Gradually, Ativan stopped working on me. But instead of it losing its effect, something else happened. Whenever I took one, the anxiety mutated into a disquiet where everything around me seemed almost unreal.
One night, after taking an Ativan, I walked to my bedroom and saw down the hallway, by my parents’ bedroom, a hazy greenish-blue blob just sitting there on the carpet. I approached and it dissolved. I went to bed, petrified, and saw two other smaller blobs on the bedside drawer. Closing my eyes, I told myself I was okay. When I opened my eyes the blobs were gone.
There was no doubt the Ativan was responsible. This newfound deleterious effect had gotten quickly worse. I had to stop taking it at once. The problem was Ativan had become my peacekeeper, especially at night. Without it, I tossed in bed, and as frustration set in so would my intrusive thoughts.
Dr Grace had only hung around for a couple of appointments, replaced by Dr Cobb, who was in his twenties and probably straight out of medical school. But I’d only had him for a couple of appointments before he also left, leaving me to see Dr Menlow, who now seemed to be PANCH’s sole psychiatrist.
When I told Dr Menlow, we talked about sleeping tablets and I told him how Dr Victor had put me on Rohypnol. Dr Menlow said they had been withdrawn. Later I found out it was because they’d been used, amongst other things, as a date-rape drug, or as a recreational drug (when used with alcohol). Dr Menlow prescribed me the sleeping tablet Mogadon.
Within fifteen minutes of taking a Mogadon, my mind would grow peaceful, my body heavy, and I’d feel relaxed. When I awoke in the morning, it was like I was moving through water, and whilst my mind felt (but wasn’t actually) slow, it wasn’t unpleasant. Everything around me was so pleasant and calm. I took them as required, which was regularly.
About a month later, just after I awoke, I felt a bit confused as to what day it was. It was probably because I was still half asleep. But when I told Dr Menlow he was alarmed and changed my medication, replacing the Sinequan with another anti-depressant, Tofranil. The dosage was the same, though: one in the morning, three at night.
The Tofranil were tiny and disc-shaped, with an orange-brown coating. Taking it left a tangy taste in my mouth, but its presence became strangely comforting, like I knew that there was something at work to my greater good (or at least meant to be).
When I went to the footy, I’d skip the morning Tofranil so I could have a few beers. Then, when I got home, I’d crash on the bed for a few hours, and coming out of the buzz of the beer-high, the anxiety would soar. Those nights, the intrusive thoughts were at their worst. I knew drinking was responsible, and I swore every time I’d stop it, but never did.
Sometimes, I’d go out after the footy. One time, I went to a club with Stan, another friend Tim, and some other guys, and drank until I blacked out and became aggressive. My friends had to separate me from several arguments, then took me home. I went to bed just as consciousness reasserted itself. It was like those times I’d had the delusions about the Arabs and wallpapering the houses: my mind peeked its head out to regain control.
When I told Dr Menlow, he was mortified, saying I couldn’t mix psychiatric drugs with alcohol. I told him I didn’t take the dose if I drank and either had alcohol in my system, or knew I was going to have alcohol in my system. He didn’t care. It was the closest I’d ever seen to him being angry.
Stan blamed the drinking, saying I’d had a lot even by his standards. Coming from Stan, this was a concern. This was also on top of drinking all day at the footy. I guessed I’d had a blackout from drinking too much, rather than mixing alcohol with medication – the wisdom of youth. Still, I did refrain from then on. A little.
Because this was being twenty – going out, partying, and believing you’re invulnerable. That’s what I wanted to be. And whilst I was drinking, that’s the way I could feel, like nothing else – and particularly this – mattered. It was only when feeling the buzz from drinking that I felt anything close to normalcy, even if it was a drunken normalcy. Well, it was better than constant anxiety, hyper-consciousness, and manic thoughts.
I used to be resilient. When I was fifteen, I crashed my brother’s bike and tore a huge chunk out of my elbow. I picked the gravel out of the wound; took off my jacket, wrapped it up, and had my friend tie it around my elbow; then, picked up the wrecked bike and carried it the two kilometres home. Not one step of the way did I panic. That had been my norm. All that was gone now. I wanted me back, whatever the cost.
I needed to get off the meds. I needed to be like everybody else. Of all the people I knew, I was the only one on antidepressants. I was the only one who saw a psychiatrist. I was the only one who felt they couldn’t move forward because of all this. I was tired of it. I wanted to be free.
I spoke to Dr Menlow about getting off the Tofranil, and he suggested decreasing the dosage by dumping the single Tofranil I took in the morning. I did that, but the anxiety returned. Right away, I reintroduced the morning Tofranil.
When I told Dr Menlow, he was sympathetic, saying that perhaps it was too early to wean off antidepressants. I felt like a failure. I should’ve tried harder. But I was scared. What if I had another meltdown? I didn’t want to go through all this again.
This part of my life was in a holding pattern – I was on meds, and had to stay on meds. But my commitment to PANCH (with no disrespect to Dr Menlow) was becoming irrelevant. I’m sure Dr Menlow was a fine doctor, and I wondered what it would’ve been like had I gotten him instead of Dr Victor, whose choice of therapy was shock tactics. But, by now, my appointments were like check-ins where the only thing that really happened was I got my prescriptions renewed.
The rest of my life slowly gained momentum. I’d hang out with Stan, catch-up with friends, go to the footy, and would be consumed writing. Most days I felt fine and, better yet, my intrusive thoughts had simmered to nuisance value. Much later, I wondered if changing over to Tofranil had made a difference. It might’ve had an effect in this regard where the Sinequan hadn’t.
It felt, though, like I could get back on track.