As I resumed my daily life – and even went out a bit again – I decided to cull the Xanax and cut away the rest of it in the space of a couple of weeks.
Going off the Xanax so rapidly, there were withdrawal symptoms – shortness of breath; and, worse, muscle cramps that tore through my body. That was to be expected. Xanax also acted as a muscle relaxant. In its absence, my body probably wondered what the hell was going on.
To hell with it, I thought.
This might’ve been a situation where, previously, I would’ve panicked. I would’ve obsessed with worry about what was going on. I’d never been blasé before to anything anxiety-related. Even when I was in my better states, I’d run to the doctor at the slightest thing. Now, it didn’t matter. The Aropax could deal with it all. That’s why I was taking it.
I couldn’t be so blasé with everything, though.
The obsession with genital slashing remained prevalent. Whenever I was naked – like when I was changing, when I went to the toilet, and especially when I went to shower (as scissors were kept in the bathroom) – the thought of cutting myself fired through my head.
I told Dr Jarasinghe, who understandably found it distasteful – distasteful in a way like he’d never heard of anything so ghastly in all his years of psychiatry. He suggested that the compulsion had returned because I’d defeated my agoraphobia, saying that he’d recently been to a psychiatric conference where they posed the theory that once somebody got over one neurotic symptom, the symptom would return as something new – an idea I’d floated over ten years earlier to Dr Victor.
But I was sure Aropax was to blame. This is what antidepressants do: you feel worse before you feel better. Neuroses are (thought to be) caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, a lack of serotonin. Antidepressants pump up the serotonin. In those first few weeks the brain’s flooded, so the initial results are unpredictable. Things don’t get better until the body regulates the levels.
My biggest concern was that the compulsion would grow until I acted it out. Dr Jarasinghe assured me – although not with as much conviction as I would’ve liked – that compulsions never became actionable, but surely (surely!) there was a breaking point.
He recommended I increase my dosage from twenty milligrams to forty milligrams. Twenty milligrams dealt with anxiety and depression, while forty with OCD. So I had to take more Aropax to deal with the OCD that the original Aropax had intensified. Moreover, there was now the possibility of more side-effects, although Dr Jarasinghe claimed that shouldn’t be an issue now that Aropax was already in my system.
But I did continue to develop side-effects, although they mightn’t have been because of the increased dosage, but just because of the Aropax itself.
I’d have night sweats, regardless of the temperature. Some nights, I’d lie in bed and feel flushed. I’d pull the blankets down to my waist, and the lower half of my body would swelter while the upper half froze. My dreams became vivid – as vivid as bad nightmares. And often, just as I would drift off, my arms or legs would kick, startling me awake – a sensation Dr Warren called a ‘hypnic jerk.’
I told Dr Jarasinghe about all these problems, and he said they were unlikely to be Aropax-related, something I refused to believe. These things had never happened to me before.
I scoured the internet for answers and found an Aropax forum. Its moderator, who called himself Suede, had compiled an Aropax FAQ. Poring through it, I found all my side-effects – night sweats, vivid dreams, hypnic jerks, and other things, including sexual dysfunction. I emailed Swede, thanking him for compiling the FAQ and telling him that my psychiatrist had denied that the Aropax would be responsible. Suede said that doctors regularly towed the line of the drug companies. I also saw in one of his posts on the forum that he admitted that Aropax had entirely killed his sex life, but that was the price he paid for peace. It was a trade-off.
Next, I began bouncing out of bed in the morning, would get dressed, make breakfast, and so on … before I realised it was like 4.00 or 5.00 am. I was on autopilot. When I told Dr Warren, he suggested I had to force myself to make a time-check. The next few times I did, and seeing how early it was, I’d get back into bed. It worked, because I stopped jumping out of bed, although I did still wake up early, and when I drifted back off my sleep would be restless.
There were other problems with sleep, though. Sometimes, I’d awake and find myself on the floor. This could happen at any time in the night. One morning, my mum came in to find me asleep on the floor in the corner of the bedroom, curled under the doona. I couldn’t remember getting there.
On other occasions, I’d awake in the middle of the night on the floor and have to get back into bed. One time, I decided to somersault back into bed. I bounced off the bed and into the bedside drawer. Next morning I wondered why that had occurred to me. It wasn’t something I’d ever done before, or even considered before.
Shortly, I became aware of slipping out of bed. First, a leg poked from the bed and onto the floor. Then both legs. Sometimes, that was it, and I would sleep seated upright against the bed. Other times, I would slide all the way to the floor.
Dr Jarasinghe diagnosed this problem as a ‘parasomnia’, and again refused to connect it to the Aropax. Sometimes, when I’d been a kid, I’d roll out of bed, and my mum combated the problem by pushing the bedside drawer against my bed. But that was it. A few instances when I was four or five. Then nothing for twenty-five years until now? It had to be the Aropax.
Dr Warren tried a couple of solutions, including giving me a medication meant for Parkinson’s Disease. While I slept okay, I was in a stupor the following day. It was worse than any sleeping tablet hangover I’d ever had. It was the one and only time I took that medicine.
The other thing Dr Warren tried was to send me to a sleep clinic, but when I spoke to the registrar, she said I was too aware of my issues (as they were happening) for them to qualify as a legitimate parasomnia, so that was that.