* Please see part 1 here: Down the Rabbit Hole
*Please see part 2 here: The Lab Rat Years
PART 3 – Emerging into Recovery
Being severed from my son completely (from that day forth, I never again received any progress notes, pictures or any type of communication from them) destroyed the life I had built for myself and my growing family. My relationship to my daughters father deteriorated. He is an adoptee, but from a closed adoption, so he didn’t understand my grief. He just figured, well, you’ll see him again someday. By then he was reunited with both his birthparents. It drove a wedge between us, and I ended up leaving him.
We got back together a couple of years later, but it was short lived. Right before I left him again, we had an argument. That argument saved my life. I was pleading with him to cut back on his drinking, which had gotten way out of control. He claimed he could quit any time and didn’t have an issue with it. As the child of an alcoholic, I saw right through the excuses and told him that if he wasn’t willing to make that sacrifice for his family (I’m leaving chunks out here that have nothing to do with the adoption) then I was going to leave him again. I told him he was an addict and he needed help. He looked at me and said “You’re an addict too!” to which I replied, “I am not, my DR gives me meds for my depression, and I need them.” and he looked at me and said, “You know what, you’re just as much an addict as I am, you claim you need those drugs, but you have wanted to get off them for years. What happens when you stop taking them? You get shaky, and sweaty, and sick! It looks like someone coming off of heroin! ( I WAS NOT going to even bother asking how he knew that) just because your DR gives them to you doesn’t mean it’s okay to take them and that you can’t be an addict”.. I stormed off in anger, but when I sat to think about it, he was right. I didn’t know how to live without them. I kept taking them, even though I didn’t want to be on them. I was an addict, and I was only staying on them to avoid the withdrawal. I thought I had escaped my families addiction issues, but I had never considered prescription meds until then.
That was the day everything changed. I stopped taking my Effexor XR. Cold turkey.
For anyone who has ever tried to get off Effexor XR, I feel for you. It is one of the nastiest drugs out there to get off of. It’s also the only one (after the cocktail above I was prescribed) that helped control my anxiety and depression. Did you take a look at those withdrawal symptoms? I had alot of them.
I was going to prove my ex wrong. I was going to get off these drugs and reclaim my life! Looking back, I was an idiot. I was on 225 mg a day. Not tapering myself down was also an idiot move, but I was committed and I had not yet found a DR who was willing to help me get off them. (NEVER do what I did, I took a huge risk and didn’t know at the time how very DANGEROUS stopping that drug cold turkey was.) By this time, I’m estimating that I had been on these meds (specifically Effexor XR, not all the other anti depressants I had been on) for approximately 4 yrs. The longer you’re on it, the harder it is to get off.
The really intense part of my withdrawal took approximately 3 weeks. It was HELL. The first symptom I had happened about two days after I stopped. My head started to ache. Not a headache, a BRAIN ache. Literally, MY BRAIN HURT. My body ached like I had the flu, and my stomach was really upset. Worst of all, I was alone. I didn’t tell anyone I was going off them, and it was just me and my then 3 yr old daughter at home alone. I was scared to tell my ex I had gone off, because I was scared he would try and use that to take my daughter away. We had broken up but were still living in the same house till I found a place. I was vulnerable and scared. I again, went into survival mode, but this time, not because I wanted to DIE, but because I wanted to LIVE.
Although I had stopped cold turkey, and didn’t really plan it out, I lucked out that it was a Wednesday or Thursday that I stopped taking the Effexor XR. I went through the worst of the withdrawal on the weekend (puking, chills, muscle aches, ringing in my ears, dizziness) conveniently when my ex and daughter were out of town. When Monday came and I had to go back to work, I was an anxious wreck. I knew I would have to tell my boss what I was doing, in case I had to leave sick. After what I had gone through before with my bosses, I was terrified to tell her. I was scared she would fire me. I was scared she would think that I was crazy and unsuitable to work with children because of my label. I was scared she would send me home right away.
