The Other Me

The Other Me

NOTE: Before beginning this week’s installment of The Other Me, I thought I’d recommend an article on Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder over at FIX. It’s well worth the read! So check it out:


‘The Long Hard Fall’

Dr Jarasinghe had recommended taking the Aropax every other day for a couple of weeks before stopping completely. It sounded logical and I noticed very little change in myself when I took it like this. That made me think I’d be fine getting off it.

I was wrong.

The first withdrawal effects were dizziness. Other times, I was light-headed. Often, I’d walk around disoriented, sure that there was something not quite right but not knowing what it was. Then came the excruciating pain, like somebody was trying to corkscrew the top off my head. These symptoms lasted weeks.

Next came the pulses, like the inside of my head was some vast, echoing cavern, and the pulse was a submarine pinging for radar. Insomnia returned. I’d lay in bed, exhausted, but unable to sleep. In the space of three weeks, I slept only a handful of hours. Sometimes, I’d try to catch a nap during the day, but it didn’t matter how tired I felt, sleep never came.

There were flashes of depersonalisation, like I was losing myself, as well as intense sensations of irreconcilable anger, guilt, and sorrow. Sometimes, I exploded in rages. One time, the CD player in the back room wouldn’t play, and I picked it up and smashed it into the wall. Or I’d cry at the stupidest things, like meaningless scenes in movies. Often, my coordination deserted me.

My stomach constantly rumbled. Allie bought me a bottle of Aloe Vera juice that was meant to help with digestion, but it made things worse. Then there was the sexual functionality. On Aropax I’d become desensitized. Now the opposite happened.

Writing also suffered. Sometimes, I’d sit at my computer and had no idea what sentence was meant to come next. Other times, I’d be in mid-sentence and the same problem would arise in regards to a singular word. Then there were times I would sit terrified, wondering whether another line would ever come.

Most of these symptoms lasted for a couple of months. The writing problems, stomach issues, and sexual functionality never returned reliably.

I asked Dr Jarasinghe and Dr Warren about it, and both said that functionality of these issues would reset, although one time Dr Jarasinghe admitted that the amount of time that might take could be indefinite – so, maybe never.

While I was going through this, I went on the Net and found a community dedicated to the use and withdrawal from Aropax (although it was under its American name of Paxil). There, I found horror stories similar to my own. When I posted how I’d withdrawn from Aropax, people told me I was crazy. Aropax was meant to maintain a level of serotonin in the brain, so when you took it every other day, the brain didn’t always meet that level, and that produced issues of withdrawal and anxiety. People insisted that you had to take it at the exact time every day, that even missing your dosage by an hour (or even less) caused issues. Then there was the fact that I’d just dropped from ten milligrams to nothing. People were shaving their tablets with vegetable peelers to decrease the dosage systematically and gradually. Withdrawing from Aropax, it was reported, was harder than withdrawing from heroin.

I also discovered that there were class action suits against Aropax’s manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, for stating that Aropax wasn’t habit forming, and that it was easy and safe to discontinue. Aropax wasn’t addictive the way illegal drugs like crack or heroin are, but in its absence the body responded drastically. Later, I learned that in 2001 that the World Health Organisation had ranked Aropax the hardest antidepressant to withdraw from. And I’d been on it for over five years.

This was becoming the story of my life: the things you learn in retrospect.

The internet community was my greatest support. Dr Jarasinghe often dismissed the symptoms as related to the anxiety and depression that the Aropax had treated. I understood his logic. The Aropax controlled the neuroses; take away the Aropax, and the neuroses returned. He was wrong, though. I knew the difference between my neurotic symptoms and these symptoms. Dr Warren was more sympathetic, but what could he do? Allie had begun to go through her own issues – a post-traumatic stress disorder following her divorce. And there was the usual disconnect from my family.

Something I used was a meditation CD by Brian Weiss, a Miami psychiatrist whose books Dr Jarasinghe had recommended. Weiss claimed that in regressing a patient to deal with their anxiety, the patient travelled to a past life where the cause of the anxiety had begun. Weiss had found this to be the case with other patients, and claimed that hurts from past lives were brought into the present one, and that problems re-emerged until they were dealt with. Like in the book I’d read by James van Praagh years earlier, Weiss also posed that we agree to take on the problems before we’re born as a form of spiritual evolution. His writings were fascinating, and one of his books came with a meditation CD that I listened to every day through my Aropax withdrawal.

Through it all, I never used the Xanax, although their presence – as they always had been – was an assurance. I again carried some in my wallet – just in case.

The Stillnox prescription I never filled.

And I never went on the Anafranil.

In 2003, I’d had a bacterial infection that was so bad I couldn’t smoke. I’d smoked through everything else in my life – depression, hangovers, broken arm – but this bacterial infection was so bad smoking choked me. It was days and strong antibiotics before I got better. Since I hadn’t smoked I thought I’d see how long I could run with it. And that was it. I quit. Same with the possibility of meds: I wanted to see how long I could go before I needed antidepressants, but in the end I never took them. What I’d recently learned about Aropax fuelled much of that aversion to all meds, until years of a casual aversion became phobic.

Gradually, I emerged from Aropax withdrawal and some part of my mind I hadn’t known for ten years, and particularly for the last five years, awakened. Feelings that had lost their gloss emerged shiny and new. The underlying ambivalence went, and with it the gauze that it had thrown over my mind. In some ways – in a lot of ways – I was a child again, needing to re-learn how to interpret my feelings, and my feelings needing to re-learn how to interpret everyday life.