My experience with Antidepressants
The article I am about to write will most likely come across very strong and hard hitting. I still have a lot of anger over this part of my experience and I’m afraid it will show through in my writing. I have had a terrible experience with antidepressants and so cannot find a lot of nice things to say about them. I want to stress however that this is my experience only. Personally although anxiety has been a big part of my life, I have never suffered from depression. Because of that I cannot comment on how antidepressants work for depression or any of the other issues antidepressants are used for. I believe that there is a place for antidepressants and they can be a powerful aid in someone’s healing journey (I say that through gritted teeth because even though I know that it’s true, deep down I wish the drugs had never been invented). There are millions of people out there that have benefited from antidepressants and I do not want to minimise their experience in the slightest, I simply want to share my experience because I know that there are also millions of people that don’t do well with antidepressants and for those people the reaction that follows is shocking and sometimes life threatening.
I started taking antidepressants in August 2009 and was prescribed a very low dose of Paroxetin that I was only supposed to take for a total of 3 months before weaning off. I was given antidepressants to help manage my seizures as well as to help manage the extreme panic and anxiety I was getting as a result of my hormone imbalance. If haven’t read my article on why I took antidepressants you can read it here. http://hazelandcacao.com/why-i-took-antidepressants/
When I was on the antidepressants everyone around me thought I was doing amazing. I appeared to be functioning normally and back to my usual self. What I felt on the inside was a different story: I felt like a zombie every day, I was unable to concentrate or respond like I used to. It was like I was overcome by this heaviness that would not let me respond to the emotions I felt inside. All of my emotions were suppressed, the good and the bad. On the outside I looked mostly normal, but on the inside my body was screaming to be allowed to feel and express the feelings and no matter how much will power I mustered up to try and show people how I really felt, I just couldn’t. I felt trapped. The best way to describe what being on antidepressants feels like is “drugged”. Along side all of that, my digestive system became just as numb as my brain did. It was so numb I couldn’t tell that I needed to go to the toilet. I remember starting to feel really off and not knowing what was wrong with me. I would go to my husband crying and he would gently suggest I should try go to the toilet. He was right every time yet I was always surprised I actually needed to go to the toilet because I just never felt the need.
What it feels like when you take antidepressants:
- Feeling of being numb or paralyzed
- Mild persistent depression
- Inability to tell when I needed to have a bowl movement
- Weakness and lethargy
- Very slow response time
- Indigestion and mild nausea
In my experience, antidepressants did absolutely nothing to help with my anxiety. I hated the way I felt on them and couldn’t wait to stop taking them. I knew I looked better to the outside world but I personally think the feeling of being drugged is so awful that I think I would have preferred being an anxious wreck.
Coming off Antidepressants
When it was time for me to come off the antidepressants (three months later) I went through a pretty horrible withdrawal reaction. Initially I handled things ok because I reduced my dosage slowly. I experienced some dizziness, sadness and loss of appetite but the symptoms were manageable. Unfortunately weaning off slowly also brought back my seizures. My doctor told me to increase my dose back to full strength for a total of 3 days and then cut straight back down. Little did I know that this had the same effect as going cold turkey. This is when my withdrawals began. During this time every emotion completely overwhelmed me. Any sense of emotional integrity completely disappeared and I was left feeling emotionally compromised for years. I was convinced that I had lost my sanity for good. From the outside I looked no different to an emaciated drug addict that was withdrawing from heroin or the likes. I lost a lot of weight because I could not eat (and because my body had to expel the drug that was stored in my fat cells). I still cringe at the photos of myself from that time. I dropped down to 40kg. My days were filled with bouncing between feelings of extreme panic, sadness, rage or excitement. There was no logic to it, the emotions just came whichever way they wanted to, without reason or cause other than my brains desperate attempt to regain balance.
Here’s a run down of what it feels like (for me at least) to withdraw from antidepressants
- panic and anxiety
- Headaches and severe dizziness
- depression and weepiness
- No appetite and severe nausea – inability to eat
- Shaking and trembling
- Muscle weakness and fatigue
- Weight loss
Please keep in mind that all the symptoms and emotions I mentioned above were experienced to the extreme and were fleeting only lasting a few days at a time or less before changing to another emotion. Many people liken withdrawals as an intense expression of all the emotions that were suppressed while on medication. Unless you have been there yourself it is very difficult to explain to someone that the feelings of sadness and anxiety while withdrawing are immeasurably worse than any feeling experienced before taking medication. I thought my anxiety was crippling before meds but I simply underestimated how bad it could actually get.
The worst of the withdrawals was over in the first two months but all up it took a full year before my brain stabilized. Thankfully my digestion was mostly back to normal within a few months although it is still, to this day, a lot more sensitive than what it used to be. I’d like to say that after a full year of hell I was back to normal, but I wasn’t. I struggled with the consequences of what I went through for years. Amidst all of this my hormones were still not functioning well so it took me a very long time to return to health.
I know many people reading this will think that my dosage was too high or that the antidepressant I took was too strong but the reality is that I was only taking a quarter of the dose that is normally administered to a 6 year old. Admittedly there are other types of antidepressants with better reputations and longer half lives that may have given me a less intense withdrawal reaction but for the purpose of why I took antidepressants (to manage my seizures) they worked as intended. Although some people can come off antidepressants effortlessly unfortunately my experience is the common one, and many others are lead to suicide and self harm due to the intense withdrawal reaction. I do not regret my experience because what I experienced opened up my mind to the dangers of pharmaceutical drugs and forced me to explore other avenues towards real healing.
In closing I would like to say that if you are in a dark place right now and are considering medication to help get you through, please make an informed choice. A lot of my suffering could have been avoided through proper research and education.