Paxil (5mg)

I cannot believe I have only been taking 5mg of Paxil instead of 30mg for nearly two weeks now. Back when I was around 22 or 23 I began taking this SSRI every day and only recently found the nerve to try to wean myself off of it at 27. There were many times throughout the years when I wanted to do this, but when you read the horror stories about Paxil withdrawal it’s quite intimidating. A big part of my hesitation to give up the medication was also psychological. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to manage without it.

Before I began taking Paxil, I was petrified of most (if not all) social interactions. It was a monumental task to even call my doctor to set up an appointment or to order food in a drive-thru. Meeting new people was always a nightmare, and I had a very difficult time making friends. After a month on an SSRI though, I was a completely different person. I didn’t think twice about making a phone call or talking to a stranger on the street. I felt like the shackles I had been wearing all my life were finally removed. That ever-present fog of fear had finally lifted.

But what if even after years of living in this newfound freedom, Paxil was still the only reason I was able to do these things? What if that old fear came back to overtake me as soon as I stopped? Not only that, I was afraid there would be no turning back for me once I began this journey away from Paxil. There are many accounts online of people attempting to cut back only to realize they desperately need this drug. However, upon increasing their dosage again, they found the medication didn’t work like it did the first time. I was afraid if I was making the wrong decision, I would be stuck with it.

Despite all these fears, with the support of my loved ones and primary doctor, I managed to start weaning myself off my Paxil. I tried not to think too much about it or look for any negative symptoms rearing their ugly heads. Much to my surprise, everything has remained pretty much the same, even now on practically no meds at all. I have only noticed positive changes such as rediscovering my formerly blunted range of emotions. And I could not be happier or more proud of myself.

The other day as I was driving home from an impromptu meeting with my boyfriend and his family, something incredible dawned on me. I can’t believe I just did that, I thought. I just spent the whole day with my boyfriend and his family. I just met his developmentally disabled aunt and elderly grandfather without having any idea I would be doing so beforehand. Wow. This might not sound like anything out of the ordinary to most people, but imagining how I would have handled that situation before Paxil vs. now is like night and day.

At 21 if my boyfriend had sprung meeting these people on me at the last minute I would have been petrified, angry, desperate to get out of the situation somehow. But that day, it never even occurred to me that it was of any significance. I simply shrugged and agreed when he said we’d be going to see them. I had no problem at all talking with them. I feel like I even managed to make a great impression. It actually brings tears to my eyes to say that. (Tears I now feel forming much more often and easily on my lowered dosage.) I am just so proud of myself.

Even though I’ve been through many similar experiences in the years since starting Paxil, this was the first time I can remember doing something like this pretty much on my own, with no significant chemical assistance. I genuinely never thought I would be capable of maneuvering social situations on my own. This incident has allowed me to more fully appreciate the things I’ve continued to do every day with no problem since lowering my dosage. I’ve still been meeting new clients every day at work, making follow-up phone calls, shooting the breeze with my coworkers, etc. All things I have become accustomed to, but had always given all the credit for to Paxil.

So to anyone out there who has been leaning on an SSRI for support, wanting to venture out on your own again, but are too fearful to try, don’t be afraid. You can do it. (With the help and support of a medical professional, of course.) I had hoped that the new pathways I have been building for years inside my brain would be strong enough to stand on their own after so many years of Paxil assistance, but I couldn’t be sure. Now I am. I know I can do this.

In summation, first I was throwing total support behind psych meds, then I was wavering more towards being against them all together. Now I have a better understanding of how to use these tools without becoming dependent on them. SSRI’s are not a miracle cure. They are also not something to avoid entirely. I finally see that they are like training wheels. Paxil gave me the courage and the confidence to gather new experiences, to learn that social situations don’t have to be scary. It gave me the time to practice better coping skills. My brain used to associate small talk, phone calls, meeting people, etc. with terror. Now I have years and years of conditioning under my belt to remind me that I can do these things and be perfectly okay. There is nothing to fear. Paxil has taught me that, and I am so grateful. Now with my new neural pathways in place and the old self-destructive ones faded and withered, I am ready to forge ahead on my own.

Chemical conversations: The story and science of how medication helped with  my depression | The Anchor

How Understanding Neuroplasticity Changes Everything

There are few things that I’ve learned about that have completely changed my life, but neuroplasticity is one of them. I’m just as excited about it now as I was when I first heard the term in my psychology classes at university. Up until that point, I was mostly resigned to the fact that, being in my twenties, my brain had already passed through the formative years in which it had any real potential to change. I felt that even though I was young, my brain was already set to mostly continue on the path it was placed on by my genetics and my experiences in my childhood/teen years.

I can still feel how thrilled I was to learn that wasn’t the case. As someone who is very data driven and fact focused, I would have never implemented yoga or meditation into my life if I hadn’t learned about neuroplasticity. Before that I wanted to believe in the healing potential of these practices, but as far as I could see, there was no hard evidence to show it did anything at all. (Granted I must not have been looking very hard.) But I learned that by mindfully practicing stillness, compassion, love, peace, focus, anything really, you are strengthening those neural pathways in the brain just like a muscle. What could be more incredible?

For the first time in my life, I saw, and truly believed, that I could be anything I wanted to be. It wouldn’t necessarily be easy or fast, but I was guaranteed to change if I put effort into it. I didn’t have to be that sad, angry, troubled, teenager anymore. I could be anyone. I could be cheerful, optimistic, friendly, loving, calm, kind. I didn’t have to feel like I was “lying to myself” by trying to change, like I used to. I knew it would work. I had the science to support me.

Even though it’s been years since I started intentionally redirecting my brain, I’m not quite where I want to be yet. As we all know, progress is not linear. I’ve encountered many setbacks along the way, especially this past year. But still, I have made some incredible progress. I never would have imagined at 18 that I would be the person I am today at 27. I still have a long way to go, but I am so much closer. A lot of the negative neural pathways that I maintained as a teenager, have all but withered away. And realizing all of this, remembering all of this, has reminded me that I can change. I’ve done it before. And it’s that belief in myself that ultimately makes it possible. I have neuroscience to thank for that belief.

I have been strengthening some pretty unhealthy pathways in my brain in 2020. It won’t be easy to redirect myself from those powerful urges and habits. But I’ll do it. I’ve already had a huge success yesterday. It may not have been perfect, but every little bit of progress counts. I feel so much better this morning. More awake, more energetic, more positive, more loved. That’s how I think of this effort, as an act of self-love. It keeps me motivated, happy, excited about the process. It feels so good to step away from this strange auto-pilot I’ve defaulted to and really be present with myself again. I have a long road ahead of me. But for the first time in a long time, I am eager to continue on this journey.

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