Tag: ptsd

My Post-Medication Rehabilitation Journey

My Post-Medication Rehabilitation Journey

When I quit my antidepressant medication, I was mostly hopeful but a little afraid. Would this be the time my boyfriend gives up on me being a dark-thought disaster queen? Would I spend my days in the black pool of despair that is my depressed mind? Would my anxiety keep me from leaving home or making a phone call?

So much uncertainty.

I’ve had to take a lot of steps to deal with this medication-free. I’ve had to develop vigilance and advocate for myself. I have to make decisions daily that will be better or worse for my mental health and well-being.

Quality Time – I’m spending more quality time with my son and it has been amazing. We’ve been playing more video games together and having more really good talks.

The News – I’ve been avoiding the news entirely. I don’t click on news stories or read about the goings-on of a society that seems very much in ruin. For me, right now, it’s important to steer away from doomsday and try to make some sort of mentally productive life and a triumphant return to my creative self.

Social Media – I’ve been limiting my interactions on social media and it’s been going really well. I check Facebook daily but I don’t spend all day refreshing it like I used to. Occasionally I catch myself being a little too invested and when I do, I close the tab.

Entertainment – I try not to waste as much time on YouTube watching things that don’t challenge me. I unfollowed a lot of accounts that created mostly garbage content that pandered to the lowest common denominator and I’ve been quite happy with that decision.

Reading – I spend a lot more time reading these days. At this rate, I should double my reading goal. I’ve made a return to my lost love of learning by reading more non-fiction. I’m also stimulating my brain by reading more imaginative fiction.

Writing – I’ve been pouring a lot of my strength and time into writing. When my son goes to bed at night, I try to divide my time between reading and writing. I’m still editing my novel but I’m working on setting a goal to be done my second draft by the end of April, at which point I am hoping to let a few people read it so I can get some valuable feedback.

Relationship – I’m learning to ask for what I need, and when the answer is no, to reassess its importance and work on compromise. I know I need to put myself first and to spend time with people who elevate me rather than push me down.

Toxic People – I’m getting better and knowing when to remove toxic people from my life. Difficult decisions need to be made at times, but I remind myself to be vigilant about my mental health and self-care.

There are probably thousands of other little things, but overall my mind is in a pretty good place and things are only getting easier over time as I develop healthier habits. I know now without a doubt that medication is not the right path for me in combating my mental illness, and that I’m capable of handling things myself with the right skill-set.

The Problem With Trigger Warnings – Thoughts From a Person With PTSD

The Problem With Trigger Warnings – Thoughts From a Person With PTSD

If you’ve spent an iota of time on the Internet, you’ve likely seen trigger warnings. Trigger warnings are, as far as I can tell, a social construct used primarily to advise you that something you are about to read, watch, or listen to, contains content that some may find offensive or “triggering”. You may also have seen people lambasted for their failure to use a trigger warning by someone who deemed it necessary. So, what is a trigger?

The first time I ever heard the term “trauma trigger” was during a counseling session when I was 7 years old and newly diagnosed with PTSD (for the uninitiated, that’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). I continued to see this term and grew to understand what it meant through the magnitude of reading on my condition I did while growing up. Until relatively recently I had never heard the term used in relation to anything other than PTSD. Simply speaking, a trigger is something that brings forth memories of a traumatic experience in someone with PTSD. This can be in the form of flashbacks, panic attacks, or other mental symptoms.

The difficulty with triggers is that they are often things that are difficult to pinpoint and impossible to avoid. They can be things that wouldn’t make sense to someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to be genuinely psychologically triggered. I’m not talking about people who think that “triggered” is synonymous with “uncomfortable” or “offended”. I’m talking about the folks out there who have real mental health consequences to triggers.

