Possibly the most difficult thing about taking antidepressant medication is getting off of it again once you have started. Many people who begin taking antidepressants have no idea what it is like to withdraw from them and therefore do not take it too seriously until they actually have to experience it. Unfortunately, doctors rarely inform patients of this beforehand, assuming that, when it comes time to stop the medication, the patient will make another appointment and discuss how to withdraw safely. Ideally this is what should happen. The reality, however, is that people (admittedly, myself included) miss doses, forget to refill prescriptions on time, and often just decide to “try out” living without the medication for a while, often with horrible results.
Please keep in mind that I have not tried every medication and I am not experienced with individual effects of any particular medication except the ones I have been on and the ones I have watched my boyfriend experience. Also, and much more importantly, do not do not DO NOT take my advice in replacement of medical advice from your doctor. I don’t want anybody thinking they should withdraw from their medication without talking to their doctor – see point #1 below – and for the love of God / FSM / (insert your own deity here) if you do choose to leave your doctor out of it and end up having seizures or worse, don’t claim that I told you to do it. Disclaimer officially ends here.
1. SEE YOUR DOCTOR
Your doctor knows what medications you are on, how they all interact, and the effects that each has on your body. You likely do not. Your doctor has the ability to prescribe you other, temporary medications to ease your withdrawal symptoms. You do not. Your doctor knows what to do if something goes wrong during the withdrawal process. You, again, probably do not.
Antidepressants are not like Tylenol or Advil or any other everyday pill that you don’t have to think twice about. They change the way your brain works, and they really shouldn’t be played with. Now, that didn’t stop me personally from playing with my dosage occasionally when I felt like it (don’t do this), but I was careful to let my doctor know what changes I had made so that she could adjust everything else accordingly.
2. Do not make any important life decisions while withdrawing
Mood swings, rebound depression, unexplainable anxiety, tremors, shocks that feel like lightning coursing through your body, headaches, nausea, and a whole bunch of other fun side effects of antidepressant withdrawal are not easy to deal with. You might be fine to work or go to school normally, but I would strongly advise you to avoid making any life-changing decisions until you are finished weaning off of your medication. You will NOT feel like yourself, and many things that you do while withdrawing will probably be a source of embarrassment, guilt, or bewilderment when you are past the withdrawal and have control of your body and brain again.
Once while withdrawing (without help from my doctor (don’t do this)) I sat curled up in my office chair, watching shadow-people creep toward me, and screaming at my then-boyfriend incoherently. Well, he said I was incoherent, I remember specifically telling him to please stop eating me. I am so glad I wasn’t faced with an important decision or task, because who knows what I would have done or said…
3. Tell your family and friends that you are withdrawing and may be acting a little strangely
There might be times when you feel like sitting alone in your room and staring at a spot on the wall for hours. There might be times when you suddenly decide that everything is horrible and start shouting at everyone within earshot. There will also be times when you feel like you are being repeatedly struck by lightning and need to lie down unexpectedly. For me, the lightning feeling started in my fingertips and rushed up to my head. You know that feeling in your stomach when you crest the hill of a rollercoaster and start to plummet? It was that exact feeling, except entirely contained in my brain and, oddly, my neck, instead of my stomach. If you have told your family and friends what you are going through, they will not only be there to help you when you need it, but they will also be much more likely to stick around after all the shouting and raving.
4. Don’t quit cold turkey
If you do the smart thing and tell your doctor that you want to come off of or reduce your medication, he or she will help you come up with a plan to slowly reduce your dosage, possibly complete with additional medications to temporarily reduce withdrawal effects. If instead, like me, you just stop taking your medication one day, things are much less likely to go smoothly.
I tried to quit cold turkey at least four times by myself (don’t do this – noticing a theme yet?). Suddenly stopping antidepressants compounds your likelihood of experiencing all kinds of weird withdrawal effects. In addition to feeling like you are a head floating around with no body, you will also probably experience rebound depression. Rebound depression is a symptom of withdrawal, and not, in my experience, indicative of how you will actually feel normally when not on your medication. It is also usually much worse than your normal depression, and therefore incredibly dangerous.
One of the times I attempted to go cold turkey, I remember sitting in my bathtub, with no water in it, staring at the corner of the ceiling and trying to decide whether it was worth it to get out of the tub because both of my legs had fallen asleep and most of my body was numb. I ended up just sitting there longer. Eventually I got up, gave in, and started taking my meds again.
When I was finally successful coming off of them, I did it by slowly reducing my dosage. I had dropped out of college because I was unable to function as a human being, couldn’t hold a job, and therefore had no health insurance. My pills were way too expensive for me to keep buying with no insurance. I realized this when I had about three quarters of a bottle left. I knew I didn’t want to stop all at once again, so I started taking half a pill every other day, with my usual full dose on the in-between days. Then it was half a pill every day. Then it was half a pill every other day, with a quarter of a pill on the in-between days (thankfully my pills were super easy to cut). Then a quarter of a pill every day, a quarter of a pill every other day with nothing on the in-between days, and then finally nothing at all. It was definitely tough, but it was a heckuva lot easier than quitting all at once.
5. Talk to your doctor if you realize you still need them
One of the reasons I wanted to quit taking my antidepressants so badly was because I was gaining weight like crazy, had the sex drive of an asexual bacterium, and I wasn’t even sure I would still be massively depressed without them in the first place. I guess I wanted to test the waters and see if the drugs were really still necessary and worth the side effects.
The only time I managed to successfully withdraw from them, after about three years of taking them, I knew I could make it by myself. I know I was lucky in that regard. Plenty of people make it past the withdrawal only to realize that the side effects were really worth it, and they need to go back on the meds. That is perfectly fine – just please talk to your doctor and tell him or her what is going on. Don’t be afraid to be honest because you didn’t do exactly what they recommended – it is far better to get help later than never. Plenty of times I told my doctor I had adjusted my own dose or tried to quit, she rolled her eyes and told me never to do that because it’s dangerous, and then helped me fix the problem I had gotten myself into.Related Posts
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