This is a post that is going to be very difficult to write - painful even. It's intensely personal. But it involves something that is currently afflicting a great number of people, and threatens to affect many more if something isn't done. I have to make a hard choice and that choice is to honestly tell my story so that maybe others will speak up as well.
I have been on an anti-depression/anti-anxiety medication called Effexor since April of 2000. I was prescribed it to get my migraines (which were severe at the time) under control, and my doctors have continued to keep me on it to keep those same migraines under control. When I went into alcohol counseling last year, the psychiatrist in charge greatly increased my dosage from 125mg a day to 225mg a day. I really haven't been "myself" since. As the months have passed, I have gotten more and more anxious and nervous, and unable to concentrate. In the past four months, it has gotten so bad that I apparently can't even keep a job. That's right - I am once again unemployed. The job I had that I liked so much, took a turn for the worst when I was given full responsibility and my mind couldn't handle all that it was asked to do. That was actually the last straw.
I have been hesitant to blame all this on Effexor even though I knew the drug's notoriety. It had not been harmful to me at lower doses. But after doing some serious research and looking at the testimony of others, I am starting to be certain Effexor has played a major role in the decline of my quality of life, as well as my ability to work, over the past year or so.
I made an attempt yesterday to engage my prescribing psychiatrist in a discussion about this drug, but being the professional, he kept away from discussing specifics. However, I feel I got my message across. I described in great detail all that has been happening to me, and finally adding that my husband feels I am over-medicated. The doctor first told me that what I was telling him could justify an increase in the dosage of Effexor. My reaction was to just laugh, and then, for whatever reason, he annouced he would take me off the drug for good.
I'm both thrilled and terrified.
Why am I terrified? Because in addition to having all sorts of possible weird side effects, Effexor is notoriously difficult to discontinue for some - many - MOST? - people. Some case studies describing the experiences of many patients can be read here. More personal descriptions of but one notable withdrawal symptom (slangily termed "brain shivers") can be read here.
I have personal experience with these symptoms and more. In the early days of my treatment with this drug, I was sloppy about getting prescriptions refilled and about taking the pills on time every day. Two or three times of missing doses taught me a harsh lesson that Effexor is NOT a drug to be trifled with. The worst thing is that my emotions go absolutely haywire. I am not in control of anything that I feel or how I react. Physiologically, my body gets flu-like symptoms (aches, tingling, etc.) and neurologically, it's like an acid trip gone terribly wrong: hallucinations both aural and visual, weird colors and distortions coming and going and the disquieting sensation of voices whispering nonsensically in my ears. On top of all this is the phenomenon called "Brain Shivers" which is detailed in the last link in the paragraph above. All in all, it's an unbelievably nasty experience, and I apparently am one of the "lucky" ones who gets more than a few of the symptoms at once.
The worst experience wasn't really my fault. It happened two nights after my gastric bypass surgery. The nurses at the hospital did not give me my dose, even though both I and my mother asked them. They were busily running around, and apparently not having had much experience with this drug, didn't give our requests much thought. It eventually hit me like a ton of bricks, and it was a terrible experience which I don't wish to recount here in detail. It set my recovery back at least two days.
That leads into the main point of my posting this: the appalling lack of education among healthcare professionals about how dangerous Effexor is. And this is the fault of its manufacturer, Wyeth Ayerst. Wyeth has been ridiculously hesitant to admit to the many downsides of their panacea goldmine and has been pushing its use for a variety of uses that I and many others consider to be frivolous. The FDA has been on Wyeth for some time, but many feel that the FDA hasn't been tough enough. It looks as though a groundswell is developing as more and more people become aware of the situation with the abuse of Effexor and other anti-depressants by uninformed doctors.
But groundswell or no, I have a tough road ahead of me. I know all too well how my body and mind reacts to reduced dosages of Effexor, and so I know in advance my withdrawal is going to be difficult. I do consider myself lucky in that my psychiatrist does seem relatively clueful; he's prescribed a careful "tapering off" regimen which includes administration of another drug to theoretically offset the effects of withdrawal. Many of the first-hand accounts you'll read in the links I've provided are horror stories of doctors having their patients go "cold turkey" with no warning of what to expect and no support once withdrawal took hold.
