David
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It was two years ago this month that I sought pharmaceutical assistance for my chronic anxiety. It took awhile to get the dosage right — it was four or five visits before I could talk about my condition to my doctor without getting teary-eyed. Once I had adjusted to the meds, my threshold for handling day-to-day tasks and larger, more stressful burdens had risen so high it seemed I could handle anything thrown my way. I’d never intended to stay on the anti-anxiety meds forever, but I never really considered going off them either.

A few months ago, I sensed I was in some kind of rut. Despite the “spring forward” time change, my days had gotten shorter. This was because I was sleeping in later and later, reluctantly dragging myself out of bed at around 10 a.m. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been to the gym. None of my clothes fit, and I barely seemed to care. It occurred to me that I had no sense of urgency. The stuff that used to drive my panic-fueled engine was gone; from the look of things, it had been gone for a while.

“I want to stop taking Lexapro,” I said one afternoon while waiting for my lunch to finish microwaving. David shot me a wary look before he forced a calm, open expression onto his face. “I’ve been researching it,” I continued, “and I’m really bummed, because from what I’m reading, the withdrawal symptoms are going to suck, big time. But if it sucks to get off of it, I should do it now rather than later, right? I mean, I never wanted to be on it forever.”

I watched carefully for David’s reaction, gauging every microexpression that might convey to me what his words couldn’t. Basically, I wanted to know if the most important person in my life could tolerate the old Barb, panic attacks and all.

“Let’s see how it goes,” David said. His face relayed the rest, or at least how I interpreted his subtle twitches: I’m apprehensive; there was a reason you went on these meds; I worry about you.

He insisted aloud that I taper as slowly as possible, to minimize the withdrawal symptoms. At first, I agreed. But after a full month of tapering, I grew impatient, and, without telling David, I skipped two more doses than I was supposed to. That’s when I first experienced one of the most discussed withdrawal symptoms in all the forums I’d read: brain zaps.

Imagine a shock of static electricity, the kind that happens when you touch a metal doorknob. Now imagine that same sensation in the middle of your head, a place supposedly devoid of nerve endings. I had just run up the stairs when this sensation began — not unpleasant, but most certainly disconcerting, as I’d never experienced anything like it. I stood in the middle of the room as the sensation ran its course, and then, disoriented, I dizzily found my way to a seat.

I went back on a tapered dose for another week, and then I stopped for good. I got the brain zaps several times a day for nearly two weeks. Apparently, the zaps are so common that Wikipedia offers an elaborate definition that spans paragraphs. But I didn’t mind the zaps, especially when compared to other withdrawal symptoms, such as the anger bursts. Something as simple as being unable to reach a plate in the cupboard could trigger a burst of anger so intense I had to fight the urge to grab the nearest object and smash it against the wall.

The worst part about the anger bursts was the frustrating awareness that I was not in control of my own body. At all. I made a point to wait until David was not around before I stomped my feet like a tantrum-ing toddler or beat a pillow until my arms grew tired. I wondered if this was what “roid rage” (guys who overdose steroids) was like. After a fit of fury, I would fall into a ditch of despair. I had two panic attacks in as many weeks.

But then, the symptoms ceased. “It’s like you’re vibrating,” David said to me while I was driving us to my sister Heather’s house for Easter.

“Is that bad? I mean, I do kind of feel like I’m on crack,” I said. “I don’t remember my highs being this high — I just was. Is this normal for me? Is this how I was?”

“It’s hard to understand you when you talk that fast,” David said, but he was smiling, which reassured me.

Oh, no, I thought. Why do I need reassuring? Am I worried? What if David catches on that I’m freaking out in my head right now and he wants me to go back on Lexapro? “So, I was really subdued these last two years is what you’re telling me,” I said, thinking about how to spin my sudden spastic behavior in a way that would make it seem ideal. “I don’t like being subdued.”

Over the next few days, David made a few comments along the lines of, “Lexapro Barb wouldn’t have said this or done that.” I began to worry that he was not happy with my newly magnified emotions. Especially because I was really enjoying them. I hadn’t realized how muted my feelings had been. Now that they were back in full force — the ecstatic and the miserable, so pleasurable, so painful, so raw — I wasn’t about to let them go.

