DISCLAIMER: Yes, I realize that not everyone has radical behavior changes after taking antidepressants, antianxiety medications and/or sleeping pills … but some do and I was one of them.
This is my story …
About 11 years ago I never would have imagined my life would be what it is now, but looking back on that time, I realize I was living in a fantasy world. I had five beautiful, healthy children, was working towards my dream of becoming a college professor, and had a husband who loved me; but I didn’t appreciate any of it … I was too crazy to. We were planning on taking the kids on wonderful vacations, building our dream home in the country, and supporting our children in their athletic and school events, but it turns out that those dreams would never come to pass, in fact … our world would fall apart.
In the summer of 1998, I went to the doctor for a sinus infection and casually mentioned that I was under a lot of stress. The twins were nine months old, I was losing my bank job to a merger and my parents were having health and other issues. The doctor gave me a prescription and a coupon for Paxil. He said I needed antidepressants for my stress and didn’t mention anything about side effects. After being raised to believe that depression had some sort of genetic cause and I was destined to have depression and need meds, I viewed it as a foregone conclusion. I stayed on the 20 mg per day dose for eight years never realizing what it was doing to me. I gained a lot of weight, wasn’t sleeping at night, was having hallucinations and very traumatic thoughts, was dizzy every single time I stood up, had no energy, was unable to cry, had no interest in anything, and was very on edge.
When I hit what they call “poop out” (tolerance) in 2005, I had no idea what was going on. I would have uncontrollable crying fits for no reason. I would go into episodes of extreme rage for the dumbest things. I yelled at people and threw things all of the time. I also developed a strong craving for alcohol (especially vodka). I would drink pretty much every night. I felt that I had to be numb in order to make it through. It got so bad that I would start planning to drink during the day and would make myself a drink as soon as I got home. I acted like a crazy person. I WAS a crazy person. I was obsessed with things and people. I seriously thought I had to be friends with everybody. I felt like I had to be involved in everybody’s lives, everybody’s except for the people that I should have been. I went to all of the ballgames and school functions, yet I saw my own family as a burden. I would say things to people that would hurt them and I didn’t even care.
In January of 2006, I decided that I didn’t want to take the Paxil anymore because of the weight gain. I called my doctor and the nurse told me that I could just take half of the dose for a while and then just stop taking it. She was ignorant as to how these meds really work. My brain was so messed up by then that cutting my dose in half only made things worse, much worse. I started taking 10 mg per day, not knowing what it would do to my brain function. The withdrawal was horrible and I went completely manic. I didn’t sleep for days at a time so my doctor put me on Ambien too. The combination of the Paxil, the Ambien, and the alcohol sent me over the edge. My blood pressure went up, so the doctor gave me a prescription for that. My hormones went crazy, so a prescription was written for that too. I had almost constant muscle and joint pain, so I took more pain meds than I should have. I had black outs where I couldn’t remember what happened. I lived in a numb fog, barely functioning.
The crying, anger, and obsessive behavior got worse. I always had to be the center of attention and would steer all conversations to me. My ideas were the best and I’d do anything to convince people they were wrong. I got some sick thrill out of making people cry, but then wondered why they didn’t want to be my friend or even be around me. I basically stalked people … and then went on crazy, curse filled rants when they told me to leave them alone.
In May of 2006, I decided that I couldn’t handle the withdrawal anymore and I went back on the 20 mg dose. I know now that going up and down in doses with SSRIs is very dangerous. The higher dose didn’t really stop the withdrawal and I was sick (both physically and mentally) most of the summer. The really sad thing was that I couldn’t see that the meds were making me crazy. To me I was acting perfectly normal and it was everybody else that had the problem. It literally felt like I was living in a dream and it didn’t matter what I said or the way I acted, because I didn’t worry about the consequences. I was too crazy to see how crazy I really was.
One night in September of 2006, our life came crashing down.
I was arrested.
I remember laying in that concrete cell wondering how the hell I got there … feeling like it wasn’t real.
I started questioning how all this happened and slowly realized my behavior led to people saying what they did. I researched Paxil and Ambien side effects and found all sorts of information online. I slowly tapered off of the Paxil and took my last dose on August 25, 2007 (I call that my rebirthday). I also stopped taking Ambien every night and stopped drinking like I was. Withdrawal was absolute hell and there were times when I thought I wasn’t going to survive it, plus I was going through the horrible legal case at the same time. To be honest, if it had not been for D and the kids, then I probably would have given up and ended it all. Paxil withdrawal also makes you have very intense anxiety and suicidal thoughts. It’s an absolute miracle that I’m alive.
We fought the case for a year and a half, positive that the truth about my behavior would come out eventually and everything would be okay. Four days before the trial was scheduled to start, my lawyer talked to my sister and told her that at best we had a 50/50 chance of me walking out of the courtroom a free woman. He told her that if the jury believed what I was charged with then they would put hand cuffs on me and take me to prison. I wouldn’t have even had the chance to tell D or my children good-bye. At that point, all I could think about was what would happen to my children if I were sent to prison. What kind of life would they have with a mother in prison? Who would end up raising my kids? I basically had a nervous breakdown and didn’t sleep or eat for days. Plus I was in horrific withdrawal. I know that a lot of people assume that I must be some kind of monster because I took the plea deal and plead “no contest”. That is the furthest thing from the truth. I took the plea deal because there was not a guarantee that I wasn’t going to go to prison and miss out on the most important years in my children’s lives.
