Dear Friends on the Internet & In Real Life,
From Dec 2020 to Mar 2021 I had akathisia. What is akathisia you ask? Well, I’ll tell you — it’s something that I don’t wish on anyone, even Marjorie Taylor Green.
But what is it? Well I’ll tell you…it’s nothing good. It is hypothesized to have been the cause of David Foster Wallace’s suicide when he quit taking anti-depressants after 20 years. It is also wildly speculated to have played a part in the Sandy Hook shooting, as Adam Lanza was prescribed an anti-depressant that he only took sporadically (ie, not as prescribed.) It is also well documented that Bruce Springsteen and my youtube nemesis Dr Jordan Peterson experienced akathisia after taking/quitting prescribed medication.*
*the main cause of akathisia is taking Abilify (a drug prescribed for Tourette’s, schizophrenia and sometimes depression). The second main cause of akathisia is withdrawing from benzodiazapines (Xanax, Klonopin,etc…). The other main cause is being on any SSRI or anti-psychotic or anti-nausea medication.
You can look all this stuff up on the Internet. The Internet will tell you all sorts of awful things about akathisia, but what it won’t tell you is how awful it really is. There is no way of describing it, but I will try…in a minute. First though, I wrote this semi automatic poem about it & I’d appreciate if you read it —
You left to solve a celtic cable knot
So I felt around for ghosts in my suitcase,
Not having dragged them from Florida
But acquiring them upon arrival
Already striking cords in my
Backpack’s secret chambers, already
Papering the attic with their cut-out voices
I tune into one host w/ a tremorous
I ask it to tell me
The story of akathisia &
It gives me the director’s cut,
the 3D version
and the score all@once
It turns out our nerves are twined of
finest lavender silk strands
It turns out they have worms of their own
dangerous, like the virus
but worse? Maybe?
Capable of embedding
glassy fibers in our greyest zones,
Capable of wielding bigger shards & burning
the homes of butterflies
the holding onto doorframes & crying for angels —
who are not people, and not as busy as God—
to end my recurring
1st day of school
The trust in chemicals, mine & others,
mined & othered, mind &
out of pure desperation to
return to chapter one & rewrite & edit & rewrite
I moaned & groaned like these new
Indiana ghosts as my maggoty core was chewed
Silk worms gone wild w/ their art bombs in my legs
My map redrawn in hard-to-read lilac
Every mistake a returned message
From life’s analog-to-digital delivery systems,
Long decades of unpaid postage
Against a century of political outrage
Long hot miles to Main Street
But that’s where you & I agreed to meet
Akathisia for me started out as terrifying & invasive thoughts racing through my mind at inappropriate times (ie, when life was going just fine) I thought I was just “being negative” or a worry-wort or a Virgo. But when I say terrifying & invasive, I mean way beyond normal human worries. About a month after that, some physical symptoms began — I couldn’t sit still, I felt like “jumping out of my skin” , like I had drunk 8 cups of coffee when I hadn’t even drunk one, like someone was pointing a gun at my head, like the butterflies in my stomach had invaded my shoulders & hips & vertebrae…and the only solution was to keep moving. Changing positions. Rocking back & forth. Rubbing hands together. Pacing. Vocalizing sadly. Walking. Running. Cleaning the shower with a toothbrush.
By the third month I was really just looking for a way to end it. I couldn’t bear to be tortured by my own nervous system any longer. I was mentally attenuated by the terrifying thoughts. And I constantly felt like I was about to start crying, yet I was unable to. That is a surprisingly uncomfortable feeling when it happens all day, every day.
Despite the severity of my symptoms, I still regarded it as only an episode of severe depression/anxiety. I never thought it could be the Abilify I had started taking in the Fall of ’20. I had never even heard of akathisia (shocking — i thought I knew EVerything). Tony was pretty scared & kept saying “I feel like I should take you to the hospital.”
And maybe he should have. It took my doctor about 3 months to figure out what was going on. And as soon as I stopped taking the Abilify I felt “normal” again.
Those long lists of side effects they reel off in pharmaceutical commercials are no joke. “Restless leg syndrome” can be more unpleasant than it sounds. And “suicidal ideation” can be overwhelming. If you are on any medication and something changes drastically w/ your mood/health, always make sure it’s not the medication causing your symptoms.
After my experience, I scoured the internet for more info on akathisia and found it lurking in the bios of more people than I expected. The overall consensus is that it is unbelievably horrible. At least if I ever have it again, I’ll know what I’m dealing with and be able to get help quicker.
And hopefully this terrific blog is shedding light on something that isn’t well-known but is happening more & more often now that practically everyone is on some kind of prescribed meds. Have any of you experienced the kind of symptoms I described after taking a prescribed medication? Let me know.
Here’s some further reading you can do on the subject