I walked into her office and told her what I was doing. I told her I wanted my life back. I told her I was doing it cold turkey and that my DR didn’t know. It all came out in a garbled mess, and somewhere in the middle of it my body started to tremor. My teeth started to chatter so hard it hurt and I was scared that if I didn’t pay close attention, that I would bite my tongue off. That’s not me being dramatic, that’s the truth. It was awful. To make it even worse, my boss saw this happen right before her eyes. She was silent the whole time I tremored. She just sat there watching me. When the tremor passed (it was at least a minute long) she took a deep breath…and I held mine.
She told me that she was proud of me. She wasn’t going to send me home, unless I felt I needed to go. She told me, that If I needed to leave the floor, to go into the kitchen and the staff in there would relieve me until the shaking stopped, and she told me to come and see her if I needed anything. I was stunned. She believed in me. Knowing I had her as an ally in my quest to overcome my addiction made it bearable, it gave me HOPE. Looking back, I don’t think I lost any work due to the withdrawal. There were quite a few times I would tremor, or I would get dizzy and have to sit down, but each day got easier. The nausea was pretty constant for that three weeks, but I forced myself to eat. After the tremors stopped (sometime in the first week) I continued to have brain zaps which would be intermittent all day. It was like my brain was short circuiting. On top of that, I was jittery. It was like someone had flipped a switch inside my head that said “maximum speed”. At the same time, I couldn’t multitask to save my life, but I thought I could. (my co workers told me later, I would half start all kinds of things and they would be cleaning up after me all day) I thought I was doing great though.
Home was a different story. I felt unable to tell my ex what I was doing, but again it ended up working out for me. After he would come home from work, I would go out. I would walk to the store and back (about 45 min each way) and then come home, strap on my iPod and hula hoop till I was tired. I was so jittery that it was all I could do to tire myself out enough to sleep. My ex just thought I was avoiding him. The plus side to all that was that I lost 40 pounds in three months. I felt amazing once the jitters had worn off, and I had a brand new body!
It was far from over though. My emotions started to resurface. I don’t know how to really even describe that feeling. I had been on anti depressants of one kind or another now for 13 yrs, and I had forgotten how to feel. It started with anger. I felt like I was a ticking time bomb most of the time, and I struggled very hard to keep my anger in check. Everything had the potential to set me off. To protect myself and others, I made a rule that before responding to anything, I would take a deep breath and count to five. That did help. My anxiety was really high for a better part of a year, and I had to keep reminding myself to breathe and to take one step at a time. I made myself lists, because in addition to my anxiety, I couldn’t remember one moment to the next, my brain felt jumbled. Things I had been doing for years such as my morning routine of getting ready for work and getting my daughter ready required a list for me to check off so I knew for sure I hadn’t forgotten anything. One of the most embarrassing things that happened was that I would be in the middle of a sentence and my brain would just shut off. I couldn’t remember what I was talking about, I couldn’t remember what the person I was talking to was speaking about, and I had no idea what I had been doing previously before the conversation. The person would be standing there waiting for me to continue, and I tried to cover as best I could by ending the conversation abruptly, or pretending to be distracted by something. I live in a really close knit community of only about 4000 people, and people talk. The people I worked with knew the truth, but the rest of the people in my community didn’t and it brought me alot of shame. Its one of the drawbacks of living in a fishbowl.
The next emotion to surface was sadness. I’ll never forget the first day I actually cried for no reason. I remember this sadness creeping up slowly in my body, I could almost trace its path because it was such a new feeling. I sat there and let the tears come, it felt so odd. I focused on the sensation of FEELING my sadness for the first time in 13 years. When a tear hit my hand, I got up to go and look in the bathroom mirror. I stood there looking at myself crying. I looked at my grief. I felt it. I really started to wail, and I watched myself fall apart. Then I started to smile, and laugh through my tears. This was progress!! This was proof my mind was coming back to life! I was healing!
