Music » Side Effects May Include

Duration 5:09
Completed 2002
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This is the most personal piece I ever made. Unfortunately it is rather unpleasant. At the time I was going through perhaps the scariest period of my life (to give you an idea: I've been in situations where I thought I was going to die, but this wasn't one of them). Creating this music was one of the few ways I could cope with what was happening to me, and now I can forever appreciate it as a reminder of what I went through.

How did I end up in such a bad state? 2001-2002 was my senior year of college. I was very unhappy about the approaching end of a wonderful 4-year period of my life and parting ways with very close friends. I didn't have a job lined up and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was also going through a bad breakup with my girlfriend, who I was living with at the time and all the complications that entails. On top of that, two of my three remaining grandparents died. It is an understatement to say that it was not a good time for me. I needed help, so I tried going to a psychiatrist for the first and only time in my life.

I was prescribed an SSRI to treat depression. In retrospect it seems representative of the flaw in Western medicine: cover up the symptom with drug treatment instead of fixing the root problem. I was supposed to feel really bad! Figuring out how to deal with bad feelings in a tough time is part of the recovery process. I realized this eventually, and after leaving college cut off my connection with the pyschiatrist because he was not helping. I was convinced the drug was not helping either, so I tried to wean myself off of it over the course of a month.

Little did I know that a month is not nearly enough time to wean yourself off of an SSRI. A day or two after my last dose I started experiencing what I can only describe as electric shocks. If you have ever accidentally shocked yourself when un/plugging an electric device you have a pretty good idea of what it felt like, except this sensation was running through my body and my brain. Even worse, this sensation was accompanied by a very loud zapping noise like you'd expect to hear in a mad scientist's laboratory. It suspected it was caused by SSRI withdrawal, but I timed it so my last dose was my last pill, and I had no refill. I then was living 5+ hours away from the psychiatrist who prescribed it to me and had no desire to get in touch with him or another psychiatrist.

The first couple days this zapping sensation occured every few minutes. It didn't seem to be slowing down at all. SSRI withdrawal (which years later finally became clinically acknowledged as a legitimate condition called SSRI Discontinuation Syndrome), also has many other negative effects including anxiety, depersonalization, and sleeplessness. I was not in a stable state of mind and started freaking out. For a time I believed I had permanent brain damage and it was all my fault for stopping my prescription. I was not thinking rationally enough to get help from anyone around me and instead tried to hide what was happening.

Within a few days though, I noticed the sensation decreasing in frequency and calmed myself down. I just needed to wait it out (it took weeks for me, some people report it taking months). But I was still stuck in a personal hell. That's when this music was born. It's about the passage of time occurring too slowly during difficult periods. I tried to accurately capture the zapping sound I was hearing in my brain. The 2:47 mark is one place you will hear what it sounded like to me. And that sound was accompanied by a very disruptive physical electric shock jolting sensation. Have I managed to convey that it was torturous?

What I experienced is still not well understood and does not yet have a proper clinical name. But you can read more about it under the Wikipedia entry on "Brain Zaps".