Choose Your Poison

It has been a month since I maxed out my Wellbutrin dose. Within several days of increasing the dosage I began to feel a little better, and that mild improvement has remained though I don’t think I gained much more after that first week. Over the past month I have been able to better manage my anxiety, or more accurately there has been less anxiety to manage, so I have felt better, but not as good as I would like to feel. I have been tossing around trying the Zoloft experiment, but the Mrs. and I have been talking more and more about a second child. The likely Zoloft side effects could make the conception process  a lot more work than fun. Continue reading

Tweaking the Meds

On Monday I had an appointment with the doc that manages my medication. I went in having firmly decided to do something with the drugs. My world is definitely getting smaller and the process seems to be accelerating somewhat. There was a time when I eagerly sought opportunities to do things that I now find uncomfortable and anxiety provoking. I have been troubled by these changes as they have reached a point where they are really chipping away at my identity, and I had come to the conclusion that it was time to put the brakes on this process. Continue reading

Wellbutrin Doubts Answered

I took Wellbutrin for years. It was originally prescribed to try and mitigate the unfortunate personal side effects of the SSRI medications I was taking and it just never really went away. In the back of my head I was never really sure it was doing much of anything. A couple times over the years I would get fed up with the side effects of the SSRI and stop it. This always led to a slow decline in the stability of my mood. The first indicator that something was wrong would be chronic stomach upset. Before my actual mood deteriorated I would get tired of feeling sick all the time and end up back on the SSRI.

A little over a year ago I stopped the SSRI medications again and until recently my mood and stomach have behaved nicely. Over the winter I survived benzodiazepine withdrawals without the help of and SSRI and actually felt really good for awhile on the Wellbutrin alone. I suppose in hindsight I should have left well enough alone, but I had this nagging doubt that the Wellbutrin was doing anything and was excited by the prospect of a drug free existence. I worked my way off the Wellbutrin and by the end of May I was living with no chemical safety net. Within a month things started to decline. I was flirting with the idea of calling the doc when the recent insomnia hit and I had little choice but to do something.

About the same time the insomnia popped up I was beginning to lose myself in my own head. The anxiety was dripping off me. I worried about everything and just generally began to feel fearful. I was worried about the big questions in life. What are we doing here? What happens when we die? Big stuff with no real answers, but that caused me to spend way too much time in my head. I tried to stop myself from having these internal conversations, but my brain just went there on its own.  About a week after I started the Wellbutrin I noted a slight let up in the overriding sense of unease, but I still couldn’t get out of my own head. When I last saw the doc we increased the Wellbutrin dosage from 150mg to 300mg. About a week in I finally found some relief from these dangerous internal though patterns.

I guess the question is answered. The Wellbutrin is doing something. The question now is if it will be enough. I travel around and work with the public. Twice in the last week or so I have had a customer point out that I look unhappy. I don’t feel particularly unhappy. I am tired. Sleep has been better, but not perfect, and even when I get a good night’s sleep I feel tired in the morning. I know that is not a good sign, but there have been improvements in my sleep over the past week so I remain hopeful that the fatigue will pass. I have also experienced some of the milder side effects of the Wellbutrin restart which include occasional dizziness and feeling cognitively slower. Some of these symptoms are letting up, and I wonder if the fatigue may be part of that as well. In the past when I have taken SSRI medications I have felt pretty good. At this point on the Wellbutrin I wouldn’t say I feel good I would just say I don’t feel bad. I am most certainly not on solid ground

A Familiar Theme Reoccurs

A common theme throughout this blog has been the seemingly endless parade of shitty decisions that land at my feet. These are the kinds of things that have to be decided on for life to move forward, but which have no clear cut right and wrong choice, or if there is a right choice it comes with consequences that make it difficult to bear.  The past couple weeks have seen a reoccurrence of this theme in ways that I had hoped I would not deal with again.

When I last wrote on this blog I was struggling with a professional decision. I had been offered the opportunity to work on the water again, but I would have been gone a great deal and missed some important family events. Of course this sacrifice was going to be rewarded with a salary the likes of which I had never seen before, which would have solved a lot of our day to day struggles around here. The very moment I was made aware of this opportunity I shook my head and mumbled something about “timing”, another theme I seem to see a lot of, and wished to myself that this had a popped up two or three years ago. At the end of the day taking the job was going to involve giving over a little more of myself than I was willing too at this time. I have mixed emotions about turning down the opportunity. I have never in my life been presented with an opportunity that I was so uniquely qualified for. It was bizarre how the job requirements matched up with my experience and qualifications, and I think I would have liked the job. Even my wife couldn’t honestly say we had made the right call as she watched the prospect for that kind of income vanish.

One of the reasons for turning down the job that I didn’t talk a lot about, but was always there under the surface, was my health circumstances. I have already seen what happens when I am put in situations I am not comfortable with when my head isn’t quite right. I had real concerns that making a change of this magnitude where a significant amount of the control I have over my schedule, and therefore what I must do when I am not feeling well,  would be turned over to a relative stranger may not work out well. I have been struggling with my medication free existence and am looking to get things on an even keel not turn them upside down. At this point as long as I don’t lose my curret employment I think the decision was right for now, and I even managed to turn it down while keeping the door cracked for any future possibilities.

