Otherwise known as: A Brief (But Actually Super Long ) History of My Mental Instability.
Looking back, I think I have always been…on the edge. I don’t carry a great deal of light inside myself. Does that make sense? Most of the time, I am ok, and things don’t turn dark on their own, but I am always closer to that edge than one would like. I don’t have a wide berth. In my brain. We’re talking about my brain here. That other berth is a little wide, yes.
When Eli was born, almost six years ago, it was an explosion in the middle of my nice, neat, well ordered life. The life where I ran 35 miles a week and weighed 125 pounds and cleaned my house every Sunday and polished my spare change. It was a good explosion, it was an explosion I would sign up for over and over and over again and never reconsider, but it took me a long time to get my bearings, especially because he was so small at birth (5 pounds) and so hard to nurse and so high spirited right from the beginning.
When we moved to Sacramento and took Eli for his 18 month Well Baby Check Up, I was nervous, because he’d been gaining less and less weight and moving down the charts and doctors visits had started to be really really stressful and unpleasant. We had all the medical records transferred and his new pediatrician took a look and things went from unpleasant to “Woah There Nelly” because from 15 months to 18 months, Eli had lost three pounds, despite our near and constant efforts to count his calories and feed him donuts and to make him eat.
I truly do believe that in that moment, something in me broke. It was no one one’s fault, but it was just too much for me. Stress about my child’s health, cystic fibrosis tests, holding him down while people drew blood over and over again, being at home with him all day long writing down every bite he took, no one to talk to, all the well meaning advice about picky eaters and joining mom’s groups, it just crumpled me.
This blog saved me though. My readers saved me. My husband held me while I cried but he didn’t know what do either and when I made that cry for help, I got help. And I made the phone call that I so did not want to make because it just hurt too much to be me, and because it’s one thing when the tears are something you do on your own in the dark but it’s another thing when they are falling on your toddler’s tiny head.
So I found a doctor, and the first thing she did was to tell me I was bi-polar and prescribe Seroquel, which was awful for me, and which made me even more depressed as I imagined a horrifying spiral of crushing side effects and a life not worth living because of my crazy screwed up angry sad on the edge brain. But I only took that for three days. When my doctor heard my symptoms she took me off of it immediately, we talked some more, and she took back the Bi-Polar diagnosis, and gave me some samples of Lexapro.
The Lexapro worked right away. I could sleep again, I stopped crying, I felt like things were not at Desperate Levels of Sadness. I no longer wanted to throw plates. After I took all the samples, though, my insurance wouldn’t pay for Lexapro, because there’s no generic, unless I proved I couldn’t just use Zoloft or Celexa, because they both have generics available. So I had to take both of those for six weeks each, to prove that they didn’t work as well (they didn’t), and then my doctor called and my insurance agreed to pay for the Lexapro.
I took Lexapro until I was pregnant with Katie. I wasn’t thrilled to be on an anti depressant while I was pregnant, but I didn’t think it was the end of the world. It didn’t really matter, though, because as soon as I was 8 weeks pregnant, 15 minutes after I’d take the Lexapro, I’d throw up ALL. NIGHT.LONG. I had to go to the emergency room twice for IV fluids, both times after taking my medication. So no more Lexapro for me.
Luckily, while I was pregnant, I felt great. And I felt great for months afterwards, I really love the infant stage. But something about my hormones or babies turning into toddlers or SOMETHING hit me and it happened again, and I found myself standing in the kitchen crying over nothing, while depression seeped into my bones, heavy and liquid and turning everything to mud.
So I went back to the doctor, we tried Lexapro again, it was fine, but I noticed that I got sick really really easily. Every time I went to Vermont to see my parents, I’d get car sick to the point that I’d have to pull over and do deep breathing exercises, and I just couldn’t see living the rest of my life about to ralph in the car. So no more Lexapro.
This is when my doctor put me on Paxil, and yes, I am using all these brand names in this blog post because I want people to be able to find the hell out of this blog post and because I want people to know they are not alone. Paxil Paxil Paxil. (Do not take Paxil.)
So I took Paxil for about two years, and I really liked it. (Do not take Paxil.) It definitely gave me some emotional remove, but you know, my whole life, I have been feeling all the feelings all the time, and it was nice to just not give a shit sometimes. It was really really nice. I felt like things had just been dialed down a notch and it was an amazing relief not to have every emotion cranked up to 11 at every minute of the day.
But then I started to get sick.
At first I thought it was because I couldn’t drink and take Paxil, so I stopped drinking. Then I thought I was allergic to dairy, so I switched to almond milk and coconut milk ice cream. Then I thought it sugar, or exhaustion, or god knows what I thought. I took about ten thousand pregnancy tests, but I was not pregnant. And nine times out of ten, 8 o’clock would roll around and I’d start to feel like hot garbage and have to go lie down.
