Back in 2006, I stopped taking Lexapro. It was a low dose. I tapered. So, when my brain started swimming around my head and I couldn’t lean my head to the left without feeling like the vertigo would pull me to the ground, I didn’t understand. I thought it would go away. Ten years of various tests followed. Two MRIs, a glucose fasting tolerance test, a test where they run water through your ears that makes you unbelievably dizzy, blood tests, heart tests… all normal. I cried every time a doctor told me my tests were normal. Things were not normal. A low dose of Valium for about nine of those years kept me functional, but I really didn’t think that was a long-term solution. Besides, it didn’t explain WHY I was having the problem. Along the way, I was officially diagnosed with migraine headaches, but it wasn’t until a trip to the emergency room to treat a migraine in 2015 that I decided I needed to get back to tests and doctors. The swimmy head sensations that basically no one can comprehend except me were written off as related to the migraine headaches. Of course, the head swimming sensations weren’t necessary worse with migraine. So, I didn’t really accept that answer. During that time, a doctor convinced me to try Lexapro again to see if it would eliminate the head swimming/vertigo sensations. I REALLY DID NOT WANT TO DO THIS, but I wanted to at least have this answer. So, back on the Lexapro I went. And, believe it or not, the bizarre head sensations went away… almost immediately.
Fast forward to 2019… I was pretty sure that I was struggling with depression in some way, and I was anxious during my trip down the birth canal (read: I’ve been a worrier my whole life.). I was asked if my depression was “situational.” And, I thought it was because there had been some situations that seemed to be making it worse. Although, said “situations” hadn’t really relented in more than three years.
So, because I could tell I was dealing with some increased anxiety, I inquired with my primary care physician about individual therapy. Now, at the moment, my health insurance only covers appointments, etc. at one in-network health system. At that health system, there is such a demand for counseling services that in order to get into the queue for service, you have to complete a comprehensive survey about your current mental health and mental health history. Then, you have to return that survey at which point you will be added to the waiting list to enter group counseling services. Once you complete a number of group counseling appointments, you will be referred to an individual therapist. Oh, and the waiting list for those group counseling services is about six months. Because this health system realizes six months is a long damn time to get someone seeking help some services, they offer a free (like, really free) therapist that will see you in the short-term to help get you over the hump, I suppose. So, I started using the free service. And, that’s helpful. I went ahead and filled out my survey and mailed it back as I was instructed to do. Not too long after, the department of psychiatry called me to schedule an appointment. I was super confused because I actually wasn’t interested in changing or discussing medications, so I let the scheduler know that I really just wanted to get in the queue for group counseling services. I mean, I assumed she had received my survey given I had recently mailed it back. She assured me that setting an appointment to discuss medications was the first step in the process. I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to go and that I would bring up my history with Lexapro to see if she’d ever heard of such a thing. She hadn’t. (Because no one has.) We talked, and I had her pretty convinced that I was a normally functioning human who but for these crazy head sensations would not be taking an anti-depressant. Hell, I think I started to convince myself, too.
We made a plan that I would taper off Lexapro, and if the head sensations returned, we would test another SSRI to see if another drug in the same class of drugs would have the same effect as did Lexapro in minimizing the head sensations. I tapered as instructed, and although the part where I could lean to the left was gone, my head started swimming. Even worse than that, two days after I fully stopped the medication, I could not stop feeling like I needed to cry. I felt worthless. Like, felt it. I truly felt like no one needed me. I won’t go into details why, but I had very serious feelings of worthlessness.
The worthlessness feelings subsided until they came back. They came back and this time, they were accompanied with extreme irritability, pretty intense screaming over my inability to do everything that was expected of me accompanied by sobbing on my kitchen floor. Only my dogs witnessed this. And, frankly, that’s by design. They don’t judge me. (Well, I mean, they were looking at me like the screaming was totally unnecessary.) But, I don’t wonder if they believe me. I don’t feel like I have to explain for the 4000th time what my head sensations feel like that no one else in the world has ever experienced.
So, as soon as the worthless feelings started, I reached out to update the psychiatry person to see what steps I should take next. Were these feelings a side effect of not taking Lexapro? Was Lexapro masking a deeper depression that I thought might have been there and now, the depression was winning? After 48+ hours of the message floating out there that explained I was crying a lot and experiencing feelings of worthlessness, I followed-up with a phone call. My symptoms were rapidly changing. I choked back tears as I left the voicemail. And, no, I really didn’t want to go to the emergency room, which was suggested because I was getting a little beside myself. I pay $520/month for my health insurance. If I go to the emergency room, it will cost at least my deductible, which is $3,000. That afternoon, the office did follow-up, but by the end of the day, I still couldn’t manage to actually get them to complete calling-in the prescription. That’s because I had to send an end of day message telling the office what pharmacy I like even though every damn time I go to said health system, I have to confirm my preferred pharmacies, so it’s in my online file. I know it.
I tried not to worry though because I coincidentally had a follow-up appointment scheduled with my primary care physician for the next morning. If things really got bad, I’d just be honest with her about my deep thoughts of worthlessness, and maybe, that would expediate the medication situation.
Nope. I got a call shortly after the communications between me and the psychiatry department from my primary care physician’s office letting me know that my primary care physician was out on medical leave and my appointment was cancelled. Sigh. Heavy sigh.
So, I’m waiting. I’m waiting for medication. I’m waiting to figure out if this is truly depression. I’m waiting to understand if the fits of crying, screaming, and extreme irritability are the symptoms of depression or anxiety or what. And, as it turns out, I’ll be waiting longer to get into that group therapy queue. Because the survey I returned where I revealed the truth about how terribly I’ve been feeling and the survey that is required before I can even think about being seen for counseling in six months… the office never received it and has no idea where it is.
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