Started from the Psych Meds, Now I’m Fucked
The first week I stopped taking Effexor I spun out into an anxiety hole so deep that it felt less like anxiety and more like I was in a battle with actual demons.
Illustrations by Joel Benjamin
After 11 years on Effexor, my psychiatrist and I agree it is no longer working. We gradually decrease the Effexor and introduce Prozac. We do this over a series of weeks during a time when I am having fewer panic attacks and less anxiety in general. She warns me that there could be withdrawal symptoms, but I don't have any. I am like, Bitch, whatev. I feel special and awesome for not having withdrawal symptoms.
But then, in my first week fully off the Effexor, I spin out into an anxiety hole so deep that it feels less like anxiety—or that I am dying, as I usually fear—and more like I am in a battle with demons.
Maybe I should have seen this coming when, during the first few days completely off the Effexor, I started seeing inanimate objects as body parts and other haunting images. I saw part of a blanket and thought it was a person's leg. I thought a black suitcase was a monster. But unless shit is really going down, I always think I can handle it. I laughed about the objects when I realized what they were. I was like, This will be funny to tweet about.
Then, on my fourth night off the Effexor, I awake away from home and feel what I can only describe as a darkness in my soul. It is like my soul is screaming or something is screaming in my soul. It is the terror of Who am I? Am I bad? Is my life meaningless? What have I invested in? Why can't I breathe? Who are any of you people? And, most scarily, is there a bottom? These are all important questions, but they don't need to be answered at 3:30 in the morning in rapid fire.
I get into a fetal position and do a "21-second countdown" technique from an ebook called Panic Away, where I tell the thoughts and feelings that they have 21 seconds to do their worst to me. I count to 21 over and over until I fall back asleep.
Day 5 off Effexor
I wake up scared, and I'm scared all day. I'm scared of being scared. Scared of "losing it." Scared of not being able to function. Scared of being hospitalized. Scared that I am not OK. Scared of what life is and if I am wasting mine. Scared that I have no home—that even the place I call home has no bottom to it and I will just keep falling under and under and under.
I feel self-conscious about sharing this publicly, because the feelings are so raw and immediate. But that's what So Sad Today is born from. So I tweet about it.
It's weird, you can be "so sad today" and still be scared of judgment. Like, how much mental illness is "acceptable" and how much is going to be "too much"? Someone DM's me, "We convince ourselves that we can own the identity of the anxious or depressed person. Then it sneaks up again." It's like I got this. Then the mental illness is like, No, I've got you.
Night 5 off Effexor
A little better than the one before. I wake up once again at 3:30 AM with the night terrors, but now I know what's going down. It's no longer an amorphous, emotional rendition of Munch's The Scream. It's Effexor withdrawal. Instead of spinning all the way out, I'm like, OK, these are just sensations I am feeling from the withdrawal. Don't buy into them. I go into the bathroom in the hotel room where I am staying and do some yoga poses. I haven't done yoga in years. I think, You should be doing more yoga and Why don't you? and Get back in the yoga game . It feels good to be admonishing myself about yoga rather than my profound, existential badness. I feel almost excited by the experience. I'm still scared, but I also feel like, You really are strong, gurl, as I do a crappy tree pose in the mirror.
Day 6 off Effexor
All day I feel like I am on acid. Bad acid. I eat lunch in a restaurant with a painting of Marilyn Monroe on the wall. Marilyn is laughing, and she looks gross and terrifying to me. She seems to be saying, Hahahahahahaha, look how they have sold you my corpse! Look how they have sold you the American dream, the vacation dream, any dream to distract you from asking too many questions about existence. I'm not sure who this "they" is exactly. Maybe it's the government? Maybe it's a machine we are stuck in as we all angle for our own stuff only to become a sad girl eating in a yuppie restaurant, freaking out internally while appearing "fine" as she tries not to choke.
Then I get to a part of the "acid trip" I enjoy. I drive out of town, into the desert, and walk around on some rocky-desert thingy. For a few minutes, I feel like everything is going to be OK and that I am OK, because the wide-open space won't judge me. I feel wild and alive. I take some of the rocks with me, even though whenever I take "spiritual souvenirs" they never end up holding the same magic and it's better to just keep experiences like that in your heart maybe.
But mostly, it's hard to enjoy the faux-acid trip because I keep running into the same fears I had when I used to take psychedelics for real, like What if this feeling never goes away? and What if I'm like this forever? I'm always scared that every feeling is going to be permanent.
