One of the benefits of coming off my SSRI medication is being able to reconnect with the full range of my emotions again. I’ve come to find that this is also a very challenging experience at times. While it’s much easier for me to feel joy, love, and laughter, I’m also more quick to anger and prone to tears. Although this may be unpleasant and uncomfortable at times, I still consider it a positive overall. Because this is the human experience that I had been missing out on for so many years. I may have wanted to numb my anxiety, but I hadn’t realized that in order to do that, Paxil was going to numb everything else as well. Even so, at first that was a trade I was willing to make, but after a while I began to wonder what I had given up and whether or not it was truly worth it.
The first thing I noticed was that I never cried anymore. Obviously in the beginning, I thought that was a great side-effect. Who wants to feel sad? I certainly didn’t. And without those heavy feelings weighing me down, I felt almost invincible. After a few years, though, I genuinely missed being able to cry and experience that release. It began to feel like the pressure of all the sadness I was not allowing to come up to the surface was becoming a dense ball of discomfort deep within my heart. There were many times that I desperately wished that I could cry and let it out.
What I hadn’t noticed was how I also laughed less while on Paxil. It started to seem like I hadn’t laughed genuinely for years. I still found things funny and made tons of jokes, but I never really laughed. I was beginning to forget what that even felt like. Laughter was more of a social obligation than a natural unconscious reaction. It never even occurred to me that this was related to my medication until a few days ago. I’ve realized that that involuntary laughter bubbling up inside of me had returned. I had forgotten how amazing it felt.
So the first things I picked up on were laughter and crying. Both of which I now cherish and am immensely grateful for. However, I’m also being confronted with my ol’ buddy anger. You see as a teenager, I was an extremely angry person. I can still remember the white hot rage I would experience on nearly a daily basis. Rage that seemed uncontrollable and terrifying to those around me and even to myself after the fact. I foolishly believed that had simply faded with age and was also being nullified with my yoga and meditation practice. Although I still felt anger more than other emotions, it was no where near the level of intensity that it used to be.
Over the last few days, I’ve caught myself being overwhelmed with anger more than I have been in years. I thought I had learned to let it go, but in reality that viscous current of adrenaline was just not as strong as it once was. I am feeling it again at full force, and really struggling to cope. I am fearful that I may become the aggressive, angry person that I used to be when I was younger. I forgot how compelling the feeling of anger can be. It is all consuming at times. The phrase “blinded by rage” is quite accurate. That emotion tends to hit me like a freight train. It comes on suddenly and is irresistible. I feel helpless to control my actions when I’m in such a state. Of course, I have never physically harmed anyone, but I am quite good at spitting venom. My tongue becomes the deadliest blade and once I’ve calmed down, I am always mortified and ashamed of my behavior.
If anger is the price I have to pay to keep the rest of my emotions, I will. Especially because it seems to be the only negative change I’ve noticed so far from lowering my dosage to practically zero. I had definitely expected worse. I’m surprised that this anger has merely been lying dormant inside of me all along though. To be honest, I’m a bit disappointed. I really thought I had overcome that ugly side of my personality.
Now the real work begins. I’ve been given all these years to practice and grow spiritually, and I’m being given the chance to use what I have learned. I’m trying to remain curious about those angry feelings when they arise, instead of turning that anger back on myself like I often do. It is quite fascinating, honestly. One thing I’ve noticed is the way I cling onto those violent feelings. My rational mind is useless against such a powerful rage. There is a self-righteousness mixed in that likes to feel vindicated and does all it can to justify my anger. It almost makes me more angry to imagine letting it go. As if that is letting the offending person or situation “off the hook.” It feels like my duty to make sure they don’t get away with it.
Given that I’ve already shown myself time and time again that trying to reason with myself in this state is pointless, I’m trying to employ a different strategy. Rationalizations allow me to still focus on whatever it is that has angered me. My goal from now on is going to be shifting my focus. I want to try to turn that focus inward. Usually when I’m angry, my mind is going a mile a minute listing ways that I am correct to be angry, riling myself up even more, stoking the flames. Rather than letting my mind do that, I’m going to try to focus on the feeling itself, to get out of my head entirely and move into my physical body.
What does anger feel like? For me it feels hot and stiff. My chest tightens, my breath becomes quick and short, my heart beats fast and hard against my ribcage. While these aren’t pleasant sensations to focus on, this is a way for me to work through my anger in a mindful way. Even though I’m finding this experience frustrating and challenging, at the same time I am grateful. I am grateful for the chance to get to know these long hidden parts of myself again. I am grateful for all of these newly rediscovered emotions, even the difficult ones.