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!

Friday, 19 July 2013

One journey ends and another one begins

This is my last blog post it’s time for me to move on. My page on Facebook will also be deleted shortly.

 I tried, I gave it my best shot, it didn’t work out, and if I hadn’t tried I’d never know and I’d still be wondering.
In the middle of June 2013 I’d had enough, had enough of overwhelming depression that wasn’t going anywhere, and the persistent feelings of dread and anxiety.  I couldn’t cope with the fact that I couldn’t cope with doing routine things like going to work and participating in normal everyday things. This may have been withdrawal, but this was also very real depression. There were odd good days but I began to realise that I was kidding myself, I wasn’t getting any better, I was trying hard, lots of bike rides, healthy diet, positive thinking. It came to a head when I couldn’t get myself into work one morning, and I just couldn’t fight it anymore, I felt crippled by it. I’d been debating for a few weeks whether to go back to Sertraline.

 Reader, I went to the doctor and I started the Sertraline. I read somewhere “being mentally ill sucks, the drugs suck, it’s choosing the least sucky option”. The decision was not made lightly, but having made the decision I felt like a great weight had lifted off me, devastated and totally drained, I was off work for 2 weeks, I needed that space to come to terms with my decision and what had happened.

 Whether I like it or not, I have been feeling a lot better. I’m relieved to be feeling better, and trying not to think too hard about whether there are any long term implications to being dependent on a drug, and take one day at a time.

This decision is the right one for me at this point in time, it wasn't all bad, the tapering method worked for me for a long time and it works for many other people who have successful outcomes, who knows, I might revisit it at some time in the future.

 I discovered the meaning of my recurring dream.

Something positive to have come out of this journey is that I’ve discovered I have some absolutely fantastic supportive friends in real life and on line, and a fantastically supportive husband and parents.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

It's Getting Better all the Time (kind of)

I just wanted to log on here that I have stabilized at 8mg Prozac and I'm getting better all the time, it's not what I wanted, it's not where I thought I'd end up, I thought I was the "poster child" for tapering off antidepressant drugs in this excruciatingly slow style, it worked SO well for five years, I felt so well tapering for five years, until it all unravelled spectacularly last Autumn. I feel disappointed.

If you'd asked me, this time last year, I would've said I was doing really well, and well on course to be off Prozac completely in the near future. I was even thinking this blog would be all tied up and finished and left just floating around in cyber space.

At one point though, I was feeling so bad I was considering going back to the full dose and being done with it, the thing that stopped me was the thought of the horrible side effects, the numbing of libido and emotions, and there is a tendency to essential tremor in my family and I notice on the drug, full dose, my hands have a horrible tremor, and my handwriting gets really scruffy, and I'm enjoying my piano, so no I don't want to aggravate a tendency to a tremor which the full dose gives me.

P and I have talked over this so much, we've come to the following conclusions:

  • I have an underlying condition/predisposition to depression/anxiety.

  • The drug is too enmeshed in my brain/body after so many years which have included various attempts at cold turkey and alternate day withdrawals messing up my nervous system.

I genuinely feel that it's been too many years now, and I can't put myself through the misery of withdrawal any more, I'm sooo tired of it, it's not what I thought would happen but I'm going to stay at 8mg, possibly forever, I'm at a point where I want to keep quality of life, and after you've been through a period of depression and come out the other side, boy does life feel good, I think you never take "happiness" for granted if you've experienced depression.

I'd like to have got off Prozac fully, but it's not fair on me or my family to keep putting myself through the misery, and since I would probably have to go into "rehab" for a couple of years to do it which isn't an option on the NHS or living in the real world, I can't see it happening. As long as my surgery doesn't have an issue with prescribing the liquid so I can continue with 8mg.

Friday, 5 April 2013

2ml (8mg)

Another up dose :(

Good days and bad days, I think the good days are way out numbering the bad days now, but the bad days feel....bad.

I've tried throwing everything at it, mindfulness, relaxation CD's, my piano, positive affirmations, magnesium, nope, none of this truly shifts a full blown anxiety attack in full flow. Lately, on a bad day, I've caught myself thinking about going back to full dose. Then on a good day I wonder what I was thinking, having got so far.

Friday, 22 March 2013

1.30ml (5mg) - Remember that Light at the end of the Tunnel?