I think I've said enough here. Again, I feel it is extremely important that awareness of Effexor's dangers be given serious consideration by the public. I can only hope "Dateline" or "60 Minutes" or better yet, PBS' "Frontline" will eventually get ahold of this story. Wyeth needs to be held accountable.
One more thing: I'm not anti-drug company. I realize the drug companies do a lot of good work. Nor am I anti-capitalist (just the opposite!) But in a free market of ideas everyone must be held accountable for their actions. It's great to make money; but making money off of deliberate misrepresentation of a product needs to be punished. And after reading extensively about all this, I am reasonably certain Wyeth has deliberately misrepresented Effexor, thinking that the instance of side effects would be low enough for them to get away with it.
I have to go take my drug now - I feel the shakes coming on.
A lot of bloggers have been having fun with Noam Chomsky's new blog; so much so that his comments sections were absolutely flooded and they've already been turned off. I wasn't one of those harrassing the man - I've got a lot more on my mind these days - but I just popped in there and the first post I saw was from yesterday (his archives appear to be hosed, but the date would be March 26 2004.) And in the first three sentences, he belched up a perfect illustration of why his writing makes my brain bleed. Putting aside his unbelievably incoherent and morally indefensible semblences of political thought, the man is just flat-out a terrible writer. Check this out, the second and third sentences from his March 26, 2004 entry:
Monbiot radically misinterprets the Hippocratic principle, "First, do no harm." According to Monbiot's interpretation, a doctor violates the Hippocratic oath by giving someone an injection, because the puncture harms the skin. No one has ever interpreted the Hippocratic oath that way.
No one has ever interpreted the Hippocratic oath that way, except for MONBIOT, as Chomsky himself stated just before he managed to contradict himself.
Maybe it's silly to get wound up about a case of sloppy writing. Goddens know my own writing can be terribly sloppy - but then, I'm not revered the world over by thousands of undergrads who are desperately looking for a way to piss off their parents. The point is, Chomsky's writing, wherever it is encountered, is overflowing with this kind of poorly constructed language - usually in support of a poorly (or worse) constructed argument. Why is this man worshipped by so many people?
The past six months have been a veritable feth-ti-bal (said with a mincing lisp) of illness for Alex and myself. Both of us developed recurring colds and sore throats starting in mid-October, and both of us have been subjected to periodic flare-ups of same that include low-grade fever (you know - temperature elevated just enough to make you feel like crap, but not enough to justify missing work to get much-needed rest) and severe head congestion. We're both dealing with just such flare-ups right now. I'm truly miserable as I sit here writing. The misery is somewhat offset by my excitement at the fact that we take possession of our new Virginia-Highlands apartment this afternoon, but I'm also irritated that I feel just crummy enough to spoil the normal new-home-decorating buzz I've been looking forward to. Oh don't get me wrong. I'm still going to tackle the new place with tape measure and sketch pad, figuring out creative ways to position our furniture and configure my new studio space. But the sore throat, the fever, the extreme head congestion all take a lot of the fun out of it. Meh.
Now, I can understand banning involuntary mutilation (and in fact, I am glad they're even addressing that issue), but voluntary body modification? It's been going on forever and it's certainly one of those things that the government needs to keep its er, nose out of.
This quote kills me ...
Amendment sponsor Rep. Bill Heath, R-Bremen, was slack-jawed when told after the vote that some adults seek the piercings.
"What? I've never seen such a thing," Heath said. "I, uh, I wouldn't approve of anyone doing it. I don't think that's an appropriate thing to be doing."
Like anyone gives a damn whether Bill Heath approves or not!
I personally am squeamish of all piercings - I don't even have pierced ears - but one thing I do know, I don't want some redneck state congressman telling how and where I can wear jewelry! For all he knows, every woman he sees during the course of his day has a nice little piece of pretty jewelry "down there."
Solidarity with my MUCH more adventurous (and brave) sistuhs!
I've been neglecting my blog reading lately, so this morning I popped into Kelley's place and she reminded me I haven't done the Friday Five in ages. So here goes -
If you ...