Day 7 off Effexor
No night terrors last night, but then the day is awful. I try to watch standup comedy in bed and suffocate. Mostly, I am just exhausted. I am exhausted from dealing with this and exhausted from trying to convince myself that I'm not dying. My friend says that whenever I start to feel weird I should just say to myself that I'm sick, but I'm going to get better. I keep making these weird sounds just to make sure I'm still alive and breathing. I hope this shit has a happy ending.
Day 8 off Effexor
I am scared. It's fear on top of all the fear chemicals that are being released in me. They are just like whoosh and it is very hard (impossible) not to believe you are dying, or about to lose it, when your body is having a chemical terror response. I am looking for evidence to reflect my feelings back to me. My chemicals are like, DANGER! Doom! I feel alone and angry and scared. My head is like, What if I fucked myself changing the meds and I'm never OK again?
Day 9 off Effexor
I wake up in a panic, covered in sweat, and stinking. I jump in the bath and then go back to sleep. I have a dream about the person who I may never fully get over. In the dream, he goes down on me with a pacifier in his mouth. I come really quickly.
I try to answer my "what if" questions with "so what" answers that diffuse them.
What if this is the wrong medication?
So what, I'll just work with my psychiatrist until we find the right one.
What if I want to sleep forever and can't stop sleeping?
OK, so then you sleep the rest of your life. You've done a lot already in your life. You've probably done enough.
What if these butterflies in my stomach never go away?
Good. I think you should just vomit all over the floor. Just keep vomiting. It's fine.
I am desperate. I buy a blue crystal from a new age store that's said to "bring serenity." I know that I officially live in California because I'm carrying around a crystal in my bra. I reach in, while driving, and feel around to check and make sure it is still there. Some bro looks over and thinks I am feeling myself up. Good for him.
Day 10 off Effexor
I call my psychiatrist, even though I don't want to be a nuisance. I tell her that I'm feeling surging anxiety. She says there's no way I'm in Effexor withdrawal anymore. Maybe I am on too much Prozac? She tells me to decrease the Prozac.
My friend gives me a tarot card reading and says that I am going to be fine. While she is reading the cards I have a panic attack. She points to a card called "Strength" that shows a woman taming a lion and a card called "The Fool" with some dude dancing on the edge of a cliff without falling off. I feel like I am not taming the lion. I feel like the lion is attacking me. Also, I think I am going to fall off the cliff.
Day 11 off Effexor
I call my psychiatrist, even though I don't want to be a nuisance. I tell her that I'm feeling surging anxiety. She says there's no way I'm in Effexor withdrawal anymore. Maybe I am not on enough Prozac? She tells me to increase the Prozac.
I talk to this crazy girl I know. She tells me that people with anxiety shouldn't take Prozac and that I should get off it or I will go "over the edge." She says that I live in California now and I should just "green-juice it." This is one of those girls who doesn't stop talking shit or gossiping. The only thing she knows about meds is that her sister works in pharmaceutical sales. I feel tempted to take her medical advice.
Other people give me advice too . Don't go back on Effexor, ride it out, it might take months, but you can do it, I believe in you! I don't believe in me. Not at all. Everyone thinks I'm going to be OK except me.
Day 12 off Effexor
I'm going back on fucking Effexor.
Day 13 off Effexor
I'm not going back on fucking Effexor.
Day 14 off Effexor
I'm driving my car on the highway, and I have to take a shit. There is nowhere to pull over. For the first time in ten days, I experience a sensation more powerful than the anxiety. I feel grateful for the feeling of having to take a shit and having nowhere to take it. I am like, Yes. I feel like myself. But then I take the shit. And the anxiety returns.
I go to a work-related meeting. This dude is talking about sports. He goes through every sport before he even gets to the matter at hand. He does basketball, football, baseball, hockey. He even does golf. I am scared my head is going to pop off. I'm not even there. But what's scarier than the feeling in the meeting is the feeling after the meeting. Usually, when I am in an anxiety-inducing situation, I experience relief as soon as I leave. But when I leave the meeting, there is no respite. Golf dude is gone, but I am draped in a thick, gray, pulsating cloud.
Day 15 off Effexor
I'm going back on fucking Effexor.
If you are concerned about your mental health or that of someone you know, visit the Mental Health America website.
So Sad Today is a never-ending existential crisis played out in 140 characters or less. Its anonymous author has struggled with consciousness since long before the creation of the Twitter feed in 2012, and has finally decided the time has come to project her anxieties on a larger screen, in the form of a biweekly column on this website.