I have a complicated relationship with alcohol. I always have. When I was a kid, it was drilled into me that the road of booze was not one that I should be traveling on until I was of age, and even then, it was a road to be traveled lightly. In my family, anyone who had more than a couple of drinks every-once-in-a-while had a drinking problem.
Do you want to be an alcoholic?
Then don’t drink.
For a good part of my teenage years, the scare tactics worked. I didn’t drink. I didn’t go to parties. I thought people who drank were stupid. Not going to parties was pretty easy for me though; I wasn’t super popular in high school. Or even moderately popular. It’s not like I was turning down parties all the time. I had my group of friends and we hung out and watched movies and drank pop and ate chips.
The secret (to no one), however, was that I desperately wanted to be popular. But, the reason I didn’t go to parties wasn’t just that none of the popular people liked me and I was never invited (although that was all true), it was also that I was terrified to go to them. People drank at parties. Drank alcohol. And drinking alcohol was stupid and made you do stupid things and I didn’t want ANY PART OF THAT, thank you very much.
It’s not like I hadn’t been to parties before. I HAD. Like, one or two. And I’d had a terrible time. Because there were people drinking and I didn’t know what to do. It was awkward and I was uncomfortable and I didn’t talk to anyone because everyone was drinking and people who drank were bad and I worried the whole time that they would get caught and we would all be in big trouble. It’s really a mystery why I wasn’t invited to more.
Around the time I was 17, my friends and I had started hanging out with people from an online community. Keep in mind that I’m old so this was way before online communities were a thing. This was way before Facebook and Twitter and even THE INTERNET if you can believe it. Yes, my friends, there was a time when the internet as it is now, didn’t exist. I hope I didn’t just blow too many minds.
In any case, for this particular online community, you had to go somewhere (I forget where but it was outside in the real world) to buy credits so you could chat. You’d get a code on a piece of paper and enter it in (after you waited for your dial-up modem to connect), and then you’d be allowed into the chat room. And then your mom would pick up the phone to make a phone call and you’d hear her yell, “WHY IS THE PHONE SCREECHING?!” and you’d be all like, “MOM I’M ON THE COMPUTER, GOD!” and then she’d hang up and you’d have to do the whole thing again. Oh, the good ol’ days.
One Saturday, I was hanging out with one of my BFFs (except we just said “best friends” back then), and she was like, “I am SO hungover,” and I was like, “What?” and she explained that she had had too much to drink the night before at one of the online group’s parties. I was stunned. My best friend? Who I watched movies and drank pop and ate chips with, had drank? Alcohol? What was happening? She wasn’t a bad person. She was actually pretty cool. And now, curiously, even cooler.
I didn’t react with disgust or fear or haughty piousness. I was mostly intrigued. If she could drink and have fun and nothing bad happened, maybe I could try it too.
And then I did and, oh man, life was never the same.
It’s been a bit of a rough summer. And I didn’t really want to write about it because, so far, most of this blog has consisted of me bragging about single-handedly discovering the magical secrets to ever-lasting happiness. Turns out, I haven’t.
It really didn’t help that, right after I decided to go off my anxiety medication, I injured my Achilles tendon which pretty much destroyed my plans to have a super-active, amazing, dream summer.
I have not been training for a half-marathon. I have not been playing endless amounts of baseball.
What I have been doing a lot of is eating, drinking, and watching TV, so I’m trained up real good in those areas.
Good news: the withdrawal symptoms from being off my medication have eased up quite significantly.
Not so good news: after almost two months, they’re still around. It’s actually pretty interesting. Almost every day, around 1:30 PM, it’s like my body just decides it’s done. I get nauseous, dry-mouthed, and lose the ability to focus on anything. And the exhaustion. Man. It’s crazy. Some days I get so tired I can’t even watch TV. If you know me, you’d know how significant that is.
Good news: this doesn’t happen every day and is happening less and less. I’ve learned to be very grateful for the normal days.
Not so good news: I had a pretty big disappointment in July that I didn’t handle very well. Mostly I just decided that I sucked and, rather than feel those fun feelings, I decided to eat a lot of bad food and drink a lot of booze and try to pretend everything was fine. Surprisingly (to no one) that actually made me feel a lot worse. By the end of it all, I not only sucked, but I was also filled with one-too-many-hangovers remorse and none of my pants fit.
