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!

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Postnatal Depression 1994 - The Back Story

So my friend said “about your blog”, I said yeesss, she said “I think you should write a bit more about your experience of depression and not just concentrate on the medications side, although I realise that’s what the blog’s about, I just think sometimes people are searching for other people’s experience of depression”. OK so I saw her point, and it had crossed my mind before that I should. I have touched on anxiety, insomnia and a bit about my second experience of postnatal depression, (which was different to the first experience and a lot “blacker”) when I started the drugs. It seems easier to write about the Lustral/Prozac issue for the world than to write a warts and all personal experience of depression. I’ve seen others do it, mostly anonymously, too late for that now I’m not anonymous anymore, that horse has well and truly bolted. I talked to Al about it and he was cool with it, trouble is am I? Well I could always delete it at anytime couldn’t I.
I was wheeled into the ward with Al in one of those Perspex cribs just after midnight, dazed and on cloud nine, I couldn’t sleep at all, I was too busy marvelling at my new baby sleeping peacefully, he was so still I had to prod him every so often to check he was actually alive.

I was in for four nights, mainly because P was self employed and couldn’t spare the time to bring us home until the weekend. I got the distinct feeling four nights was overstaying my welcome and I would have loved to have got out sooner.

The next day exhaustion soon crept in, as well as feeling extremely tearful, visitors started arriving, I was struggling to feed Al who had started to cry a lot, and I continued to struggle, as my milk hadn’t come in. I was struggling all the time to hold back the tears, I wanted to be able to let rip and cry floods of tears, but I had no idea why I felt like this, and it really would have felt like social suicide and new mum suicide to cave in. This wasn’t supposed to be how I was feeling. It wasn’t in the script. There was a massive massive gulf between how I imagined I would be feeling and the stark reality.

I was under a team of midwives who were separate from the hospital midwives. The hospital midwives were to leave the “team’s” patients to the team and not interfere; I didn’t know this until months afterwards and couldn’t work out why I was seemingly being ignored on the ward. The “team” were stretched, and the hospital midwives always seemed to ignore me and be chatting round a workstation, and because I had a straightforward textbook birth, I barely got a look in. I struggled on with trying to breastfeed an increasingly frustrated baby simultaneously holding back tears. One afternoon I was desperately hungry, Al was sleeping peacefully ( for once) so I went off to get something to eat, when I came back Al had been a bit sick, I was greeted by a hospital midwife who asked “would you always leave your baby lying in sick?”, I was mortified, NOW they noticed me! I struggled bitterly to hold back the tears threatening me.

On the way home from hospital on the Saturday, we stopped off at Tesco with Al in his baby bucket/carrier, we happened to bump into my in laws, my lovely father in law did this mock pretending to run off with Al to jokingly test my reaction, I grabbed him back and we laughed about it, but secretly I was feeling that actually I wouldn’t mind if he did run off with Al, I was feeling so terrified and overwhelmed.

When we got home P was working all hours and I continued to struggle with being a new Mum, and I don’t just mean the night feeds, nappies and general getting used to life with a newborn, I continued to struggle with my raw emotions, it was so much more than just the transient baby blues I’d read about. At the end of the fourth week, I had the final visit from a team midwife. I particularly remember that visit, I remember the midwife sloping guiltily out of the door, she knew I was distressed and holding back the tears, and I knew that she knew and wasn’t saying anything and was relieved to hand me over to the health visitor.

I remember feeling incredibly trapped by my baby.

I remember staring out of an upstairs window at people getting on with their lives, I felt like I was trapped in a kind of bubble, detached from the world carrying on around me, everyone seemed “happy”, I just felt.... detached.

I remember weeks and weeks of feeling incredibly sad, it is the only way I can describe it, the overwhelming tearfulness and raw emotions ever close to the surface lessened over time to be replaced with a persistent feeling of downright sadness, profound sadness, like grief.

I remember the health visitor one time doing the Edinburgh depression scale test on me and I lied.

I remember a doctor asking me if I felt depressed, more than once, and I lied.

I remember once a doctor gave me a weeks supply of sleeping pills for the insomnia but I wouldn’t take them. Insomnia was the most I would ever admit to.

I remember pretending to feel “normal”, never letting the mask slip.

Gradually over a long period of time I climbed my way out of it, and now it’s so long ago (Al is 18 in March) I can’t remember how long it took, but I think it was a year if not two.

This was 1994, not that long ago, but no mobile phones and no computer let alone internet and blogs to reach out to others.

So it’s obvious that I was a bottle it all up type for fear of the shame, embarrassment and public humiliation, not to mention not wanting to put additional pressure on P who was under enormous pressure himself to make ends meet. Which kind of leads nicely onto the point of the next post about Terry Lynch’s book.

My Prozac Reduction Timeline


Mrs No Spend said...

Hi sounds like you have come on leaps & bounds. I love your blog & its honesty. I take prozac & in my mind I do not want to forever.Yet I am scared to stop as well. I am confused wether I need it or not. Scared to stop the stuff. Worried what I will feel like without, will I be able to cope. I am going to go for a consultation next week. As my mind is a bit everywhere !
That book does sound good will try & get my hands on one x x
well done to you you are doing great

Unknown said...

Hi I totally understand what you're saying, the beauty of switching to liquid and going as slow as me as that you get to adjust to the "real you" emerging really slowly, the way doctors tell us to come off these drugs is too harsh. You'll do it when you are ready, and take it extremely slowly like me, you can always stop at any stage if you feel uncomfortable or not ready. It is really hard to unravel how much the drug is helping, or not. Remember, I will be happy to hold your hand if you do decide to have a go, you can e mail me (contact details on the side). You do have the advantage of already being on Prozac which is in liquid form, some others are not.

TheStickman said...

Thank so much for sharing your experience, SMH. I am also very sorry you had to go thru such an experience.

I never had to deal with postpartum like you did but I can very much relate to "keeping the mask in place". 'Real men' aren't supposed to cry, etc...

Hope said...

Thank for your having the courage to share with us. I love your blog!

Unknown said...

Yes it is very tough for men Stickman, I do get that.
Thanks for your comment Cindy!

Donna@MummyCentral said...

Thank you so much for linking up to Parentonomy. You are a brave and strong woman - and I can't imagine what it must have been like to go through this illness 18 years ago, when you couldn't get the online support that's available now.

Unknown said...

Thank you Donna.

Caroljs said...

Thank you for sharing your story with us, its very brave. I do believe that by writing about our experiences we help ourselves and each other