A few weeks ago, I made the decision that I no longer wanted or needed to take my medication anymore. I’ve had a lifetime plagued by anxiety, depression and insomnia, and have tried nearly every drug in the book to treat them, with varying results, mostly underwhelming. Last year, however, the game changed. It turned out all of my various psychological afflictions were linked, symptoms of a bigger problem, and I finally had a diagnosis and a name for my particular brand of crazy- Borderline Personality Disorder.
I was put on a cocktail of medications and went through months of intensive therapy, where I learned about mindfulness, emotional intelligence and coping strategies. For the first time ever I began sleeping, uninterrupted, the whole night through. My shakes and tremors virtually disappeared. I began to feel more balanced and in control of my moods, and minor inconveniences no longer sent me into nuclear meltdown. Basically, my quality of life was vastly improved after my diagnoses and subsequent treatment, and I’ve been a vocal advocate of therapy and medication ever since.
So why on earth, one may ask, would I even consider going off those miraculous little chemical compounds? Am I stupid as well as crazy? Perhaps I’m one of those people who finds the peaceful life boring and thrives on drama and misery? Maybe I just decided it was time for a good ole’ fashioned derailment?
As exciting as that all sounds, the actual reason is because I just couldn’t deal with the side effects anymore. Back when I was in peak psychosis, a little fatigue and cognitive dullness seemed a small price to pay for a magic pill that would take away the mania. Prior to taking them I felt like I had completely lost control of my mind and physical reactions. I would have muscular convulsions so severe that I’d be unable to walk for days after; I would find myself desperately tearing at my skin, convinved I had to peel it all off because it was suffocating me. The meds, in particular Seroquel, took it all away. My mind, once a chaotic hive of activity, slowed to steady, monotone hum. The constant tears dried up, I could take a breath without it hitching, and it felt like a big warm cloak had been thrown over all my pesky emotions. It was the chemical equivalent of sweeping a problem under a rug, and it was peaceful and lovely.
However. Having to carry around a heavy cloak all the time gets really exhausting. It weighs down on you, makes you flushed, affects your ability to think straight. Plus, cloaks are seasonal; while it would make sense to wear one in the winter (you know, if cloaks are your thing), it would be illogical, uncomfortable and weird to drape yourself in that heavy shit through the blistering summer months. As your environment around you changes, what was once your savior can quickly become your burden.
I always just kind of assumed that my psychological issues were something I’d struggle with every day, forever,that they would always be intense and unmanageable. But it turns out the extremities of my disorder are just as ever-changing as the weather. Storms don’t last forever and neither do psychotic episodes.
Just when I’d almost resigned myself to the endless winter and given up hope of seeing the sun again, the seasons changed and so did everything around it. I am forcibly reminded of the impermanence of life, the inevitability of change, and the crucialness of adapting to it . I came to realize, that as my mental state was no longer in crisis and my mind had calmed, it made about as much sense to continue taking such a powerful antispychotic drug as would wearing that fucking cloak in the Australian summer .
The sedative effect on my cognitive function was turning me into the walking dead. Every single day, my full-time job was trying to stay awake (as well as, you know, my actual full time job). While driving I’d alternate between micro-napping and slapping myself in the face as the perpetual motion made me unbearably sleepy. All my free time was spent in bed, I would constantly sleep through my alarms and I was always running late. I was a mess, and I knew I needed to do something about it. My warm, protective cloak had become my straightjacket.
I couldn’t find any jobs that entailed sleeping all day, so my only other option was to ditch the pills. I started by tapering off for a few days and then thought fuck it and just went cold turkey, on all the three anti’s as once (depressant, psychotic and convulsant, for those playing at home) as the idea of dealing with three seperate detox’ s and withdrawals was far too unappealing. My boyfriend naturally disapproved of this method and advised me against it, as would most sensible people, but honestly I just wanted to get it over and done with. Throw all the shit to the wind and see where it lands. That’s an expression, right?
I probably should have consulted my doctor, or psychologist, or psychiatrist, anyone with higher medical credentials than myself really, but I didn’t want to be talked out of it, and also I’m super lazy. So I just lied and told people that I did speak to my doctor and he said it was fine.
The first week passed by with deceptive ease, and apart from a touch of the night sweats and lethargy I didn’t seem to experience withdrawals at all. This lulled me into a false sense of security. I was all like “I don’t know why I was even worried, this is ain’t no thang!”
Unfortunately this feeling of being unmedicated and fancy-free was short lived, and the following week I took a brief, but memorable little sojourn into hell. I woke up crying and shaking three days in a row, the bedsheets soaked through, filled with a deep sense of impending dread which would rot in my belly for hours. The room would tilt and sway dangerously, giving me a constant sensation of vertigo and light-headededness, and the brightness of daylight was almost unbearable. I had no personality or emotions to speak of, I was just a grey puddle of nothingness in humanoid form. I googled ‘withdrawal symptoms from seroquel and Lexapro’ and I had every single one on both lists. I was too tired to look up the ones for Lamotrigine. I sensed I was losing my ability to function, and this was confirmed when a co-worker made a comment which I knew I found funny, but I couldn’t remember the natural human response to humor. Instead I stared blankly at her, not blinking, for about 40 seconds, after which I suddenly remembered the concept and barked the word ‘LAUGHING’ in her face. It took me another twenty seconds to actually recall how to perform the act of laughing, so I did, but I had now forgotten the joke and so instead I just made loud maniacal noises that I thought laughing was supposed to sound like and then had no idea why everyone was staring at me with a mixture of concern and fear. I took the rest of the week off work and slept for three days straight.
As the second week drew to a end, I started to feel better. Not only were my symptoms abatating, my head was starting to clear. It felt like a deep fog in my brain was finally starting to disperse. I could think. I could feel. And thankfully, I could handle the feelings.
Now, I must not fail to mention that I embarked on this little mental health experiment of mine while my life and circumstances were very stable (at least by my somewhat lofty standards). I have the greatest and most supportive partner, which makes things immeasurably easier. There is no significant conflict or turmoil in my career, home life or health, and although I came to the decision to withdraw rather impulsively, I did it at the best possible time, for what I believe was the best possible reason. I want to experience the highs and lows of my life completely, without the cloak, without the pills controlling and masking the receptors in my brain.
It’s still early days but so far, I’m incredibly happy with my decision to go rogue. I wasn’t sure if my brain had the ability to generate serotonin on its own anymore, so that’s a victory (and, to be fair, quite impressive when you consider how much chemical abuse it’s endured over the years, both pharmaceutical and recreational). In fact, this is the first time since I was seventeen that I’ve been unmedicated. I still have a long way to go and only time will tell whether I’ll be able to sustain this current contentment, but for now I’m just keeping the cray at bay and enjoying the reprieve.
I’ll keep the cloak safely stashed, just in case, but I have hope that there will never be a winter cold enough to need it again.