Good news: I broke on through to the other side and am back to feeling like life is pretty great. I also learned some valuable things:
I need to feel feelings, even when they suck
Everyone is worth something
I shouldn’t focus so much on outcomes
I need to be kinder to myself
I have awesome friends and family
Half-price-bottles-of-wine night is never a good idea
I’m very happy to say that I’m back on track. Great things are happening. Life is good. Stay tuned!
Remember that time when I was all, “I’m running every day and even in the mornings, I’m such an incredible athlete!”?
Shortly after I wrote that post I overdid it playing softball and was diagnosed with Achilles Tendonitis and had to stop, not only running in the mornings but also at all other times during the day. And I had to stop playing on my aforementioned softball team, for which I paid $200 to join. So, basically, I’ve been doing nothing for the past month expect watching TV, eating ice cream and being poor. Except now I’m trying to get off dairy so I’m actually eating Häagen-Dazs non-dairy frozen dessert while watching TV and being poor. P.S. Häagen-Dazs non-dairy frozen dessert is actually really good.
I’m going to put my last post under the category of “JUST KIDDING!” kind of the like the one where I was bragging about how I had finally figured out how to be grown up and then went out and got totally shit-faced.
This story is not about my foot, however, because it’s getting better and I still have hope that I’m going to be able to jump back on the half-marathon training horse; this story, as the title would imply, is about going off my meds.
Now, this isn’t a decision I took lightly. I’ve been on medication for anxiety and depression for about a year and a half now and, while I was feeling pretty great, I knew it was not an easy thing to do. But I talked to my doctor and she put me on a plan where I’d taper off for a month and then I’d be off for good. She said there might be side effects, but I didn’t really look into them because I’m a bit of a hypochondriac and I figured if I didn’t know what kind of side effects I could experience, I would be less likely to convince myself I was experiencing them.
The tapering-off month wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t as hard as I thought. Each time I’d lower my dose, I’d have a bit of a dry mouth at the end of the day for a few days, and I had a constant feeling of sort of a light, background nausea, but it was manageable and only slightly irritating. Speaking of irritating, I was a bit more irritable. But I’m pretty much always irritable so, no big change there. I’d mostly just apologize for being a bitch and comfort myself by reaffirming that I only had three weeks or two weeks or one week left, and then after I was off the meds for good, everything would be fine.
I’m going to pause here for a second for the benefit of any new Facebook friends or old Facebook friends or anyone who is reading this thinking, “Why on earth is she writing about this for everyone to see? It’s super personal and, I’m not going to lie, I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable.” Well, my friends, I’m writing about this because, as you will soon read, after I was off the meds for good, everything was not fine. It was terrible and scary and really, REALLY fucking hard. And still is hard. And, two days ago, when I had to leave work early because I couldn’t handle it anymore and was crying on my couch desperately searching the internet to figure out why I was feeling like I was falling apart, I couldn’t find anything. Well, that’s a lie, I did find facts which calmed me down quite a bit, but I couldn’t find anyone talking about it aside from questions posted on forums, and I don’t really find those helpful.
So, I’m going to talk about it. Even if it makes people uncomfortable. Because it’s important.
What I would have found out, if I had done ANY amount of research at all, is that all the shitty stuff that I’m feeling is totally normal. I was taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which were, not only giving my brain and body more serotonin but were also preventing the serotonin from being absorbed as quickly. While some disagree, it is now a widely held belief that anxiety and depression may be caused by a serotonin deficiency and, it logically follows that an increase in serotonin can help stabilize moods.
So, thinking that everything would be magically fine once I had finished tapering off, was kind of dumb naive. Because, for the past year and a half, while I was getting my serotonin from my meds, my body not only stopped producing as much but the parts of my brain that absorbed it had started disappearing to prevent overload. Now, until my brain figures out how to regulate itself again, I’m going through serotonin withdrawal.
And it sucks. So fucking much.
For the past 5 days, I’ve been dealing with extreme nausea, dizziness, headaches, loss of appetite and, towards the end of the day, extreme exhaustion. Like, I-can’t-even-watch-TV exhaustion, so that tells you how bad it is. Some days are worse than others, Friday was terrible, today was relatively good. However, the smell of BBQ is now wafting through my window and, while normally that would make me drool on my shirt, I honestly feel like I’m going to puke on my computer.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t.
The good news is, I’m not experiencing some of the more serious withdrawal effects: suicidal thoughts (not at all — don’t worry), muscle spasms, muscle pain or insomnia. I’m sleeping well, which I think is saving me. Another piece of good news is that one of the withdrawal effects is weight loss — fingers crossed for that one to help offset all my non-dairy frozen dessert eating.
