Amen, Amen, Amen

An exploration of how obsessive-compulsive disorder can be a gift

The Break-Up

How I fell in and out of love with an SSRI.

Me: MWF (married, white, female).

I enjoy: Long walks on the beach, short jogs on asphalt, planting Cheerios in mud with my kids and making vision boards with yarn.

Some adjectives to describe myself: Crazy. Well-intentioned. Spazzerific. Often loud.

Seeking: Breath. Calm. Especially when someone small announces they feel sick or it’s night and I get those heart-clutching hallucinations of my family writhing in pain.

You: SPA (single, pink, androgynous).

You enjoy: Long slides down the esophagus, short bursts of euphoria, dissolving in warm liquids such as saliva.

Some adjectives to describe yourself: Mind-altering. Mood-shifting. Often affordable with basic healthcare coverage.

Seeking: A malleable and/or agitated brain.

Effexor and I were set up on a blind date back in 2012. I trust my psychiatrist Dr. Sinclair had the best intentions. And honestly, I think we really had a blast together for the first few months at least. We got pretty serious pretty fast. Why not, right? I’ve never been good at casually dating, and even my husband said if it could help the panic attacks and crying jags, he was in whole hog too.

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Just a little background – Effexor (venlafaxine) is an antidepressant, or selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SSNRI). It’s prescribed to treat major depression, anxiety, and panic disorders.

Between the years 1992 and 2012, I’d been prescribed Anafranil, Paxil, Wellbutrin, Zoloft, wine and yoga. (Not all at once). Different combo’s worked at different times. Many years I had no medication at all and OCD and I made a few temporary truces. But after my son turned a year old, I felt like I graduated to the next level of a really gruesome video game with no controls. My head was consumed with horrifying visions of my kids getting sick. I was sanitizing my entire family before and after each meal or trip to the park. I was scared of hugging them for fear of contamination. Listening to the baby monitor and weeping at night.

Cut to Sinclair handing me a prescription for Effexor and asking, “You willing to give this a try?”

That first soft cloud of possibility was delicious. After swallowing my pink capsule at night my brain drifted mercifully. I could hear my children breathing in the next room without holding my own breath in fear. I started lighting incense at dusk and even caught myself daydreaming once.

I reported back to Sinclair: so far, so good. Still felt a bit shy and skittish around my kids, but once they were asleep, I could see a little more room in the sky. She upped my dose and scribbled happily on her notepad. At our next check-in I told her I felt really sluggish, but maybe that was a distant cousin of calm? She smiled, made some more notes on her pad and upped my dose again.

I started getting pretty tight with our local pharmacy staff. Allison worked the cash register and Cookie manned the fax machine. They had a display of yellowing Easter cards out all year round and a wall for just sitz baths. The kids trooped behind me, coming in every few weeks for a new prescription. Allison gave them bright smiles and leftover Halloween candy and I wound up buying them a lifetime’s supply of Barbie Band-Aids.

Some highlights of my time with Effexor: Starting exposure therapy. Taking my kids on curvy road trips (one of my worst fears) and celebrating with an egg sandwich while my husband blared Michael Franti in the driveway. I also eased up on some lingering prayer and food rituals. Cut out another Amen and added a plate of French fries – over the course of a year.

Some low points in my Effexor romance: Forgetting that I had to take the meds at the same time every day. Diving into a migraine and a panic attack at the same time with the kids pulling off every Band-Aid on the shelf and Allison counting out pills frantically in the back. Pulling over to the side of the road and quaking while my husband tried to distract the kids with gas-station tchotchkes.

After a good seven months together, I knew Effexor and I had to break up. The kids-exploding-and-getting-sick-in-gory-ways hallucinations crept back in full force, marching past my pink capsules and nesting just behind my eyelids. I told Sinclair I didn’t think it was working any more. She said she could up it some more. I tried more exposure and yoga. I still couldn’t see straight, especially if one of my kids mentioned a tummy ache or acted listless.

It wasn’t fun. Not that many break-up’s are, but Effexor likes to leave its mark on the way out. That means for the past few months I’ve been wading through waves of nausea, headaches, wild confusion and some out-of-body experiences where my head feels like one of those picture books where you flip the pages super-fast and the stick figures do wacky tricks.

But I am proud and relieved to say that this past month, Effexor and I officially said our good-byes. I threw out all of my pill bottles and wrote a note to put in our “victory jar” on the bookshelf. I also started waking up in the morning with a hopeful buzz of energy.

So far, so good. I’m still doing exposure. Lighting incense and filling in my vision boards. Challenging myself to hug my kids harder every time I’m scared of their dirty fingernails or whines. It’s not easy breezy. And I’m expecting I may need to start medication of some sort again in the future. But for now…

I wish Effexor well. I think he/she has a lot to offer and can make a great lover. I hope each capsule is swallowed consciously and respectfully.

As for me, right here, I am gratefully starting over.

Abby Sher is a writer and performer in Brooklyn, New York, and the author of Amen, Amen, Amen: Memoir of a Girl Who Couldn't Stop Praying.

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