I can’t cry on my SSRI

A student opens up about experiencing emotional numbing caused by her anxiety medication.

ALI GRAULTY / THE TEMPLE NEWS

I can’t tell you the last time I cried. 

I mean deep, filling up my lungs and letting out a horrific wail into my pillow cry. I can’t remember the last time I felt that post-sob euphoria, when my face is covered in sticky tears and my dry throat begins to ache. 

What I do remember is the last time I took my medication: this morning.

Pills organized neatly in my purple weekly pill container. One big blue pill and one small blue pill down with several large gulps of water. 

At 18 years old, after being diagnosed with anxiety, panic disorder and anorexia, I was immediately placed on the SSRI fluoxetine, also known as Prozac. 

SSRIs, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, help chemically-deficient persons receive a greater amount of serotonin, the chemical known to improve mood, emotion and sleep. 

Before then, my chemical deficiency was clear to my family and I by the time I was 10. I had to count each stair as I went up the levels of my house. I couldn’t go to sleep unless my mom had tucked each corner of my sheets around my tiny body. After episodes of screaming and crying on my parents’ bathroom floor, I was convinced death was near and I had gone absolutely mad. My anxiety levels were so high about every aspect of life that I felt like I could barely function.

Today, I can give my 10-year-old self a warm hug. She might’ve be a bit unstable, but it’s okay: her unpredictable emotional breakdowns were not her fault. Like the fact that she was born with bow-legs and crooked teeth, it’s just simple biology. 

After four years on this medication, I’ve become much less of a screamer or crier, but I’ve almost become the exact opposite. I barely cry. This is a factor of emotional blunting or numbness, a common symptom of individuals who take antidepressants, according to Healthline, a health information website.

Don’t get me wrong, I try to cry. My YouTube history makes it very clear that I’ve tried. Dogs welcoming home army soldiers, babies being born, couples’ weddings, older couples finding out they are going to be grandparents, the list goes on. But the most I’ll feel is a lump in my throat and, on a good day, a couple of tears welling in my eyes. 

I feel cold-hearted. As someone who loves people — loves listening to them, loves comforting them — it feels like I’m missing a part of myself. I can’t empathize with others as I want. 

Even with traumatic events in my life, I cried the day of and then never again. It is extremely unsatisfying, because I feel like I missed my chance to grieve.

I’ll be with friends or family and even in a setting where crying would be appropriate, and I still am unable to make it happen. I feel sad, but it doesn’t rise above the surface. In those situations, I’ll just make my face have an extremely saddened expression and maybe rub my eyes a couple of times. 

Surprisingly, I am able to cry if I laugh extremely hard. The tears will make themselves known for joy, but not the release I really need them for. 

It’s as if I have to choose between being able to cry and express my emotions while suffering from daily panic attacks that might trigger my past disordered eating and being left emotionless and numb but able to carry through the day like a relatively normal human being.

I’ll be stuck in this chemical rebalance for a while, at least until I am able to go off of Prozac or eventually decrease my dose. My therapist recommended I stay taking it until the end of college, knowing that if I stop taking the medication, I’ll revert back to my manic anxiety mode. 

Still, if my only side effects are a lack of expression and empathy, then I’m comforted to know that I must naturally have an abundance of those qualities, if it’s so noticeable when they’re taken away.

But I miss weeping. 

I miss throwing myself on my bed and wailing to feel something innately human. I miss tearing up at random videos shown in my psychology classes or hearing a sad story. 

Until those days come back, I’ll be watching dogs welcome home their soldiers and I’ll be pretending to feel tears drip down my cheeks. 

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