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, 21 July 2012

School Shootings, SSRI Nightmares, Suicide and Violence

I don't normally dwell TOO much on the dark side on my blog, partly because I want it to be a story of recovery, but there is a massive dark side which can't be ignored. Back in 1999, 2000, 2001 I would have dismissed it as scaremongering bollox as well.
Until I experienced it myself I never would have believed it. Cold turkey sent me to a very very dark place, by end of 2003, I knew I couldn't go on much longer, it was harder and harder to keep a front up, at work and at home, the only person who really knew what was going on was my husband, I couldn't eat properly, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't stop the adrenaline surges day and night, I couldn't stop the dark dark thoughts and feelings. The adrenaline surges were the hardest thing to deal with. If you can imagine the gut churning fight or flight response never switching itself off. I couldn't tell anyone, people talk about "losing the plot" but I really had lost the plot and was lost in my own inner torment that no one could see, let alone understand. Hell I didn't understand it myself so how would anyone else? I did get to a point where images of the Orwell Bridge entered my head, it was just a thought but it was there. I've since met people who've had similar experiences with coming off too fast, severe agitation, distressing thoughts of violence towards other people and themselves, which cleared with reinstatement of the drug. This happened again to me in 2005, 2006 and 2007 but to a much lesser degree as I reinstated the drug more rapidly when I realised what was happening.

If I had perservered without reinstating Lustral for another month or so into 2004, I think the internal agitation, desperation and despair would have driven me to something dreadful to end the misery. Fortunately with my husbands encouragment I reinstated Lustral and fairly swiftly my symptoms subsided.  This was my insight into the dark side of SSRI's.

No one told me this could happen.

Since writing this blog I've met many others with similar experiences and I've read a lot. Really I do need to get a life, but knowing the medical establishment are either genuinely ignorant or totally in denial and there is so little help out there, I am prepared to talk about it here knowing that others stumble on it and find they are not alone.

Sometimes even now when I drop my dose I get a flavour of that "dark side" again for a few days, and then it just suddenly disappears as my brain/body gets used to the new slightly lower level of Prozac. My husband is so finely tuned into me, he knows, he said to me the other week I looked like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders, and then almost overnight it just went as my metabolism adjusted to the new lower dose.

In recent years as I've done a lot more research into SSRI's I've discovered my experience wasn't unique, but many many people when it happens don't know the inner agitation/adrenaline surges is a side effect of dropping a drug too fast. Suicide and violence are now recognised in many circles as side effects of dropping Prozac/Lustral/Seroxat etc too fast, or starting it too fast.
Like I said, I would never have believed it years ago, and most people who are settled and comfortable on SSRI's don't believe it either. If you're one of those people reading this, I can hopefully save you ever having to find out by telling you that when you do decide to come off your drug, don't do it cold turkey, don't do the alternate day thing and do it extremely slowly, there is no such thing as too slow for some of us.

SSRI stories This is a really interesting data base of reported SSRI related violence/suicide, there is even a celebrity section.

Many many stories of random violence or suicide that you read in the media have an underlying hidden story of prescription medication behind them that the media generally don't pick up on, unless it's a celebrity, maybe. Unless you've experienced it yourself it just doesn't cross your mind.

Hmm I can hear some people I know reading this and thinking, yes, but how do you know it's the drug? you might be a sandwich short of a picnic and the drug might be nothing to do with it, how do you know it's not the mental illness? well that's the head f*** because it can always be blamed on the original illness and big pharmaceutical companies hide behind this.
But don't just take my word for it, look at SSRI stories and Dr David Healy, professor of psychiatry in Wales.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

The best way out is always through

Following on from last weeks post, I am now coming out the other side, I've had about 10 days to 2 weeks of:

  • Low level depression/anxiety, worse first thing, better as day goes on
  • Poor sleep
  • Fuzzy head, worse when tired, which has been a lot
Normally I just get the poor sleep and fuzzy head but I've had a triple whammy this time. I can feel it's distinctly lifted this week end and I am mightily relieved, it's always hard to keep the faith that it's a withdrawal, and shake the fear that it has in fact set in permanently.

My Prozac reduction timeline

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Going through a withdrawal

That's it, I know I'm going through a withdrawal, my head has been a bit spaced out all week, I've been up and down and just "not quite right", anxiety has kicked in, I've had those feelings of fear that it won't go away, but I've done this so many times before now, I know it will go away again. This too will pass.