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Niacin: You Take My Breath Away, or Reasons You Shouldn’t Self Medicate

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Let me preface this story with the following statement: I AM AN IDIOT.

Now that that’s out of the way….

A couple of months ago, before I was able to get an appointment with a psychiatric medication provider, I was desperate. I was incredibly depressed and knew something was off with my medication. But without being able to see a medication provider, I was shit out of luck.

So I began researching vitamin supplements that could help with depression. I already take Vitamin D, which is well known for helping with depression. I used to take St. John’s Wort as well, until I learned that it could interact with birth control.

During my online research, I came across Niacin. People in various online forums were raving about how it helped with depression. So I decided to give it a shot.

The first day I took Niacin, I was eating lunch and suddenly felt HOT in my normally cool office. Was I running a fever? I looked down at my arms and they were bright red. I was breaking out in a rash. I pointed it out to my coworker, who noted that my neck was also bright red. I immediately drove to urgent care.

The diagnosis? I was experiencing a common side effect called the “niacin flush.” The nurse told me it would fade away soon and not to take niacin again for at least a week. If I began taking it again, I should start with a half pill first. I later realized that the multivitamin I take daily already has a day’s worth of niacin in it. So I stayed away from any additional niacin after that.

Yesterday, as I was eating breakfast, I eyed the niacin bottle again. I hate seeing things go to waste, even if it’s a bottle full of a vitamin I could be allergic to. (I know. I’m an idiot.) This week I got a pill cutter for my other medication, so I decided to give niacin another chance. I took half of a tablet with breakfast.

About 15 minutes later, I was doing my makeup and started feeling nauseous. Were the strawberries I put in my oatmeal bad? I thought. Just then, my cat Sandy approached me. I reached down to pet her.

When I rose, I couldn’t breathe. I felt what I imagine it might feel like to have an asthma attack. I tried letting air out. Nothing was coming back in.

Was there something bad in the air? I bolted toward the door and went outside. I was still wheezing. Did I need to call 911? Where was my phone? I didn’t know what to do. Would water help? I quickly poured myself a glass and returned to my back steps to gulp it down.

In the midst of all this, I probably started to have a panic attack, which made my breathing worse. But I was finally able to catch my breath outside after that glass of water.

I came back inside, still worried if the house might be the problem, but our carbon monoxide alarm wasn’t going off and Sandy seemed fine.

It was the niacin. I later confirmed this when I learned that shortness of breath could be a side effect.

The worst part of the whole experience was the fact that I was alone when this happened. Greg had already left for work yesterday, and if I did need to dial 911, I would have had to do it myself while worrying about trying to breathe and get important words out such as my address.

Let me repeat: I AM AN IDIOT.

I felt lightheaded and a little dizzy for the rest of the day. I was thankful to have made it to work where there were people who would be there in case I passed out or something. I drank coffee and ate chocolate to make sure my blood pressure was up. I got a big hearty lunch and ate all of it, even though I’ve been trying so hard to watch my calorie intake. I ate way too much yesterday, but at least I’m not in the hospital or dead.

Eventually the niacin left my system. I threw the bottle away when I got home from work.

Never again.

The lesson? Don’t try to self medicate. Be careful with vitamins and other supplements and please, please, please talk to your doctor about any you are taking or thinking of taking. I still can’t believe what a terrible effect an over-the-counter vitamin had on me. Please be safe, everyone!

Why I Don’t Miss Facebook

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I gave up Facebook a few weeks ago during one of the more stressful months in my life. I don’t miss it at all. After some reflection, I think being off Facebook has been good for me and has helped decrease my overall anxiety level. I have been moved by an outpouring of support from friends, many of whom expressed that they also think Facebook can be detrimental to the psyche.

The problem with Facebook, one of my friends told me, is that it’s a highlight reel of people’s lives. It only shows the positive aspects instead of the daily struggles. Why? Because people are only compelled to share uplifting or funny things on Facebook. That’s the content that gets the most likes and comments, after all.

Being off of Facebook, I have come closer to an understanding of my own narcissistic nature. I’m not a complete narcissist (not the kind of self-absorbed jerk people hate), but I now recognize that I have narcissistic tendencies.