There are things that make me feel somewhat better: using my SAD lamp for 10-minute intervals really seems to help, ginger ale is my new best friend, and next week I think I’m going to be able to start going to the gym again which should give my serotonin levels a boost.
Amazingly, my spirits are still pretty okay. At least, they are now. Once I realized that what I was feeling was normal and I wasn’t going off the deep end, I felt a lot better. Other people feel this way and they have pushed through and they have made it out to the other side — and I will too. From what I’ve read, serotonin withdrawal typically lasts about seven weeks, and often up to three months, sometimes more. While I had not prepared myself for that timeline AT ALL, now that I’m aware, I know I can make it through.
If you’re planning on going off your meds, I hope this doesn’t scare you. If I did it again, I would definitely taper off over several months, not just one, so that’s something to keep in mind. If you’re curious to see how I’m doing or what I’m learning, stay turned. I’m curious too and I’m planning to share my progress and anything else that could make it easier for others.
If you take anything from this post, other than the fact that I’m an oversharer, I hope it’s this: if you’re reading this and you’re going through the same thing, you’re not broken and you’re not alone. It’s normal and you’ll get through it. That’s what I’m telling myself and that’s the most important part.
So, rather than walk the 20 minutes to the train station and then the additional 10 minutes to work listening to a podcast like I usually do, I listened to birds and wind and people and dogs and my feet hitting the ground. I even said “good morning” to someone.
It was wild.
Normally I’m so focused on my podcast and trying to learn and RETAIN SOMETHING FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, that I miss all of that stuff. It was a nice walk – quiet and peaceful. I am glad, however, that I found some working headphones in my backpack at work. I mean, I wouldn’t want to risk someone actually talking to me on my way home.
I’m not very kind to my headphones, so I’ve just started buying cheap ones. I keep getting the cord caught on the weight machines and treadmill at the gym, or on the self-checkout machine at Wal-Mart, embarrassingly yelping every time the earbuds get aggressively ripped out of my ears.
But they are my best friend when I run, which I’ve been doing a lot more of lately. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve started to train for a half-marathon. I’ve done half-marathons before, two to be exact, but I haven’t been running seriously for almost four years. In fact, I will be running this half-marathon almost 4 years to the day from when I ran my last one.
As you can imagine, or maybe you can’t because you’re not grossly out of shape, the initial training has been a tad more challenging than I expected. I purposely made the first month of my plan relatively easy. Monday/Thursday runs at 3 to 4 kilometers and long runs at 7.
The first 3K went alright. It wasn’t easy, but running isn’t usually easy for me. I felt good. Or, at least, I didn’t feel like dying. By the end, I had convinced myself that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all.
My next run, although only 1K more, was slightly more challenging. My GPS stopped working half-way through and, shortly after that, I just stopped completely and decided I was done, justifying to myself that I probably made up the lost distance by running over a short bridge on the way back that I hadn’t run over for the first half. Except I walked over the bridge. Because it was bouncy and I didn’t want puke in front of all the people walking home from work.
My first long-run was that weekend. I got lost. Yes, I’ve lived in my neighborhood for five years and yes, I’ve run in the area before but, somehow, changing my route slightly threw me for a loop. I ended up in one of those new neighborhoods where all the houses and streets and parks look exactly the same, frantically turning corners hoping to come out somewhere that looked familiar. Parents held their kids back protectively as I ran past, sweaty, hot, red-faced, my eyes screaming PLEASE TELL ME WHERE THE HELL I AM.
I gave up before I ran the full 7K. And then walked an additional 4K back to where I started because I had gotten so desperately lost.
I’ve also, inexplicably, become one of those weirdos who run in the morning before work. This is more surprising to me than anything else that’s resulted from the half-marathon decision: sleeping is my favourite and I’ve always scoffed at those keeners who feel the need to get a healthy, jump-start on their day.
Also, I not only do it, but I LIKE it. It’s much more enjoyable running during the cool, crisp, quiet morning hours than the hot, stinky, sweaty, noisy after work hours. AND I now have two more free evenings a week which is great. I’ve basically added an extra, magical hour to my day.
As a final bonus, when someone asks me how I am, in all likelihood expecting me to answer “fine” or “good” like a normal person, I can take that opportunity to show them how cool I am by answering that I’m a “bit tired because I got up at 6am to go for a run,” even if it has literally nothing to do with the conversation.
After writing my last post about how enlightened and grown up I am and how I finally figured out how to “live life to its fullest” like an adult, I went ahead and broke pretty much all of my new rules. Last week I ended up on the wrong side of half a bottle of wine and some gin, and today I realized that I’m about as busy in my personal life as I was back in the days of trying to aggressively win at life.
