Tuesday, October 19, 2010


When I decided to keep a semi-regular, semi-public journal that would (hopefully) force me to stay on top of my goals and stop being such a damn quitter, I had a certain type of quitting in mind - quitting exercise, music, ballet...all things I do, and should be doing, but which occasionally fall prey to my laziness.

This time I'm writing about something else entirely. For reasons I'll discuss in a future entry, I recently was forced - FORCED, I say! - to quit something. Some of you will instantly know the horror, and others will be blissfully unaware of the sheer wattage of suck, involved in what I'm about to describe: I had to quit taking Paxil.

Before we get into some details of the truly delightful process of paroxetine withdrawal, I'll back up...all the way to the mid-1970s. Functioning as a child with OCD was not an easy task. I was a very good kid - I have no problem acknowledging this, or stating it aloud. I don't think of that as any kind of personal achievement, or badge of awesomeness - it's a simple statement of fact. I was a good kid; I was kind and affectionate to everyone around me. But I was hiding something very dark, and it wasn't until I was about 11 years old, sitting in my grandparents' dining room and reading a magazine, that I was able to put a name to it. I was living with crippling obsessive-compulsive disorder, the kind you read about in textbooks.

There's a certain degree of humor to the OCD stories I've stockpiled from my youth, only because it's such a bizarre affliction that so often plays out in silly and ridiculous behaviors. I did all the weird shit you read about - counting things, checking them, retracing steps, touching and tapping things, clearing my throat a certain number of times - all in order to avoid persistent horrible thoughts. God only knows who decided this would be a fun disease to dole out to random embryos, but I was a lucky recipient, and boy was I in its clutches but good.

Without indulging in endless detail about my weird thoughts (the obsessions) and the batshit crazy maneuvers I'd engage in to combat them (the compulsions), I'll just say that this was something that plagued me mercilessly throughout my childhood, and well into my college years. And hiding it from the world was never easy. There's no way to re-enter a room 600 times while trying to have "only good thoughts" without someone noticing you're acting really fucking weird. But as anyone with OCD can tell you, you HAVE to do it...or very bad things will happen, and YOU will have caused them to happen.

When I was about 11 years old, I remember leafing through one of my grandmother's "women's" magazines, and one article in particular stopped me in my tracks and made my blood run cold. It was an article about obsessive-compulsive disorder, and it was simultaneously the most horrifying thing I'd ever read, and the source of the greatest relief I'd ever experienced. The good news was, there was a name for this insanity I'd been living with; the bad news was, I was fucking crazy.

I don't know why I didn't wave this article in the faces of every one of my family members and beg to be taken to a doctor immediately so that I could stop doing what I was doing to myself. Truly, I don't know (or remember) what stopped me from bringing this to anyone's attention and thereby, presumably, lifting the most gigantic burden I've ever carried from my shoulders. Maybe because it was so embarrassing, or maybe because I was afraid to acknowledge there could be something THAT wrong with me...? But I'm pretty certain I said nothing, and just filed away the knowledge that I wasn't completely alone in this, and that maybe there would eventually be a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

Most of my childhood and adolescence was SO happy - but I'm not sure I ever FULLY enjoyed a minute of it, because there was this horror bubbling under the surface at every moment. My weird, intrusive thoughts - almost always about bad things happening to people I loved - were ceaseless, and that wasn't even the bad part. The bad part was I was CERTAIN I was a horrible, evil person, and that those thoughts were my brain saying, "you WANT these things to happen - you should let your family know how evil you are so that they'll stop showering you with all this love." So my mostly-terrific growing up years were always clouded by this feeling of dread and awfulness that made it impossible for me to fully enjoy just EXISTING in the world. There was always something horrible that might happen - and if it did, it was most certainly my doing.

Disclaimer: I know we're getting a little personal here, and I'm okay with that, because I have about 13 followers on this blog. This stuff needs to get out of my system, and if you guys can take it, I can take it.

So although I was now armed with the realization that my weirdness had a name - and that there were PLENTY of other weirdos like me out there - the relief faded quickly, and I kept up my OCD ways until they morphed into other, more manageable forms of self-torture, eating disorders topping that list. Those years were nasty, but anorexia and bulimia seemed sane to me. I knew I wasn't healthy, but it never even occurred to me that all I had done was give the OCD a new face. 

Soon after that subsided, I thought I was totally fine...until the intrusive thoughts started to return with a vengeance. This time there was no ridiculous counting or tapping or "undoing" steps - but the self-destruction was just as palpable, and it all culminated in a doctor finally saying, "maybe we should try a low dose of something that will tweak the brain chemistry into place."

