On Tapering: Why Paxil is Like A Bank LoanNote: On Friday, Longshot Magazine gave potential contributors 24 hours to write about debt. Financial debt, social debt, genetic debt — anything. [Then, their team edits, paginates, and prints an actual physical magazine by the 48-hour mark!]

So, I wrote about debt and Paxil.  My piece wasn’t selected for publication into the magazine, but it’s still worth sharing along with this question: do you owe something to your meds?  Or do they owe you?)

Nobody told me that Paxil was a bank loan.  That serotonin carries compound interest.  That neurotransmitters bill you for the inconvenience of a psycho-pharmaceutical whiteout.

But the Paxil sent the panic attacks to bed and woke up the calm, so I didn’t care about the future.  I lived in a direct-to-consumer television ad with flowers and rainbows and ponies and Lisa Frank stickers.  I floated through life, care-free and careless, rolling in the grassy hills of selective serotonin reuptake inhibition.

Nobody told me that, after the honeymoon, my emotions would disappear. No sad, no happy.  No warmth, no joy.  No adrenaline, no excitement.  I flatlined.

That was my first collections call.

Nobody told me that it would take eight long months to slowly taper off of it.  Any quicker and the withdrawal effects would seize my sloppy brain to a halt.  My entire spine would shiver.  And my neck movement would cue up an orchestra of electric zapping noises.  And a hazy curtain of fog would envelope my brain.

Nobody told me that I would use knives and nail files to whittle each small white pill into smaller pills, and then into smaller pills still. From 10 milligrams to 7.5 to 5 to 4 to 3 to 2.5 to 2.

Nobody told me that I’d feel like an addict.  If it wasn’t the obsession of taking the right dosage, it was the fine white powder I wiped on my jeans after a filing session.

I was a craftswoman.  Split the pill in half; hold it sideways.  File away 1/3 of the white landscape, from the edge to the first slide of the letter “A”, and blow the dust away.  Don’t breathe in; don’t fumble and drop the tiny shard into a keyboard or a carpet.

Nobody told me I would need to line up the fragile fragments in order by size, Sound Of Music-style, but without the hills and without the alive-ness.  One pill per day, in descending order, on the edge of a wooden desk.  No flowers.  No rainbows.  Just a tiny lineup of powdery shards.

If it wasn’t buying a bottle of liquid Paxil from a random lady on the internet, it was asking the drug store pharmacist for syringes so I could measure the damn stuff for the tiniest dosages at the end of the taper.

And they always raised an eyebrow at the 22-year-old asking for syringes.  I was tired.  Bleary-eyed, I stared right back at the eyebrow, and then the syringe.  I marked it with a black Sharpie. This line is two milligrams.  This line is 1.5.  This line is 1.  This line is half a milligram.

This line is Thursday.  This line is Christmas.  This line is January 12th.

Addiction isn’t just about drug-seeking behavior.  It’s about not being able to tolerate an absence.  Paxil addicts don’t bust down pharmacy doors at night or trade pills with a handshake in bars and back alleys.    Instead, we take pills to avoid the side effects of depriving our brain of pills.  We become stuck in a ring of circular logic.  We take the pills because we’re already taking the pills.

And when it comes time to pay our debt and withdraw, we calculate dosages.  We work with our hands and our tools and our knives and our nail files.  We get tired.  We throw up.  We shake.

Every twinge of nausea was a coin; every brain zap was a bank note.

Photo credit: Summer Beretsky, 2006