“I think I like my crazy,” I said. We were having breakfast (I’ve been waking up earlier to make time for the gym in the morning). While I spoke I was also noting in my head that my coffee consumption was down by two-thirds since I stopped taking my daily dose.

“I like it, too,” David said.

I took a step back and called bullshit with a warily raised brow. “But I might have panic attacks, and I worry...” I choked on the last word and my eyes began to leak. David reached out, but I took another step back and collected myself. “I don’t want you to have to handle me. I don’t want you to wake up one day and realize you can’t deal with my...my crazy. You’re going to throw your hands in the air and decide it’s just not...worth it.” I dropped my head in my hands and sobbed.

“Hey. Hey,” David said. He used one hand to pull my arms away from my face while wiping my tears away with the other. “Remember, I fell in love with pre-Lexapro Barb. New Barb was sweet for a while, but now that I’ve had a chance to experience Classic Barb again, I’ve come to realize I’m a Classic Barb guy.”

My body went limp at the relief I felt from hearing these words. David, who had earlier called himself the mast to my flapping sail, held fast.

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Comments

aquarimary April 18, 2012 @ 12:56 p.m.

Ever consider some Yoga classes?.... Hey Yoga Girl.....Namaste

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aquarimary April 18, 2012 @ 1:01 p.m.

Check out youtube dj dave & barney kook- Fog & Smog Films- Hey Yoga Girl. Good for a chuckle at least!

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Barbarella Fokos April 18, 2012 @ 2:42 p.m.

I tried yoga once, it didn't go very well. The story about it is right here: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/20... :) I'll check out that video, always up for a good laugh!

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ebrphoto April 19, 2012 @ 12:11 p.m.

This is a "classic Barb" column, in the best way! Full of potential angst, questioning, personal details, and an ending full of love. :) PS: Cute pic of David!

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nan shartel April 19, 2012 @ 12:32 p.m.

Babs...biofeedback training is an amazing way to control anxiety and panic attacks

meditation is a good thing too

David rocks!!!

and ur one lucky chiclet for having a guy like him!!!

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Barbarella Fokos April 19, 2012 @ 2:59 p.m.

I'm not sure what biofeedback is, but I'm on my way to google it now. I wish I could meditate - brain's way too active. Instead, I'm booking a long, crazy spa day. Closest I come to meditation. :) And I agree, can't begin to measure the luck I feel for having David in my life.

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jendaylight April 19, 2012 @ 12:36 p.m.

I enjoyed this article so much, since I went thru a similar experience. After months off of the meds I recognized my passion for life returning, so much so I went from a miserably married, overtime-working stressed-out mom, house-poor homeowner to a much happier video-freelancing, sexual-reviving new girlfriend, calm loving mother & renter in a span of over 2 years. Kudos to you and your experience. I am pleased to feel and have control of all emotions instead of a dull existence on meds. If it works for some great, but others are just creative persons that need to flourish without the awful side-effects. Much <3 Classic Barb

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Barbarella Fokos April 19, 2012 @ 2:58 p.m.

It's nice to know I'm not the only one. Thanks for the thoughtful comment and great pic! :)

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Frederick Simson April 19, 2012 @ 4:54 p.m.

Applause to David. I've often heard that "Opposites attract." But I've come to believe that people aren't so much opposite as they are individually incomplete. While you are unique, you are also not alone in many ways. David is with you, as well as there are many others who share your challenges.

My partner is one who battles demons just as you do; but he completes me as you complete David. Robert has shown me things about myself that has inspired contemplation and change for the better. I have tried to instill self-value-ability in him as he tends to discount himself more than a WalMart mark-down.

There are great suggestions above in these comments. One thing that helps us (for what it's worth) is "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle on audio CDs. I haven't tired of listening to it and Robert needs to listen to it again and again.

We all care about you. Both of you.

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Barbarella Fokos April 19, 2012 @ 6:47 p.m.

I loved that book, maybe it's time to re-read it. Thank you! :)

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Facebook April 19, 2012 @ 6:41 p.m.