Well I think in the end it was an oncoming freight train. I never really seemed to get any better, many insomniac nights and anxious low level depressed days, so hard to keep functioning and so very exhausting. It’s in my nature to soldier on regardless, I’ve always been Mrs Reliable, always turn up when I say I’m going to turn up, never off sick, whole years with no sick leave, always do what I say I’m going to do. Now I feel like Mrs Flaky and unreliable. I never know from one day to the next how I’m going to be. I must be a great actress though, no one seems to believe me and everyone tells me I always seem the same and I hide it well. Either I should be on the stage or they’re being polite I can’t work out which.
P has been trying to persuade me for ages to go for another up dose, so since nothing else seems to be working, and I’m desperate to feel better, we settled on 1.30ml (5mg), this could either go well, or totally backfire, anyone who knows anything about drug withdrawal or reinstatement knows that recovery comes in "waves" and "windows" and as I've had a lot of lovley "windows" this week I'll choose to be optimistic that the "windows" of getting better will increase and the "waves" will decrease.

I’m one week into the up dose and it’s been a bit of a roller coaster week, initially I felt like a plant that’s been starved of water coming back to life, all the anxiety and dread cleared, as though someone had waved a magic wand, I felt so well the contrast made me realise just how “unwell” I’ve really been feeling the past 6 months. On day 3 in the evening I had intense anxiety and dread kick in, had a poor night and woke to very very intense anxiety, it can be so intense and physical it can reduce me to tears.  I was working with P that day and decided to soldier on, as the day wore on the intense anxiety lifted again and I was well again. The next day at my other job was all good, I felt great, the following day was ok and then last night moderate anxiety kicked in again and I was wired and awake all night. I need to give it a few weeks and see if I settle down. In any case I’ve almost come to the conclusion that I might never achieve my goal of all the way off the drug without being so ill that my whole life goes down the pan, and I might just have to find a permanent stable dose and stick with it. 

In other news I have my new piano at last, electric so I can practise with headphones and not disturb anyone; this is a great way of just getting lost in the moment and so relaxing.

At this point here, I want to say thank you to my husband, my parents and a couple of friends in real life who’ve  been so supportive and been there for me going through this, I think they’ll know who they are if and when they read this.

Me Too!

Thursday, 28 February 2013

5th Anniversary of my Blog

Yup I can't believe it's 5 years since I started this, privately, and I thought I would be finished by now and this blog would be all neatly tied up and finished, but no I'm still here with a Facebook page to boot, and a job in addition at: Surviving Antidepressants.

ONE day this will be history.

My Prozac Reduction Timeline

Thursday, 17 January 2013

There IS light at the end of the tunnel - and no I don't think it's an oncoming freight train.

My younger son who takes an interest in this blog came up with the heading for this blog post, and his sense of humour is a bit of a worry.

Oct/Nov/Dec saw me unravelling in a nightmare way, the worst things were the fairly severe internal anxiety and adrenaline surges, and resultant insomnia, I’m a bit scared to publish this but in the interests of an honest log of my progress here goes, at my lowest points, a few nights saw me self medicating with tamezapam and whisky, either one, or the other or both together, 2 or 3 hours of total oblivion even with a hangover the next day was slightly better than 7/8 hours of sleepless anxiety with someone snoring beside me, only slightly better and it was the bit of oblivion I was after. The tamezapam has virtually all gone now and I won't get anymore and I've abandoned the whisky, especially after reading alcohol is no good for damaged nervous systems anyway.

I also had a lightbulb moment about a multivitamin I was taking, I'd read that too many B vitamins can be aggravating to messed up nervous systems so I looked at my Holland and Barret vitamin bottle (other brands are available) and discovered that I was taking over 100% of the RDA, so I ditched them and just sticking with the high EPA fish oil capsules and a healthy diet.

Mid December I realised I’d got to guesstimate the best dose of Prozac and stick to it for better or worse, messing about with the dose was sending my nervous system into constant turmoil. Just before Christmas I could feel myself starting to come out the other side, somewhat, the internal anxiety, dread and adrenaline surges subsided, but knew I still had a little way to go to get stable again. There was a fair bit of “faking it to make it” through December, in other words I had to get a grip and force myself through the motions of whatever I had to do on any given day, whether it was work, working with P or Christmassy preparations, but "going through the motions" is grim.

Now into January, I can feel myself feeling more like my old self again, my normal sleep pattern is coming back, not 100%, still getting odd bad nights but definite improvements and feeling more normal, whatever that is, "normal is a setting on a washing machine" comes to mind.

At the moment, I just want to relish feeling “normal” for a few or even many months, I am torn between feeling desperate to get off this last 1ml of medicine drug poison, and terrified to rock the boat and do anything about it.... ever.

As an aside, a colleague at work asked me the other week, is there no help or withdrawal specialists on the NHS? really?!?! Yes really!!

I am grateful to P for being my rock, and to Alto Strata and other friends at Surviving Antidepressants, and my nurse friend, for helping me untangle this and work out the best dose to be on.