At my chiropractor’s office as I was laying on my stomach, waiting for him to crack my back, he asked, “So do you have someone special in your life”?
“Nothing that lasts longer than an hour,” I quipped.
Chuckling, he said, “Hmmm, an hour - that’s impressive.”
Great that he thought it was funny, but I didn't think “that” was impressive. I’d hate to tell him about all the four hour plus occasions.
On the 'someone special' side of things, I haven’t tried dating anyone since 2010 or 2011, I can’t remember the year. To quote Trump, it was a tremendous. tremendous disaster, but now I’m open to having “someone special”, however that is defined. The older I get, the definition becomes broader and broader. It now includes living in separate places - a little yet huge step that could never have happened before in my medicated state.
Suddenly what was, isn't. This is what the post-SSRI world is looking like.
This is not about depression. It's about getting off antidepressants, something that is completely different but paradoxical in that withdrawal mimics the original problems that got you on antidepressants in the first place.
Pre-withdrawal, my thought was to be a kid in a candy shop as I rediscovered my post-meth sexuality. Today it feels more like sexual nesting. Pushing my already-stretched-to-the-limits boundaries has lost its luster. I’d rather get together with regular guys with whom I feel comfortable and if that leads to something more, then great.
Clearly something is shifting. A need of meaningful personal relationships has been elevated to priority level. Where I used to be content isolating watching TV, I now find that I need to get out and be with people.
This is part of what I’m calling “emotional self care” and it's necessitated by the most challenging experience I've had with drugs yet: going off a mood disorder medication after twenty years.
I’d stop smoking, meth, GHB, coke, drinking, ecstasy, even heroin before I’d ever want to do this again.
The first casualty in this process also led to a direct challenge to what is important now when it comes to interpersonal relationships and self care.
Social media = collective isolation. I wasn't getting what I needed from it. Additionally, when I'm feeling vulnerable, a firewall between my mind and the rest of the world is required.
Recently I started reading The Antidepressant Solution: A Step-by-Step Guide to Safely Overcoming Antidepressant Withdrawal, Dependence and Addiction, by Joseph Glenmullen, M.D. Its name speaks for itself. I highly recommend it.
While there is not a lot of new stuff here for me since I am completely off the drug, it did affirm many things. Reading case study examples that recounted how withdrawal wreaked havoc on many to the point where they were hospitalized as suicidal reminded me that withdrawal is not trivial, not a game. It is very serious.
"It’s unfortunate that anyone who knew me well enough to say they cared about other aspects of my life didn't take the time to ask, “Is there anything going on?” when he or she saw something they thought was off."
Reading through it felt akin to being in a support group; I knew I wasn’t alone in my mood and behavioural shifts, although not so bad as to require that I be hospitalized, still had an impact.
In that state I should have never been on social media, where mood side-effect triggers abound, but I went on and there was some damage. It’s unfortunate that anyone who knew me well enough to say they cared about other aspects of my life didn't take the time to ask, “Is there anything going on?” when he or she saw something they thought was off.
One such person unfriended me. Since it was someone I respected (emphasis on past tense) it stung hard in that cloudy angst-ridden moment. The result was five days of non-stop anxiety. I was in a state where I’d do almost anything to make this go away. I could not stop obsessively compulsively thinking about it. I was not in control of my thoughts or my feelings and it scared me.
Facing the computer and looking at Facebook, out loud I said, “I’m done.” I set my account to be deleted in two weeks time, which has passed.
At first the deleted account caused me anxiety. Was I going to disappear and be forgotten about if I wasn't constantly seen in peoples' newsfeeds? How was I going to stay connected with all these people I was (ironically) never really connected with?
When social media stops being a tool and starts forming the backbone of one’s primary source of interpersonal connection there is a problem. I let this be the case. For years my default setting was to isolate. I allowed social media to fill the resulting vacuum .
My interpersonal relationships largely take place in person or via text. Post-SSRI I’m restless and want to do things. I see friends for coffee and we tell each other what's going on. It’s a real old-school way of status update. I’ve made new friends who I hang out with for one-on-one coffees. I have existing friends who I hang out with one on one too. I get my status updates face to face.
The last several Saturday nights I’ve gone out, even once to a small bar to socialize. There I met a friend of a friend who said, “Let’s be friends and exchange phone numbers.” You know... old school style.
This winter I’ll focus on getting out to more events. I can network the old way, by showing up, meeting people and handing out business cards. How novel! Tonight I’m heading out to a three-person show that a friend has produced.
I’ve replaced my wardrobe (dropped two garbage bags of clothes off to Goodwill) so that I can feel good about myself when I go out. Those years-old clothes are gone. This is kind of symbolic of shedding this old skin and making a new one.
Another choice I made in the throes of my angst, although I’m starting to second guess it, was to go back to my hometown to visit family. It was hard to turn down a $244 round trip, taxes included, airfare to Winnipeg. Trust me - if you are going to Winnipeg you want to pay as little as possible.
There isn’t a place in my apartment I haven’t cleaned, organized and purged. The dishes are done before I go to bed - that’s very not me.
In one spiritual practice they say that behind any darkness and difficulty there is a lot of light, we just can’t see it yet. The darkness of the last few months has brought about much-needed changes that would never have happened otherwise. Six weeks ago I could never have imagined such changes.
So hopefully one day I’ll go to the chiropractor and surprise him with some sort of meaningful romantic relationship that goes beyond my two Chihuahuas. Then again, perhaps being open to something more is enough of a shift for the moment.
I’m sharing all of this not to be self-indulgent but rather in hopes of advising anyone who decides to get off an antidepressant that you are not alone. You are not crazy. You are not your actions when going off the drug, no matter how people treat you. And finally : it can be done.
And if anyone is thinking about going off an antidepressant (I’m not saying they are bad, it just felt like the right choice for me), then please read the above-mentioned book before starting. I wish I had.
In the meantime I continue to joke with my chiropractor. I’d just had a massage appointment to work on some painful tendinitis and knots. As I lay there in my usual position, the chiropractor asked how the massage was. “Loved it. He hit one spot and I couldn’t help yelling out ‘Oh my god that hurts so much it’s great, but I think we’ll need a safe word.’”
We both laughed.
Who knows maybe the next time I’ll tell him I went on a date where I kept my clothes on.
UPDATE: Given the recent American election results, my chances of getting married have increased exponentially.
Brian Finch, founder of PositiveLite.com. I've had a blog since 2005 when I decided one day that I just wanted to write. Since then I've grown to writing for a local Toronto magazine, Fab, and contribute to MyGayToronto.com.
More recently (relative to twenty years ago) in 2006 I was featured in the Ontario HIV Treatment Network's documentary "Positive Voices" filmed during the 2006 International AIDS Conference.
The very same conference where I organized an action against the Conservative government for our Prime Minister not showing up, which is now known as "The Pillow Case Project" approximatel 1000 message-stenciled pillow cases were held up at the moment the government representative stood up causing an international photography sensation.
During these years I was on the board of Canada's treatment advocacy NGO, the Canadian Treatment Action Council, and have been privileged to have worked with great activists internationally such as Africa.
Life is an evolution, apart from my contributing to PositiveLite.com, I've become a budding stand-up comic creating a new genre of comedy: candid comedy. Look out as there isn't much I don't talk about.