There are some differences, however:
I did not party until 3:00 AM and get up to go snowboarding the next day. I “partied” until 10:30 PM and got up the next day and went to work, desperately, desperately regretting my decision to drink gin for the first time in several years.
All the things I’m busy doing make me happy, and I’m doing them because I want to, not because I think I should.
I’m also kind of testing myself. Over the years I’ve slowly been introducing more things into my personal life, both to see how much I can take on without burning out, and also to get out more and make more connections with people. And, really, making connections with people is technically part of my new “living life to its fullest” strategy so I’m actually not a liar at all. So there.
Another benefit of doing a lot of things that don’t involve watching TV is that I have more things to blog about. There are only so many times I can blog about Grey’s Anatomy before people stop reading my blog – believe me, I know.
So, what kinds of things do you have to look forward to reading about?
I’m training for a half-marathon which I will be running in September – spoiler alert, I can barely walk.
I’m going back to school to get certified in technical writing, with a focus on marketing and PR.
I’m the volunteer editor/writer of my community newsletter and blog.
I’m volunteering for a City committee to help make our communities better.
I play on a company softball team – spoiler alert, I’m not very good and have already hurt myself.
Also, I work full-time.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are times when I get a brief flash of HOLY F, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! which is typically accompanied by utter exhaustion but, for the most part, I’m really enjoying myself and am looking forward to a jam-packed summer full of fun!
Fingers crossed this feeling lasts longer than a week.
In other news, I just found out that Brooklyn Nine-Nine was canceled by Fox which is basically the most devastating news I’ve heard in a while. I’m not sure if I want to live in a world where a useless piece of garbage like Two Broke Girls can last for six seasons and a hilarious slice of genius like Brooklyn Nine-Nine cannot.
It took me a while to understand what LIVING LIFE TO ITS FULLEST really meant to me. There are so many books and blogs and articles about all the people who are getting the most out of their life by doing what they want and going on adventures and partying until dawn and doing crazy things at the spur of the moment.
“This is it,” I thought, “these are the people who are doing it right. These are the people who are wringing every last drop out of life.” Did I want to be lying on my death bed thinking that I’m glad I played it safe? Hell, no! I want to be satisfied that I lived the crap out of my life and did everything possible to make sure I enjoyed every second.
I started out alright. In my early twenties, I went skydiving, I would go on spur-of-the-moment trips, I frequently partied until dawn – once getting up the next day and going snowboarding, never having snowboarded in my life. I played on three softball teams and an ultimate frisbee team and went camping on weekends. I was constantly making plans and going out. I lived in Chile for nine months teaching English. I hiked the Inca Trail.
In my late thirties, I started slowing down. I still partied, mind you, but that was the only thing I was checking off my “LIVE LIFE TO ITS FULLEST” list on a regular basis and, by that point, telling myself that I was checking that off my list was basically just an excuse to do another shot. YOLO!
I always thought I should be doing more, and felt like a failure when I ended up just staying in for the weekend and watching TV. I needed to go on an adventure! I needed to join sports teams! I needed to go camping! I needed to go on spur-of-the-moment trips and skydive and bungee jump and go white water rafting! I can’t have free time, free time is for boring people.
So, I’d push myself to do stuff and made plans to go on adventures, but the stuff wasn’t as fun as it used to be and the adventures usually fell through. Mostly because I was too hungover to go anywhere.
Then something occurred to me: maybe LIVING LIFE TO ITS FULLEST means something different when you’re in your forties (or thirties for people who figured this out sooner than I did – likely most of them).
As part of my happiness project, I’ve been trying to figure out what happiness looks like to me. I’d always thought it meant adventures and parties and no plans and fun and jumping out of bed every day with a lust for life because you never know what amazing thing is going to happen, and that’s what I’d been constantly searching for.
But, as I started really thinking about what actually makes me happy, I realized it was none of those things. While I guess I could be called a morning person because I like mornings and I feel more driven to get things accomplished earlier in the day, I will never be a person who jumps out of bed with a lust for life. I likely wouldn’t even jump out of bed if there was a fire in my condo. Even on weekends when I can sleep as long as I want, it still takes me at least 30 minutes to roll myself out. I love my bed. I love sleeping. Being in bed makes me happy.
