Starting on an anti-depressant felt like a momentous decision at the time. But then, I was subject to deep funks when I’d be overwhelmed as a teacher with stacks of ungraded papers and grades coming due. I was struggling with the transition as my wife and I became empty-nesters. Retirement was on the horizon and I was concerned how I as going to handle not working for the first time since I was 13 years old.
When I began taking the drug though, I couldn’t really tell if it was helping me or not. Maybe the ups and downs smoothed out a bit. Maybe some of those transitions were a little easier. Maybe when I hit stretches of depression, they were shorter and shallower than they would have been without the medication.
But back in March when I began having prolonged problems with dizziness, I began to examine every medication I was taking and eliminating any drug or supplement that I wasn’t absolutely sure that I needed. I banished a couple of herbal supplements and an over-the-counter antihistamine, my melatonin was long gone, and the last remaining target was the Wellbutrin.
I knew I’d need to consult with a Kaiser psychiatrist about the process of tapering off which I imagined to be a lengthy process, but it turned out to take only two weeks. In week one, I split the dosage into taking 1/2 a pill twice a day; week two eliminated one of those doses and by week three, I was off.
I would love to tell you that I’m sailing through the post-anti-depressant period without a hitch, but its affected me about as much as I feared it might. I mean, I had it on my mind for over a year to take this step, but kept talking myself out of it because I did not want to invite any new difficulties into my life that the pills might be (without me being entirely aware) fending off.
After a week or so, I noticed that I felt a bit like an exposed nerve. I felt a heightened sensitivity to people and situations around me. I was more irritable, more negative. Any kind of slight, real or perceived, hurt like a paper cut. I could feel myself withdraw and felt even more invisible than usual as I moved about my little world.
My sense of loneliness increased. Not critically. It’s just easy, as a quiet person, to become a little more quiet. Another 5%. Maybe 10%.
Its been a over three weeks now, and I’ve learned that I need to give my body and mind time to adjust. Three weeks isn’t much, and I’ve asked a lot out of my body, mind, and spirit over the past fifteen months. Quitting alcohol, ending the anti-depressants and other medications–it takes a toll. I’ve learned that I need to be patient and let the changes roll through me. I need to stay steady and not drift too far from the people and the practices that sustain me. I know that it can take months–not just weeks.
I’m reading a book right now called LaRose by Louise Erdrich who describes one fragile character’s waking moment this way: “Every morning, she floated to consciousness on that same disintegrating raft.” I was so struck by that image that I wrote it down not wanting to lose it.
My raft is in better shape than that. I know I have people looking out for me and every day, I work to take care of myself. I can just feel the raft being a little more shaky these days.