It’s finally time.
I wanted to stop back in (formerly a PaxilProgress member) and do what I should have done a while back. I want to give an extremely positive and 100% true update.
I think before getting too far ahead, it’s important for me to tell you all my history. I began suffering panic attacks as a teenager after a horrific injury during a sporting event. Everything else in my life was fine, never abused, always loved, it was just one of those things that happen to everyday people.
After my first panic attack I freaked out, being a kid and never experiencing anything more than the flu, I had no idea what was going on. I began missing school and suffering from what I now know to be agoraphobia caused by the panic attacks. This was extremely difficult for my family as I was always extremely outgoing, athletic, and a leader within my friends. My biggest fear was passing out in front of people and people thinking I was weak, silly to me now as an adult but being a teenager and concerned with image, this was hard for me.
We were finally told that I should go to a psychiatrist, which I did and within 2 visits I was placed on Paxil, up dosing to 40 mg at the age of 15. At this age it was hard to say how much Paxil changed me since I was going through so many changes as these are such impressionable and transformative years.
I got back into school and back into sports and life continued on. I was simply told by the psychiatrist, “you don’t have enough serotonin, and this will make more, it is quite common”. I was told I could probably get off by the age of 25 but for now my body needed this like…yup you guessed it, a diabetic needs insulin.
I began to transform into a different person. I remained very social and lived a comfortable high school life, but I began to notice I was becoming more cold and callous. I had zero sexual drive, except when I was inebriated which was often. I would go out and get into fights, something that earned me a reputation, one I am embarrassed by now looking back. I was still very sensitive but the Paxil and the alcohol made that sensitive person go away. I often blamed being sensitive as the problem. It was at the age of vulnerability and transformation, so people just wrote the negative behavior off as youth. I was also quite charming, so I seldom was held accountable for anything I did anyways. I never was into drugs or anything like that, I just had my fun and was a bit mischievous.
I had great success with the sport the caused the injury but eventually it caught up to me. Without going into too much detail, I was very good before the injury and not as good but still decent after, but my attitude was awful and anger would get the best of me and ultimately cost me a scholarship to play at the next level.
My parents, both very caring and loving people, did what they thought was best for me. They had divorced right before this all started and many thought I just couldn’t handle the divorce since it got messy, that couldn’t have been further from the truth. My parents did all they could for me during the initial panic attacks. After all, your kid hiding out in the house all day is concerning. I ended up staying on Paxil between 20mg-40 mg until I was 25, attempting to get off only once around age 21 with disastrous results. I eventually started having extreme anxiety with the inability to tolerate alcohol with extreme eye pain. I went back to college and after having many crying spells behind closed doors I decided I needed to go back on or else people would start to notice. Ruminating thoughts during philosophy 101 were unrelenting, don’t quit a psych drug during a psych class either, you turn into an immediate hypochondriac. It definitely hurt damaged my CNS and I could tell this drug had a grip on me and was causing some serious damage. I felt like I was going insane.
Upon graduating college, instead of searching for a serious job, I worked meaningless side project construction jobs. Now, there is nothing wrong with this type of work but everyone was baffled by this seeing as I did incredibly well in college and had a bright future. About 6 months after graduation I fell ill with a horrendous case of mono. I can truthfully say I have never been the same physically since. I also started to develop atrial fibrillation, which I feel Paxil contributed to.
I finally got a “real” job and fought through the aches and pains as well as the extreme fatigue what I felt was after effects of returning to the gym too soon after having mono. I always thought it was Paxil in the back of my head but I didn’t want to experience what I did a few years back quitting so I tolerated it and moved on. I accepted it as a way of life and that pain was a part of living, plus nothing would show up when I went to the doctors on any of their tests so it was time to toughen up and just deal.
Things started to look up as I had a steady girlfriend and despite working at jobs I felt were pointless and a waste of time, I paid my dues and I took my standarized entrance tests and was admitted into a top graduate program and would soon never look back at the only terrible jobs I could get post 2009 recession. It was 2011 and I felt this was my year. Maybe everything does happen for a reason and finally I was getting what I deserved.
