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.


Unknown said...

Sheila: you are a brave, honest person. Your blog has been an inspiration for many, including myself.
Just remember: you feel better now, and that's what is important!
May God richly bless and keep you, my friend.
Tim Sherwood

Anonymous said...

As your friend I am so proud of you and the dignity and strength you have shown throughout your struggle.
For years I didn`t know you were suffering and when you did tell me, I was surprised as there had never been a hint of it.
You have helped so many people with your blog and FB page and despite having to return to your anti depressants you have not fsiled, because you have have done what is right for you and your family.
You are amazing and i`m proud to be your friend, xx

Lori Farquhar-Bryenton said...

You gave it a really good run Sheila. I know how hard it was for you at times. I wish all the best for you and hope that one day, you will find another way to do it.

Good luck to you my friend.

Kevin P. Miller said...

I've been following your blog for a long time now. I am glad that you have made the choices that seemed right for you and your family. A tip of the hat to you for sharing such an intimate journey.

I am following y last film on the subject (Generation Rx) with a new film, LETTERS FROM GENERATION RX. It will be my last on the topic, but I am honored to have met so many wonderful people who were willing to bare their souls so that others could learn.

The same must be said about you.

Fortunately, I interviewed dozens who combatted similar issues - and have finally broken through to happiness and wellness without the meds. But one thing is for certain: none of the people I've spoken to have had an easy road.

I wish you all the peace and happiness that the universe can muster on your behalf. Blessings to you, from this day forth.

Kevin P. Miller
9 September 2013

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Michelle said...

I don't know if you are still "out there" and able to read this, but I had to reach out to you because I found out today that there is a very real possibility I will never be able to stop taking my paxil. I found out today that the overwhelming anxiety that overtakes me a few months after tapering has a name - akathisia. And worse, it is highly likely to be a result of permanent changes made to the seratonin system in my brain caused by the SSRI. I am in the midst of a third taper, but I think I might pick a dose I can live with and keep on it. Your story is helping me make an informed choice. I could recover from akathisia if I taper, but I might not. The danger is that if I wait too long to restart the drug, it might not work. Found that out on the website "Mad In America" from Dr. Stuart Shipko. Best of luck to you wherever you are, thank you for this blog and hello from someone who shares a very similar story.

Unknown said...

Hi Michelle
I'm still here, I very rarely visit my blog but I do get notified when someone comments. It sounds like you are in exactly the same situation as I was. When I wrote this last post in July 2013 I went back to the full standard dose of Sertraline(Zoloft). I got fed up again of being "numbed out" on the drug, so, I switched to liquid Prozac, and tapered down to a dose of 3ml Prozac, which is about 3/5 of the standard dose, I found that by sticking to this dose I get the best of both worlds, I am not totally numbed out and yet it's enough of a dose to stop getting withdrawals and akathisia, Ive done this for over two years now, so this maybe an option for you. I remember being terrified back in 2013 that I had left it too late to restart the drug and I would be permanently damaged, luckily it did work out. So the long and short is I have made a compromise that means I can lead a normal quality of life, I wish I had been able to get off the drug but in the end life is too short and I decided to make the best of the hand I was dealt. If you want to e mail me privately please feel free to: beautifulsouth7@yahoo.com, it's nice to know that people still find this blog and relate to it.