I was on Paxil CR (Controlled-Release) 12.5 mg for nearly a full year before my doctor increased the dosage to 25 mg thinking that it would be effective. After a few weeks of taking the 25 mg dose, I could not concentrate or get anything done – my life had become a wreck. My concentration was poor, I was severely depressed, and I honestly felt trapped because I could no longer feel any positive emotion. My anxiety at this time was so severe that I avoided friends and nearly all forms of social contact.
At the time I was seeing a general practitioner who advised me to stop the medication if it’s not working well. He did not mention a need for “tapering” so I simply quit the drug. Immediately after I quit I began experiencing major symptoms of withdrawal. My brain was going crazy trying to figure out how to cope without the drug. During this time I was going to high school and I had just finished my freshman year.
What I experienced quitting Paxil “Cold Turkey” (Brief Synopsis)
Quitting Paxil “cold turkey” at age 15 was nothing short of a hellacious experience. My anxiety was uncontrollably high, I couldn’t cope with the obsessive thinking, and I was highly suicidal. During the first few weeks of the “withdrawal” I had a really hard time dealing with life. I didn’t want to do anything social – all I wanted to do was sit at home alone and watch TV. I would wake up, feel suicidal, think about ways to die, and I experienced significant anxiety.
My social life fell off the map when I quit taking Paxil. It had transformed me from a highly anxious kid into an aggressive, attention-grabbing, comedy show. I would talk to anyone, crack jokes around anyone, and wasn’t intimidated by anyone or anything. It basically boosted my confidence so high that I became a cocky, obnoxious high school kid. I would prefer being that kid any day of the week over a kid with severe anxiety to the point that he cannot function.
Anyways, as the withdrawal process continued, I wrote on various forums and message boards online seeking help. At the time I posted most of my questions and concerns on RxList.com – they used to have a profile for each drug and people could start new threads. I don’t even remember how many threads I started, but with the help of a guy named “Barry” and another dude named “Jerry” I was somehow able to make it through the withdrawal.
In my estimation, feeling “back to normal” following the withdrawal took well over a year. I had thought that I was going crazy, becoming schizophrenic, and/or that I had a brain tumor – symptoms were that severe. Symptoms were so debilitating that I ended up going in for an MRI thinking that something must be seriously wrong with me because I could not possibly be experiencing withdrawal. Even after 6 months had passed, my parents and everyone agreed that there was no possible way these were withdrawal symptoms from the Paxil.
Following the MRI, I went to a psychiatrist and he thought “premorbid schizophrenia” was an accurate diagnosis for me. He actually thought I would develop schizophrenia based on my symptoms. I went to get a second opinion and another doctor thought that I should be put on an antipsychotic medication. I took the antipsychotic for a day or two, and felt even more screwed up so I just threw them away and went to a therapist.
During this time, my therapist helped guide me through the symptoms that I was experiencing and I was able to cope with life again. It was not easy, but she eventually realized that I didn’t really have “premorbid schizophrenia” – this was a huge sigh of relief for me. I ended up turning my life around and having a medication-free period of about 6-years before experiencing depression or severe anxiety again.
Quitting Paxil Cold Turkey: Side Effects I Experienced
The symptoms associated with quitting Paxil cold turkey are unbearable at times. I experienced such extreme dizziness and headaches that I thought that I must have a brain tumor. People were telling me that these were merely symptoms of my anxiety manifesting.
I know the difference between feeling anxious and feeling unbalanced and straight up dizzy. There are a laundry list of other symptoms that I experienced, probably some of which I even forgot. I am writing this article years after my experience.
- Brain Zaps: Fun times getting my head shocked… Want electro-convulsive therapy (ECT)? Just randomly stop taking Paxil. You will get plenty of “zaps” throughout your brain and they will persist for quite some time. Fortunately these went away within the first month for me.
- Crying: I don’t know how many times I just broke down into tears thinking that I couldn’t cope with life anymore. I would go on big angry rage then break down and cry. The crying would be significant – I couldn’t stop sometimes.
- Depersonalization: I felt like I had become someone else and that my soul was permanently gone. I felt as if I had no soul and had become void of human life. This made me think that I was actually going crazy or going to develop another condition.
- Dizziness: Talk about super dizzy. I felt as though I could barely walk straight. Almost like a major hangover where you feel dizzy for weeks on end.
- Extreme anxiety: The anxiety reached an all new height. It transformed from just general anxiety to legitimate “fear.” I experienced a major fight or flight response and strong activation of the sympathetic nervous system. This was extremely uncomfortable and something I had never experienced.
- Extreme fatigue: I thought I had developed chronic fatigue syndrome – this is how tired I was all the time. I would lay around, wake up late, and just watch TV and/or listen to music. I could barely muster up enough energy to go to school.
- Headaches: I would have pounding headaches unlike anything ever before. This made me think that the Paxil may have caused brain damage. I had never experienced headaches before and during the withdrawal they lasted months.
- Isolation: There was no way I could bring myself to do anything social. I tried my best to “tough it out” and work through the symptoms, but I couldn’t. Friends were wondering what was wrong with me because they’d call and I’d simply decline to do anything. I had zero energy, was super nervous, and lost most social skills.
- Minimal self-control: I honestly thought I had no control over my body or my brain. At this point I had tried everything and nothing worked. I felt as though I would forever be at the mercy of the withdrawal. I was at the mercy of the withdrawal for an extended period of time, and it seemed never-ending. I honestly don’t know how I gained self-control back, but I eventually did.