Then the bottom fell out. I wanted to feel again, I wanted to get the poison out of my system, I wanted to know who the “real” me was. I was already down to 20 mg of Paxil for the past few years so I decided to get off once and for all. I quit drinking heavily, which was no small task considering I was binge drinking quite frequently on Paxil from the age of 17.
I began reducing the dosage on a “see how I feel” basis. If I felt ok for a couple weeks I would keep going, if not I would go back on. I finally got down to 5 mg and I began to feel again. It was a double edged sword. I began to feel things I had not felt in quite some time. I felt pain, I felt happiness, I just felt. With all of these new emotions it was hard to take this all in. I loved it though. I was working out feverishly training for a triathlon as well. Running, Biking, and swimming had taken over my life and for the first time in a long time I felt like things were looking great and I owed it all to getting that dirty drug out of my system. I also remembered feeling love for my then girlfriend, love like a first crush type love. I couldn’t help but ask myself, had I just been going through the motions before? Had I not felt what it was like to love, to have empathy, to understand emotions at a deep level? I did begin to experience something I had not felt in a while, crying. I had some serious crying spells but it felt great, I didn’t cry for years.
Not everyone thought the new me was better and after months of fighting with my girlfriend, we decided to call things off. Once again, how to deal with these emotions?
I felt like my world had turned upside down. I never knew someone could feel like this. It seemed nothing I did could make it better. I was in a 24/7 constant state of panic and survival. I tried to not scare my family but they were starting to notice. I pushed off starting school because I couldn’t focus and began having incredibly frightening thoughts. My family was bewildered as to why I would call off something I had worked so hard for and wanted so badly, like throwing out a winning lottery ticket knowingly.
I found PProgress website and received news I didn’t want to hear. I was told this was going to be a horrendous battle and no other drug could mask what Paxil was doing. I didn’t want to hear it. I kept going back to the doctor and tried to be as subjective as possible trying to express my thoughts that Paxil was doing this, a tough task considering I was sweating and freaking out basically from withdrawal while I explained this all to her. Despite her only have knowing me for a month, she seemed to know what was best for me, Effexor, then Zoloft, add in some benzos and a couple false promises and you have full blown chaos in your brain.
There are no words to describe what I went through, I still can’t fathom it now a days, despite living it and keeping a journal. It’s as if the brain digs deeper and deeper into a dark hole, it takes you to a place you didn’t know could exist, a place below death. I kept a journal and that really how I know it was all real, otherwise I would have never been able to remember the fear, pain, sadness, inhumane torture I went through.
The doctor retired leaving me with a small tidbit of advice to go to the emergency room if things got really bad. Thanks doc, all those years of schooling really paid off.
A month before I was training for a triathlon, fully employed, newly admitted to a top full time MBA program, girlfriend, you name it I had it and now I was a vegetable, incapable of putting two thoughts together. “This is what it is like going mad”, I often thought to myself.
Knowing full well it was the drugs, screaming this to people, but no one would listen and the louder I yelled the less responsive they became and the crazier I sounded. Even my supportive family had quickly grown tired of the excuses, and god forbid I bring up what I read on the internet. I could go on and on about the doctors and how poorly treated I was and how aloof they truly are but that’s not what this post is about. Just take the meds my family said, you are chemically imbalanced. There is nothing as soul crushing as when your family begins to lose faith in you and you go at this battle alone.
You name a symptom, I had it. I went Cold Turkey essentially off of 40 mg of Paxil for 10 years then began a 6 month cocktail of everything a doctor thought was a good idea, like a guinea pig. Typing that makes me sick, makes me sick I felt my best option was to let some “professional” feed me drug cocktails not suitable for an animal. I couldn’t sleep, I didn’t want to be awake, and so I lay in a fog wishing life away.
With my only thought, “how did I let it get to this”, praying every night before a battle for just an hour or two of sleep, praying I would wake up from this nightmare and sometimes hoping I didn’t wake up at all.
You quickly begin questioning your own sanity, “well maybe I am nuts”, despite all the previous years of evidence pointing to the contrary. I began thinking one sided about my childhood, trying to identify times I displayed OCD, anxiety or depression. If you go looking for something, especially in your memory, you will give yourself enough ammunition to start a war. Here’s the secret, everyone is a little messed up.
I have to tell you all, I thought I was already dead, but at that point death seemed like a gift.
