Disclaimer: In this post I discuss side effects I experienced from various medications. Everyone is different, some medications work, some don’t. What hasn’t worked for me does work for someone, actually millions, of other people.
Between 2001 and early 2002 I experienced a series of ‘major life events’ in a short period of time. In the US, when you first visit a doctor you fill out a questionnaire. The following question often appears:
Have you experienced any of the following in the past 6 months?
[ x ] Loss of job
[ x ] Moving house
[ x ] Divorce
[ x ] Death in the family
[ ] Other (please indicate)
Why yes, all of the above. In the space of ~9 months, I had lost my job as the firm I worked for closed their SF office (tech crash), split with my partner of 6 years, and we sold our house to move independently from one another. Worst of all, I had helplessly watched and held my stepfather as he died. And also 9/11 happened. Just in case I was feeling too stable throughout this.
A friend referred to this period of my life as “The Accident” because the combination of events I experienced could only be considered improbably timed and, thus, seismic in nature.
Back in 2001, I saw a therapist for basic stuff, nothing out of the ordinary and certainly not extreme. She recognised and was the first to diagnose depression, though it was not debilitating at the time. She recommended I discuss this with my general practitioner (GP) and start on an antidepressant. I received my first antidepressant from my GP: Prozac.
I experienced horrible side effects during my intake of Prozac, and my subsequent trials of Effexor (venlafaxine) and Paxil (paroxetine), as well for the remainder of 2001. The side effects, for me, included horrific OCD and paranoia, neither of which I’d ever experienced before or since.
I was unable to leave the house without checking that various things were in order. I’d leave, be several blocks away, and return to check again. Repeat, a couple times, each day.
I experienced such high levels of paranoia, I’d not only turn off my desktop computer before I left home, I’d unplug the ethernet (no wifi then) AND unplug the computer at its power source. As 9/11 unfolded on our television, I was certain I’d be found out for having been involved. Never mind that we had a close friend over and had a lovely BBQ in our backyard that afternoon. I was very scared people would be knocking on the door any minute.
I was out of my head, just from whatever antidepressant I happened to be on.
At the time, I didn’t know they were side effects, I assumed it was because of my terrible headspace and was terrified to tell anyone. I stopped taking the last antidepressant I tried in this period and, at last, the horrendous side effects ended.
In June 2002, I went to Europe for a week yoga holiday in Greece and a week in London, to co-present a paper I co-authored.
In August of 2002, I drove down to LA, from SF, for my brothers’ “Leo birthday party”. My brother and his longtime partner/husband (and their many friends) all have their birthdays in August.
At the party, I remember going to bed, actually having to crash around 7pm. I didn’t think anything of it, except that it was rude, until the next day when I drove back to San Francisco.
Around midway, maybe around Cowschwitz, I had the overwhelming desire to just pull to the side of the road to sleep. I didn’t even want to bother finding a motel along the freeway. My fears of crazy people with guns dissuaded me from just pulling over and sleeping in the car. I pushed myself hard to make it all the way home.
I was supposed to be back at work the next day (I was consulting by then) but I couldn’t get out of bed. I slept about 17 hours a day and had a fever of over 101 (F) for several nights.
I was diagnosed with Mononucleosis (glandular fever). It got so bad I was hospitalised for a week. My brother drove up from LA to take care of me. I’m forever grateful. On my return home, he surprised me with the catalog from the Willem de Kooning show at SF MoMA during that time. Knowing, of course, that de Kooning is one of my favorite painters.
I mention the Mono because my body has never been the same since. I mention my travel to Europe because it’s been posited that I somehow picked up Mono on the trip. Since then, I’ve been chronically fatigued, though I don’t have “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome”.
I pushed myself very hard whilst at Yahoo! in 2003. I also pushed myself, physically, at the time hoping I could move through this. I practised ashtanga yoga several times a week, before work. I cycled 30-50 miles every weekend. My body was never in better shape, for a while.
At Yahoo! I was successful but encountered enormous pressure and worked all hours, including most weekends. A new boss was hired 6 months or so into my leading the My Yahoo! redesign. I was harassed, bullied and undermined by this person continuously. After HR failed to mediate, I switched groups to work with the Messenger team to escape the harrassor. By then I was too exhausted and thus, after a few months, resigned. At this stage, it was clear I was very burned out.
It was difficult to get my energy together. I was fine for a while, but I couldn’t shake feeling exhausted all the time. It worsened in 2006 and my doctor put me on Provigil (modafinil) to augment the antidepressant I began the previous year. That did the trick.
I’d stopped my trial of antidepressants in late winter 2002 since I had such intolerable side effects. In 2005, my mother had told me about an antidepressant that worked well for her, Cymbalta (duloxetine). Since we have the same physiology, I thought it’d be worth giving it a shot. And, hey, it worked! For several years, until it didn’t.
I continued on the Provigil/Cymbalta cocktail until 2011, when I simply ran out of Provigil and never bothered to try and get it. I was worried that it pushed me further than I would have gone otherwise. Perhaps I would have (or should have) collapsed in 2009, 2010 instead of 2013? Maybe if I’d collapsed earlier, I would not have reached the depths of emptiness and despair I did.
By 2011, when I stopped taking Provigil, I lost the ability to do anything except attend work on a daily basis. In 2012, I ran out of Cymbalta and was forced to see a new psychiatrist in Torino, where I was consulting. He asked what I thought of it and I said, it’s not doing anything now. He switched me to Elontril/Wellbutrin (bupoprian).
The Cymbalta withdrawals were tough. I had the “brain shocks” for weeks every time I turned my head. This is a common withdrawal symptom where you feel a kind of electrical shock inside your head. The moment it happens, it feels like time has been broken down into milliseconds with odd stopgaps or intervals for lack of a better term. No fun, but they lessened over the weeks.
I took Wellbutrin/Elontril for a bit, but found it did nothing, so I stopped taking it. I didn’t bother seeing the psychiatrist again. It was too much effort.
By Spring 2013, I was on nothing. I didn’t pay it any mind, to be honest. I never had debilitating depression. Though I was incredibly unhappy, exhausted and could do little more than make it to the office and home, I just carried on. There was no fall back, no plan B. Especially after all we had been through in the UK and Europe.
That’s my early experience of cracks in the foundation, leading up to the collapse in Stuttgart and years off, in Berlin, with crippling depression.
The California Natural Wonders map courtesy of Noé Alfaro. Published under a Creative Commons license.