Paxil Free

A personal record of Paxil withdrawal.

The Brain Zaps

Saturday, July 8th, 2000.

I began taking Paxil last year after experiencing a series of traumatic events which left my spirit drained, less humorous, less alive, less caring about living, etc. I wasn’t severely depressed, but it was beginning to interfere with my responsibilities at work, my social relationships, my personal relationships, everything. I eventually took the Paxil at 20mg/day, and it did help.

Meanwhile back on the farm…

I got on a Paxil-withdrawal website a few days ago because I was experiencing “brain zaps” after my third day off Paxil cold turkey (doctor’s orders), and I knew I had to do something. For anyone who doesn’t know what “brain zaps” are: It feels like a mild (if there’s such a thing) electric current going through the front of your head, except it’s inside your head. It occurs in fairly regular intervals (for me it was about once every 10 or 20 seconds) — and it kicked in whenever I tried to go sleep on the third day of going cold turkey. It’s not really a “zap” though, more like a surge of electricity, like a thunder storm building up over the horizon, except it’s inside your head and it surges up from zero to overload in about 2 seconds and wipes you out.

Like I said, for the first 24 hours of this, I experienced a surge about every 10 or 20 seconds. Then on the second day of the zaps, it occurred whenever I moved my eyes. Then on the third day (and my 6th day off the Paxil), I decided to go back on the Paxil because as much as I tried — as determined as I was to walk it off, I couldn’t. And I thought sooner or later I’d put a gun to my head. I couldn’t function. (I had other withdrawal symptoms, but all of them were a walk in the park compared to the brain zaps — I’m talking about jolts of electricity going through my head.)

So I went back on the Paxil yesterday morning. At that point I was able to talk to people, but I felt like I could fall over or collapse any minute; the surges were happening every time I moved my eyes by this point, which was about every five seconds. (Note: These surges happening one after another are debilitating.)

The first few days of going off the Paxil, I felt light-headed 24 hours a day, but I tried to walk it off (nothing worked). The day before the surges kicked in, I experienced an emotional reaction to the withdrawal. I was taking my morning shower when I thought about calling a somewhat significant other on the phone, and just the thought of talking to her had me crying like a child, very deeply and uncontrollably. The feeling of deep, deep crying stayed with me for the next two days, including the next day when the surges began. (These are the two most traumatic reactions I had from going off the Paxil cold turkey. The rest, like I said, were a walk in the park.)

I know some people at the Paxil-withdrawal support group who managed living through the electrical surges and have stayed off the Paxil; they’re still experiencing the surges, but they’re off the Paxil. So I guess some people can do that and some people can’t — and I can’t. Maybe it’s because the work do from 9 to 5 requires sustained concentration, and having brain zaps every ten seconds definitely interferes with my ability to do my work. If I was doing something else that required less cognitive energy, perhaps I could live with the surges. This is just a theory and I could be completely wrong, but the fact is, I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to go back on the Paxil yesterday morning.

Within about three hours the surges disappeared — I would test it out by moving my eyes left and right (up and down didn’t seem to do anything). An hour or so after I took the pill (20mg, my regular dose), the surges were still there, but not as exhausting as before. Then a couple hours later they were gone altogether — and that’s all that mattered to me. A few hours later I was really, really tired — and happy for it because it was a sleepy tired (and I hadn’t slept or dreamed a single dream in the previous 72 hours). I didn’t have an appetite for most of the day, but just before I got sleepy, I ate some potato chips (just a few) and a bit a of muffin — and a bought of bottle of Gatorade. I sort of dozed off for a few hours, then woke up, walked around and felt like I was going to throw up. So I drank some more Gatorade and went back to bed. I fell asleep around 10:00pm and slept solid until 9:00am this morning having dreamt good dreams.

I am a thousand times better today than I was yesterday. I’m not jumping up and down for joy — but there are no electric surges in my head wiping me out anymore. So yeah, I’d say a thousand times better is accurate. I don’t have a strong appetite but I have eaten (anything big would probably make me sick). I’m still feeling really tired and I feel like I might be getting a slight headache. But the main thing is that the brain zaps, the electrical surges in my head, are gone. I can deal with anything else, but I do not want to go through that again.

I’ve been through hell, so yeah, I’m feeling a bit tired, and I probably won’t be back to my normal good-natured self for some time. I am a fairly strong and determined person — I have survived more personally challenging circumstances this past year than most people will during their lifetimes. But I could take only three days of the electrical surges in my head brought on by my cold turkey withdrawal from Paxil.

Although I want to do everything in my power to prevent this from happening to other people, my present priority is myself. I’m on 20mg of Paxil again, but in about a month or so (when I’ve got my courage back), I’ll be lowering my dose by 5mg, alternating 15mg and 20mg every other day. I’m guessing after three weeks or so of that, once I’ve made the transition, I’ll lower it by another 5mg, and alternate again, and keep going like that until I get it down to zero. (I forgot to mention that during my last day of the withdrawal, I experienced vertigo — the feeling that I was going to lose my balance and fall overboard, so to speak — while walking up the stairs of an office building. That was just peachy. I might have to take something for that when I try weaning off the Paxil.) If I’m successful getting off the Paxil, I’m not going to put another drug in my body for the rest of my life, no alcohol, no caffeine, no cigarettes (that’s what I’m saying right now anyway). I have done so much research in the past three days — and I’m still learning — I’ll know exactly what my mind and body need and do not need to be healthy. And I’m sticking to it.

During the past year in which I had to take the Paxil, it did get me through some experiences which would have otherwise left me severely depressed and non-functional. But in hindsight, I would try every single natural remedy first before resorting to Paxil or any other medically prescribed substance. Yes, it did work well for me, but the insanity, the living hell of trying to get off Paxil, qualifies it as a last resort. Everybody got that? Most of the medical community — and that means your doctor — are not well-informed as to the debilitating effects of Paxil withdrawal. (“The great thing about Paxil is you can go off it cold turkey,” my doctor told me. I’m sorry Dr. Wyndham, you have been a good doctor for me in the past, but in this case you were grossly misinformed.)

Paxil should be seen as an absolute last resort for depression. And if you are on Paxil and hope to get off it soon, wean yourself off it slowly — slowly, slowly. I’m talking from experience — not from the current misleading medical literature or any of the promotional pamphlets produced by GlaxoSmithKline.

Reading the messages on from people who have gone through this, I know I’ll have to wean myself off the Paxil slowly. But that’s for another day when my courage comes back. Presently I’m pretty close to being at my absolute worst; it’ll be some time before my regular strength and determination come back. I just started on the Paxil again yesterday. If I’m off the Paxil by Xmas 2000, I’ll be happy.

Anyone going through this hell, know that you can get through it. People on this board [one similar to] have gone through it or are going through the same thing as me. And a lot of them seem to have their heads on straight — and some have managed to get off the Paxil.

Postscript – February 2nd, 2001: I eventually began weaning myself off the Paxil in September 2000, almost two months later. As for getting off the Paxil by Xmas, the answer is yes, I did manage it, just under the wire. The withdrawal effects, however, persisted for much longer.

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