My Own Triggers

I’m triggered by the obvious ones, like rape, pedophilia, domestic violence, etc. And then I’m triggered by the ones you wouldn’t expect, like the cologne that my dad used to wear or the smell of sawdust. I’m triggered by certain words, toys, and books. I’m triggered by moustaches. I’m triggered by old carpet. I’m triggered by guns. I’m triggered by high winds or heavy snowfall. I’m triggered by being a passenger in a car. These are just a few examples.

Now, I’m going to say something that seems to be contrary to popular opinion: I am responsible for my triggers. Me.

I don’t believe it’s the responsibility of writers, filmmakers, bloggers, or educators to tell me I might be triggered by something they create for consumption.

Crawling Out of the Darkness

Back when my PTSD was at its worst, I spent nearly 2 years without leaving my home. I had between 3 and 5 panic attacks per day, oftentimes more. I was triggered by everything. Like most people, my safe space was my home, and I was afraid to leave it. If I had continued on that path of avoiding every single trigger to my PTSD, I would still be locked away. Instead, I started to face my demons, and closely observe my reactions to them. I had to if I wanted to survive. What I learned was that by exposing myself to these triggers and learning to cope with them, I took the power away from them. I stopped letting them control me, and it saved my life.  

The problem with trigger warnings is that they make PTSD worse, not better. By avoiding everything that makes you feel uncomfortable, you can never overcome your affliction. You can never face your demons and you will never really get better. You’ll just get better at hiding.

I think most people who use trigger warnings are genuinely caring people who don’t want to hurt anybody. The main problem I have with trigger warnings, however, is that I don’t think they’re helpful. I think they’re a cute way of saying, “Look here. See? I care about your mental illness. I am enlightened. I’m talking about rape but warning you that I’m doing so.” It’s saying, “I’m putting you in a box and protecting you.” as if sheltering a life has ever been productive to growth or healing. I think building these larger safe spaces is counter-productive. You can’t learn to swim if you avoid the water.

So, how did I keep myself safe without trigger warnings? I took responsibility for myself. I didn’t expect my friends to tip-toe around me. If something was triggering me, I’d remove myself from the situation, or I’d sit with it until it went away. I spent time educating myself about my illness until my smarts outranked its strength. Most importantly, I dealt with my demons instead of letting them chase me.

Now

My triggers still affect me, but they don’t run my life or dictate what I can and cannot do. I’m not going to pretend it was easy to get to this point. Facing the things that trigger you and asking them questions rather than closing your eyes is so empowering and healing, but it’s also scary as hell. I learned more about myself doing this than anything else. What’s more is that I stopped letting my abuser and my trauma win. While I did do most of this without any professional assistance, there is a lot of help out there if you look.

If people want to use trigger warnings on their writings? By all means, be my guest. On their own, a trigger warning is little more than a disclaimer and not harmful by itself. It’s just information. The real problem arises with the talk of mandatory trigger warnings, or when people allow themselves to become upset at content creators who don’t use the warnings. It’s simply unreasonable to expect the world to contort and become your personal Safe Space. Living with that sort of mentality will only hurt your mental health in the end. A large number of triggers are unavoidable out in the real world anyway, no matter how many people vigilantly use trigger warnings. Sooner or later, a person needs to take responsibility for their own healing process rather than expecting everyone around them to act as an emotional airbag.

I Stopped Talking

I Stopped Talking

Note: This was a writing assignment for a class I took and I got a lot of great feedback so wanted to share it. The instructions were to write something through the eyes of a child, so I wrote from a memory I have of sexual assault from my childhood. 

It’s my first day of second grade in a new school and I don’t know what your name is. I’m nervous and scared as I walk through the dirty playground, hoping nobody notices me. I don’t see your face as you run toward me because I’ve grown comfortable looking at the ground. You grab me hard in the place policemen had me point to on a doll last week in a room that made me feel little; then you laugh and you run away. I can’t move. I hear a whole group of kids my age laughing over by the swing set and as you rejoin them I try to blink away tears and I’m mostly successful, but I look down at my purple pants as they darken right where you touched me. I want to disappear. I want to die. I wish you knew why I had to change to this school in the middle of the year, because maybe then you would be kinder, but you don’t know. How could you? We’ve never met.

