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 part time 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, (this book is now called "The Antidepressant Solution"). 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!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Following on from Jury Service

A friend at work found this article of the Guardian web site 10th January 2010

Call to lift ban on jury service for people with mental illnessBarristers join forces with mental health charity to urge rethink

Denis Campbell, health correspondent The Observer, Sunday 10 January 2010 Article historyMinisters are facing demands to scrap an "unfair and discriminatory" law that bans thousands from being jurors because they have suffered from mental ill-health.

Campaigners claim that many law-abiding citizens are wrongly excluded from jury service after being treated for conditions such as depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

One in four Britons suffers mental illness at some point in their lives, and one in 10 is prescribed antidepressants, which would be enough to debar them.

Rethink, a mental health charity supported by barristers in England and Wales, will this week launch a campaign to have the rule rescinded. It agrees that some people's mental state makes them unfit to be jurors, but argues that many others are victims of an "archaic" ban.

More than 9,000 people a year in England are refused permission to serve on juries. The government promised in 2004 – and again in early 2008 – to review the situation, but has not done so.

The ban arises from the Juries Act 1974. A section on "mentally disordered persons" bars from jury service anyone "who suffers or has suffered from mental illness, psychopathic disorder, mental handicap or severe mental handicap, and on account of that condition either is resident in a hospital or other similar institution, or regularly attends for treatment by a medical practitioner". Rethink wants that replaced with a new definition of "capacity", based on the 2005 Mental Capacity Act, which would allow many of those currently banned to serve, while excluding those who are genuinely unfit.

Stephen Fry, the actor and comedian, who has suffered from bipolar disorder since childhood, is backing the campaign. "There are thousands of people with mental health problems who are willing and perfectly capable of serving on a jury, but who find themselves rejected solely because they see a doctor from time to time for support or medication," he said. "Exclusion purely on the grounds of treatment for a mental health problem is unfair and discriminatory."

Rethink cites Winston Churchill as someone who, owing to his depression, would be banned. Paul Corry, Rethink's director of public affairs, said that about 50,000 people with mental health problems had been excluded since the government's first pledge in 2004 to consult on the issue.

"People should be judged on their capacity, rather than being arbitrarily written off. It is high time the government carried out a consultation and considered outlawing this archaic and discriminatory practice, which prevents capable citizens from carrying out a basic civic duty."

The Criminal Bar Association, which represents barristers in England and Wales, also argues that the ban is wrong. "Trial by jury is a vital component of our criminal justice system and, in order to work at its best, juries should represent a cross-section of society," said Paul Mendelle, its chairman. "Figures suggest that one in four people will be affected by mental health problems, so it is inappropriate to impose a blanket ban that prevents anyone with a history of mental illness from sitting on a jury without assessment of their capacity."

But the Ministry of Justice ruled out any revision of the rule, and refused to say why the government had reneged on its pledges to consult. While ministers were committed to tackling the stigma and discrimination around mental ill-health, "any change would need to strengthen our jury system. There can be no question of changing the law to allow people to serve as jurors where their ability to do so is in doubt", said a spokesman.