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I grew up in a somewhat political household. Many of my relatives have served in public office and were absolutely wonderful people that you could depend on. I was raised with the idea that perception is everything. Perception is reality. You don’t reveal the less than pretty parts of yourself ever, because it affects people’s positive perception of you. Positive perception = votes (or likes!).

It  really matters to me what people think of me. That is why it took me so many years to reveal to people, even close loved ones, that I am diagnosed with anxiety and depression and I struggle with it daily. In the Irish Catholic household I grew up in, you simply didn’t talk about those things.

I suppose it’s no wonder I pursued public relations and marketing as a career. Because I worry so much about perception, I have a knack for knowing what people think about a particular thing and how best to adjust that thinking (if needed).

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Anyway, on Facebook, I think my narcissistic nature took over. I began obsessing over how many likes or comments I got on posts. Getting likes made me feel, well, liked. I like it when people like me! It satisfies my narcissistic nature.

I learned that most people don’t like serious and/or depressing posts. After all, they are driven to social media to escape. Many people are on social media during work hours for that very reason. People are on social media to be entertained. If you’re not entertaining and positive, you unliked, unfollowed, and sometimes unfriended.

We all hear the same complaints. “Ugh… I’m so tired of Tim’s depressing posts. Why can’t he just lighten up?” or, “I unfollowed Jill today. Her political posts are so annoying!”

And I totally understand. I’ve done it myself.

But then that sort of attitude forces people to make their lives appear to be all sunshine and roses. And due to how Facebook organizes your news feed now, most of the things your friends see are the sunshine and roses of your life. Those posts get bumped up in the news feed because they get more likes, comments, and shares.

But life isn’t all sunshine and roses. I feel that we really need to address that in social media. Lately there have been more news stories about people who have committed suicide and left family and friends wondering, “Why? She seemed just fine.” The most troubling story I saw was about star athlete Madison Holleran, a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania who took a running leap off a parking garage in Philadelphia. Her Instagram documented a happy, healthy, and successful college student. Hardly anyone had a clue how much this girl was struggling, and therefore couldn’t help her.

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A photo from Madison Holleran’s Instagram account.

In the past few weeks, I’ve thought of what I’m going to call “social media truth posts” (hashtag #socialmediatruth) that tell people what’s been really going on in my life:

  1. My husband and I have absolutely no savings right now (due to the recent drama with our Jeep that I detailed in another post).
  2. I weigh more than I’ve ever weighed in my entire life, and I’m really embarrassed about it. It has to do with a number of factors, but mostly because I’ve been doing a lot of stress eating lately and I’m on medication that increases my hunger and slows my metabolism.
  3. I can’t fit into most of my clothes anymore and can’t really afford to purchase more clothing, so I’m wearing essentially the same outfits to work every week.
  4. My face has exploded with mini, pus-filled volcanoes (acne) that are also due to stress. It is so humiliating that I can barely look at people I work with and hope they don’t interact with me.
  5. I am probably more depressed than I’ve ever been in my life (more on this in a future post).

However, there have been some positives:

  1. We purchased a 2013 Nissan Versa to replace the Jeep. It’s a very nice car, and has been very reliable so far. We are already saving a lot of money on gas.
  2. My husband has been incredibly supportive as we’ve gone through this rough patch.
  3. I feel like I’m connecting with family and friends on a more real level (outside Facebook).
  4. My anxiety has gone down significantly.
  5. I’ve been reading more! In the past couple of weeks, I’ve finished Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman, Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, and A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren.

Just for fun, I’m sharing this picture with you. It’s what I would post to Facebook with the #socialmediatruth hashtag. It’s me after applying a Proactiv mask to the areas of my face where I have acne right now.  #nofilter #soglamorous

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And here’s a picture to go with my positive statements: our new car in front of our favorite liquor store, Lincoln Liquors. It’s Baby Nissan’s first trip to the packie!

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So there you have it: my real life with all of its ups and downs. Maybe you can relate. If so, I’m glad. And I invite you to share your ups and downs with me too. Feel free to comment or message me (just don’t message me on Facebook, because I’m not checking it at all).

I might come back to Facebook someday, but not for the time being. When/if I do, it will be my goal to be as honest as possible with my posts, and show my world outside of the one that is seen with rose-colored glasses (Hashtag #KeepingItReal).

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