I don’t tell any teacher what you did. I don’t tell my mom. I’ll whisper it under the covers using words I don’t understand into the ear of my yellow stuffed dog named Fred. He knows every secret I’ve ever cried into him. I know I should tell, because boys shouldn’t touch girls there, but I don’t. I don’t because I stopped talking when I was 6. It’s not because I got mad or because I’m stubborn. I don’t talk because I’m scared of everything, but especially my secrets.

My mom took me to a doctor to find out why I don’t talk. I like him. He lets me play all by myself in a room with lots of books, toys, and mirrors that go all the way to the ceiling. He has white hair like Santa Claus and he doesn’t try to make me talk about bad things. His name is Mr. Wilson. He told my mom that I’m real smart, even though I don’t talk. He said I’ll start talking again some day, but that I can still go to school. He wrote a letter to give to my teacher. He told my mom a funny name for the problem I have. He said it meant that I got a little bit broken, but that I can fix myself. He also told my mom that I might start acting bad, because lots of other kids sometimes act bad after they get broken. I don’t want to be bad, though. I just want to be alone. I want to read and learn and play like other kids, but I want to do it alone.

I don’t know what to do when you tell the whole class that my name is Wendy Peter Pants, so I stare down at my desk, pressing my pencil into the palm of my hand until I bleed, but I don’t cry or look at you. Our teacher starts trying to take me to the bathroom more than the other kids, but she doesn’t know that I’m too scared to go in there. I sit quiet at my desk and shake my head. I just want everybody to ignore me. I want to forget. I don’t want to be broken anymore.

I’m only here because we had to run away. My mom, my sisters, and me. We ran away from an angry house by the ocean where a monster lived. We got on a train and we went really really far to get here where my Grandma and Grandpa live, and where my mom says there are better doctors to help us. I read lots of books and we had our own beds on the train – Mom said that was because of some really nice strangers. She was really happy when we left, but now she cries all the time and she’s getting real skinny. She drinks a lot of weird colourful drinks that burn my nose when I smell them, but she’s always tired and they make her sleep so they must be medicine.

We live in a big house with other families who also have broken moms and broken kids. There is a lady who lives down the hall all by herself who tried to take my baby sister out of her crib. She said she used to have a baby just like my sister in her tummy, but something bad happened and the baby fell asleep. Sometimes I can’t sleep because she cries all night.

I stopped talking because I told a secret that I wasn’t supposed to tell and it hurt my mom. We keep having to run away again and again and it’s all my fault. My mom keeps crying since I told her and the policemen what happened. I told her after we ran away on the train because I thought we would be safe. I stay up all night to make sure my mommy and my sisters are safe from what I did. Monsters are real, you know. They hurt you bad and make you keep secrets that make you sick. They grab you in the same place you grabbed me and if you tell anybody about it, they tell you they’ll hurt you worse. We ran away from our monster, but it keeps finding us and hurting us and I know it’s because I told those secrets. If I don’t talk for long enough, maybe the monster will forget us and stop hurting us. Maybe then I can try to fix the parts of me that are broken..

Why I Abandoned My Antidepressants

Why I Abandoned My Antidepressants

I have gone back and forth where psychotropic medications are concerned, and though I recognize their necessity for some people, I have always had a hard time coming to terms with them within my own life. I have been on antidepressants twice in my life. In both instances, they seemed to work for a while before eventually making me feel dead inside. It sounds dramatic, but it’s pretty accurate.

To give a brief history of my mental illness: I was diagnosed with PTSD as a child and at the time was treated with regular visits to a psychologist. As an adult I was diagnosed with complex PTSD, major depressive disorder, and OCD (I had severe issues with being “contaminated” from which I am currently recovered).

