That Time I Went Off My Anti-Depressants Without Telling Anyone and it Nearly Ruined My Life

It’s amazing how much can fall apart in 40 days.
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Rebecca Jane Stokes
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It’s amazing how much can fall apart in 40 days.

Somewhere over Indiana my nose started bleeding. I didn’t notice it. Most of the plane seemed to be asleep and I was half-with them, half-watching Million Dollar Listing San Francisco and thinking sexy thoughts about the bearded tight-assed real estate agent, Roh.

On my flight out to Los Angeles four weeks earlier I took a Xanax -- courtesy of a generous friend -- and passed out. I woke up just once when the couple next to me became engaged. They were celebrating with free mini-servings of champagne and some cheap airport pizza they secreted onto the flight. By way of revenge, I turned on an episode of Hannibal and thought dark thoughts, slumped against the window. Now, flying back home to New York, the turbulence made it impossible for me to medicate. When we crashed, I wanted my wits about me. You know, logical and helpful thoughts like that. I wasn’t in the best place.

I noticed my nose was bleeding because the woman sitting next to me tapped me on the shoulder and handed me her napkin square. I took it with a smile, still confused. The blood hit my lips and that very specific blood-from-your-nose taste worked its way into my mouth. I awkwardly scrambled over her lap and then the lap of the kid sitting on the aisle.

I checked out the damage in the plane’s aft bathroom. Another fucking nosebleed. The desert air fucked with my sinuses. This was Valencia’s parting gift to me. I did not look dissimilar to the cover of that one Andrew WK album. The bathroom is covered in warnings, admonishments, and instructions. This water is not potable. Don’t smoke in here. Do not leave a baby on the sink. 

Mopping up my face I thought of the T-Rex chasing the Jeep in the OG Jurassic Park and how the mirror read “objects may be closer than they appear.” These days I am running from something sharp-toothed and equally reptilian-eyed and I have no idea how close it is to catching me. There are moments I can feel its breath hot on my back. Other days it feels like there are miles between us.

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A handful of days before I left to teach in Southern California, the guy I was dating and I split. Three months before that happened, I stopped taking anti-depressants. I began taking them for my -- at times -- crippling anxiety. They worked, and combining them with weekly therapy worked even better. 

I stopped taking the pills to see if I could apply the tools I learned in therapy to my daily life. I just didn’t tell anyone I was trying this. Which should have maybe ganked me into realizing it was maybe a bad idea. Nose bleeding, swaying over the sink 30,000 miles in the sky, heart racing, I was starting to realize that the tools alone weren’t helping. I felt like a failure. I felt like a mess. I was aware that beneath my feet there was nothing but sky. My world felt upended. I emailed my shrink as the plane was taxiing to its gate at JFK.

My best friend Alex says something smart and practical about SSRIs. “Some people have to wear glasses to help them see,” she’ll say shrugging. “This is the same thing.” I wish I could better express the shame I’m feeling since this lapse. It’s not like I am a different person off of the drugs. But I’m certainly not my best self. I’m anxious and perpetually worried and the most insecure a person can be and every feeling is like a wrecking ball. Alex lives with me, so she noticed. But because of all the ways I am when I’m not medicated, she was nervous to talk to me about it -- and that’s something I feel ashamed about. My anxiety has fucked up a lot in my life, but it’s never put a wedge between me and the people I love this way before.

Here is a pill that makes me better and here I am not taking it and here are my relationships falling apart. To be clear, I do not think I was dumped because I stopped taking my medicine and turned into a crazy person. I was dumped because I was dating someone who couldn’t give me what I needed and he knew it. Our relationship wasn’t impacted by my lack of Fluoxetine. We didn’t see each other often enough for that to have been a factor. 

But my relationship with Alex suffered, my family and my other bestie Jesse worried about me, and now I’ve got to rebuild my life a little bit. It’s amazing how much can fall apart in 40 days. I have always hated being perceived as “a crazy person”, or feeling like I’m being handled or managed. Probably because it means admitting I’m weak or vulnerable or human. But here I am, bloody nose, freaking out about returning home to the mess I left behind, fumbling with the lock of an airplane bathroom -- it doesn’t get much more human than that.

I’m back on my meds. It’s two weeks in and the difference is striking. I wish I could enjoy it rather than feel so mortified that I made the following rookie mistake: “I feel so much better! I probably can go off of my antidepressants!” Yeah, here’s why you feel better dipshit -- BECAUSE of the antidepressants, and if you’d bother to talk to anyone about this they would have agreed.

The thing I missed the most in the months I was off of them was perspective. The situation I’m in right now financially would have had me in a fetal position on the floor just a handful of weeks ago. I’m broke as a joke, not sure how I’m going to pay my rent come September 1. But I don’t want to run away. I want to handle the problem. I shrug when talking about it with Alex. “I’ve got a check coming for the teaching eventually, and if I have to I will put a call out on Facebook.” The galling proposition of asking other for help does not seem so galling today. 

That’s the other thing I missed off of the drugs: Honesty. I’m not saying that you take away my pills and I become some scheming monster, not at all. I’m saying that without them every day I have to pretend to be what people assume I am: Together, happy, healthy, and relaxed.

This summer has sucked gigantic donkey dong. My heart was broken. My brain got the better of me. My money evaporated. My prospects seemed to wane. I decided to grow out my hair and currently look like Aileen Wournos. But here I am. I look in the mirror and I see me on that plane, the blood coursing down my face, staining my shirt. Blood: Proof I’m alive. I want to keep going. I want stay myself. It is starting to feel like a real change now, I can feel the formerly encroaching tide recede. I went on a date, a good date, and I had easy fun. I wrote something I was really proud of and it felt as satisfyingly delicious as cleaning out your ears can. I felt nervous and more than that, excited, and I ran with those feelings, leaned into them hard, and I will do it again tomorrow.