I was prescribed Sertraline (Zoloft) in 1998 when I had postnatal depression. I was told to take it for a year to 18 months. I went from deep depression/anxiety to euphoria in the space of about two weeks, I felt pretty damned fantastic, there was nothing I couldn’t handle. As time went on I continued to feel well but my emotions were dampened down, so I was functioning well, no depression, but no “joy” either. After a few months of feeling well I decided I didn’t want to be on Sertraline anymore, didn’t read the patient information leaflet or talk to a doctor, not that that would have helped anyway. I just stopped taking them. My head felt terrible, it began to feel water logged, if I turned my head there was a time lag between my eye balls catching up with the fact that my head had turned, so dizzy, gradually intense sadness would kick in, really really intense sadness and anxiety, oh the anxiety, pumping adrenaline and nerves shot to bits. I went back on the Sertraline.
The doctor told me to do the alternate day thing, alternate days for a fortnight,then every third day for a fortnight, then one tablet a week, I did this various times over the next few years to no avail. I tried a pill cutter and halving the tablet, it wouldn’t break down easily without crumbling so that was unsuccessful. Every time I tried something, I ended up in worse shape than the time before, it was all getting steadily worse. I tried meditation, healing, exercise, cognitive behavioural therapy, counselling, fish oil capsules, NOTHING touched it. I pressured my surgery to refer me to a psychiatrist for advice,but the psychiatrist had no clue and could only recommend switching to another drug. I did switch to Citalopram for a while, and Mirtzapine, I felt constant fatigue on Mirtzapine, and then back to Sertraline. Yet another psychiatrist recommended halving my dose of Sertraline and taking diazepam to mitigate the withdrawals, so replace one powerful drug with an even more powerful addictive drug.
This is my description of how withdrawal felt from my blog, I only recently found out that what was happening had a name,akathisia:

“5am and for about the 3rd night in a row I’ve barely slept, I can’t stop the adrenaline pumping round my body, my stomach is tightly knotted, I’ve barely been able to eat properly it makes me feel sick. I’m clammy, sweating and crying and P is trying to reassure me, but he has to go to work. I get up and drag myself through all the motions of the day and making sure boys get to school, I feel like the living dead, I make sure they get fed and make sure they and no one else is aware of what’s going on, I don’t hang around at the school gates. Oh I do kind of tell a few people I’m not really feeling right but I play it down.
The constant adrenaline is tormenting me on the inside and I can’t stop it.It’s been building up over a period of months and I’ve been fighting and fighting the feelings but it seems to have reached a peak of exquisite torture.It’s like being at the top of a roller coaster that never stops. Someone else mentioned birdsong, and it was a funny thing, the torture was worse in the mornings and over the summer months while it was slowly building, birdsong in the morning outside the window had become a kind of torture as well. I had to go to work only 2 days a week and God only knows how I managed it. I had taken
my last Sertraline tablet months ago, and come off it as per the doctors instructions, and now my depression/anxiety was back tenfold to punish me for daring to presume I could stop taking it. I must be wired up wrong, no one else feels like this do they? What is wrong with me? Maybe I really am insane, maybe I just can’t cope with life without my tablets, how come everyone else can cope with life, and I can’t? There must be something fundamentally wrong with me. By now the Orwell Bridge was beginning to look a bit attractive and I just wanted to escape the adrenaline surges torturing me, my nerves were in shreds”.
This was 2003,at the end of 2003 I gave in and went back on the sertraline.

In 2006 I attempted another withdrawal, but at the same time we found ourselves going through a stressful life event, I tried to tough it out but ended up back on the Sertraline again.
So here I was, several years later and no further forward, and not for wont of trying! Everytime I went in a book shop or library I would try and find anything I could about antidepressants and depression, but nothing really enlightened me. I rummaged around on the internet but couldn’t find the answers. Until one day, I was browsing around Waterstones, and “Coming off Antidepressants” by Joseph Glenmullen jumped out at me, I read it avidly, and discovered TAPERING!!! But, all the examples in the book referred to liquid Seroxat or Prozac, I was really upset to find Sertraline was not available in liquid form. Armed with my new information about the simple concept of tapering, further digging led me to Dr Healy’s protocol of switching to the equivalent dose of liquid Prozac. These two pieces of information became my secret hope, I latched onto them. I decided to take a leap of faith and switch to liquid Prozac. At the beginning of 2007 I marked up my calendar with a schedule, I was going to go down from 5ml to 4.90ml the first week, 4.80ml the next week and so on, as my sons would say “epic fail”. By about mid February the nightmare was unfolding again and I had to give in and go back to the top of my Prozac dose, I was devastated.
Still I hadn’t given up hope, P was sympathetic but he couldn’t understand why I didn’t just give it up and accept I “needed” the drugs like a diabetic needs insulin. After lots more research, and P having interesting and enlightening conversations with a client who was a pharmacist about my problem, I started my taper again in May 2008, this time much much slower and here I am four years later down to 1ml liquid Prozac and still sucessfully tapering. It has needed a lot of self-discipline. I kept this blog/diary of my progress; I’ve been amazed to meet a few others who have been tapering longer than me. Nowadays my withdrawals are fairly benign, but I still feel a bit scarred from the experience,the akathisia has left me still feeling like my nerves are quite raw and very close to the surface but I can live with that now.
There is a huge assumption that these drugs are benign and harmless, they are not; they can cause extreme agitation and internal torture. They are dished out like smarties and people left to deal with the results. Starting them is like playing a game of Russian Roulette, you might be a lucky one who can take them and come off them with ease, or you might not. My understanding was that they were meant to be taken for only a year or so after you feel “well” but many many people are stuck on them for years or forever, I know many people who’ve given up hope of coming off SSRI’s and I hear many people say “oh I’ll be on these the rest of my life”. There is NO support or advice in place through doctors or psychiatrists on how to taper safely off the drugs.....if anyone does find any help in the UK, please let me know, although it’s a bit too late for me now as I’ve almost done it myself, but I know a lot of other people who might like to know!

