National Drug Facts Week: Venlafaxine

January 26th through February 1st is “National Drug Facts Week”.  In an effort to better understand what I’m taking and why, I decided to write a little bit about Venlafaxine.

Venlafaxine3Dan2Venlafaxine is an anti-depressant that affects chemicals in the brain that may become unbalanced and cause depression. It’s used to treat major depressive disorder (which is what I’m battling), anxiety, and panic disorder.

But how, exactly, does Venlafaxine work? Well…may experts believe that an imbalance among neurotransmitters is the actual cause of depression. Serotonin and norepinephrine are two neurotransmitters that are released by nerves in the brain. Venlafaxine works by preventing the uptake of serotonin and epinephrine by nerves after they have been released. The reduced uptake increases the effect of those two neurotransmitters in the brain, thus decreasing the likelihood of depression.

Venlafaxine-EffexorMy doctor started me off on a dose of 75mg per day for the first week, then bumping up to 150mg after that. My next check-up with him is on Wednesday, and if everything is continuing to go along a good path (and it is) then he’ll bump me up to 225mg per day; and that will be for the remainder of the year. For someone who has never taken medication for an extended period of time before, it’s going to be a long road to travel. The hope, though, is that it won’t be necessary after the year is over.

Venlafaxine is to be taken with food. The capsule itself is a controlled-release capsule, so you shouldn’t crush it or try chewing it.

Venlafaxine has the potential to slow reflexes or impair judgment. Therefore, caution is advised (especially) early in the course of treatment. Drinking alcohol of any kind is not recommended as it will increase these (and other) side effects.

What I really was concerned about (and already wrote about) were the numerous side effects that were possible with this drug. As I’m now over a month into taking it, I can say that the side effects have primarily worn off. Here are the most common:

  • vision changes;
  • nausea, vomiting, diarrhea;
  • changes in appetite or weight;
  • dry mouth, yawning;
  • dizziness, headache, anxiety, feeling nervous;
  • fast heartbeats, tremors or shaking;
  • sleep problems (insomnia), strange dreams, tired feeling;
  • increased sweating; or
  • decreased sex drive, impotence, or difficulty having an orgasm (ejaculation disorder).

venl7386At this point, I’m still being affected by some of these side effects (weight change, dry mouth, yawning, increased sweating, and difficulty having an orgasm), but I’ve been able to learn to adapt to them as best as I possibly can. The way I see it is that things could be much worse (as they were over the Christmas holidays when I changed medications).  If this is as bad as things get (more severe side effects can include seizures due to increased bloody pressure), I can work through them over the course of one year.

The FDA suggests if anti-depressants are discontinued abruptly, symptoms may occur such as dizziness, headache, nausea, changes in mood, or changes in the sense of smell and taste. Therefore, it is generally recommended that the dose of anti-depressant be reduced gradually when therapy is discontinued. Obviously, I’ll worry about that when the time comes.

So that’s what is going on with my medication. I feel like I’ve got a pretty good handle on it, both in terms of knowing what I’m putting into my body and how my body is reacting.

stronger than depressionI’m not a spokesperson for anti-depressants. I’m not somebody who is trying to motivate the world to start taking pills to solve their problems. But I am someone who realized that there was a chemical imbalance somewhere that was causing me to not act or think the way I normally did. I went and sought out professional help, and I feel life is slowly becoming better because of it.

Being clinically depressed does not make me weak. It does not make me a “weird” person. Being told that you have a mental illness does not mean you are insane or that there is something horrifically wrong with you. It simply means that there is a chemical imbalance that can hopefully be remedied through medication and/or psychotherapy.

I would like to hope that writing about my battles with depression or taking medication can help inspire one person to speak with somebody about their own issues. That would make this all worthwhile to me.

Throwback Thursday

It’s hard to believe that today’s already Thursday. A snowstorm during the week can throw things off in a hurry.

Today’s #TBT is from my trip to Houston, Texas almost eight years ago. I was newly hired by a very large American company and they flew me from New Brunswick to Texas for a month to train. I don’t know if I’d ever want to live in Houston, but it was a great city to visit.

One of the things I did was eat at one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to: Fogo de Chão.