I crawled through days, seconds seemed an eternity. I was not functional. I did the last resort and I went to the ER and stayed in the hospital for 2 weeks. Many of the staff members were upset I was taking up a bed because I seemed fine, I had no trauma, I was articulate to them. They had no idea what I was going through and what many of you are going through. I cried when I could cry, which was daily for about 2 years. I had anger outbursts by myself, I woke up to morning anxiety that was worse than any panic attack I ever had, and I was dead inside. My body ached worse than after a half marathon, neck pain, eye pain, everything hurt. I couldn’t focus on one area because it was everywhere. I just kept dwelling on the irony of who I use to be and what I had become. I kept thinking to myself, “what if people could see me now?” I remember I cried the whole night, repeating over and over again, I will never get to be a husband or a Dad. That absolutely crushed me.
I went back to a new hospital and they removed me off the cocktail I was on. They couldn’t believe someone who wasn’t DX anything besides anxiety could be put on antipsychotics and at such a high dose. I literally sat there and drooled. To be honest, I don’t remember a lot of this time period. I also am not bothered about talking about any of it, it seemed like a distant nightmare that was never real. Acceptance is a big thing and eventually like anything the memory fades. Even typing that I sit with an awkward facial expression almost as to ask “did I really experience that”? Accepting what happened is the only way to move on. Not dealing blame or hatred, but allowing yourself to move on and begin life again.
I quickly learned I needed to get off everything and stay off no matter what. I would rather die trying than die on these drugs drooling and disgracing my previous self. Slowly I got off everything and by May of 2012 I was what I call RAW. I was scared all day every day, but things couldn’t get any worse. I was in the hospital a total of 4 weeks and was ashamed and embarrassed. My family did a good job keeping it from other family members and my friends per my request. I hated myself for doing that to my family, I hated myself for being sick. To this day, I have no idea why I didn’t give up, I wouldn’t have blamed myself. Knowing what I know now though, that happiness to survive, I am glad I fought. If you won’t fight for yourself fight for those love you, or those that will love you in the future. Fight for those memories you will have down the road and know this will all be temporary.
Where am I now? You would never guess, I would never have guessed. The whole time I had to fight my own mind telling me who goes through something like this and achieves anything?
Well. I ended up getting back into my graduate program somehow after a yearlong medical leave. I started with a night class which tortured me every Wednesday night. I couldn’t focus to do homework and I THOUGHT I sounded dumb in class when I did manage a few words to say. I felt broken and my brain severely damaged. I honestly felt like the most unintelligent person, not just in that school but out of everyone I came into contact with and I felt ashamed I went back and wasted what money I had left. Homework took me hours longer than what would have previously. I kept thinking, “I don’t deserve to be here, “you’re wasting your time”.
I fought, pleaded my case to stay in school against my family’s wishes for me to just get a minimum wage job and work 15 hours a week. I told them I needed a year, I could show them this is withdrawal. They let me do it and for that I thank and love them infinitely, my parents even giving me the remainder for the money I owed to continue going to school out of their 401k.
I matriculated back into the full time program and 2 years later I graduated from one of the best programs in the world, and no one had a clue I was struggling. No one notices what is so obvious to us. Midterms, Finals, Internship, interviews, stress, stress, stress. At times, I thought I was going to drop dead or have a stroke. I competed well, and did very well. My damaged brain wasn’t as damaged as I thought, it was just different. My brain lied to me and yours is probably doing the same. The test scores didn’t lie, the professors didn’t lie. I developed a stutter early on in withdrawal where I would mispronounce words, the oddest thing, that is now gone entirely. I can now work through the brain fog. I honestly think our brains rewire and albeit they don’t work the exact same as before, they find a way to get the job done.
I traveled around the US for interviews, as if flying wasn’t hard enough during withdrawal, hell even driving is nuts, I also went on 4 hour intense interviews. My whole mantra was, “whatever happens happens but I won’t let this beat me.” I did an internship with a company you would all know and before that I worked for another big company by chance an opening became available. I also forced myself to do jobs that were absolutely not what I wanted to be doing painting people’s houses and doing construction. You may think, this guy didn’t have it that bad if he could do any of these things, I FORCED myself and when I got home cried some more. I felt like I couldn’t talk to people, I would think about withdrawal 24/7 while I was there. One of my lowest points was eating lunch with a work crew and they all were joking around and I couldn’t find words to say to fit in, I just sat there wanting to cry, wondering how my life had gotten to this point and why I couldn’t get past it.