I spent seven weekends in the county jail (right when the dry heaves and horrible anxiety part of withdrawal hit … and lasted for about 6 months), was on supervised probation for two years, and on unsupervised probation for three years (finally finished in April of 2013). I was told by my lawyer that the judge could decide that I didn’t have to register as a violent offender or that I could be put on the lowest risk level. However, when I showed up at the courthouse to sign the plea, the paperwork was already completed and it said that I was at the highest risk level and would have to register for life. I was also told that if I didn’t sign the deal that day then I wouldn’t get another plea offer and that the trial would be pushed back another six months. I honestly felt like I had no other choice but to sign.
Every week I had to go to court appointed counseling. I was blessed to have a counselor who had experience counseling people who had adverse behavior reactions to medications. Every month I had to go to a meeting with my probation officer, where my probation officer placed me on the lowest risk level possible. Every ninety days I have to go down to the county jail and register as a violent offender. Every year I have to get my driver’s license renewed with the words VIOLENT OFFENDER in red across my picture. Can you even imagine what it feels like to have to show that to people every time that I rent a movie, use my credit card, or write a check? Every single day I think about what has happened to me, sometimes all day long. It’s the very first thing that I think of every morning and the last thing that I think of when I go to sleep at night. I had nightmares about the police coming to take me away and ones about DHS trying to take my children from me.
I struggle with the “why” of all of this a lot, but I have to remind myself that they did what they thought was right. I had to be stopped. In the back of my mind I know that it took getting arrested to see how I was really acting and that anything less wouldn’t have gotten me off of the drugs and alcohol. It was the “slap in the face” that I needed.
I know that this is going to sound really strange, but all of this saved me. The more I research Paxil and what it makes some people do, the more grateful I am that I am completely off of all meds and that I made it out alive and healthy. I don’t know what would have happened if I had stayed on Paxil and Ambien. If I had taken it much longer then I probably would have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and put on even more meds that would have just ended up making me even crazier. This “slap in the face” made me realize that I was not myself and for that I will be eternally grateful. I consider myself blessed that I wasn’t one of the people who went completely psychotic on SSRIs and did something tragic. I know know know that I would be divorced or dead if I hadn’t been arrested and found an online group who helped me taper off the meds and through withdrawal.
I spend a lot of time now talking to people about what antidepressants and sleeping pills can do to some people (humans are meant to feel emotions and being numb to the world is not a good thing) and some people have told me that I have made a real difference. Who knows, maybe my story and situation is meant to help others to change. I have to believe that I can use what has happened to me for the greater good. I have to.
I came so close to losing everything because of the way that Paxil made me act. I lost my retirement. I lost my career. I lost my insurance. I now have a huge amount of debt from paying lawyers and even more debt from a Masters degree that I may never use again. What hurts the most is how I was duped into believing that these pills were going to help me when they actually almost ruined my life. Why wasn’t I smarter? Why couldn’t I see how I was acting? I have spent a lot of time beating myself up over it, but always come back around to the realization that it could have ended much worse. I have my freedom (sort of). I have my family. I have D (who came so close to divorcing me several times and probably would have if I hadn’t been arrested). I have the knowledge that antidepressants don’t work for some people and the term “chemical imbalance” was actually created by a drug company. Most importantly, I have the knowledge that I had the power to cure myself and all I needed was the truth, some guidance and a little help … and that can’t come from a prescription pad for me.
*** If you know somebody on antidepressants, antianxiety medications or sleeping pills watch their behavior for personality changes and help them find a therapist who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). If their therapist believes they need antidepressants or anti anxiety medications, make sure it’s the lowest possible dose and that they combine it with CBT. Changing thoughts, attitudes, and actions is the only way to really change a person. ***
More and more people are starting to realize that antidepressants (especially SSRIs) can have a serious adverse effect on behavior. If you have some time, read these stories. SSRI Stories
Dr. Peter Breggin (www.breggin.com) uses the perfect word to describe how I felt when I was on Paxil. Spellbound. It’s so accurate – it’s the belief that the meds are necessary and the disbelief that all of the side effects have any connection to the meds. I honestly believed that Paxil was the best thing since the light bulb and couldn’t see just how crazy it was making me. I defended and loved my Paxil and would even suggest that other people take it too. I was spellbound.
Illness, natural disaster, and accidents are all horrible things, but I have come to the conclusion that the most tragic thing in the world is when one person hurts another. I spent years hurting people and am truly sorry. The sun will come up tomorrow and life will go on and I am so glad to be living it again – really living it.
My ultimate goal is to find a position with an agency that can look past my label, while realizing that the things that I have learned from my difficult journey qualify me to help others to make real changes to their lives.
I am not giving up on my dreams …. I am hoping to someday be able to use all of this in some sort of career …. maybe counseling or working for the Drug Court programs.
I honestly believe that the best counselors and instructors are the people who have lived through the same difficulties that they are counseling others about.
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