It took a few rounds with a few different prescriptions, and a few different doses, but once the Paxil kicked in, I'm almost certain a choir of angels chimed in. I resisted the idea of taking any kind of DRUG because come on - drugs are for crazy people. But the thing is, no they're not. Look around you on any given day, and you'll find any number of perfectly normal, functioning human beings who are taking some form of anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication - sometimes for disorders much more severe than mine, and sometimes just for that little brain tweak, like the one I needed.

I think the shame was minimized for me by the fact that these awful symptoms and behaviors were something I'd been dealing with literally since about age 5. I knew I hadn't done something to force myself into a life of weirdness - there was brain chemistry involved here, something that was completely out of my control, and very easy to remedy. What a relief to realize there was a little quirk going on in my brain that was making this stuff happen, much like any other ailment that simply requires the right remedy.

For the following decade, up until a few weeks ago, I'd been taking a popular SSRI class drug called Paxil, which "corrects" the flow of serotonin in the brain and causes a person with OCD to, in layman's terms, cut the shit. It's always advised to continue therapy, or at least continue talking to someone when you're on any kind of medication - but at some point in the past several years, it became unnecessary. I was fine.

What the almighty "they" don't tell you about in much detail is what happens when you need to STOP taking this stuff. And I can see why. Anyone with a passing familiarity with Paxil - now the most notorious of the SSRI class drugs, particularly in terms of withdrawal - knows you need to taper off of it slowly. You DON'T just stop taking it. But there are instances in which tapering off slowly isn't really an option.

I naively thought the 2 days of blinding headaches and weird rushes of blood were going to be the bulk of it, and that once I endured that, I'd be in the clear. I have never been more wrong about anything in my life. A few weeks into the cold turkey detox, and I'm experiencing just about every symptom that ever lead to me taking this shit to begin with. Plus a host of physical side effects that would be enough all on their own. 

Some people say the symptoms of paroxetine withdrawal can mimic those of heroin withdrawal. AWESOME. That's exactly what I wanted to hear. I should clarify that I'd called my doctor's office the moment I realized I needed to get off the Paxil. However, they couldn't see me for several weeks. With conflicting doctors' advice, and based upon my own instinct, I felt I really had no choice but to do the ill-advised abrupt quit.

After the headaches, things were okay for a couple weeks...until the barrage of megasymptoms flooded in. Mercifully, my appointment was approaching. When it finally arrived, the NP asked me to remind her what dose I'd been taking when I suddenly quit taking the Paxil. Her facial expression and "phewwww" sound simply underscored the knowledge that I'd made things very, very difficult for myself, and that this was going to be an extremely long month or two.

She said something about a car going from 0 to 60 instantaneously, but I've formulated what I feel is a more accurate analogy. The instant switch from 60 mg of paroxetine to 0 seems more like the act of driving 60 mph in your car and hitting the brakes on a dime, with no warning, in the middle of a busy street. There's an almost 0% chance of avoiding serious and violent aftershocks if you try this. But here's where the analogy fails: if you pull this 60-to-zero shit in your car, you're going to get hit very hard, probably more than once, and so are the cars around you. Many other people are likely to get hurt. The brutality of the aftershocks will be severe...but they'll come quickly, and the mess will be available for viewing within a minute. Not so if you're doing this with a drug. You're going to feel violent ripples for what seems like an unbearable amount of time (even if it's not, really) and you will be the one to absorb all the shocks. Not other cars, not highway dividers. All you.

It's become necessary to remind myself that this is going to pass, as the doctor and every one of my friends has advised me. I have what I will wager are the greatest friends and family in the known universe, and there's never been a moment at which I've been any kind of "danger" to myself or anyone else. So I have all the necessary tools to ride this out. But it is not a ride I'd ever recommend to anyone. And it underscores the need for a little more research into SSRI medications and other drugs that, when used correctly, can be a genuine blessing. Over the past few years, Paxil has raised some questions, more so than its probably-safer counterparts. Perhaps this is something that warrants a little more attention than, say, the 759th boner pill on the market. 

I'll leave you with this: there's a silver lining to this long-winded story, and a method to my madness in deciding to discontinue this drug in the worst way possible - and I'll get to that part soon. If you're still reading by that time, then cheers - I thank you for sticking with me :)

Friday, October 8, 2010

asshole of the week, TV edition!

Congratulations, Ivy Higa! You're the clear winner - leagues above the competition - of what will likely be my only blog entry entitled "asshole of the week"! YAY, IVY! Now go put on a top that says "Ivy H" on it and refer to yourself in third person - you've earned it, sassafrass!

Seriously, is there a more venomous asshole on (well, formerly on) the small screen than Project Runway's delusional design flop, Ivy Higa? I mean, besides Glenn Beck. And besides the increasingly ugly trio of Project Runway judges: Michael Kors, the opinionated bully with something nasty to say to everyone in the halls between class; Heidi Klum, the beautiful megabitch who laughs at every word out of MK's mouth; and ahhh, sweet Nina Garcia...the miserable c-word everyone hates because she's...well, a miserable c-word?