I didn’t even realize what was happening. I was like a frog being boiled alive, or else just simply the least self aware person on the planet, because it NEVER occurred to me that this was Paxil related, all the while thinking “Oh, how nice for her. I guess others can do such things” whenever I’d hear someone’s social plans that involved doing something after 7 o’clock at night. I started making excuses not to go to to parties, or out to dinner. And it just never occurred to me that this was the Paxil.
Fast forward to this October. I woke up with a HORRIBLE pulled muscle in my neck, and after heating it and icing it all day, it was so bad I could barely move. I went to Urgent Care and then my regular doctor because I was afraid I had meningitis after I was up all night going to the bathroom, but everyone thought I just had a pulled muscle and some kind of bug, and I went home with some muscle relaxers. And then I started to Google.
It turns out when you enter “strained muscles + nausea + diarrhea” into Google, one of the first responses you get is “This sounds like classic drug withdrawal to me.” And lo, the lightbulb finally went off! I realized I hadn’t taken my Paxil for three days, and it was causing all hell to break loose.
I took my Paxil dose as soon as I figured it out, but things just kept getting worse. I would start to feel sick at about 1 PM, I’d hold on as long as I could, and then I’d take a Paxil as close to 5 PM as I could wait, because I didn’t want to increase my dosage and I didn’t want to double dose and I didn’t know what else to do. It would help a little bit, and then I’d take some dramamine and some Unisom and I’d dry heave until I could fall asleep. The hour before my husband got home and I could go shut myself in the room and rock back and forth over a bowl became the longest hour anyone has ever known. (It was so horrible. Just so horrible. Do not take Paxil.)
You will also imagine that this did wonders for my marriage.
The day before Halloween, things got even worse. I was sick all day long, while taking care of two kids and trying to live my life. I couldn’t stop pooping. I have literally never been so sick in my entire life. I called my doctor, which I should have done four days earlier. She didn’t call me back.
We have a party every Halloween. I drove Eli to preschool and prayed I wouldn’t throw up in the parking lot. I drove to Rite Aid and bought beer and prayed I wouldn’t throw up in Rite Aid. I lamaze breathed my way through Papa Murphys and threw five pizzas in my car and I went home and crawled in bed while my children watched all manner of unsuitable television. Erik came home and I told myself that this was ridiculous and I just needed to GET MY SHIT TOGETHER and I spent five minutes upright before I crawled back in bed. I missed one of the five or six Halloweens that there will be when my kids put on Halloween costumes and walk up and down this street. It’s short and it’s fleeting and it’s one of my favorite memories of my childhood, and I missed it while I dry heaved in bed.
Halloween night was the worst it ever was. I paged my doctor twice, and she never called me back. I would drink as much Emetrol as I could get down without gagging, sleep for 15 minutes, and then wake up and writhe with nausea all over again. At 9 o’clock, trick or treaters rang the door, the dog barked, and I never went back to sleep. I was up until 8 AM the next day, when I had to take Eli to school.
The Blathering was in seven days.
The next morning I called my doctor again, and left the message that if she didn’t call me back, I was going to the emergency room. I hadn’t eaten in 36 hours, I still hadn’t stopped pooping, and things were…not good. I also finally made the decision to quit taking the Paxil, cold turkey, because I didn’t know what else to do. It wasn’t helping at all to keep taking it, I’d been taking it the whole time and I was getting sicker and sicker.
Finally, finally, my doctor called back. She was shocked that I was having this reaction, shocked that I was so sick, shocked at my weight loss (11 pounds). Shocked shocked shocked. My case was “so unusual that she discussed it with all her colleagues.” (My case is not unusual. A metric buttload of people have sued or are suing this drug manufacturer. Do not take Paxil.) She wanted to know if I wanted to keep taking the Paxil (ha ha ha fuck no I did not) and told me to taper off it, which I agreed to do, and then did not do. Because as God is my witness I’ll never put that drug in my body ever again. NEVER EVER AGAIN.
So then my mother in law showed up, and I could write ten thousand blog posts about how much I owe her, how much gratitude I have, how amazing she was, how she SAVED me, and it would never be enough. She did my laundry, she played with my kids, she cooked breakfast lunch and dinner, she went to the grocery store, she did EVERYTHING while I laid in bed and moaned and drank ice water and tried to flush the Paxil from my system as fast as I could.
