For the past two months I have been weaning myself off of Paxil, a SSRI (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor) that I take for anxiety. I started taking it four years ago when we first moved to Utah. That’s another blog post, but I was in a b-a-d place when we arrived in Salt Lake City. So bad that one day when I was teaching a writing class down in Orem, I stopped mid-sentence and said to my students, “I have to go.” And I walked out the door, drove to a walk in clinic, and said I need to see a doctor now, or I may die. The Paxil matched with Wellbutrin was a remedy cocktail for me, and I gradually recovered.
Recently, I started coming across articles about people having long-term problems with Paxil. Besides the fact that we don’t know a lot about the effects of these drugs, there are also the short-term consequences related to their safety and efficacy. I unintentionally tested my own safety about a year ago when I accidentally forgot to refill my prescription for Paxil, and, literally, went crazy. I’m not exaggerating. The half-life of Paxil is very short, which I didn’t know, and the dramatic plummeting of the drug in my system left me hysterical. I started to feel a little funny about two days after I stopped taking it. Within five days I started to feel shortness of breath, insomnia, and agitation. By day six I was sobbing, hallucinating, and hastening my own death. It was terrifying. I went back on my medication, but only because Mark wrote an emergency prescription for me. I couldn’t get in to see my primary care provider because I was fifteen minutes late to the appointment–because I’d gone crazy. There is something deeply problematic about the fact that I was denied admittance to my appointment because of my tardiness due to insanity, but I digress. Within hours of taking my medication, I started to return to normal.
This time, I’m coming off of it intentionally and slowly. We just got health insurance (as in six months after arriving), so I was preparing myself to come off of Paxil, just in case I couldn’t refill it in time. We have insurance now, so I could go back, but I figured I’d see how I feel. I’m honestly not feeling so great. And I don’t know if, like Utah, this is environmental and situational or if I’m generally in need of anti-anxiety medication ALL the time–as in for the rest of my life.
My brain is reminding me of all the mistakes I’ve made over the past thirty-eight years, but mostly the past three. I’m reliving “stupid” things I’ve said and done; I’m wallowing in my loneliness here in Toronto. But, is it situational? I don’t have a job; I don’t have a lot of time left to make new friends. I mean, we practically just got here, and we’re about to leave again. I’m avoiding other parents I know on the street. Is it the loss of Paxil or is it me? I asked this EXACT same question when I started taking it four years ago. I felt such relief at the undercurrent of hope Paxil gave me: all would be well. I asked Mark, is THIS who I really am? Or am I the helpless, pathetic, depressed person? He likes heart analogies, and he said he likes his patients to take their medications so they don’t die. Touché.
I was with my dearest friend, Ashley, last weekend, which made the re-entry into Toronto especially difficult. I realized how much I need my people. What else is the point, really? Ashely said to me in one of my lamentings, “Babe, no matter what you do or what you say, I’ll always love you and I’ll always be here for you.” And I know that this woman-sister-soulmate of mine means every word that she utters. She is the one who sees me and loves me and cheers for me even when she knows all the mistakes, and stupid things I’ve said, and foot-in-mouth diseases I’ve contracted, and darkest parts of my past. She just goes on loving me. Because she sees the honest, earnest, real me, and I suppose I’m enough?
If I were given the keys to unlock door left and I could teach across the hall from Ashley, and my other friends from Utah or Oregon lived nearby, and we could have Thursday dinners together, and see outdoor summer concerts with linen blankets strewn across the dewy grass, and drink something sparkly at the farm table while the dogs sleep like lions under our feet, and we talk excitedly about the camping trip we are all planning, I might not need the Paxil. But in this life, right now, I open door right, and here I am, typing inside an oversized closet, as our bank account approaches zero, and I’m supposed to pay the kids’ school lunches tomorrow, buy groceries for the weekend and snacks for Henry’s karate grading, and clean the goddamn floor. And I’m a failure, because I should have made all kinds of better choices. Paxil is a tempting bedfellow.