Years ago, before panic attacks became one of my defining characteristics, I decided I wanted to be one of those crunchy mothers-to-be who avoids all medication at all cost. I’d be growing a tiny human inside of me, after all. I vowed, early in my twenties, that even Tylenol wouldn’t even be allowed.
Oh, the naivete of my youth.
It’s been a long time since I’ve posted a med update, and that’s sort of been an intentional choice. Months ago, I started a short series about withdrawing from Celexa, an SSRI drug used to treat depression — but I’d been taking it off-label for panic disorder for about 2 years. I’m no stranger to SSRI withdrawal, so I was careful to perform a very slow taper.
SLOWLY BUT NOT SURELY
Things were looking sort of bright on about half my original dosage until I tried to go and pick up a crate a vegetables a mere 2 miles away from my home:
It was Tuesday, and I was driving my car to pick up my CSA share — a box full of veggies from a local farmer — just across the bridge from where I live.
Easy. Close. A simple task.
Agoraphobically, I’ve never really had a problem with bridges before. (And, architecturally, I’m fascinated by them!)
But on that day, in the middle of this unremarkable concrete bridge, I felt a small twinge of fear brewing in the basement of my stomach. Something felt wrong — indescribably and uncomfortably wrong.”
I went on to have a panic attack that seeded countless other panic attacks later that month. (They travel in packs.)
Irritated by this, and knowing that SSRI withdrawal in and of itself can cause panic attacks, I trudged on. I kept splitting my pills. Then, once I got down to about 5 mg of the stuff, pill-splitting became a pain in the ass so I switched to a liquid Celexa concoction that tasted like a moldy candy cane.
I felt hopeful — in my mind — but my body fell into the usual SSRI-withdrawal despair. Fatigue, depression, panic attacks — and the worst agoraphobia of my life.
I had a few days where I was too scared to get out of bed. Like, literally — I surrounded my bed with snacks, anti-nausea meds, and all of my other “safe” items and willed away the day while watching Big Bang Theory DVD’s on repeat. Sitting upright sent adrenaline charging through my gut. The thought of going downstairs to the kitchen or the dining room felt dangerous.
My world had grown so small.
FOOL ME TWICE, PEOPLE
I should’ve known. Paxil withdrawal was a trip and a half, and Celexa withdrawal was no different. Countless docs had told me that Celexa withdrawal wouldn’t be nearly as bad as Paxil withdrawal — but by and large, it was. It was nearly as bad.
Could I handle a pregnancy like this? Frozen under the covers in my bedroom, and reliant on Xanax if I wanted to venture down the stairs to check the mail?
To check the goddamn mail?
That’s where I gave up. If I couldn’t even check the mail without Xanax, I couldn’t survive day-to-day life with a fetus swimming around in my uterus. Would it drown in my adrenaline? How would I get to doctor’s appointments? Would my rapid heartbeat send my figurative baby-to-be into her own cardiological distress?
I called my psychiatrist and I agreed, under the duress of a miserably immobile body, to try Zoloft.
Photo: abbyladybug (Flickr)