My mental health has been anything but predictable over the last few weeks. I introduced my readership to my not so good friend Freddie some time ago, and as always he has remained steadily in the background, while occasionally stepping into the forefront trying to steal the show. Other than off and on feelings of general unease, and one horrible timed night of insomnia (I doubt very much the timing was coincidental), much of the flat out feelings of anxiety have been reasonably controlled. Of course “reasonably controlled” is a far cry from where I was just prior to stopping Wellbutrin and I was certainly hopeful that things would be better than that.

The last several days has brought with it a change that has proven to be the proverbial straw that broke camel’s back. I have seen a return of the gastro intestinal symptoms that have always been the weather gauge of my mental state. Long time followers of this blog my recall that when depression and anxiety first appeared in my life in a debilitating sort of way the first symptom was actually stomach upset for which I was subject to countless horrible tests to determine that nothing was wrong with me. It was an awful time I hope to never repeat. I am now on at least four consecutive days of stomach pain and gas with significant diarrhea for the past two days. It has reached the point where I have begun to worry about leaving the house or going on the boat with my father, which means it has reached the point where I am no longer going to deal with it. I made the decision this morning to make the phone call, and I have spoken with my shrink’s nurse. I requested a prescription for 150MG of Wellbutrin XL. I am not happy about this and am not terribly confident that it will even work. In the past when the stomach upset really gets going the only solution has been the SSRI type drugs, which come with their own problems that I will magnify other ongoing challenges I am dealing with making them less than ideal. It is my hope the Wellbutrin combined with my improved diet (down 30 pounds now) will settle things down some, of course the probably means a semi permanent goodbye to my new friend the mocha latte.

I am still waiting for the call back from the doc saying that the RX has been called in, but I don’t anticipate there will be a problem. It will be hard to swallow that first pill. I wrote here when I stopped taking the medication that the doc pissed me off a little by preparing me for the possibility of going back on them. I knew it was a possibility and while he was trying to be helpful his words are doing nothing make this easier. The decision has always been mine not his, and sometimes making the right decision is the hardest thing to do. There really should be no down side to this. I should feel better with minimal side effects, but there is something about having been completely chem free and having to go back that really sticks in my throat.

Weighing Changes

It has been ten days since I have taken any medication for depression or anxiety. I saw the doctor a week ago, and asked him how long it would take for the Wellbutrin to be completely out of my system. For some reason I need to know when it is really gone. He replied that it would take about two weeks. So by the start of next week I will be really living without anything flowing through my brain to keep things in check. By now I am sure that whatever the levels of medication are in my system they have become pretty low and things are going pretty well.

I found this visit to the shrink a little peculiar. After I asked about how long it would take to be completely rid of the drug he launched into this whole speech about how it shouldn’t be considered a failure if I need to go back on the Wellbutrin. He must have said it three or four times over the course of the appointment. He pointed out that depression is an episodic illness and in future years I may have a reoccurrence. At first I just figured he was trying to be sure that if things do slip I will not be afraid to seek some help and get back on the medication, but after the second or third time it started to sound like he was expecting failure. I am sure he is not but this is a sensitive time and I would have liked a little more positive energy from him.

He was curious about how I was feeling off both the Klonopin and at the reduced doses of Wellbutrin. How I feel is of course the best part of this so I have him the list:

–          My Energy levels are higher

–          I Have lost a bunch of weight

–          My Sex drive is through the roof

–          My General Outlook is brighter

Of course if you are going to look at one side of the coin you need to look at the other, and there have been some significant challenges as well. I have written about them here before and they continue to be a challenge. I am still learning to have a wider range of emotions. I never got angry before and I have struggled some to manage it. The truth is that “getting angry” could also fit up on the list of positives. I have learned over the last couple months that by offering an outlet to my feelings the angst becomes much more fleeting. I don’t harbor negative thoughts for hours or days. I let them out and they are gone.

Another change that could be on both sides of the coin is already listed in with the positives and that is the changes in my sex drive. I love having it back, but when I was just chugging along with limited libido frequency was a problem inside my marriage, and now that I am feeling better the problem has been magnified significantly. I had hope that things were getting better, and they did for awhile, but it continues to be a major concern for me.

The last negative is the general increase in day to day anxiousness. The Klonopin and even the higher doses of SSRI’s and Wellbutrin kept a lot of the anxious feelings in check, but they are now back at low levels. Sometimes this anxiousness builds up to the point of causing discomfort for me, but I have been able to manage it thus far. This is the one I need to watch the closest as it could turn for the worst the quickest. It is almost as if once my brain chemicals begin to flow a certain way they always take that path. Right now things are on and even keel, but if I let too much anxiety into my life I am concerned my brain will magnify what I feel out of habit. I am not sure this makes a lot whole lot of sense, but it is a concern for me.

