Shawn Henfling reflects on the consequences of missing doses of the drug he needs to function at a high level and asks himself: Is it all worth it?
I am on drugs. Scratch that. I am on a drug. Every morning I am required to take 75mg of a generic form of Effexor. Though it isn’t illegal, my drug is no less a mind altering substance than some of the Schedule 1 drugs currently illegal in most states. I don’t get high, stoned or have hallucinations though. Essentially my drug keeps my moods from swinging too far and sending me falling fast down the rabbit hole.
Though I don’t pop my pill for recreational use and I doubt it has any real street value, I am nonetheless chained to it like an addict to heroin. No, I don’t find myself needing more and more frequent hits and craving the sensation the pills in my little green and white bottle provide. Instead, I fear the consequences of missing more than one days dose. Things get pretty bad pretty quickly and the best I can hope is that my pills are close by and I can take one and lay down for a few hours until the sensations pass.
I missed my doses on Friday and Saturday. I have no idea how I managed such an egregious error. I know better. I have an alarm that goes off every morning reminding me to go into the breadbox and retrieve the bottle. I have waterproof canisters attached to every key chain in the house with pills in them just as a back up. My wife does a great job of asking almost daily if I popped my pill that day. Still, somehow, I missed it. Twice.
One day is never a big deal. My system typically has enough built up to carry me through a day without any real consequences. Two days though is a rarity and a problem. The past couple of days have been really busy. We’re still in crunch time getting ourselves and our house ready to move and be sold, my job is starting to ramp up for the Spring and my mind is seemingly pulling itself in a thousand directions at once. About 3pm yesterday I started to feel funny. At 4 I realized I’d missed two doses and took a pill. By 5 things were bad and by 7 I was in bed for the night.
I sit putting this on paper not because I’m proud of the way I act when the withdrawal hits, but to describe the symptoms and let you know quitting these drugs cold turkey is NEVER a good idea. It’s dangerous and stupid. Here’s what withdrawal looks like for me.
First, I get really run down. It happens suddenly, as if my body just decides it’s had enough. I’m exhausted and can’t figure out why. I feel like I just pulled an all niter and have no choice but to struggle through another day before I can finally lay my head on a pillow. The two times I’ve been in withdrawal, this stage wasn’t my clue that I’d forgotten. Unfortunately, things progressed further before I realized what was happening.
I start getting really irritable. Usually I chalk it up to the exhaustion and I wonder how I can possibly be so tired. I try to think back to the previous night. Was I short on sleep? Did I wake up an excessive number of times? Was the Restless Leg Syndrome bad that night? What the hell happened? I try to control my temper, but typically end up snapping at everyone and everything. It takes everything I’ve got to keep myself on an even keel. Yesterday, this was about the time I realized I’d missed two straight doses. It’s too late to avoid the incoming shit storm because the pills take a few hours to start working again.
What happens next is usually pretty foggy. My mind loses the ability to focus. I can’t pay attention to what I’m trying to keep up with. I feel like a kid with a severe case of ADD and everything is a distraction. Noises become amplified. Something as simple as running water pierces my mind like an ice pick to the ear. At this stage of the game, basic tasks take seemingly super human feats of mental fortitude. I’m as close to useless as I can get, at least that’s how I feel.
It gets worse. Eventually I start to get minor shakes. Not the junkie shakes you see on TV mind you. Heavens no. I don’t scratch at myself or engage in self mutilating behavior with my only thought on the next hit. Instead, my fine motor skills are just slightly askew. I have trouble picking up the aspirin I need for the headache I can feel coming on. I drop things. If I’m engaged in tasks (like yesterday, trying to install a railing), I have to slow WAY down just to avoid losing my temper and screwing things up. The more frustrated I get the angrier I become with myself and the worse things are. I force myself to stop, close my eyes, take a deep breath and slow down further. It works a little.
Next up is shut down mode. I’m utterly useless as anything other than a corpse. I’m conscious, but can’t function at a high level. Yesterday I was able to stop what I was doing and go directly to bed. I stayed there, pillow over my eyes and ears, for about an hour before my mind slowly started to return. I wasn’t myself by any stretch, but the buzzing inside my head, sensitivity to light and noise and minor shakes were gone. They were replaced by a deeper exhaustion and I very quickly fell asleep.
The first time I went into withdrawal was worse. I was afraid, in part because my pills weren’t close by and in part because I had no idea what to expect. The symptoms became amplified because I went nearly three days before I had my “fix”. I vowed never to do let that happen again. I apparently broke my vow.
I don’t enjoy being on this pill. I need it and fear it all at the same time. The positive changes it has brought about in my life are undeniable. When I don’t miss consecutive doses, I’m happier, easier to get along with and my patience is extended. Still, I’m chained to it like a dog to a stake. I hate myself for needing it. On the other hand, I was suicidal without it and I fear weaning myself from it will result in a regression. I’m currently trapped by the need and fear of its absence. My motto now? “Effexor: can’t live with it and can’t live without it.”
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Photo Credit: andrea/flickr