It’s funny…I actually discussed this restaurant while dining with co-workers last week. If you have never been to Fogo de Chão, here is the deal: meat. In fact, it’s an all-you-can-eat Brazilian steakhouse. And they have an extremely simple, yet fun way to serve your food.

So when you order the “meat buffet”, you’re not going up to a big spread on a table somewhere. Instead, there are servers walking around from table to table while holding platters with different meats on them (I was told at least 20 different types, actually). Once they’ve made it once around the restaurant, they’ll switch out with another meat from the kitchen. There are multiple servers so the meat is constantly going around the room.

As a guest, you are given a “token” that’s green on one side and red on the other. Much like a stoplight, “green means go”…so if a server sees green facing up, they’ll come over and offer you the cut of meat that they have (filet mignon, top sirloin, lamb, rib eye, etc.). They will continue to do this until you flip your card over to show red, at which point they will not bother you and let you eat whatever pile of meat is on your plate.

They offer other things to eat, obviously, but my friend and I went there to chow down on a $60 meal of ALL MEAT. And yes, I got the “meat sweats” as we made our way to a Houston Astros game once the meals were done.

So to top it all off, I had to get a picture taken at this restaurant. You can tell by the look on my face that I definitely got my money’s worth that day.

Throwback Thursday

The Two-Week Follow-Up

So I went for another 2-week follow-up appointment last week. Basically, the doctor wanted to see how my body was reacting to switching back to the old anti-depressants.

I was very happy to report that so far, so good.

In two weeks, I already feel the difference between now and how I felt over the holidays. Sunshine can see it, too. I feel like there’s pep in my step and I feel more engaging with those around me…not wanting to shun myself away from the world.

I asked my doc about starting psycho-therapy. I mean…if my body is doing better, then it makes sense that I start diving into what caused all of this and try to nip it in the bud. He hesitantly agreed and wrote out a note. He handed it to me and pointed out the start date…

…late April.

I asked him what the reason was and he said that one of the issues I had going into all of this was a lack of concentration in my life. I was having issues keeping focus at work and maintaining my ability to complete required tasks. He said that I need at least three months to ensure that I’ve got my concentration back to where it needs to be before I should worry about diving into my mind.

I don’t necessarily agree with him (and neither does Sunshine). But here’s the thing…I’m not the expert. I don’t know what’s wrong with me and, thus far, my doctor has helped me begin my journey back. If this whole thing needs to be a marathon and not a sprint, then so be it.

We both agreed that the reason for the depression was self-esteem issues. Whether they stemmed from my childhood or were reborn from a depressing experience at my previous job, my lack of faith in myself was spiraling into other areas of my life and causing overall depression. So if I can give myself a solid foundation over the next three months, then I guess I’ll be more than ready to talk to a professional about it.

The big thing is that I truly feel like I’m finally doing this for myself now. It’s not about the marriage or the kids…it’s about me. I finally believe that if I can fix ME, then I can fix the other things in my life and everything else will fall into place.

It’s a pretty good feeling.

Throwback Thursday

It’s about this time of the year that I get the “Winter Blues”. A lot of people do, which is why it’s this time of the year that they go down south for a vacation.

About nine years ago, my folks flew me down to Florida for a theme park vacation. Obviously, it’s one of those memories that has stayed with me over the years because I would like to, one day, do the same thing with my own family.

So on a cold, winter day I like to look at old pictures from warmer climates and daydream a bit. In this case, Walt Disney World.

I remember walking through Main Street U.S.A. and going in and out of the shops. I wasn’t in any hurry, and saw a row of “Mickey Ears” lined up against a back wall of one of the stores. Needless to say, I couldn’t resist…


Owing What I’ve Already Paid

I’m in a bit of a situation with the government and it’s getting a little bit frustrating. Something that should be easily fixed is becoming quite the hassle to correct.

Here’s the deal…

When I moved to be with Sunshine in September, 2012, I started working for a job that didn’t accommodate my wanting to voluntarily garnish my wages in order to pay child support. So basically, my old job directly removed child support from my paycheques and sent payments to the government. It was a hassle for my ex because she wouldn’t get payments immediately, but everything was taken care of and I didn’t have to worry about anything.

