Or: Why the hell would I do this to myself?
I am now five days into being free of a medication that I’ve been transitioning off. Because I have a bad memory, I have chosen to chronicle my withdrawal symptoms for my own records, and also for anyone who may be interested. You may find part one here:
You can find part two here:
The remainder of yesterday was a bit rough. My symptoms were less severe, but it was a therapy day, and I had a lot of stressful stuff to talk about. Thanks in part to the withdrawal, I was on the verge of tears for a good 20 minutes. I almost wish I had cried — it probably would’ve felt better.
A crummy therapy session generally means takeout, and last night was no exception. We got Chinese from a takeout place down the road, and my body had switched to full-on “eat everything” mode when it arrived, so I probably ate 1,600 calories worth of stuff that was fried and covered in soy sauce and sweet-and-sour sauce.
One of the more interesting effects of the withdrawals has been, shall we say…gastric distress. I have found myself in the bathroom every few hours for the past three days or so. It is less than ideal, especially after a bunch of fried food, but I’ve also been catching up on my Medium reading list.
Sleep continues to be a struggle. I went to bed last night at about my usual time, and my wife tucked me in and gently said that she knew that I would sleep well. I wish she had been right. I had a lot of vivid dreams again and woke up a few times throughout the night. When my alarm went off, I felt like crap and dragged myself into the office.
That sounds awful! Why would you do this to yourself?
Medication is a process. Sometimes, meds don’t work and we have to try new ones. For me, the pain of the process is worth the payoff. Yes, I run the risk of spending multiple years fighting side effects and withdrawals. But the payoff is stability.
Before I went on this antidepressant, I was stable on my current meds for a decade with minimal side effects. I lucked out in that, as they were the first thing my doctor tried after I catastrophically went off my previous meds without consulting him.
But just because I got lucky that time doesn’t mean I will again. This is proof of that. I am dealing with an experiment that took a year to fail. I may do this again, maybe two or three more times. But the payoff is that decade of stability. A decade of taking my pills every morning and being not only functional but happy. I’m willing to spend two or three years of my life chasing that.
Stability is all anyone wants. Financial stability, job stability, a stable partner, a stable friend group, whatever. For me, I want a stable mood. I’d like to not get suicidally depressed. I’d like to not get so manic that I can’t focus. For me, stability means that I can function in life on a very basic level.
With that basic level of functioning comes stability, and with that comes a certain level of happiness. I can feel assured that bad things can and will happen, and instead of getting so depressed that I consider putting a bullet in my brain, I can treat it like a normal person treats it. I get upset, maybe a bit sad or angry, but I can move forward and look to the future for a better day tomorrow. No suicide or self-harm. Bad things happen, and it sucks, but I don’t treat it like it’s the end of the world.
That’s why I will do this over and over if I have to. It’s not just stability, not just basic functioning, but some level of happiness. It’s being able to hold a job. It’s being level enough to not go off on random people who upset me. It’s getting to enjoy time with my wife and friends, feeling good when life is good, and not feeling like a dumpster fire when small things go wrong.
If I have to spend five years chasing a decade of basic functioning, stability, and happiness, I’ll do it every time. That’s a 200% return on investment, which is pretty enviable any way you slice it.
This, unfortunately, means that a lot of people get stuck on sub-par meds. Their antidepressant doesn’t work the best, or works but has crappy side effects, so they are in this sort of half-depressive state where they’re not as bad as they’ve been but not as good as they could be.
To them, the thought of trying a new medication requires too much effort. “Why spend the next few years chasing stability when I’m doing okay now? Sure, I don’t feel the best, and the side effects suck, but I’m not suicidal, and I’m more or less stable. Why bother when something new might not work?”
This goes back to passive self-care versus active self-care. Passive self-care is a lazy night on the couch with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. It’s easy, it takes little to no energy, and it makes you feel better now.
The problem with that is doing nothing but passive self-care starts to do more harm than good. You don’t feel good, so you spend the day in bed, but chores pile up and bills go unpaid. You get takeout for the third time this week, but that’s expensive and is affecting your finances.
Taking the time and making the effort to actively care for yourself can be hard. You have to put effort and energy into it, and it doesn’t always feel good. Your depression tells you that it’s okay to be stagnant, the hard work will only wear you out and you will never feel any better than you do now.
However, the results of putting in the work make it worth it. You work hard to clean your apartment because you feel better in a clean space. You put a little effort into meal prep because good quality food gives you better energy for the week.
And, when you’re ready, you start a new medication. Yes, the withdrawals from the old one suck, and yes, the new one may not work, but you’ll never know unless you try. When it comes to mental health, putting in the effort to keep pushing will get you there eventually, and when you get there, it pays dividends for years.
So, in a nutshell, I’m chasing stability. Medication is often seen as a burden to many, having to take a pill every day to function. For me, it takes ten seconds out of my morning, and that’s all the thought I put into it. It’s less burdensome than brushing my teeth properly.
People often fear that medication makes them someone they’re not. Somehow, taking a pill to be stable means that your thoughts are no longer your own. That’s crap.
We don’t judge people with vision problems for getting glasses, we don’t judge people with diabetes for taking insulin, and we don’t judge people with hypertension for taking blood pressure medication. Why do we judge ourselves for taking a medication to help with an illness?
The brain is an organ like any other, and things go wrong with it like any other organ. It just so happens to be one of the most vital organs to our survival. If that’s the case, why wouldn’t you take a medication to address a problem with it?
More importantly, why wouldn’t you take the time to find the right medication? If a person with hypertension is taking a medication that isn’t lowering their blood pressure enough, they don’t just say, “well, it’s too much of a hassle to change it, so why bother?” Their life is on the line, so they get better medication.
Generally speaking, the people in your life want you to be happy. I probably don’t know you, but I want you to be happy. Why don’t you want yourself to be happy?