Rocker battles depression by sharing hope, passion — (The Columbus Dispatch)

SSRI Ed note: Musician on Paxil has meltdown on airplane, does not remember, gets diagnosed bipolar, prescribed antipsychotic. SSRI not suspected.

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The Columbus Dispatch

by Kevin Joy

Justin Furstenfeld discussed the incident at least seven times one day.

During a series of phone interviews, the frontman for the Texas rock band Blue October was asked repeatedly about blacking out in an airplane on the tarmac in Minneapolis.

“Supposedly, I was waving my hands,” said Furstenfeld, who has no memory of the outburst, “saying I was going to hurt someone and hurt myself.”

The singer has battled depression and paranoia since adolescence.

During the episode, he wasn’t under the influence of any substance except the prescription antidepressant Paxil, he said.

Furstenfeld was removed from the aircraft and put under observation in a Minnesota mental hospital.

On his way to Washington, he had been scheduled to speak to members of Congress about alternative mental-health treatments.

The “Pick Up the Phone” tour, co-sponsored by the 1-800-SUICIDE hot line and marketed to emphasize the importance of seeking help, was postponed. It included a stop in Columbus late last year.

After two weeks in a Texas treatment center and an extended break for recovery and reflection, Furstenfeld is ready to tour again and talk to other people about his demons.

“This story means a lot to me,” the 34-year-old said.

He has started working out, giving up all illegal drugs as well as alcohol, except red wine.

More important, Furstenfeld said, he no longer discards his medication in the face of improvement.

“I used to think that I don’t need my meds anymore,” he said.

For now, he is taking Geodon – an antipsychotic drug that “helps slow my brain down,” he added.

The turbulence has given Furstenfeld a reason to delve back into recording, focusing on the ache of his sickness and the stress of separation from his 3-year-old daughter, Blue.

The unreleased material, he said, is “flawlessly honest.”

Yet regret and mental anguish have long stood out as hallmarks of the highly personal alt-rock music of Blue October – marked by the voice of Furstenfeld, who has been compared to Peter Gabriel.

The group formed in 1995 and later signed with Universal Records.

Several singles, including Hate Me and Calling You, have landed on Billboard rock and adult-contemporary charts.

Despite the crossover-friendly melodies, the autobiographical words drill deep.

Blue October recently caught the attention of legendary producer Steve Lillywhite (Dave Matthews Band, U2), who oversaw its fifth album, Approaching Normal.

“He wants us to win all around,” said Furstenfeld, who previously did the producing. “He let our band shine.”

Also on the radar: Twilight series creator Stephenie Meyer, who in 2008 invited Furstenfeld to open for her on a four-city reading tour.

Blue October, he said, was supposed to be featured in the Twilight movies and on the soundtracks, but the music advisers cut the band without her knowledge.

“I will always respect her for being straight with me,” he said.

These days, Furstenfeld is looking forward.

What he hopes fans take away from his experience and cathartic music is the importance of speaking up when something doesn’t seem right.

“I know that it’s so hard to explain to people what your brain feels like,” he said. “It took me blacking out to finally realize that.

“You need to find one person … who believes in you and just talk.”