I ended up accepting a job with a company I would have only dreamed of working for 4 years ago. I moved across the US and I am in a great, healthy relationship.
Why do you I tell you this? Because I was as good as dead, sitting where you are now. I know your pain, I understand. Some may think again, well he must not have had it bad because he can do all this now, or you may be thinking, “well I’m different, my case is the worst ever”. I was a horrific case. When I was on the PProgress forum I wouldn’t tell people a lot of what I was going through because it was worse and I was scared I was experiencing things no one else was. I have been off the forums for close to 2.5 years. I had to go it alone after a while, reading the forums stopped helping me and started to become an obsession. I waited for healing to occur rather than being an active participant in my recovery.
I want you all to know, you don’t have to go to a top school, or get a high paying job, and truthfully, just being alive is great to me, you just have to make a choice, a choice to start living or at the very least keep surviving, because I sure as hell know sometimes all you can do is hang on.
I used those examples because you have to know you will get better, a lot better. There is no way I could have accomplished what I did if I wasn’t healing.
I sleep pretty damn good, no morning anxiety, no suicidal thoughts, none of that. Every once and a while I will have a panic attack and laugh at it. I made a decision that I wasn’t going to hide anymore, I wasn’t going to let this consume me, because if I did, well I was already dead. I moved forward and went inch after inch crawling.
I am 4 years into withdrawal with a little over 3 years clean from any drug. I have quit drinking. I stay away from anything than can alter me, including sleep meds of any sort. I take Magnesium to relax and to stay asleep and vitamin C, the only two things that I feel make a difference. I spent thousands on other supplements and doctors, this is the only combo that worked for me. I don’t mess around with other stuff. I hear fish oil is good, I can tolerate it but I only take it periodically as well as a good probiotic. I literally was so sensitive to everything, even a multivitamin would set me off.
I am still sensitive to perfumes (cologne) and for some reason, I get goosebumps when I touch paper or in a mail room. I still get nervous at times (just about every day) but after going through what I did, that doesn’t scare me one bit.
My biggest issue is not being able to work out and my body not feeling 100% coordinated. I use to train really hard. Believe it or not, about a year into withdrawal I forced myself to go to the gym every day. I was able to run and lift weights and slowly it stopped hurting but not after every bone and nerve in my body begged me to stop. I would hurt for days after but I just kept doing it. Now I can’t run more than a mile or else I will feel sick for a week after. It sucks but you know what, it will get better. My body at times feels like an 80 year old man and other times normal.
I am sorry I waited this long to post, but I wanted more traction and I wanted a complete story, and I felt I was at a good enough point to give you an update. I don’t have days where I feel like I am back at day 1 and the bad ones I do have I know will be gone quickly.
This is me, and this is my story. I am not ashamed of beating this, I am proud and I want others to know they are not alone. I also thought staying off these sites would help me, and it did. Don’t get me wrong, the sites did help early on, but after a while you need to take ownership of your life and move forward and focus on getting better. If this helps you, then keep going, but treat yourself and get better in real life too.
Like so many others, I too disappeared upon getting better. I guess I was afraid I would stop getting better or perhaps disillusioned to think I really wasn’t that well off, but I am and I can’t deny it. This is once again another way our brains play tricks on us and prove everything is relative. During withdrawal, we yearn for what people call windows, during post withdrawal or the very end, we start to worry once again about petty things, like what’s for dinner or getting 10 more minutes of sleep.
I will hang around for a couple days and answer anyone’s questions they might have at night when I get home. I owe this to each and every one of you. I had several people from the old site who may be on this site as well help me early on. If I can be a beacon of hope for anyone, I want to be. I don’t want anyone to feel alone in their fight, because you’re not.
“It’s not about how you feel, it’s about still doing what you want to do despite not feeling well that will make the difference, accomplishments still feel great even when you don’t”
Thank you to the many people who helped me, special thank you to Alto for committing your time to this, I know it must not be easy.