Camping does not make me happy. I hate camping. Sleeping on the ground under a piece of canvas with bugs and bears and coyotes and disgusting public toilets which are a 10-minute walk away is basically my nightmare. Sleeping in a bed in a room with the window open and a clean bathroom mere steps away makes me happy.
I like plans. I like knowing what’s coming next. No matter how hard I try to do things all willy-nilly, plans keep my anxiety at bay. Plans make me happy.
Adventure backpacking trips with dorm room hostels and shared bathrooms: unhappy. Traveling to safe places with hotels and restaurants and not talking to people I don’t know: happy.
Going to big parties or crowded clubs where I don’t know anyone and have to get preventatively drunk so I can talk to strangers and not punch anyone in the face for elbowing me in the ribs 20 times, and then suffering from a raging hangover for three days: unhappy. Going for drinks or dinner or brunch with friends or, god forbid, staying home on a Friday night with a good book or Netflix: extremely happy.
Writing makes me happy; running makes me happy; checking things off my to-do list makes me happy. Simple things like setting goals and achieving them make me happy, even if that goal is to just check one more thing off my to-do list before I watch TV.
Now my idea of LIVING LIFE TO ITS FULLEST is just living life to its fullest – not loud and exciting, but at a normal scale and fulfilling. I don’t need to play on seven sports teams and pack my social schedule so full that I don’t have time to have an emotion. I don’t have to sky-dive or bungee jump or run a marathon to get the most out of life; my life is fuller when I sit and talk and really listen to people and make connections and feel things and learn and, ultimately, grow.
This may not sound exciting – mostly because it isn’t – and I may not be as “fun” as I used to be. I will likely not wake up one day and just decide I’m going to move to Toronto. There is a very good chance I will never go snowboarding again. But I’m OK with that now. I don’t need to adhere to some crazy adventurous life I imagined for myself merely because it’s what I thought a good life looked like. I’m 42 years old; this is the first job I’ve had in a long time where I’ve stayed for over 2 years; I’m not married; I don’t have kids, and I haven’t dated anyone for over a decade – there is nothing about my life right now that I would have imagined a “good life” would look like – but I love it, and wouldn’t change a thing.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I still want to go on adventures and take risks and try new things and meet new people, but I will do those things because I want to, not because I think I should. And I will not feel guilty about spending a night on the couch watching TV. Or an entire weekend.
Because that’s what I like to do. That’s what happiness looks like to me.
I used to think about dying a lot. I could say, “more than most people,” but I have no idea how often most people think about dying. “How often do you think about dying?” is not typically one of my go-to “get to know you” questions. I did ask it once at a speed dating event. Just kidding. It’s pretty much a given that the only thing people are thinking about at speed dating events is, “How on earth did I get to this place in my life?”
But, I digress.
One of the results of always thinking out dying – about me dying and my friends dying and my family dying – and working myself into a giant, weepy, anxious, insomnia-inducing mess – was that I was constantly telling myself that I “shouldn’t take life for granted” and I should “live in the moment” and “life is short” so I should “live it to its fullest.”
I’d always had a hard time doing all those things. Ever since I was a kid I struggled with enjoying what was happening because I was always trying so hard to ENJOY WHAT WAS HAPPENING. If I hadn’t slept the night before, all I could focus on during the brief visit with an aunt and cousin who I rarely see was how I’d ruined this potentially magical day by being tired. Every time my grandparents came to visit, my thoughts would be focused on the fact that this might be the last time I see them before they die. Every time I went home for Christmas, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t enjoy our fun, family traditions because, in the back of my mind, I was always wondering if it would be our last one together.
Not only did I ruin every moment by thinking about the shitty things that could happen or how it could be better, but I also extra ruined it by constantly telling myself to stop thinking those thoughts, and then beating myself up when I couldn’t. By the time the moment was over, I was exhausted.
The good news is, I rarely think about death like that anymore and, when I do, I have enough tricks in my toolbox to divert my thoughts elsewhere. Looking back on when I was a kid, I can now see that self-sabotaging in times when I should have been enjoying things came from anxiety and depression, both of which I have since learned to manage. I mean, I’m no Eckhart Tolle, but I have learned to, for the most part, really experience happy times for what they are. Mostly because I’m not thinking, “THIS IS A HAPPY TIME! WHY AREN’T YOU ENJOYING IT?” over and over again. Who knew?
My desperate need to constantly LIVE LIFE TO ITS FULLEST, however, took a bit longer to figure out. It took finally realizing what living life to its fullest actually means. To ME. And understanding that what it does mean and what I thought it should mean are different things. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t mean being in my forties and binge drinking and partying until 3am.