I began weaning myself off of Paxil in June, 2011. I had this sense that my life had been put on hold for more than 10 years, and I wanted to start feeling again. It seemed like I hadn’t been myself for a long time. It was very hard to define exactly what the differences were, but I knew that I was not as connected to the things that I enjoy in life anymore. I began by consulting my doctor about a reduction schedule. He advised me to reduce my Paxil dosage at a steady rate over the next two months until I was not taking the drug anymore. I decided to double his schedule and aimed to be Paxil free by November, 2011. I cut my 40mg pills into smaller and smaller doses, starting with 30mg, then 25, then 20, then 15, then 10. Finally, I was taking 2.5 mg/day until I took my last dose on November 14, 2011. September and October were very challenging months for me. I lost a lot of weight, I experienced severe anxiety and anger. My emotions were a bit beyond my control at times. My doctor thought that it was the re emergence of a pre existing problem. I was originally diagnosed with situational and social anxiety. Both of those conditions were very mild compared to the problems that I was having while stopping my Paxil usage, though.
I eventually made it through the bad times and was able to see what I was like without Paxil. November and December were much better months for me. I still had withdrawal symptoms, but my mind and my mood were much clearer. I started to write short stories and blog posts more often, I read a great deal more than I had in years. I went back to my old office and the people there were amazed at the difference that they saw in me, the way I talked, the way I carried myself. I had completely transformed in their eyes back to the way they remembered me from 12 years ago. It was a profound experience for me, seeing myself through their eyes. I began to see what effect Paxil had on my mind, and how it had changed my personality. I had been taking my life and career for granted far too much in the past decade. I thought that my apathy was a result of an internal failing. I never realized that Paxil was suppressing so much of my mental strength that things like work or relationships didn’t matter to me, anymore.
About two months after my last pill, I entered a severe withdrawal period. In the middle of January, I found myself lying on the living room floor, curled in a ball, racked with anguish. I envied those that had the strength to kill themselves. Suicide had never been an issue for me, I had never thought about it until I tried to stop taking Paxil. As I said, I have social anxiety. I am a very shy person who feels uncomfortable in crowds or when dealing with interpersonal situations. I started taking 10mg/day of Paxil again January 18, 2012, and those symptoms largely disappeared. I’ve found that I have a very foggy head, though. It’s very difficult for me to concentrate on anything for extended periods, and I have again been cut off from my emotions. My cat died a few days after I reinstated my Paxil usage, and I still have not grieved for her. I now know that Paxil is suppressing those emotions. They are still there, but I am not dealing with them in a healthy way. Instead of experiencing grief and loss, the drug is pushing all that away from my conscious mind. The feelings are still there, but hidden from me. I’ve found that I can’t write creatively, either. I’ve tried to sustain a story idea, but the continuity is missing. The creative force is gone. I’ve always been a slow, deliberate writer, but now the ideas just refuse to form in my mind. I can almost feel a physical barrier between myself and my creativity.
I took this drug not knowing the nature or strength of the effects. I went to my doctor, told him that I feel anxious in social situations, he prescribed Paxil, and I started taking it. I had great trust in the medical profession and the solutions that modern chemistry could provide. Now that I’m looking back on my Paxil experience, especially after the short period that I was Paxil free, I want nothing more than to stop taking this drug. I know that the underlying issues will still be there, but they are mild compared to the profound effects that Paxil has on my mental processes. I need to be patient with the process, though. I know that my crash and relapse into Paxil use was caused by weaning myself off of it too quickly. My current schedule extends into the first part of 2013, which seems like a long time, too long. It must be that way, though, or I will find myself relapsing again. I say relapse because I’ve come to think of this drug as equivalent to any other narcotic that causes dependence. The only difference between Paxil and a street drug is that it has been approved by the FDA for prescription use. It’s just as powerful and addictive as any street drug, and has an equal capacity to ruin the user’s life. It should be used as a last resort to treat severe mental issues. Instead, the Pharmaceutical companies market these drugs in a reckless, casual way. Television is filled with advertisements for drugs to treat an ever widening range of symptoms. Instead of developing more refined treatments for problems, the emphasis has been on wider applications and acceptance of these powerful psychotropic drugs. Most likely, there will come a time when there is a national crisis fueled by a celebrity death that will focus our attention on the harm that these drugs are doing to our society. Suppressing a population’s mental strength through the use of drugs is a dystopian idea that I thought could only exist in fiction. Instead, we live with it every day, and don’t seem to care. It’s just another effect that the drug has on us.