If I were putting marbles on a scale the anxiety would be a Shooter while the others would be your regular sized marbles. Even so with sex and anger basically canceling themselves on both sides I think the scale tips pretty solidly to the positive side of the equation. I have been feeling good. I am happy. Most of all I am hopeful that this may be my new reality for awhile.

Adjustments

I am officially spooked. Waiting for the other shoe to drop would be the appropriate cliché. About three weeks ago I posted the news that I was going to make an official stab at living my life free of psychotropic medications. The very day that I wrote that I spoke to my doctor, his nurse actually, and asked what the best way to proceeded would be. I had dropped my daily dose of Wellbutrin from 450mg to 300mg and under their direction I dropped from 300mg to 150mg.

Wellbutrin XL

Wellbutrin XL (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was told to do that for a month and monitor my mood closely. I had already scheduled an appointment with him for May 2nd so the timing was about right to be ending the pills when I see him next. I had a bunch of 150mg pills already, so I made the dosage drop immediately. Today is the twenty first day and I only have two pills left. I am not going to refill the prescription so by the start of next week I will be done. So what’s the problem? I feel really good. Not perfect by any means, but well. Sure when I stop my body will still have to process the remaining drug in my system before I will be really free of it, but I am doing ok. It just doesn’t seem possible that from December to now I could remove all these regulating forces from my life, and not have it turn into a disaster.

I actually started this blog in an attempt to avoid returning to SSRI’s. I had been off them for several months when I started writing here, but was having a hard time keeping myself out of the darkness. I needed a place to process my thoughts and I was desperate to avoid returning to that particular type of drug so with a little encouragement from the blogosphere I began to share my experience. I was only a month into it when I was faced with the challenge of not only staying off the SSRI, but dropping my ultimate crutch; the Klonopin. That experience was chronicled in a number of posts starting here. At the time I simply hoped to survive it. I never dreamed it could be the start of something much bigger. For years my shrink had been telling me that the Klonopin was a mood depressor and that I would do well to get off it, but he never really pushed the issue. As I began the withdrawals it became clear why he never really forced the idea. If you don’t come to the conclusion that you want off that drug on your own, if you’re not committed fully, I am not sure anyone would stick it out. It took awhile to feel normal again, but it appears he was right.

There have been definite changes as my body has adjusted to less and less medication. Most notably I have moods again. I get sad, happy, and angry. I used to just be mellow. I am cautiously excited by this new development. Of course feeling happy is a wonderful new experience, but anger is not as wonderful, and sadness I am all too familiar with. I am fearful of both these emotions. Sadness is natural, but when you have suffered from depression each time you feel it you wonder if this is the beginning of the end. Will I have to go back on the pills? With anger I just worry about managing it. I haven’t had too for so long that I fear I have forgotten how. It sounds strange to say, but I want to be angry. It is a natural emotion and it is healthy. On the other hand unchecked it can be very destructive. In the past I have become irritated, but rarely did I give voice to my angst. I didn’t want to fight with my wife, and I swallowed it down and carried on. Recently I have been more than irritated and my anger has boiled over and caused arguments. I am not comfortable with it yet, but after a short, but fiery exchange with the Mrs. last night I felt no more hostility when it ended. In the past after I would swallow it down I would be pissed for hours. Related to these arguments I have noted that my verbal filter seems to have bigger holes in it. In my teens I never lacked for an opinion. “Painfully honest” was the term once used to describe me. If I thought it I said it. I wasn’t entirely tactless, but I wasn’t afraid to speak my mind either. I never really noted the change, but as an adult I have been less that way. I chalked it up to maturity, but in the last couple weeks some of that directness has returned. Maybe this is related to the drugs and maybe not, but since I am still under their influence it will be interesting to see how that particular characteristic develops over the next several weeks.

The other emotion or feeling that I learning to live with again is anxiousness. I am not going through my days scared of nothing, which is an improvement over those days before the Klonopin, and the more recent withdrawal experience. That said when I was on the Klonopin I was rarely anxious about anything, and I never really worried about mild sensations of fear because the drug kept a lid on it. Now I no longer have the chemical buffer, and the only thing that keeps a lid on it is my own cognitive efforts. Before the need for the Klonopin arose I didn’t often feel scared. I was a pretty typical late teen early twenty male. I didn’t take as many chances as most, but nobody would have accused me of being a pussy either. Prior to taking the drug feelings of fear and panic consumed me, and now that I am off the drug, I find myself somewhere in the middle. I am certainly not feeling bullet proof, but I am not scared of living either. I suppose I should not expect to feel the same. While under the Klonopin umbrella I have matured from a 23 year old college student to a 35 year old father and husband.

I so hope that this experiment is successful. I have been off and on SSRI’s multiple time, but I was always on the Klonopin when I was trying to quit the SSRI. I don’t know for sure, but it has been about a year now without the SSRI’s which is without a doubt the longest stretch ever. I hope this works, and I hope my wife and I will both like the new me.