Editorial: This is an account from someone who went on paroxetine – Paxil – Seroxat – soon after Study 329 came out. She didn’t commit suicide. But it would be difficult to describe these effects of the drug as good. And it is also difficult to view the culture in which the drug was given as therapeutic. Most of us can probably remember the power of a sympathetic adult when we were teenagers.
This Thursday on Study329.org we will make Restoring Study 329 available along with a host of material linked to this one of most famous clinical trials in medicine. The paper brings out hazards of treatment such as suicidality and withdrawal but not the pernicious and pervasive effects of emotional numbing so well outlined here.
At age 12, as a seventh grader in middle school, I began experiencing extreme distress every morning on the way to school. I would feel a sense of terror in my chest and cry in the car, afraid to enter the classroom. Instead, I felt the need to have my mother or father by my side. I could not articulate a reason for this churning of awful feelings, and felt I had no control to suppress my tears. This was accompanied by an intense need to perform perfectly in all my academics – to earn straight As in each class. Anything less was cause for more tears and hurt.
This emotional downfall seemed to come out of nowhere. The school therapist tried to find out the root of this issue: were my parents pressuring me to excel? No, they told me that perfection in school was not necessary. I am only child, from a white, upper middle class family. The “rules” that I had to get perfect grades, were all self imposed. This terror and anxiety lasted months.
Since my emotions were impeding my ability to go to school, a severe weight was placed on my issues. I was taken to Kaiser, where a series of psychological tests were done to me. I remember IQ tests, ink blots, and even X-rays being done to me (I do not recall what for). I believe I was diagnosed with Anxiety. During this time, I felt sad, helpless, miserable, and hopeless. Despite having a best friend for support, I did not feel listened to, understood, supported, or given examples from a strong and compassionate adult.
Shortly after, I was prescribed Paxil. I was not in any sort of talk therapy at this time. The psychiatrist that prescribed me the Paxil, I viewed as cold and uninterested, and I did not have a good rapport with her at all. Every time that I saw her, often with the accompaniment of my mom and dad, I felt alienated and judged. I was very opposed to receiving any kind of therapy or being medicated at that time because I associated mental illness and treatment with a huge ugly stigma. It made me feel embarrassed and ashamed. Finally, one night my mom sat with me in my room while I was in bed and asked me again to take the Paxil, as I had initially refused many times. She said “Are you with me?” I took my first pill.
I do not remember a distinct time when my perception shifted after taking the medication and I was able to go to school without incident. My anxiety diminished, however my demeanor took an opposite approach. After taking Paxil regularly, I became lethargic, moody, lackadaisical, blank, rebellious, anti-authoritarian, silent, disinterested, and numb. I felt blank inside, like nothing mattered to me or was of any consequence. My performance in school no longer held any weight to me. Not only did I quit my perfectionistic behavior in school, I stopped caring altogether.
I took Paxil from ages 13-17. During these years, I received my first Cs, Ds, and failing grades in classes. I began self-medicating with marijuana at age 14 and began consuming marijuana daily over the course of a year. I even attended classes stoned while taking Paxil. I also experimented with other hard drugs. I felt not invested in my health, wellness, or reputation as a student. Screaming fights with my parents began, that were so loud and scary, the police were called to the house multiple times by neighbors. I could not relate to or feel connected with them at all. I expressed my anger and frustration through yelling and crying. There was a sense of powerlessness.
Over the course of the four years that I was prescribed Paxil, I never received talk therapy, which was not required by Kaiser in order to continue my prescription of Paxil. I only met with the psychiatrist that originally prescribed me Paxil at Kaiser once every six months, who did not probe in depth into my experience with Paxil nor into my emotional state of being. Her only concern was to maintain or increase my dosages. I did not have the support of a psychologist or any adult authority figure to speak with about my emotions or behavior. I felt out of control of my own body and like important decisions were being made about and imposed on me and that no progress was being made towards exploring the reasons being my anxiety and learning coping mechanisms in order to live successfully. Instead, my feelings were being suppressed, and were coming out in dangerous ways.
In my junior year of high school, age 16, I decided to embark on a life-altering trip abroad in Latin America for six weeks over the summer to volunteer and live with a host family. During my trip, for the first time I felt deep emotions again after so many years of feeling blanketed by Paxil. I felt as though my shell had cracked open and the light came pouring back in. At one point over the course of this trip, I made the decision to come off of my medication upon my return to the US.
When I came back, with the help of an amazing therapist, I tapered off of my medication. It was challenging, but the benefits of coming off of the Paxil outweighed any of the negative symptoms I had on the medication. I recall feeling depressed & lethargic as I tapered off of the Paxil over several weeks, but I also increasingly felt like I inhabited my body again. I felt like myself. I cared about school, my community, and friendships again. I stopped the drug abuse. My grades came back up. I did not beat myself up as badly as I used to at age 12 before I started taking the Paxil. I started volunteering at various community empowerment organizations. I developed a core group of friends. Talk therapy helped me heal from years of feeling numb and suppressed on Paxil. I finally felt my emotions again, happiness, sadness, joy, etc. I began applying for colleges and received acceptance from a prestigious state school.
I am now 26 years old. I still feel in a sense that the four years that was on the medication Paxil, were sort of lost years. Many times from that period feel like blank spaces in my life. I am so thankful that I was able to get off of the medication and make steps in the positive direction for my future. I now am able to feel a range of emotions from joy, elation, and happiness, to sadness, anger, and frustration but using the techniques that I have learned in therapy and in life experience, I am able to cope with them and ride any waves that come up. Although Paxil suppressed my self for years, I continue to learn to improve myself everyday without medication.