In 2003, I was prescribed Paxil (paroxetine) to calm my anxiety. I quit taking it last year. Since then, I have noticed changes in emotional functioning. Paxil did not calm my nerves, it distorted my thinking and desensitized me. Sans medication, I am actually able to manage my emotions for effectively. Here’s how.
The point of an antidepressant SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), like Paxil is to counteract sadness. Paxil is also an anti-anxiety medication; its purpose is to allay worry. However, eradicating worry, and even subsequent depression, is not the be-all-end-all. Not all worry is counterproductive. Worry can inhibit problem-solving, or it can also spur one to keep exploring options until a solution is reached.
Worry causes problems when the mind is unable to concentrate on a solution and just rehashes fears endlessly. Antidepressants can cause that kind of dull, mindless worry. How? Paxil, and other antidepressants, counteract anxiety by reducing awareness of external stimuli. Instead of noticing problems, antidepressants “numb” the perception of them.
Antidepressants don’t really calm emotions as much as they desensitize the mind. Instead of helping the brain to focus on problems and think through possible solutions, antidepressants often cause vagueness, confusion and disorientation. In that fugue state, the mind cannot attend. It distorts issues. It may minimize important concerns, and magnify trivial ones.
Like alcohol, antidepressants often produce false sensations and perceptions. Both dull the senses, while giving the impression that they are sharpening them. Antidepressants produce euphoria and feelings of invincibility. Many alcoholics believe they are wittier when they drink. As a former antidepressant user, I believed that I thought more clearly when taking the drug. It was only when I came off Paxil, that I saw that my thinking was more erratic when on it.
This mental confusion lead me to wrongly think I was managing emotions, when in fact, they were just masked. I actually had no fewer panic attacks while on Paxil than I did without it. Without Paxil, I was aware of the feelings; with the Paxil, I didn’t recognize them until it was too late. In my dazed state, I over-reacted to issues that weren’t really problems, and didn’t react to problems that I should have. Since weaning myself, I am learning to recognize signs of impending anxiety attacks and make reasoned, healthy choices about how to respond.