80 Pounds Left
Updated: Aug 11, 2018
I Googled “ways to come out” and the first thing that came up was to throw a pizza party. Sorry Google, but this is going to require a little more than delicious melted cheese on bread.
What am I coming out of exactly? The spoonie (chronic illness) closet? The mental illness closet? The iatrogenic (medically induced) illness closet? Or maybe there’s a closet for human suffering that doesn’t fit under any category. Whatever closet it is, I’m done with it.
Four years ago, just one month shy of my 25th birthday, I got out of bed to find myself unable to see straight. I could hardly stand. I was weak and nauseous. I felt like my very being was splitting in two. There’s really no other way I can describe it. After a quick Cranio Sacral energy session, I was feeling incredible. Better than I could remember. I had no idea that hours later this peaceful euphoria would devolve into a suffering that would rock my world and test the very limits of my will to survive. This was the beginning of my withdrawal from an anti-depressant.
My involvement with the mental health industry begins much earlier. I was 12 when I was introduced to my first mental health professional, a middle school guidance counselor, who belittled me for being unable to put words to my feelings. I was 16 when I was crudely violated by a high school guidance counselor that left me scarred to this day. I was 17 when I started therapy with a psychologist who broke a multitude of professional boundary rules leaving me dependent and confused. I was 20 when I started the lowest dose of Lexapro for my anxiety. At 22 I was feeling depressed and disconnected and numb from the medication, but when I tried tapering off but was overcome by withdrawal. At age 25 I was no longer feeling human. I was a shell filled with despair. I often spoke about being able to feel a synthetic physical wall in my brain that was keeping me from experiencing and connecting with life. I HAD to kick the drugs. In June of 2014 I successfully completed my taper and became drug free. Unfortunately, that was just the beginning of what would become my own personal hell now deemed "discontinuation syndrome from an SSRI." Low and behold, I've been in protracted withdrawal ever since. I am now 29.
Today I am 4 years, 2 months, and 2 days drug free. I have come a long way in my healing. My mind is clear, my focus has returned, and my raw senses have regained some buffer. The electric shocks in my abdomen, the brain zaps, the terror, the flus, the vision problems, the episodes of speech loss, the memory and spacial awareness problems, the chronic fatigue, the muscle weakness, the hot flashes, the bouts of hysterical crying, the shortness of breath, the suicidal feelings, the panic, insomnia for weeks, constant vomiting, chest pain, leg pain, sensations of paralysis, confusion, inability to focus or read, dissociation, derealization, depersonalization, etc. has mostly faded. The anxiety has mellowed, the depression has eased, my creativity has returned, my passion is strong, and I am finally FINALLY starting to feel like me again.
And through the first 3 years and 10 months of this suffering, no one fully believed me. With all that I’ve suffered physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, that was the worse trauma. My withdrawal was seen by doctors (and many others) as returning symptoms of anxiety. Their lack of familiarity with my syndrome lead them to prescribe medications and supplements that made me sicker and sicker again and again, once even landing me in the ER. The disparagement by three separate doctors was even worse than their bad recommendations. I was mocked and belittled over and over until I developed a fear of the white coat, preventing me (up until recently) from seeking and obtaining the medical attention I so desperately needed. There was tremendous stress within my family as my parents were drowning in their desperation to help me without understanding my suffering. There was then the occasional person who listened and even if they didn't fully grasp my story, they did not deny it either. This support kept me above water. For most of those 46 months, I kept quiet and hidden, afraid of having to defend and explain myself while being too weak to do so. My truest form of validation finally came in April 2018 with a publication of a NY Times article about the seriousness of antidepressant withdrawal. That article lead me to countless other sources including The Withdrawal Project, which completely changed the course of my suffering. Validation was perhaps the most important factor in my healing, second only to my brilliant acupuncturist and teacher whom I attribute to saving my life.
Now after 3 ER visits, countless alternative treatments and supplements, over $60,000 in health expenses, lost job opportunities, 4 years of sickness and desperation, and a loss of 15 pounds… I am grateful. I am grateful for the support of my healers, my family, and my friends. I am grateful to every person who showed me kindness and compassion. I continue to be so very grateful to every person who listens, truly listens, to my story. I am immensely grateful for the personal, emotional, and spiritual growth I have experienced. All the immense exertion I've expended in working through the suffering has at the same time shaped me into more compassionate, discerning, self-aware, stronger being. I am grateful for who I've become. I am grateful I have a new chance at life and I am grateful for the opportunity to keep healing.
I still have symptoms of protracted withdrawal (AKA Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome AKA PAWS AKA discontinuation syndrome from an SSRI). I still experience akithesia for days at a time (the feeling of wanting to rip off my skin), brain fog, limited energy, nausea and vomiting, low appetite/anorexia, hypoglycemia, hormonal problems, insomnia, shaking, thought and focus problems, and the existential feeling of denying my own body and physical presence. It all comes and goes with shorter waves and longer windows as time progresses.
And now. Now that I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, I am filled with questions.
As I read and research and talk to fellow sufferers, I’m learning that I’m not even as remotely alone as I had originally thought. More information continues to arise, conferences are being held, and psychiatric professionals and patients alike are speaking out. For much of my withdrawal I was incapable of pursuing the topic or engaging in any type of discussion. Now that my symptoms are fading, I’m ready to not only be present to the movement, but to be a part of it. Change is slow and painful, but being stuck and numb is much worse. I’m humbly willing to reveal my story in hopes that I can have a positive impact on the spiritual, emotional, and mental well being of our world.