Withdrawing from Trazodone: A First-Person Case Study

2019 08 10 Trazodone

After the embarrassing, but blessedly brief, controversy centered around Marianne Williamson’s welcome criticism of the American pharmaceutical empire, I decided to stop taking the Trazodone that my physician prescribed to me more than a year ago. I’m loath to reveal such a personal detail, not because I fear you will dismiss me as a loon, but because medical confessionals, and psychiatric tell-alls especially, are almost invariably unbearable. Often, they are buried in the thickest layer of self-congratulation, and just as frequently, the authors can’t restrain themselves from diving face-first into the most shocking information about their private lives. My own philosophy is that Dack Rouleau the man should occupy a minimalistic presence in these pages, if he must take any space at all, and yield to the research and knowledge that forms the crux of this writing.

However, I will make an exception and admit that I’ve been taking Trazodone for a while, for just a bit less than a year-and-a-half. At the time, I was seeking medication because I was desperate: I had lost all of my friends, I was constantly getting smashed to pass the time, and in recent weeks, I had succumbed to something similar to night terrors. I couldn’t get more than four hours’ sleep before I’d rush out of my bed, my sheets soaked with sweat, and then it would be a miracle if I got any more sleep at all. It is painfully obvious to me now (as I’m sure it is to you) that I was largely responsible for my own instability, but I was too proud and foolish to accept that at the time, and my sole concern was getting a good night’s sleep.

Like most primary care doctors, my physician has a very limited understanding of psychotropics, so she wasn’t willing to prescribe anything stronger than Trazodone. I’ve never been a big believer in psychotropics: my parents taught me to be skeptical of them, and my short-lived Risperdal trial was so hideous that I swore I’d never take another psychotropic again. Alas, circumstances have a funny way of changing, and here I was, five years later, taking Trazodone without a clue as to what it’d do to me. Well, to my pleasant surprise, it worked out pretty well, and within a week or two, I was back to seven nightly hours of sleep.

For the record, my problem with sleep was not limited to night terrors. Sometimes, I would awaken in a state of rage, consumed with vivid memories of abuse, of something awful someone had done to me. I wanted to fight back against all of the people who had hurt me. I wanted to hurt them, and I tortured myself with fantasizes of impossibly violent vengeance. That childish frustration through impotent aggression has been a problem of mine for years, but I’ve had to keep it under control in the Trumpish Age: there are so many daily reminders of abhorrent injustice, and I truly can’t allow myself to explode over every issue. Yesterday, I saw the video of the young girl who cried because her father was kidnapped by ICE, and all I wanted to do was pummel an acquaintance of mine who cheerfully defends the separation of families in all criminal matters. But that is as unhealthy as it is unproductive, and I have to be wary of my great emotional vulnerability.

My success in doing so may be due in part to the Trazodone that I’ve been taking. I’ve thought of this every once in a while, and the idea makes me nervous: if I’m dependent on medication for my basic emotional stability, then what does that say about my psychic apparatus, and what will I do if that medication suddenly becomes unavailable? You can dismiss the second worry as unrealistic, if you’d like, but I have to consider these things: there is a very real chance that the kind of political writing in which I engage will become illegal shortly, and in prison, there is no guarantee that my medical needs and preferences will be taken seriously. Ergo, I need to know what will happen if I can access Trazodone no longer, which is why, perhaps a year ago, I stopped taking it.

Within two days, I was suffering from serious mood swings. I was obsessed with vivid memories of the abuse I’d endured throughout my childhood. I was gnashing my teeth and screaming in my car. The psychic thrashing was a portrait in instability, and it was so alarming that I immediately resumed taking medication. Before I knew it, I was back to normal—normal being an interesting choice of words. The point is, I was functional once more, and probably another year passed before I made a second effort to kick the habit, this habit being only a socially permissible form of drug addiction.

Last Friday, the second of August, I went to bed without taking Trazodone. I slept fine, as far as I recall, and I don’t remember having any emotional problems on Saturday or Sunday. On Monday, however, I woke up feeling as if someone were continually smacking me in the face. All day, I was on edge, impatiently awaiting a nasty confrontation that, thankfully, never came. However, I was ready for it, constantly antagonizing myself with recollections of all the hideous things that had been done to me when I was a little kid. I brooded over the humiliation I’d endured, and I hated myself for having failed to do more to defend my dignity. And for the rest of the week, that brooding became more intense, and my self-hatred became more pronounced.

Suicide was never far from my mind. For several hours each day, I fantasized about how lovely it would be if I were dead, and I thought about how I might bring my life to a close. My sadness was no doubt exacerbated by my not-so-newfound inability to get a good night’s rest: I would wake up every few hours, sometimes in the aftermath of a terrifying dream, and while I was always able to get back to sleep, it wasn’t until I had exhausted myself with anguished thoughts of self-contempt and unrealized revenge. Curiously, I was also falling asleep much earlier than is typical for me, and even now, I find myself getting sleepy well before my usual bedtime.

The good news is that, after a week, I appear to be breaking out of the cycle. Last night, I slept for eight hours, more than I have in a very long time, including the time that I was taking Trazodone. Today, I haven’t felt suicidal at all, and those infuriating memories have been kept more or less at bay. All of that is lovely news, but it’s too bad it was delivered only because I had to wean myself off of Trazodone. I understand that my problems began long before I ever heard of that medication, but all the same, it isn’t very comforting to learn I couldn’t take it without paying such a price.

Conversely, my ability to function without Trazodone suggests that Trazodone probably didn’t do a whole lot to help me in the first place. Maybe my psychological recovery over the last year-and-a-half has less to do with medication and more to do with all that I have learned in that same time? Maybe it’s because I stopped believing in the agitprop produced by American corporate media? Maybe it’s because, in the summer of 2018, I read a number of older political texts and realized that there is a historical precedent for what we’re dealing with today, thereby enabling me to make sense of the ostensible insanity of the society in which I am trapped? Maybe it’s because I left the United States for a couple of weeks and compared this country with another? Maybe it’s because I’ve learned the truth about so many different figures and institutions that are shunned by the mainstream press? Maybe it’s because I’ve learned to stop seeking love from women who don’t have the slightest idea about any of the things that interest me? Maybe it’s because I’ve read more philosophy? Maybe it’s because I’m a better person than I was when I called my doctor, crying, and asked for some help falling asleep at night?

There are an infinite number of reasons to be sad, bitter, and even angry. On Thursday morning, I was so agitated that I smashed my plastic water mug. But that was then, and this is now, and numbing myself, even if only insidiously, with magical mystery pills will not effect the change that is necessary for these awful feelings of mine to cease completely. Pharmacology is not the answer to depression, folks: identifying the source of your depression, and searching for a constructive solution to that depression, is the only way out of it. This blog is one such attempt at a constructive solution. I’m sure you can find yours, too.

Oh: and keep your head up.

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