- Obsessive thoughts: I had some minor OCD before taking Paxil, but after I withdrew it was crazy. It was significantly worse when I withdrew than it was before I took the medication.
- Palpitations: Initially I didn’t know what these were and I thought I was going to have a heart attack. This felt like my heart was jumping through my chest and fluttering irregularly. I didn’t really know what to do.
- Panic attacks: Want to experience major panic? Take Paxil for awhile, let it change your brain chemistry, and quit cold turkey. The panic that you experience will be unbearable.
- Severe depression: The depression was so severe that I couldn’t see anything good about life. I didn’t know what to do, why I was feeling so depressed, and I researched every possible treatment known to man. At the time I thought there was no hope.
- Suicidal thoughts: The sheer emotional upheaval that I experienced when coming off of Paxil was so damn powerful that I couldn’t possibly control it. I felt as though I had zero control over my life or existence. This made me feel extremely suicidal and I’d say I was severely suicidal every single day for over a year.
- Uncontrollable anger: The scariest part of coming off of Paxil is the uncontrollable anger and rage. I remember getting into constant arguments with my mom and dad while withdrawing. Multiple times they escalated to becoming physical and violent. Not that anything major happened, but let’s just say the police were called. I could NOT control any of my emotions.
What I learned from quitting Paxil cold turkey
My experience of Paxil withdrawal was horrible and I wouldn’t wish to ever put anyone through the intense pain that was experienced. When I made it through that withdrawal, I felt invincible for awhile – not in a grandiose way – just because I honestly didn’t think I would make it. At that point I told myself if I can make it through this much pain, I can make it through anything life throws at me.
I also learned that there are some things that will help you through the withdrawal process. Perhaps the best tool to have at your disposal during a withdrawal is that of a therapist. Look for a therapist that you get along with and that understands your situation. You need someone on your side just for the emotional support. Your family and friends will only be able to empathize with you to a certain extent.
After awhile my family just got sick and tired of hearing me complain about how hard my life was. I kept telling them that it was from “withdrawal” and at one point they were all so fed up with my complaining and whining that they would actually joke about the “withdrawal” saying that it’s been months. Once I started to see the “light” I realized that there were some things I could do to cope with my symptoms.
How to cope with quitting Paxil cold turkey & withdrawal symptoms
There’s no right or wrong way to cope with Paxil withdrawal symptoms that you experience. Many people are at the mercy of their physiology when going through a drug withdrawal. Below are some tips that helped me that may also help you. It is important to actually try them and see if they help rather than just read them and assume they won’t help at all.
- Detoxify: I would constantly be looking for ways to detox my body. I would go in a sauna for extended periods of time thinking that it would help. And to a certain extent I believed that it was helping clear me of Paxil and making me more relaxed.
- Diet: Eat as clean of a diet as you can with lots of home cooked meals. Make sure you are getting plenty of vegetables, proteins, and fruits – these are ideal for optimal mental health and recovery.
- Exercise: Do your best to get outside and exercise. Even something as simple as going for a bike ride, taking the dog for a walk, etc. I don’t know how many times I walked the dog just to get outside and do something during this process. I was highly anxious about people talking to me, so I just put on sunglasses, wore headphones, and went for a walk.
- Hobby: Find some sort of hobby to channel your energy and distract yourself from feelings of high anxiety and suicide. My hobby at the time was playing poker. I don’t know how many thousand games I played, but it was the only way to distract me and get me through the difficult time I was going through. I played for fun – with no real money.
- Productivity: Do your best to stay as productive as you can while coming off of Paxil. I ended up suffering from poor concentration when I quit. I experienced rapid thinking of obsessive, suicidal thoughts. I was still in school and had to really force myself to get things done.
- Socialize: If you are capable of maintaining social contact with friends and/or other people, do it. It may be painful and uncomfortable, but do what you can. You may feel awkward and high anxiety around people, but you will be glad you did something even feeling uncomfortable.
- Therapy: The best thing you can do for yourself is find a good therapist. No I don’t mean psychiatrist – I mean therapist. Therapists take a non-medicinal approach to resolving problems and often implement cognitive behavioral techniques to help you address faulty, non-logical thinking patterns.
How long does the cold turkey Paxil withdrawal last?
It really depends on the person. I was a teenager when I took Paxil and my brain didn’t recover for over a full year. This was during a crucial period in my adolescence, but with pain comes learning and change. I learned a lot about myself and really understood what it was like to be “severely” depressed to being on the brink of suicide every single day for months on end. I would pray for the suffering to end and it seemed to only get worse.
When times are tough, the only thing you can do is keep on going. The saying “if you’re going through hell, just keep on going” applied to me. I kept going and it wasn’t easy even for a second. I just kept going, kept living, and woke up another day in attempt to “weather the storm” that is depression and withdrawal. In my case I had symptoms for well over a year. I know most people do not have symptoms for that long of a period, but I did and I want to emphasize how real they were and the severity of the struggle.
If you are going through a long withdrawal and your symptoms do not seem to get better even though it’s been months on end, I’ve been in your shoes. I know what it’s like to feel helpless and at the mercy of your own brain. I just want to reassure you that if you make it through this painful experience, things will get better and life will improve. When the pain lasts a long time, think of it being like high-pressure that is slowly transforming you into a diamond. You will get through this suffering.