1. ...owned a restaurant, what kind of food would you serve?
Ooooh, that's a good one. Probably Japanese/American fusion, very cutting edge, with a fantastic wine list and housed within a sleek modern interior.
2. ...owned a small store, what kind of merchandise would you sell?
I'd love to own a store similar to Pink Flamingos in Little 5 Points here in Atlanta: cool t-shirts and casual clothes, lots of trinkets and lots of and lots of Japanese fun junk including a large range of Sanrio stuff.
3. ...wrote a book, what genre would it be?
That's tough. I'd like to write a novel, I guess: something along the lines of Anita Diamant's The Red Tent but set in Northern Europe (the British Isles, most likely) circa 500 - 100 BC, before the influence of the Romans began to creep into the culture. None of this silly "female Druid warrior heroine" stuff ... I'd try to make it as realistic as possible. Not that female Druid warrior heroines didn't exist, but I'd try to keep it as far from the realm of "Xena" as possible.
4. ...ran a school, what would you teach?
Art, most likely.
5. ...recorded an album, what kind of music would be on it?
At this point in my life, it would likely be a kind of IDM type of album ... done on the computer, using lots of samples of my voice and of other things I've recorded myself, sped up and tweaked and mangled; then set to a quasi-trance beat. Some tracks would be akin to psytrance and some tracks would be more breakbeat, but all too idiosyncratic to fit into any set genre. In fact, I've got a bunch of tracks I made last year that are close to fitting this description, and a couple of 'em aren't half bad. If I got off my butt and started making music again I may someday get an album made. We'll see.
Jane Eyre is actually one of my all-time favorite novels. I think I first read it at the age of fourteen and it was scary how much I identified with the protagonist.
'Tis a great mystery, but somehow you have come to belong in Jane Eyre; a random world of love, kindness, madness, bad luck and lunatic ex- wives. There really isn't much to say about the place you belong in. It's your place, and though it seems far from reality largly due to how random the events are, you seem to enjoy it. You belong in a world where not too many people understand you, and where you can be somewhat of a recluse.
On Wednesday I was selected to serve on a jury. The case, nauseatingly enough, turned out to be an extremely frivolous (IMO!) personal-injury lawsuit brought about by a self-centered Buckhead bitch against a retired Army Colonel who had the misfortune of hitting her car four years ago. The woman had already gotten a sizeable settlement from the old guy's insurance which had enabled her to buy a brand-new BMW (which she proceeded to wreck two years later.) She wanted us to make the old guy responsible for ALL her medical bills from the time of the accident on and that includes the future. She also wanted big bucks (like $100,000s) for "pain and suffering." Her attorney and her witnesses made some really crazy claims including wildly exaggerating the circumstances of the accident (they claimed the old guy hit her at 50 MPH on Peachtree Road in rush hour traffic!) when photos of her old car clearly showed an impact just slightly worse than a fender-bender. They also kept saying the old man had "t-boned" her when the photos showed no side impact at all. On top of that, they were claiming that her life was severely disrupted and that she was unable to do "anything" for two whole years - then it came out that she was running a successful home business during that time, was acting as chairman of a couple of high-profile charity events, and playing sports such as tennis and going scuba diving. She blamed the old guy hitting her on everything that has gone wrong in her life for four years from breakups with boyfriends to her cellulite (it seems.)
It just burned my ass that this lady wanted us to in effect reach into the pockets of this old man and heap tons of cash on her just because she has an occasional back-ache and she can't keep a relationship going for more than a year. I wasn't the only one and it only took us, the jury, three hours total to render a verdict that gave her $14000 to cover her medical costs (which had already been paid by insurance, incidentally) plus $3,000 for "pain and suffering." A total of $17,000 when she had been looking for a verdict in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. After paying her attorney and her court costs, this case will wind up actually costing her and that's how we designed it. We all agreed that the suit was frivolous and that the old man wasn't responsible for her various mental and physical maladies now and forever.
She burst into tears upon hearing the verdict. The old guy and his wife were crying for joy in the lobby and he actually gave me a tight hug. I feel like I had the chance to do right by somebody and I have a much better opinion of how our justice system works.