by Jennifer Dyer
A few months ago, I wrote a blog about getting off my anti-depressant, anti-anxiety medication, which you can link to here. Now that I am several months past the storm, I wanted to give an update and share some things I learned.
I am not here to say everyone should get off their meds or that all meds are bad, but sometimes experience is the best teacher, so I want to share.
Use caution when listening to what the drug manufacturer promises. From what I read, the drug manufacturer said there were no issues with stopping my medication cold turkey. I’m not sure where they got that info from, but they were wrong.
Weaning off, if possible. Some of my friends who have taken meds with little pellets inside the capsule have had success with removing one bead per day. With my medication, that was not a choice. Some people have a pharmacist compound smaller doses of the medication for them, but that was too expensive for my budget.
Time span: I was told it would take around 3-5 days for the medication to clear out of my system. It was more like a month. The first two weeks, though, were the very worst. They were awful.
Dizziness: The dizziness was so severe, I couldn’t stand up. Anytime I did stand up, my nausea worsened. It took about 8 days for worst of those symptoms to pass, although I had dizzy spells for about a month. I mentioned in my first blog that I took non-drowsy motion sickness medication. It helped so much. Definitely, keep that medication on hand.
Sleeping issues: The first few nights, when I could sleep at all, I had some of the most vivid nightmares of my life. The only thing I can remember being worse were the hallucinations I had in the hospital when I had a bad reaction to a drug. So, plan for this. If you decide to stop taking your meds, don’t be alone. And don’t plan on being able to work the first week or so, not much anyway. I couldn’t focus on much.
Other side effects: I also had blurry vision, splitting headaches, profuse sweating and shaking.
Increase in Anxiety/suicidal thoughts: In addition to the terrible physical effects, my anxiety kicked into high gear. I kept having thoughts of killing myself, wanting to die. Life would be so much easier if I weren’t living it.
I had many moments where I sat in the the closet curled into a ball and wanted to end it all. It was terrifying. I wondered if it was the medication withdrawals, told myself that had to be the reason I felt this way, but I couldn’t be certain.
Emotional changes: I had difficulty interpreting people’s emotions. I rarely experience conflict with friends, but I was so sensitive I caused a few problems with people. I overreacted to questions, to looks even. Everything hurt my feelings.
Overall mental and physical state: I felt the way I had when I was pregnant–lot’s of nausea, exhaustion and overreacting. But the medication withdrawals were more extreme. I had to pace myself. I needed more sleep at first. Now, however, I have much more energy and am back to requiring less sleep.
Plan ahead: I stress that anyone getting off their medication should not to be alone for several days, maybe more. In my case in was two weeks before the suicidal thoughts dissipated.
Make certain there are no ways in the house you can hurt yourself. If you are the sole caretaker of children, have someone else stay with you. I cannot stress these points enough. Realize your thoughts will not be clear for a few weeks. Have a person on hand to talk you through the tough moments.
Also, plan activities to get your mind off the anxiety. Exercise, if you can. Sit in the sunshine. Hug the dog. Watch funny movies or comedians. Plan ahead and don’t do this alone.
Read message boards related to the drugs you are on. You will find much better info there than you will on a drug manufacturer’s website.
So, after all of this, am I glad I’m off the meds?
Yes, and yes! I feel so much better. While on the meds, I had to nap every day or … else. I couldn’t stay awake. I was flat. The creative part of me was so far out of reach I had issues writing and doing other hobbies I had enjoyed.
A few days after getting off the meds, my husband looked at me and said, “Welcome back.” He told me I was laughing more and more animated that I’d been in years.
Furthermore, the pain symptoms I’d had before are actually better since I got off the meds. I have anxiety still, but I’m not sure it’s any worse that it was while I was medicated. I have moments where I’m tempted to take meds again because I want to feel like I don’t care. I crave escapes sometimes, but that is a human characteristic, I think.
How I handle panic now: When I have the temptations to escape, I have to take a breath, read a book for a minute, pet the dog, get some exercise, have some ice water, pray, take a moment in a quiet room… For me, it is more about knowing I have limits and anxiety, but that I can deal with it.
It’s still hard, but I can see I have to be aware of my limitations.
At the time I started taking the medications, I was at a point where I couldn’t deal with the panic attacks. They came so often, so hard that I could not think through them.
Make modifications for your life: I’ve learned since then that I can breathe through those times. I have to keep my blood sugar stable, so no cookie binges. I have to rest, so I cannot over commit. And I have to accept the way I am. I’m not a cool cucumber. I’m a bit spastic. I get stressed easily. That’s just me.
What are some of your experiences with stress? Have you ever tried to wean off medications? What would you share?