The final months of what ended up to be my last taper were unsensational. For so very long it felt as if little ground was being taken. I have likened this struggle to a battle of the inches. And for so very long this is the worst of it — that is the sense that this will never end. You see no reason to keep going and instead you see every reason to give up.
Then there might be a day when you are doing something basic — say, mounting some stairs — and you sense inside yourself that you are feeling better. You hear yourself say, I’m feeling better. What it is that I felt in such moments was not transporting; it was not euphoria or glee. It was a slow subtle feeling of interior solace — that there was no terror or shame or anxiety. I was simply climbing the stairs as a unified gathered soul who could give thanks for the ability to climb stairs and for the ability to be self-aware, that my inner gathering was happening and that even if it lasts only for the short stride it took to mount the stairs, the sensation was true and it will return and last longer next time.
One of the most meaningful points of encouragement during these last final months proved to come from an unlikely source. A man in his 40s, from Britain, had posted on one of the websites I had turned to for help and guidance, writing of his recovery, which — like so many — was very hard won. He suffered for years, but he held on and eventually became free of SSRIs. He returned to the forum of offer encouragement to others, like myself, who were still struggling:
I went through one of the longest, hardest withdrawals and post-withdrawal periods I’ve ever heard of; I was totally unprepared for it, very badly suited to it, and unless you count this forum, I had nothing in my life to help me through. And somehow, I managed to beat it. What does this prove? Well, it proves one thing for a start: if a loser like me can do it, so can you.
The recovery was slow and painful, but I became conscious of every little improvement as it happened. I got used to the pattern: something would get better for a while, then suddenly everything would swing right back and all that recovery would vanish. But I learnt the trick – once something had recovered temporarily, it was only a matter of time before it recovered permanently. It made no difference if it came back for a while… it had already revealed its weakness, and sooner or later it was going to be gone for good. That was true in every single case.
And all I have to say to anyone who’s currently going through long-term, heavy withdrawal symptoms: just hang on. You don’t have to do anything… just hang on. So long as you don’t let it beat you, in the end this stuff will just melt away. It really will.
There were times during the period of tapering that I lamented what had become of my life. There were moments when I possessed the odd sense that who I was supposed to be in this life somehow got hijacked by an impostor — and worse, an impostor that I despised. These are confused and desperate moments and they are not of God.
If I were to measure the “me” I was in this struggle and the “me” I was before all this and if the two “me-s” were to be objectively measured against eternity, I reckoned that the former would measure very small. The present “me” was no champion, but what was left had been through the fire. I hadn’t written any good books — I could barely read any good books. But during the late stages of this epic slog, simply hanging on was the very best I could be. There was nothing sensational about it. People don’t follow you on Twitter for simply “hanging on.” But doing that demanded for more of me to reach this point, and at many points the battle was nearly lost.
So I came to understand as I neared the end of all this that I mustn’t lament what was left of me, but to thank God for it, to proclaim his glory for it. That inner gathering I felt while mounting the steps, even if it lasted only for the short stride, it would return and last longer next time. That is what the “loser” said, and at this difficult point near the end of the struggle, I believed him.
(Next post: Stepping off the plank.)