I question why I continue to watch this, the ONE reality show I will tolerate. Has the switch to the dreaded Lifetime, home of hyperestrogenated crap, been inching this once-fun show into the land of the near-unwatchable? Of course, I WILL continue to watch this show because Thursday nights have long been "date night" for me and two of my very best friends on the planet...over the years, our group has expanded to include some very significant others. And this Thursday night with a core group of friends is something that highlights my week, so I never want to miss it. But JEEEEEEEEEEEZUS does this show make for some stressful viewing. We talk throughout much of the show, and frequent rewinding to hear all the shit we missed is a regular thing...Thursday nights are less about Project Runway than about eating and laughing...and, more and more, getting highly emotional toward the TV set.

There's something worrisome - or at least weird - about the fact that my level of swearing at the TV during a LIFETIME reality show has begun to rival my level of swearing at the TV during hockey games. That's just not normal.

In any event, what does any of this have to do with my blog? Nothing. I just wanted to give props to fallen PR contestant Ivy - back on the show to apparently do nothing but bring the hate toward someone who has inexplicably been treated like shit by almost the whole cast from day one - for being the biggest asshole on TV in recent memory. (Though, like I said, we're not counting Glenn Beck, Rick Sanchez, or anyone involved in "real" news. Giving out asshole awards for that stuff would be too time consuming and, honestly, way too depressing.)

Counting the ways in which Ivy is an asshole of note is no small task. This is a woman who frequently refers to herself in the third person, whose speaking voice could make Joe Lieberman wince, and who, during last night's episode, felt the need to run around the design room notifying all the other designers of the asshole move she had just pulled. I mean, well done, if you're gunning for top asshole honors. Well done indeed, Ivy.

Note to the PR producers, if you're reading: Are you gearing up for a big, dramatic, end-of-season reveal about Michael C. that will explain the hate this dude has had to endure from nearly all sides? Does this man eat kittens live on the y'tubes for money or something? What gives?

On a final note, I'd like to say that this week's asshole runner up is none other than Heidi Klum herself, who, incidentally, I'm starting to suspect is hemorrhaging IQ points with each week's episode. La Klum has never been the MOST affectionate person on television, but she really outdid herself last night with her flat-out nasty critique of Mondo's early designs in the workroom (if you can call comments such as "maybe my Yorkie can fit into this" valid "critique") - followed by her utter SHOCK AND AWE when the diminutive design kook threw some of her attitude back at her. But...she's no Ivy.

Bless the editor who IMMEDIATELY followed Ivy's blathering drivel about "karma 'getting' Michael C." with footage of Ivy getting poked in the eye (hopefully by something sharp or acidic...was that mean?) and yelling, "OH SHIT, MY EYE!"

Instant karma's gonna get you, indeed. Asshole.

Monday, October 4, 2010

the lazy ballerina

There is NOTHING I have started and stopped more times in my life than ballet. There is also nothing at which I'd rather excel. So you see the quandary inherent here. 

Above is a photo of me about 10 years ago, when I starred in the Royal Ballet's production of Prince of the Pagodas. Oh wait, maybe that's actually Darcey Bussell, my favorite (and fairly recently retired) ballerina. I always get us mixed up.

If I combined all the skills I may or may not have picked up over my years of quitting ballet, I'd probably have amassed some actual talent by now. Unfortunately, it doesn't really work that way. Pretty much all I've amassed is a lot of dancewear, and joints that aren't very flexible. But I can get up on pointe like a sonofabitch. So like, there's that.

You may have guessed where I'm heading with this. Or not. I've once again been taking ballet, as I do every couple years...and in keeping with the theme of this blog, I've vowed not to quit! You can get en pointe as an adult, even an adult in her late 30s - and I intend to do just that. But I'm not going to lie. Every single Monday night, I come up with a list of things I'd rather do than head to class at 8:30. Now, I know 8:30 isn't LATE. But in the fall and winter, in Buffalo? It ain't early. It's cold, usually rainy, and completely dark. And I thoroughly enjoy activities than can be done while avoiding all of those things - I enjoy activities that can be done at home, such as sitting on my couch with a book or, more likely, a Sabres game...and takeout. That's an activity behind which I can throw my full support, for example. You feel me?

So motivation to leave the house when it's cold and dark is my enormous challenge here. There are going to be some Mondays when this class will have to survive in my absence. I'm telling you that right now, lest you claim in the future that I've lied to you or let you down. I didn't. You knew who I was when you got into this relationship. It's your own fault, if you think about it. 

BUT...I am going to try my absolute hardest not to quit ballet this (478th) time around. There are women in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and maybe even 60s in my class - some of them having just started in their 50s. I figure if they can do it - and some of these women are GOOD - then my lazy ass can, too...