The job I initially took in Halifax didn’t do that, so the ex and I agreed that I would send payments directly through my bank account every payday. I had all of my documents packed away so my ex said that she would contact maintenance enforcement to let them know what I was doing (big mistake, looking back now).

So between the old job and the new job, sending payments every two weeks became habit and I continued to pay child support directly that way.

Tax time came around last year and I didn’t get my refund because money was owed for maintenance. I asked my ex to please contact them and explain that everything was fine. She claimed to have tried on more than one occasion to do that but was asked to jump through hoops. My last communication on the subject had her waiting to hear back from somebody.

Two weeks ago I received a letter in the mail that said I owed thousands (!!!) in child support. Obviously, I knew that wasn’t true but I was still pretty upset that this had now become “a thing”. It’s now definitely affecting my credit report and the government thinks I’m a deadbeat dad. That sucks because I’ve ALWAYS paid my child support.

The letter, thankfully, had my maintenance officer’s name and my case ID number. So I called the number and got a voice mail. She returned a voice mail while I was working at the office and so I called back again…voice mail. She called back while I was working again and, again, she left a voice mail. I called her AGAIN…voice mail.

So yes…this is now an extremely frustrating situation. I’ve explained in my voice mails that I can prove I’ve been paying all along; just let me know who I can email or fax the information to. I even gave my ex’s phone number so they could call her directly to confirm.

Instead, I get a message asking me to call her back directly with no other information provided. It’s a very frustrating situation, to say the least.

I’m sure many single moms out there have more than their fair share of stories about not getting child support at all, so maybe this story doesn’t mean much. But for a dad who happily pays for his children and would do anything for them, this situation sucks.

So now I wait. Again. And call. Again. And get a voice mail. AGAIN.


Coming Along

The last couple of weeks have been, to me at least, a bit of a turn-around from the previous couple of weeks. The biggest reason for that, I believe, has been my update in medication.

It’s weird to suddenly be relying on anti-depressants to feel “normal”, but I’ve felt better over the past couple of weeks. I feel like I’m making progress and that I’m making small strides.

I look in the mirror and don’t hate what I see. I’m still overweight, but I’m down four pounds since going off the other medication and I am becoming more comfortable with the weight that I’m carrying…which is something I never normally feel like. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still unhappy with being overweight, but I don’t feel as antsy or update about the whole thing.

I don’t feel like I’m so quick-to-snap, which is a defensive reaction I normally have. I find myself being able to control things a bit better in that respect. Obviously, I won’t know for sure until a few months go by, but one of the issues I have with my depression is that I’m always quick to be defensive about even the most miniscule topic. Considering I had a big blowout fight with Sunshine just over a week ago, I know that it’s something I’m still working on…but I feel like some revelations came out of that argument; revelations about me and my expectations of myself and those around me.

There are still some side effects that I wish weren’t there, but overall I feel a lot better. I don’t feel like I’m relying on Sunshine to keep me “up” all of the time. I feel like I’m the only one making those decisions on a daily basis.

I see the doctor tomorrow for a follow-up. My hope is that we’re good to move forward with reaching a final, permanent dosage and then I can look into getting some one-on-one psycho-therapy.

But at this point, I feel as though I’m coming along. It’s one step at a time, and I feel like I’m moving forward.

Throwback Thursday

That time I got to stand in front of the FBI building in Washington, DC.

Whenever I go on a business trip, I do my best to get there the day before the meeting. One, it just makes sense to ensure weather doesn’t ruin plans or flights. Two, I love to tour the area I’m visiting with a little bit of a buffer.

Well…a few years ago I was visiting my old company’s headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia. Because they were all-day meetings, I had to get there the day before they started. And if I’m going there the day before, I might as well fly in early and spend the entire day…RIGHT??

I absolutely loved Washington, DC (which is where I flew into). It’s an incredible city rich with history and beauty.

As I walked through the streets, I just happened to realize that I was standing next to the J. Edgar Hoover Building, which is the home of the FBI. Obviously, this was a photo op I just couldn’t pass up.

Throwback Thursday