Phyllis says: I'm glad you are going back to your real self, Reading your old articles evoked emotion in us readers, You still write great stuff, but I loved the edge you had, and yes, a little intolerance for stupid. Now that you see both sides, you can better gauge your feelings and know what drives them. We fell in love with crazy Barb, and we like calm Barb, maybe a little of both is the way to go.

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nan shartel April 21, 2012 @ 6:31 p.m.

i like "leave them where they lay Barb" best....hahahahahahahaha

that's the not so gentle version of "give em hell Barbie"...ur perceptions are soooooooo readable hunnypop...especially in ur older stuff...i agree with David, i'm a Classic Barb reader

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Facebook April 19, 2012 @ 6:43 p.m.

Jamie W. says: Excellent and brave! Thank you.

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antigeekess April 23, 2012 @ 6:22 p.m.

I was reading this in the print version over lunch today, and had to look online to finish it. Did you notice they screwed that up, BTW?

What a sweetie that fella of yours is. Ya know, he could probably do his own column or book. Possible co-author: James Brolin. Possible title: "Her Crazy." Dudes could build book clubs and support groups around it.

I took Lexapro briefly when my kitty died in 2004 and I was too depressed to function. I guess it did the job, but you're right -- it just made me feel dead, dead, dead. Didn't feel like myself at all. The only other thing I've taken is Ritalin. What a creativity squasher THAT crap is. As you probably know, a lot of them also produce some really nasty side effects from longterm use, such as tardive dyskinesia, which isn't at all pretty.

I vote for psychotherapy, meditation, massages, hot baths, comedy shows, and self-help books. Which reminds me, quite possibly MY favorite man on the planet, memoir writer Augusten Burroughs, has just written a self-help book, if you haven't noticed. Sounds like it's the shit. I've already ordered mine. http://shelf-life.ew.com/2012/04/18/augusten-burroughs-talks-about-his-new-book-this-is-how-exclusive-video/

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Barbarella Fokos April 24, 2012 @ 3:39 p.m.

First of all, HUH? Story didn't end in print version? I think it continued to a different page, but I'm looking into it. That would be a real drag. Now, to the rest of your comment: thank you! For sharing your story, for your compliment to my man, and for the book recommendation. I just scheduled a full-on relaxation day, and I can't wait (will be this weekend). I'll look for that book by Burroughs. :)

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Barbarella Fokos April 24, 2012 @ 5:13 p.m.

Mystery solved - the whole story's in print, but at the end of the first page it says "Continued to page xx," where it continues. Next time, read the fine print! ;)

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antigeekess April 25, 2012 @ 12:07 a.m.

Heh? I remember it was supposed to be page 49, but when I looked there all I saw was ads. I'll take your word for it.

Enjoy your spa day. I recommend the full-body oily Western massage and the European pedicure. :)

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Robert Hagen April 24, 2012 @ 2:08 p.m.

I think youre on the right track. Synthetics always end up letting you down.

Im not going to go through family history here. Diva, if you let go of guilt, are willing to do the right thing, and just work with whats in front of you, without particular expectations, that ultimately are formed by external forces,

and just realize girl, youre not to blame. Gather yourself up, even if noone else understnds. Youll be truly surprised at the possibility of realizing a simple thing

I didnt do this.

Regardless, at the end of the road.

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YesGrrrl June 26, 2012 @ 11:15 a.m.

Wow, I didn't know there were such side effects associated with that stuff. It doesn't sound good when it's so complicated to try and stop. I think as with any self-medicating (prescribed or otherwise), we're probably better off trying to talk through why the undesirable feelings are coming up in the first place.

I have a good friend who went through an anxiety therapy thing at UCLA. Apparently there is a famous program there and she swears by it. Maybe they have something online or an affiliate down here? I personally enjoy a few self-hypnosis iPhone apps (search for 'andrew johnson' to see them all).

Thanks for sharing with all of us. Take good care, B.

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Barbarella Fokos June 26, 2012 @ 11:45 a.m.

Self-hypnosis? That sounds like an adventure. I'll check out the apps, thanks for the tip, and for your comments. :)

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