Thoughts On Paxil

So it occurred to me the other day that I’ve been off Paxil for almost a month now.
It wasn’t a major decision by any means – I’ve seen far too many people do the Medication Cliffdive. You know the one: I’m feeling tons better, and I’m actually happy for once in my life! This feeling has nothing to do with the medication!
A week later, you find them cutting slits in their arms and inserting cockroach eggs into them, muttering, “But my babies will live….”
No, for me it was a simple financial decision: Paxil costs $125 per refill, I had just dumped $700 on art and sundries at the usuam summer conventions, and Gini had just lost her job. I didn’t really have a whole lot of money to spare, so I decided to drop it and go as long as I could without it, just to see what happened. If I started to feel jittery, I’d leap back on that puppy; after all, Paxil saved my marriage.
But time’s slipped by quietly, like a smooth-flowing river, and here we are: I’m done. I don’t think I need it anymore.
Makes me wonder about the rest of the world.
Now, I have a marked aversion to psychotropes anyway, mainly because my family is a big bunch of drug abusers; my grandfather was an alcoholic, my dad has thought that psychotropic drugs would save his life and his marriage (and scroll down to see how that experiment worked), my uncle is probably addicted to prescription drugs – but let’s be fair, the man is not only a hemophiliac, but is HIV-positive, has quite literally crippling arthritis, and just got diagnosed with yet another disease, so if anyone has a right to be addicted, it’s my fucking uncle Tommy, okay?
But my mom? Addicted to Valium through the 1970s and early ’80s? Uh uh.
So as we can see, I grew up in a family that more or less shrieked, “If a doctor gives it to you, it’s all right!” So naturally, I was skittish.
I knew without actually being able to verbalize it that my entire genetic structure was engineered towards self-destruction, so I stayed away from the hard drugs: Cocaine, heroin, anything else I was offered. “Cocaine?” I said, in that “ha ha, only serious” tone of voice. “Have you seen how many comics I buy a week? Shit, if I did cocaine, I’d be breaking into houses tonight to feed my addiction!”
My friends, helpfully, did these things in other rooms, knowing that I didn’t exactly disapprove, but I didn’t want to see them, either. God bless ’em.
I didn’t frown on happy pills, though; I’ve always thought that some people have brain chemistry that’s just out of whack, and I certainly wouldn’t punish them for being handicapped. But me? I’m sensitive. The first time I tried Prozac, I wound up clawing at my own eyes, unable to form the words that I wanted to say – and we’re not talking “antidisetablishmentarianism,” we’re talking your standard words like “familiar” and “content.” I could feel the concepts intensely, but there was a blanketlike barrier interposed between what it was and the word that unlocked it for other people; it was like having a word on the tip of your tongue all the time.
As a result, after a single day I fell to the ground, kicking out and screaming, “I can’t think it! This drug won’t let me think! I can’t thiiiiiinnkk!
Did I mention this was at the front of a movie theater line? The people that night got two shows.
The doctor said that it was ridiculous, that Prozac didn’t have those kinds of effects… But years later, when researching the Kind Of Drug That I Wanted To Be On, I discovered a bulletin board with at least ten or fifteen similar experiences. I think the term is “aphasia,” and it’s fairly common… Although I can’t remember whether what the exact word is, which is pretty fucking ironic when you think about it.
But ten years rolled by, and suddenly I was both married and more desperate than I had ever been: My wife was about to leave me, and somewhere deep down I knew that. But the problem was that I was like a canary in fifteen coal mines, keeling over dead at threats both imagined and real; we were both being childish, but I couldn’t play the grownup long enough to draw a distinction between “That’s acceptable, if worrisome, behavior” and “That is right out.”
I needed something to calm down and establish authority. Some kind of tool.
And Paxil was it.
I was on the lowest possible dose – since I was worried about aphasia again, and forgetting words would kill my nascent writing career – but it helped. It didn’t prevent the bad thoughts entirely; it simply allowed me to stay calm enough to realize, “This is an irrational thought, Ferrett”… At which point I could beat it back into submission. I was still anxious a lot, but the reverberating thoughts – where I’d have one mildly distresing thought that would just keep repeating in my brain all the time, like an echo that got louder, until eventually an incredibly distant and remote possibility became such a stone-cold certainty that Gini would have to waste fifteen minutes of her time reassuring me that it wasn’t true, hating me all the while – stopped.
I took the time to repair our relationship. Suddenly, I had authority; now that I wasn’t jumping at shadows any more, I could say, “That’s really unacceptable. Stop that.” And now Gini had to listen.
(And as a side note, the brilliant thing about Gini is that she listens. I’ve dated many women who, when confronted with absolute and unassailable proof that their attitude is not only wrong but terribly unfair to everyone around them, will deny it. They may nod their heads… But the next day, they’ll be doing the same thing.
(It may take eight hours to get it through, but Gini will eventually see reason… And her eventual calm acceptance of the truth helps me to see her point of view, too.
(There was one night that saved our relationship, where we literally fought from one in the morning until it was time for her to go to work… But when she suddenly crumpled and gave way beneath me, finally admitting that she wasn’t being fair and genuinely knowing that to be true, suddenly I saw all the petty little games that I was playing on her. It felt foul, what I was doing, in the light of her absolute contrition. Compared to the magnificence of what she had done, now I felt petty… And in that moment, kneeling next to her in the bathtub as she washed up and watching her face change as she finally understood my point of view, I felt compelled to be more than I had ever been before, and all for her.
(We both transformed each other. That’s why I love her. That’s why, no matter what happens, I always will. End side note.)
So now it’s all over, and I’m off… And aside from more spookiness in the night and the sudden return of my twice-a-day sex drive – hello, boys, I’ve missed you! – it’s pretty much over.
Leading me to wonder about psychotropics to begin with.
So many of my friends are on them, and I honestly think they use them as a crutch; oh, my life is bad and I’m depressed, and these drugs will make it better.
That’s fine. For a time.
But I think that psychotropics only last so long before you have to amp up the dosage – they’re like conceptual antibiotics – and eventually, you’re in a powerslide, with your life going downhill as you struggle frantically for any way to make your life better again.
The way it was that first week on the drug.
My doctor said to me after I went back for my third refill: “Do you really want to be on this for the next forty years?” And my answer was a revulsed no.
But honestly? What I see in most people on these drugs revolts me as well. They get on them, they get the temporary peace of mind… And what they should do is work their ass off during this artificially-stimulated moment of clarity to fix their life.
Deal with the friends that you get too attached to. Trim yourself of the codependent relationships that you’re in. Figure out ways to meet people and have a more satisfying real life. Work on your self-esteem, and spend your time doing nothing but setting up little stockpiles of help for yourself – enroll in classes, start dating around and be picky, get some writing done and get it right.
Too many people – most of you, in fact – take the drugs and that’s the only thing you work on. That’s sick. You need to fucking change that. The drugs don’t change your life; you do. Psychotropics shouldn’t be an excuse – they’re a tool. You use them to find yourself some solid ground… And you build a fucking fortress on that ground. Work on it. Make it stand.
Because if you’ve been on drugs for two or more years and you still have depressive fits, there is one of two possibilities:
1) Your brain chemistry is eternally fucked, and you are at the absolute mercy of your synapses and the corrosion they pump out.
2) You’re fucking up your life in some subtle way, and the drugs have enabled you to continue that lifestyle, acting as a cushion to keep you artificially happy when everything in your life is screaming, This is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong.
One of those answers leads into a spiral of helplesness. The other puts you in a place that you can fix.
The choice is up to you.