When you come off anti depressants this kind of “emotion blending” is common. Your mind seems eager to try them all of your new emotions out at once, and the timing of it all can be a bit unsettling. I remember a few different times, this whole scenario happening while I was shopping, and I had to leave the store so I could finish my cry, or laugh and move on to the next moment. I would check in with friends when I was unsure if my emotions were appropriate to a situation, and I used that to gauge my progress. It took about three years for my mind to settle into a rhythm, and for my emotions to more or less come out at appropriate times, but I didn’t care. After being numbly drugged for 13 yrs of my life, I celebrated every giggle, every tear, and every moment of feeling I had.
I will say this though, although the brain is resilient, it did not go without damage. 13 years is a long time to be on mind altering drugs. I have been off them now for 8 yrs. Whereas before I was put on anti depressants I had a very quick mind, and could multitask expertly, there are “blank” spots left in my brain. I have never recovered my ability to do math in my head. I still need lists for everything I do, and sometimes I will go to do the next thing on the list (like laundry) find myself in the laundry room and not know what I was supposed to be doing in there. So I go back and check the list. Sometimes I remember to bring the list with me, but sometimes I walk back to the list three or four times trying to remember. There are 4 different types of thinking:
- Critical thinking is the mental process of objectively analyzing a situation by gathering information from all possible sources, and then evaluating both the tangible and intangible aspects, as well as the implications of any course of action.
- Implementation thinking is the ability to organize ideas and plans in a way that they will be effectively carried out.
- Conceptual thinking consists of the ability to find connections or patterns between abstract ideas and then piece them together to form a complete picture.
- Innovative thinking involves generating new ideas or new ways of approaching things to create possibilities and opportunities.
- Intuitive thinking is the ability to take what you may sense or perceive to be true and, without knowledge or evidence, appropriately factor it in to the final decision.
My Critical and Implementation thinking skills were permanently damaged by the use of anti depressants. On the other hand, my Conceptual, Innovative, and Intuitive thinking skills have come back and flourished. If anything, like a person who loses their sight and develops enhanced hearing to compensate for the loss of sight, I too have had other areas of my brain compensate for what I have lost.
My anxiety is still a real issue for me, but if you’ve read my previous posts, growing up the way I did could have made me much more susceptible to being an anxious type person. As well, I have ups and downs like most people, but I have to continually remind myself that EVERYBODY has ups and downs. In the beginning I panicked inside every time I felt an emotion I wasn’t sure I could handle, and I just kept reminding myself “You are okay…this is normal…trust the process…..”
Those three words “trust the process” have gotten me through some of my darkest moments as a birthmother. Putting faith in myself was really difficult because “ground zero” for me was that no one had the faith in me to believe that I could be an good mom and raise my son. If they didn’t believe in me how can I believe in me? But I had it backwards. I have learned all these years later that believing in myself INSPIRES other people to believe in me. If I am confidant in MY word and deed, others will feel confidant in me and have faith in me.
My family doesn’t know just how deeply I have suffered. If they did, maybe they would find some compassion and understanding for me. Instead, I am shut down and told “well at least he’s happy” But if I don’t even know that, how could they? A picture of a smiling kid doesn’t mean that kid is happy. Adoptees are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide. Many birthmoms, whose adoptions were open and then were closed, committed suicide.
My family has absolutely no idea how close they came to losing me to Adoption loss. My family is happy to believe the illusion of adoption, the common phrase being “Well at least you get to see him.” That’s not good enough. It never was. I spent so many years being ashamed of who I was, and how I felt. My dad has said I’m confrontational, but I see that as a good thing. When given a choice of fight or flight, I will always choose fight. I am a Warrior.
As with all my posts, I write about very personal events in my life. My writing is raw, emotional, and not for the faint of heart. It’s a type of therapy for me to be able to release my thoughts and feelings this way. In addition to that though, I do it because I want to help people to know they are not alone. By the telling of my experience, maybe I will inspire you to tell yours. The adoption community needs more voices, we need more people to stand up and speak the truth of the real cost of adoption. I hope that if you are reading this and feel alone, know I’m right there with you, you are never alone. Please be aware of the dangers of anti depressants especially EFFEXOR XR, and the long term consequences of staying on them. Do your research, learn all you can, and never give up.