Before Uni I’d done my fair share of drug experimentation. Weed was ubiquitous, naturally. But closeness to Bristol provided some of the purest fuzzy-buzzy I-fucking-love-the-world MDMA you will ever consume. A few lost nights tripping balls on lethal Acid and Ketamine cocktails were had too. But my worst ever drug experience hasn’t come from any gak purchased on Glastonbury High St., it came from a mate’s 100% legal and 100% fucked up anti-depression meds. You’ve got to hand it to irony, that motherfucker has a keen sense of humour.
I started my degree in the autumn of 2008. It was a seasonably hot fresher’s week in Bournemouth – the days were spent making crackling out of our skin on the beach and the nights were spent getting suitably leathered. Freshers were out celebrating their freedom by vomming in gutters and getting ripped on in cabs. I had already spent my final year of A Levels living alone, so the debauchery was business as usual: the only difference was now I had company.
I’d already chatted to Dave (FYI, his name isn’t Dave) through Facebook over the summer. We were due to start the same degree and shared loves for Bukowski and the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Needless to say, I was excited about meeting Dave. He seemed like a good sort. Dave, I hoped, would distract me from the absolute caricatures I had been forced into a student house with – three preening Sports students and two girls who did something to do with Fashion.
Anyway. The night I met Dave we waged a gargantuan battle against booze, and amazingly enough, seemed to be doing pretty well for ourselves. Everyone was new, and displaying a mixture of posturing and overt friendliness. After all, you didn’t know whom you’d end up spending the next three years with. The delight at finding common ground within the group was exacerbated. You’d think: “Holy shitballs, they like (such and such a band) too! Maybe we’ll be friends for life? Our lecturers will design some kind of blend of our names to reference just how inseparable we are!”
Now I will admit that my memory of the first half of the night is hazy. Fuck, my memory of that week is hazy. What I do know is that beers were drunk. Many tunes were put on the jukebox. Chips were bought. Cheese was added. I pissed on a car. People went their separate ways. I went back to Dave’s with more booze, to continue our muso pissing contest. We mainly played The Smiths.
I was stood on that perilous precipice between being hammered and passing out when the conversation turned to the blister pack of pills I found on Dave’s desk. ‘Zoloft’ was stamped on the foil side in a black serif. The name was vaguely familiar, like Adderall or Percocet and all those other drugs you hear of via American TV yet you have no idea what they’re actually for. “Oh, those are the meds for my depression”, said Dave. I knew Dave suffered with depression, but had no idea it was to the extent that he was actually medicated.
I floated that idea that I try one. We joked and unanimously agreed that it’d be fucking funny. Hilarity would ensue and all that. I was keen to prove how hardcore I was. After more deliberation Dave decided it was a bad idea, and after all – he needed them. Hindsight has proved Dave to be a very, very wise character. It has also proved me to be a fucking idiot.
No sooner had I hit the lights than I suffered the most intense, corporeal hallucinations of my life – Acid had nothing on this.
Then followed a decision I regret to this day. Being the fucking idiot I am, I discreetly stuffed the Zoloft into my pocket and went to the loo. I popped three 25mg pills. Enough to make Silvia Plath run around handing out flowers to aids-orphans. Stupidly pleased with myself I headed back down to Dave’s room, whacked the packed back on his desk and crashed out on the floor, grinning like the Grinch with a sack full of Whoville’s presents. Their happy, happy presents.
Waking up the next day, I had the floatiest of heads. I couldn’t quite put a finger on what was wrong, but I felt like I’d gone 12 rounds of electro-convulsive therapy. MY body was a dead weight – all major decisions made with difficulty by the mass of scrambled egg that had replaced my grey matter.
I spent the day lying on the sofa, feeling more depressed than I ever had in my life. It seems that if you don’t need the happy pills, they have an adverse effect. Especially when they join forces with a crippling hangover. A quick scour on the Interwebs lists Zoloft overdose symptoms as drowsiness (check), vomiting (check), shakiness (check) and agitation (double check). As I was to find out, this was soft-core compared to what was to come.
I made it to about 8pm having not moved and decided a clean was in order. 30 minutes in the shower proved to have a miraculous effect. I came out sunshine and flowers. I was overwhelmed with such a feeling of joie de vivre that I ignored the nagging thought of just how extreme my mood swings were. Cleary, something was very fucking wrong.
I decided on an early night and hit the sack around 9 - this is when everything went very wrong indeed. No sooner had I hit the lights than I suffered the most intense, corporeal hallucinations of my life – Acid had nothing on this. As many as 50 figures swarming around my room in full Technicolor; swooping down on me, attacking me, and generally scaring the living fuck out of me. Their faces were completely unrecognisable - but at the same time I felt I knew them. Intensely unnerved and feeling for the first time that I’d really gone too far – I spent a night of fitful sleep in the living room; all lights on and chock full of fear that I may have actually fucked myself beyond repair.
I had developed what is known as ‘serotonin syndrome’. This is when a wrongly administered dose of Zoloft reacts with Ibuprofen (the shit I used to make me feel better) and messed about with my serotonin levels (the shit that makes you happy). Symptoms include hallucinations, tachycardia and Confusion. And fuck me if I didn’t have all three.
This continued for about three weeks. Each night the same thing - lights out, people appear, terror ensues, insomnia reigns. Not a great way to start your first term, as you can imagine.
Gradually, the effects wore off. Though to this day I can catch myself daydreaming in a dark room, staring dreamily at a shadow in the corner of a room that will slowly begin to mutate, morph and come alive…
I’d like to say I haven’t touched drugs since – but that would be a lie – but what I can honestly say is when I have, they’ve come in a baggy, not a blister pack. And though they may cause the temporary side effects of being an obnoxious twerp with too much love to give, they haven’t come close to doing the damage caused by messing with meds.
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