the friends and family that I at best keep at a distance and at worst lash out at that I would be a vagrant, that I would be nowhere and nothing and that eats away at me. The guilt I feel for running to them for help all the time, the shame of being unable to make my own way and own my own life, my embarrassment at fucking up the simplest of things — it all just keeps adding up and weighing me down. Now, at the typical “do or die” point I inevitably reach, I find myself turning back towards the hope of better living through internal alchemy.

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