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Disclaimer: Though this article references specific medication as well as uses, neither the author nor the Libero team are medical professionals. If you are considering taking medication, changing medication, or going off of it completely, always consult a medical professional.
Last year, I tried to go off of my anti-depressant. I was happy–I had recently moved to the same city as my fiancé, and I was doing well. A few months prior, I was in the emergency room as a result of a doctor’s recommendation. She suggested switching from Effexor to Wellbutrin cold turkey–no tapering off one while gradually increasing the other. Even my pharmacist thought this was risky, but the doctor prescribed it, so she filled my prescription.
Effexor is an anti-depressant that uses serotonin, whereas Wellbutrin does not affect serotonin at all. My body did not appreciate the drastic and sudden change.
Needless to say, after ending up in the E.R., I never saw this doctor again.
Because of this experience, I knew I had to taper off of Effexor slowly, over the course of many months. I started lessening my dose, with my doctor’s thumb’s up, in December of 2015. I was off Effexor completely in March, and I was doing okay.
According to my doctor, the drug can stay in your system for a few weeks after the last dose. It is why I didn’t have panic attacks or endless crying sessions until April and May, when the Effexor was completely out of my system.
My family and I now refer to these months as my “quarter-life-crisis.”
At the time, I worked at a grocery store in the produce section. I worked in the “Fresh Cut” department, so I spent my days with a knife in my hand, and fruit on my cutting board. I remember standing in my slip-resistant shoes, staring at the produce I was trying to cut. My mind was filled with sheer terror and horror. My heart would beat faster and faster as I realised I had to work seven more hours before I could go home and weep.
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Focus on the cantaloupe; look at the seeds—get every last seed out!
I can’t explain why I was so terrified. It felt like God had taken His hand off of me for a few months and I was seeing the world through a lens of pure panic.
I couldn’t get my mind to slow down, to stop thinking.
My thoughts grew darker and darker, excruciating fear pulsing through me, even though I had nothing to be afraid of.
Cut the watermelon. Find the right size container. Put a price tag on it. Don’t think about cryi—shit! Time to take a Valium.
Then I would sob and sob and sob. I still cling to my (doctor-prescribed) Valium. I’m saving my leftovers, in case I ever feel even a sliver of such horror again.
My wife (fiancé at the time), would visit me on my morning breaks before she went to her job, holding me as I wept into her shoulders. She was at a complete loss for words; she felt helpless.
What she couldn’t do with words, she made up for in hugs and tight squeezes.
Did you know that hugging someone for twenty seconds or longer can release a neurotransmitter called “oxytocin?”
My mom informed us of this fact, feeling helpless on the other side of the country. Oxytocin can make people feel safe and calm down. We hugged a lot during those months because we didn’t know what else to do.
I had to quit my job because I could no longer make it a few hours without weeping and panicking. By this time, I was seeing a doctor who was helping me get Effexor back into my system. This was hard for Kyra (my wife) and I to accept. We both did not want for me to be on medication for the rest of my life.
We kept thinking: Perhaps if we wait a little longer, get through this rough patch, then my body will soon learn to survive without Effexor.
We learned our lesson: the chemicals in my brain cannot get their shit together without a little help.
Finally—finally—at the end of May, I was feeling well enough to search for a job. The Effexor was taking the terror out of my mind. I went through a staffing agency to help me find work because I could not do it myself. I landed a job in the medical billing area, and I’m still working there today. It was a great fit for me; with my new schedule, Kyra and I could watch the TODAY show together, sip on our coffee in the morning together, and spend weekends together.
This spring, I am able to notice and appreciate the budding trees and find joy in misting my basil plants every morning.
I can savour the taste of garden produce since my appetite is much greater than last spring! I am able to go to work without taking a Valium every few hours. I notice the beautiful things again—like my wife’s crinkles around her eyes when she smiles, or my dog’s hilarious look of guilt when she knows she’s in trouble. I savour the beautiful sounds of my baby niece “talking” over Facetime and the sounds of my older nieces begging me to blow bubbles for them for the thousandth time.
I have learned taking medication is normal. I don’t need to pray more or read the Bible more (as one of my college friends suggested). In order to realise God’s presence—that God never actually took His hand off of me during those months—I needed medication.
I take Effexor, and I am at peace. And it’s okay if you take medication, too.
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