In the interest of having something to talk about, today I decided to talk about my brain.
My brain has been with me since the beginning, and for a long time it worked pretty well. I was able to remember a lot of stuff, and I did well in school. My body wasn't so great - I was in and out of the hospital a few times as a kid for some kind of auto-immune syndrome whose name I cannot remember - and I used to get sick a fair amount (still do).
Around the age of 16 a switch was thrown in my neurotransmitters, and something changed. It's funny, I can remember it happening very vividly, it only took a day or two, and I went from feeling really optimistic to really dark. At first it just seemed like a bad mood, but it didn't change back. I knew something was happening, but I had no idea what, nor did I really care. At that point things stopped having any real, deep meaning (except for music). I was in too bad a mood to think about why I was in such a bad mood. The days went on...
So I finished high school (exhausted and depressed) and did my four years of college, mostly in a deep dark funk. There would be flashes of the old me, but they faded pretty quickly. They might last the length of my walk home from class on a Friday, feeling like everything was OK, until I got to my dorm, then... gone.
I always blamed something on the outside. In high school, it was high school. In college, it was college. At my first job... well you get the picture. I also blamed family, friends, coworkers, girlfriends, complete strangers, everything. I was constantly trying to alter my environment, thinking that one more change would fix it. A promotion - nope. Becoming a TV producer on a big old successful TV show - nope. Finally making good money - nope.
I hit bottom during the winter of 2000. At my worst, I was lying on the floor on my old apartment, curled up in a ball, shaking and sobbing, ready to just drift off. I don't think I had the energy to kill myself.
Well, a friend got me into therapy, and my therapist got me to a psychiatrist. After a few sessions he diagnosed me as suffering from dysthymia, essentially a low level, continuous form of depression, as well as anxiety disorder. He prescribed Effexor (the brand name of Venlafaxine, made by Wyeth), a relatively new anti-depressant. I started it, and after the initial day or so of feeling totally stoned (and not in a good way) my brain adjusted and everything changed.
I felt like my old self (this is a pretty common description for depressed people who start medication). I felt like a huge weight had been taken from my shoulders. I honestly think my therapist, doctor, and Effexor saved my life.
This is all well and good, until you miss a dose...
Missing a dose of any anti-depressant is bad, but Effexor is particularly bad (there's a class action lawsuit pending). Missing just one dose can be almost debilitating. One of the side effects of a missed dose is a kind of electrical shock that flows through your head - also known as a "Brain Shiver." It's hard to describe, but it's very disorienting, as if your brain is a second behind the rest of you. If you move your head quickly you feel you eyes and brain sloshing along behind, trying to catch up.
I once went to Toronto for 3 days and forgot my medication. The wonderful people in Canadian public health would not accept an order from my US based doctor, so I would have had to go to a walk in clinic and wait approx. 6-8 hours to talk to a doctor. As I was working, it wasn't really an option. Somehow I got through it, although I slept very little and was pretty incoherent by the time I got home.
Last summer I tried to quit "cold turkey." Not recommended. The withdrawal continued to get worse (as it often does before it gets better). I was shaking, unable to sleep, unable to eat, and in the blackest, ugliest mood I have ever seen from myself or anyone else (truly a scary thought). It was then that I did a bunch of research on Effexor and first heard the term "Brain Shivers." Somehow I thought reading about others' experiences with getting off this drug would help, but it didn't. After 5 days I went back to my doctor. And here I am.
Anyhow, this is a lot of heavy shit, so I'll stop. But now you know what the name means!