Staying well

It’s been a while since I checked in. This is not due to any desire for silence on my part, but more because of a lack of time. However, this was never going to be a blog-a-week enterprise. I’ve been working my ass off, running long kilometres through the Australian bush, surfing, making new friends and writing a bunch of songs.

As my health and mental focus has improved over the last few years, I have been given opportunities for career development and have taken on more responsibility at work. Late last year I was handed a monster project to manage that has consumed most of my time and energy.

The project was in the Australian media for mostly the wrong reasons, due to the actions of another that were completely outside of my control. I’ve also had the challenge of managing a workload with few resources and time available to get things done. The sensation of drowning has been ever present, but I’ve become a much better swimmer, better at avoiding rips. And now the work is done.

I had always hoped that my recovery would get to the point that the fact of its existence faded into the background, like remembering how I got a scar.  The big indentation in my upper leg that looks like a bullet hole has faded over the years but remains a reminder of why I don’t like surfing in crowds. My alcoholism is like that now. I can call up the memories of why I don’t drink, but to be honest I’ve got far better things to do with my time.

I am also pharmaceutical-free for the first time in at least a decade, having been prescribed an antidepressant Effexor XR* for panic attacks, anxiety and depression. Given that these symptoms have diminished but I experience a range of side-effects from the medication, I approached my doctor about reducing my dose in lieu of cessation. *Effexor XR is an extended-release capsule for once-a-day oral administration that contains venlafaxine hydrochloride, a serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI).

SNRIs are difficult drugs to quit. This was something that I was not informed about when a doctor scribbled on a prescription pad all those years ago. If she had told me that SNRI discontinuation syndrome occurs at rates as high as 78 percent for people transitioning off Effexor XR, I probably wouldn’t have agreed to take them. But then again, I was a drunk who was afraid of my own shadow and was hungry for any quick fix.

The doctor reduced my dose from 150mg to 75mg then halved it again. This process took several months. Nevertheless, I suffered from SNRI discontinuation/withdrawal symptoms, which resulted in weeks of me behaving like a snowflake while experiencing brain zaps.

Snowflake: responds poorly to perceived criticism, cries at pictures of puppies

Brain zaps: SNRI discontinuation can mean weeks of electric shock sensations and perceived shaking in the head, loss of balance, nausea and other strange feelings and effects (see: //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3733524/).

Cannabis helped ease this transition.

I haven’t talked favourably about the use of cannabis on this blog for good reason, as many alkies and addicts I know smoked weed for much of their drinking and drugging careers and tend to lump it together within a pattern of general bad behaviour. Some say they were dependent on sucking down bongs for decades.

Most AA’s in Australia have a dim view of cannabis, while in jurisdictions (for example, California) where its use has become medicalised for mental health conditions, I have heard that options are shifting towards acceptance.

I don’t dispute that some people form a psychological dependence to cannabis, however there is good science indicating that cannabis is not physically addictive. A few nights of bad sleep and some residual grumpiness is about the worst someone can expect when giving the weed away.

For some people, like me, incorporating cannabis into their long term mental health plans has been a deliberate choice based on good medical advice, although it is not yet legally available in Australia as a medical intervention for mental health conditions like PTSD. It was also a choice I took after three years of continuous sobriety from alcohol. For me, vaporised or edible cannabis works to keep my mental health consistently in check without nasty side effects. For others, maybe not so much.

I’ll be winding up this blog in the next few months as I think it has served its purpose and run its course. But for now, I’m off to enjoy the sunshine and the autumn leaves collecting in multicoloured drifts through the streets. Stay well friends!

 

 

 

 

 

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