Firing One’s Shrink (part 3: unleash the tmi)

When I wrote yesterday’s post, I wrote it knowing that it would need to sit around and gather dust for a couple months. Maybe it’s just a ruse to keep people sucking at the Glaxo SmithKline teat but they say that, if you go off Paxil, you may never get it to work again. In other words, people who go off Paxil are told “don’t leave unless you’re sure you’re never coming back.” Scary. It’s like Paxil is a cigar-smoking man wearing a wifebeater, drinking a PBR: “I made you! Don’t think you can just come back!”

How did we get here?
Who let me start living with that guy?
Why would anyone walk into that?

TMI, part one: nowhere to go but up.

The year is 1998. I am living in a dorm at Belmont. I am living almost entirely in that dorm, since I’ve been skipping classes for fear of panic attacks. I have quit my internship early because I can no longer drive to Brentwood (I lie and say that I’ve over-committed). Any sleep I get happens whenever I pass out with the tv on, because silence brings on panic attacks, too. Everything brings on panic attacks. I can’t go to the grocery store, but that’s not so big a deal, since I’m living on whatever I can shove in my face in roughly 3 minutes. Once I realize I’ve eaten something, I immediately feel even more nauseous than usual. I usually have four or five fingers bleeding because I pick at them constantly. I tell no one this, partly because I wasraised to be a bulletproof thing, and partly because I don’t have the words. What will eventually be sorted into English and typed on a screen is just a shapeless mass of feeling, locked in my head, swirling around, banging up against my skull. That mess shuts up for roughly 3 hours a day, when I go to an empty banquet hall and play a delicious 9-foot grand piano, under dim-switched lights.

Since we spoke of apologies yesterday, this may be an excellent time to give props to the guys who dated me and my roommate in said dorm. Can you imagine? The patience of Job, I tell ya. At one point, my roommate came home to find literally everything on my side of the room on the floor (where I’d thrown it) and me sitting atop the pile crying. Crazy much?

Eventually, in the progress of one’s crazy, one looks down the barrel of the stigma of hiring a shrink. You don’t want to go there. You don’t want to admit in front of God and everybody that you are not coping very well. You don’t want people to find out. Then, you realize that you live in a tiny little box, have no life left, can’t hold down a job and really, sincerely want to die. There’s nowhere left to go but up.

You throw the hail mary and call a shrink.

I’d waited too long. That poor man couldn’t even peel me off the ceiling to get me to talk. I couldn’t talk to him anyway because I had no idea where to start and what I had wasn’t English. It was a shapeless mass, swirling around, banging up against my skull. My brain was whipping around, trying its best to outrun itself. (PS: trying to outrun yourself is really tiring and doesn’t work.)

Shrink #1 and I had our sessions while walking around the block at Vanderbilt because I felt trapped in his office. Bless him, he pretended like that wasn’t seriously batshit crazy, but it wasn’t getting better. I was about to stop going because the sessions were just one more thing to have to survive each week. I was prepared to plead my case for drugs, thinking he’d fight me. I didn’t get a fight; I got a referral to the guy who could prescribe.

Enter Paxil, stage left. Enter also sweating, shaking, lack of sleep, dizzy spells, teeth grinding, and some serious lack of below-the-waist awareness (trying to make that sound ladylike because my sister’s probably reading this). Here I am at Wal-Mart at 3am, walking around to wear myself out. Here I am, face down on the bed unable to lift my arms. Here I am waking up before my alarm, unable to move and thinking, “well, I’m not dead cause I can feel myself breathing.” Here I am grabbing my desk to keep from falling out my chair when the ground tilts 45 degrees. Here I am in Trainspotting.

But the panic attacks lasted half as long as were half as intense.

People expect you to just go on some drugs and be fine overnight. That’s not how it works. By the time you’re desperate enough to hire a shrink, things have probably gone years further than they should’ve. Once you’re spent 10 years diggin a hole, you can’t just jump right out. It takes years to get back all of what you lost. Driving on the highway, going to restaurants, going to movies, making plans, dating, having a job, riding in other people’s cars, getting on airplanes…

I’ll call myself out before one of you does.
I haven’t been on a plane in 16 years.

Now, that’s just because I don’t have a reason to get on a plane. I’d still be so nervous that everyone would peg me for a suicide bomber, but I could do it if I had to. I have discovered vodka, and I’m not above it.

I tell you all this so maybe you’ll understand why I stayed on Paxil for so long. When something literally saves your life and then says “if you leave, you can’t come back,” you tend to stick around. I never felt drugged out of my mind. The panic attacks never went away completely. I had to learn something to get by. Favored techniques:

1. Find a song in the iPod that makes so many synapses fire that there aren’t any left. Flood your brain with something good. Maybe also sing along.

2. Focus on your right hand and play piano exercises in your head. (It looks crazy as hell, but it works.)

3. Find a cat.

4. Stop. Turn to your panic and say, “fuck you. you are not the boss of me.” Figure out where the panic is coming from. Convert it into English and write. Walk yourself through this feeling in English. Surprisingly, you frequently end up knowing what your deal is. I’m not without issues, but I can sit down and tell you what my issues are, how I got them, and what I’m doing to work on them. Part of me wishes that everyone went crazy in a way they can’t ignore. There are a lot of people out there, running around doing stupid, crazy things and never being forced to sit down and say “Why am I doing this? Isn’t this same thing I did a year ago? I should stop this crap.”

Toward the end of the shrinkery, I’d sit down and say “here’s the shit that I’m pulling, and here’s why I think I’m doing it.” The shrinks would just sit there feeling pointless. The hardest part is actually changing your stupid behavior, but admitting that you’re doing it and calling yourself out on it is a really good first step. Then, you just have to spend years correcting yourself repeatedly. At least 10 times a day, I have to catch myself and flatly, mentally say “stop that” in the way I do the cat when he starts digging in my sock drawer.

Of course, those four coping methods up there are just mine, and it took 12 years to find some that work almost 100% of the time. That’s the problem; a shrink can sit and listen to you talk about your childhood or point out when you’re engaging in “negative inner speech,” but they can’t say “hey, have you tried listening to Skinny Puppy really loudly?” because what works varies by the person. It’s a tangled web with no easy answer. The point of the Paxil is to keep you alive long enough to find your own answer.

Tomorrow: the joys of withdrawal, or “technicolor crazy with a 15 year old boy.”

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