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Cutting Up Rough

Just had one of the worst few days in a long while, since I embarked on this taper in 2008 my withdrawals have been fairly benign and I’ve been pretty much able to work through them. This time however I’ve had a few days that have felt much more crippling in intensity, I’m wondering if it’s because now I’m below 1ml each cut I make is more than 10% of previous dose. At this point I could make micro cuts, which could be endless, or just leave even longer between cuts and accepting that the withdrawals will be more debilitating when they do hit. At the moment I am thinking the latter; whatever, it’s just really frustrating to be so near and yet so far to the end. It’s so tempting to just think to hell with it and just drop this last bit dead but I just know Prozac and my brain won’t like it and will cut up very rough.

These past few days I’ve had the following:

·        Wired/caffeinated feeling

·        Insomnia (one night I got so fed up I went downstairs and made a packed lunch and sorted laundry, went back to bed and still couldn’t sleep)

·        Free floating anxiety

·        Crying

·        Despair
At my lowest point I nearly deleted my page off Facebook and this blog, until P talked me out of it, and now I’m so glad I didn’t, I would have missed the page and all the wonderful people out there. This time I even had to take a couple of days off my local authority job and I felt really bad about that, I’m so used to rarely being off sick. The plus side is that I work with a great team of people, and I felt able to tell the truth about why I was off sick and even had a lengthy chat about it with a colleague when I did get back and it was all positive.

Today I feel like I’m definitely coming out the other side and I’m just left feeling like I’ve been through the wringer and feeling a bit spaced out.
I do just want to address something that I know people think but are too polite to say or ask, everyone who goes on these drugs went on them for a reason, depression, anxiety (and nowadays PMT, ADD, ADHD, physical pain or any number of different ailments). How do I know I’m not just depressed still? Of course I’m not naive enough to think depression will leave my life forever, of course I will always be someone prone to depression/anxiety as part of my makeup and I am ever mindful of that fact. Having had depression I know that with no drugs involved it just doesn’t shift that quickly, it’s a longer haul. When doing a slow taper off a drug the depressions are mercifully time limited and do shift in a way that depression wouldn’t.

My youngest son is 14 this coming week, this means its 14 years since this story started.

I just want to end this post with a picture made by a good friend Paul:
My Prozac Reduction Timeline


Anonymous said...


I tapered off 20g daily Prozac between 1 Jan 2012 and the end middle of April 2012 after following your blog.

It was quicker than you (I'm impatient) but suited me.

I'm going through a bad time at the moment (feeling depressed,anxious,worried,sad).

As you say in your post, I don't think depression will leave forever but it should get easier to deal with.

Sometimes it doesn't feel like that and I get so tired of fighting it. Giving in seems so tempting sometimes - but I know I will never give in to it.

I just have to try and keep thinking positive, build my self esteem and look at the good things in my life.

Keep going with your blog - it gives me great inspiration and helps me realise I'm not alone in depression.

You can do it.


SMH said...

Hi Paul

Thanks for your comment and well done for making it through the spam catcha!
Wow! you came off four years faster than me, we all metabolize these drugs differently, don't beat yourself up if you do end up back on the Prozac (says she who always beat herself up LOL), those feelings 24/7 can grind the strongest person into the dust, sometimes you have to take a step back to go forwards in the long run.
Thanks for the encouragement to keep going with the blog as well :)

Sheila x

(now lets see if I can get through my own spam catcha on here)

Anonymous said...

I am totally with you about how hard the last 1ml is. It is amazing how much more intense it is. I feel so mean and like I want to end it all sometimes in the space of several hours. The difference for me between depression and these withdrawal symptoms is that I can talk my way out of them and I am aware of what is going on. Depression acted differently. It swallowing me up without me even being aware of it. It lasted for months and I felt totally unable to shift it. I know that if I can just hold on and continue at this level for another 3-4 weeks, I will be ready for another micro-drop. I have done the drop of just 0.05 too as it seemed like what was necessary in the face of the shockingly bad feelings.

Make sense?

SMH said...

Hi Melissa
It's great to hear from you again! (If you're Melissa who wrote to me before) I know it seems so ridiculous doesn't it? I keep thinking, if I could opt out of work/life for a year I would just "drop" this last 0.85ml Prozac and go through the withdrawal and get it done, but reality means you have to balance withdrawals with holding down work/family life etc, so I will probably have to do micro drops til the end. I feel really frustrated because I feel so close and yet so far from the end.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I am that Melissa.

Yes, it does seem ridiculous. I just don't understand why it is this way.

I get jealous when I see women who are totally taken care financially who do things just to take care of themselves all the time and could take off for half a year because someone would take care of everything else. Anyway, that is not me or you. So, micro drops it is.

Let us just think of all the effort we have put in to get us here. We have learned so much. It is a great thing to have gotten this far!

Hugs to you!

SMH said...

Hugs to you too Melissa!