I was very hopeful that things were going to get rapidly better as soon as I quit the Paxil, but they did not. I had seven days to get well enough so that I could get on a plane and then get in a car and get to the Blathering, and I had worked my ass off for a year for this event and I look forward to it more than anything else all year long and I really didn’t think I was going to make it. Maggie and Jennie were trying to figure out how they’d decorate without me (beautifully, I am sure) and Arwen was praying and still, I was very unsure I was actually going to be able to get on that plane. Everything I read online listed two weeks as the recovery time for this event, and I wasn’t getting better very fast and I had to spend six hours in the emergency room one night with Eli while he had the croup (because of course) and it was just terrible.
So my symptoms, let’s see. I had: teeth grinding, confusion, inability to concentrate, nausea, loss of appetite, constant violent diarrhea, terrible vertigo (it felt like someone was pushing me backwards), muscle and neck pain, exhaustion, and probably some other things I am forgetting. And every morning I’d wake up to 20 minutes of sheer terrifying heart pounding roller coaster anxiety. Every single morning. I was afraid to go to sleep at night because of how much I dreaded those first 20 minutes.
I finally started to feel a little better the morning I had to pack for the Blathering, the day before my flight. My MIL was still here, so even though it took me all day to pack because I couldn’t focus on anything, she watched my kids and drove Eli to school and cooked for everyone. Erik told me that I needed to use every force available to me to go, and I had a bag full of Zofran and Dramamine and Ginger Gum and if a bag of drugs doesn’t say “Girls Weekend” I don’t know what does.
So I went. I had to say ten thousand Hail Marys in the check baggage line while sweat poured down me and I tried desperately not to poop in my pants. I didn’t eat dinner the entire time. I had to go to bed early every night instead of going out drinking or sitting up with my girls listening to them talk about their lives, but it was worth it to me. These are the women who prayed for me, who scootch closer to me while I cry, who pull over six times in a half an hour without saying anything so I can run into Wendy’s and have diarrhea. They mean the world to me. I needed to see them, I needed their hugs.
The bad news is that it took me at least six weeks before I started to feel better. It was not the intense badness of the first week, but it was bad. I ended up losing 26 pounds, most of it because I just couldn’t eat anything and food disgusted me. My family ate a lot of Pasta Roni. A LOT.
The other bad news is that although this ASTONISHES everyone and “it just can’t be true” and I am a MEDICAL MYSTERY (except not really because you can find it on Google in two minutes), Paxil withdrawal is known to have a “wave like nature” and it can come and go for up to a year. I had nausea and had to lie down before dinner five nights last week. So that sucks actual immeasurable amounts, to still be dealing with this now when it started in August. (Do not take Paxil.)
The other bad news is that I have a raging case of PTSD. If I so much hear about someone throwing up in my Twitter stream, I have to grab the hand sanitizer. I was just sick for three months, I seriously cannot emphasize how much that screws with your head. Or at least it screws with mine. And I know we’ll get sick again and I still have my Zofran stash, but man, I am freaked out every single time one of my kids so much as coughs. ”Are you going to barf?” will be carved on my tombstone.
The other bad news is that I am flying blind, so far, because I don’t think I want to go back to my doctor, and although I am not currently depressed and I am not anxious any more than normal, I am also not medicated on anything more than fish oil and some strange vitamins, and I have been forced to realize that my sanity isn’t the trusty workhouse I always pictured it as, but instead a delicate shell-like thing that I have to protect at all costs. It’s not a sturdy farm girl, it’s a pasty, sickly wastrel, and I have to remember to treat it as such.
There is good news, though, I promise. There is some good news.
Because the thing is, that I struggle. I really really struggle. I struggle with so much. I struggle to be a good parent. We are raising, if not a difficult child, one is who is certainly in a difficult phase. We live in a tiny crowded house. I am often consumed with real estate envy. Our weekends feel like battles, like we live in a war zone. Everything is a fight, and there’s only so many instagrams you can see with everyone else’s fun weekends with the kiddos and magical days at the beach and kitchen islands and I don’t know, there are so many beautiful lives on the internet. And so you can’t help but wonder what you are doing wrong, and why your weekends feel like wars and if you should move and how to get a kitchen island just like that one.
But the thing is this. The whole time I was struggling and sick and dry heaving, the whole time I was lying in bed just waiting to sleep, just waiting for the misery to end, the whole anxious sick awful frustrating horrible horrendous time, I had one thought. Just one. Over and over. And this thought was: “I just want to be able to lie on the couch with my husband and watch Homeland. I just want my simple, wonderful, perfect life back. I want nothing more than that.”
And it is. It is a simple, boring, wonderful, frustrating, war filled life. It’s not instagram worthy. I don’t have a kitchen island. We never go to the beach. But when I was desperate, and truly wishing for just that one thing back? I didn’t think once about kitchen islands. I just thought about sitting on the couch, next to my husband, happy, watching Homeland, and the good news is that that small frustrating perfect simple unbeautiful life I wanted so badly? I have that. I have just that, and it’s just what I wanted, more than anything else.
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