I briefly saw a psychologist during a major relapse in my mental health in 2005, following a major nervous breakdown and significant self harm (I used to cut pretty severely). I went to my doctor, who prescribed Effexor and set me up to go see a psychologist. He also gave me 3 months stress leave from work. I started the medication immediately and lasted a few sessions with the psychologist before calling it quits. It just didn’t work out. I could tell exactly what she was doing and why, and she insisted I talk about things that didn’t need to be said at the time.

The Effexor started off with a struggle. I became agitated, suicidal, and didn’t trust myself to be alone while I adjusted to the antidepressants so I surrounded myself with friends who I knew would look out for me if I faltered. It seemed to level off after a month and a half, and started to “work” in the sense that the cloud of depression lifted enough that I could see just how bad I had gotten. I remained on Effexor for about a year before a different kind of depression took over; I felt trapped, useless, and too numb to care.

As an artist/writer/creative type, I need emotion to create beautiful things. It has always seemed like I feel things more intensely and fully than some people. On the Effexor, yes, it took away the bad feelings, but it took away the good ones as well. I found myself simply existing rather than really living. I was numb, I couldn’t feel, and It was killing me.

I went back to my doctor and told him I needed off the Effexor. He prescribed me two stages of taper doses so that I could wean myself slowly down.

The withdrawal I felt coming off Effexor was one of the worst feelings I have ever felt. I was like I wasn’t in control of my body or my mind. The worst symptom of all was something I called “brain zaps”. The best way I can describe it is that I felt as if every time I moved my head, my brain moved a fraction of a second later. I would get tracers in my vision or it felt like I was vibrating even if I was still. The weaning from the drug took a long time. When I got to the lowest dose capsules, the biggest struggle began. I couldn’t seem to just go from the smallest dose to nothing at all, or the brain zaps would be unbearable. I survived by cracking open the capsules and dividing the little beads in half inside. That took too long, so I started just taking on every second day, then one every third day, and eventually I would take as needed until I was completely off without the antidepressants’ withdrawal symptoms.

I could write again. I could paint again. I could think again. I felt like I had my life back. I could feel the depression. I could feel the PTSD. They were there, but I tried using other methods to cope with them when they got ugly. I took up knitting. I started the meditation that would eventually lead me down the path of Buddhism. I dove head first back into art and writing and even though all that darkness was there, I embraced it as a part of me and channeled it into the positive output of creating.

All in all, weaning off took a full year, after which I swore I would never go on antidepressants again. And I didn’t… for 10 years.

Fast forward to about 6 months or so ago when I went to my doctor drained and apathetic. I had no motivation to do anything. I felt like I was at my wit’s end with myself. I didn’t want my doctor to prescribe me anything in the same class as Effexor, so I did some research and landed on Wellbutrin. That was what I asked my doctor for and what he prescribed for me.

At first, it didn’t seem to do much. It sort of took the edge off and I felt a little hopeful that it would be “the one” that would work well for me. For a few months, that feeling continued. I didn’t notice any huge changes, just a lot of little things that improved gradually over time.

It was about a month ago that I noticed this gradual change was drifting toward making me numb again. I stopped being able to feel anything. I looked back and realized I hadn’t done anything visually creative since I started on the Wellbutrin. I felt like I didn’t know myself, because I didn’t feel like myself. I would rather feel hopelessly morose than emotionally stunted and alien in my own skin. I would rather wake up every morning basking in the familiar melancholy I’ve known my whole life than to feel as if I have a big blank space in my brain.

So after a conversation with my doctor, we decided to end the Wellbutrin with no plan of switching to something else. He advised me against going cold turkey, but that it should be okay given I haven’t been on it a super long time. If I have any problems, of course, I’m to call him.

So far, so good. It’s been about 7 days, so I know that its effects will still in my system for a bit longer, but I’ve experienced no negative effects at this point. I’m looking forward to feeling like myself again, bruises and all. I’m going to resume my meditation practice and bleed myself into my writing, for which I find the words coming easier already.

UPDATE: I posted an update on how being med free is going here.