Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Other Huge Trauma In My Life - Antidepressant Withdrawal

I don't often write about the other "huge trauma," in my life...that of antidepressant withdrawal. Sometimes I don't know which is hardest, parenting children with trauma/brain challenges or trying to manage my own physical/mental issues that come as I attempt to taper off this brain altering medication.

I realized I needed to get off this medication when I found myself needing multiple other prescription medications to manage the side affects caused by Effexor. I talked to my doctor about it and he said, "No problem." At the time I was on 300 mg and he told me he will prescribe 150 and see how it goes. I didn't feel to bad with that drop, but when I dropped to 75 mg. I felt horrible. I remember telling Dean, "Don't leave me," because I didn't trust myself. I knew my brain was not functioning correctly and the thought's I was getting due to my intense physical pain scared me. I told my doctor how I felt and he brushed me off. He insisted that the lower the dose the less withdrawal I would have. I didn't trust him anymore and began doing my own research.

I found supplements that were helpful as antidepressants reduce your adrenal function. I also found a group who recommends a 10% drop every four weeks at the most. To achieve this, I bought a scales and weighed the teeny beads inside each capsule. Tapering tends to make your body super sensitive and eventually weighing the beads wasn't precise enough so I found a compounding pharmacy who was willing to make the exact dose I needed. I have been tapering for 2.5 years and at the rate I am going I will have several more ahead of me, so next week I am going to try a bigger taper - 10%. To say I am terrified is putting it mildly. The anxiety is nearly getting the best of me this week because I know what I have ahead of me.

People often ask what withdrawal is like. I find it difficult to explain but I will give it my best shot here.

- Brain zaps - It literally feels like bolts of electricity are flashing through your brain.
-Head ache's - They feel like a vice and cut your ability to think or reason. Some people sleep with ice packs to alleviate the brain pressure.
-Insomnia - Wide awake during the night with racing thoughts and severe fatigue during the day.
-All manner of gastrointestinal issue's. You name it, you will have it.
- The intense desire to crawl out of your skin. For me, this is one of the worst. Clothing hurts, combing my hair is painful, my skin itches, but I can't alleviate the itch.
- Chills - my hands and feet will turn white/purple and be icy cold. My inner core is freezing and even a hot shower does little to warm me. My family is used to seeing me wrapped in blankets, sweaters and drinking hot tea.
- Then there is the psychological aspect - depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts (Yes, I know how to handle them and when to seek help) severe anger and irritability.
- Inability to carry on a conversation, extreme forgetfulness, inability to make decisions (my poor husband gets so many phone calls because I cannot make even the most basic of decisions). I have been known to walk away in the middle of a conversation because my brain suddenly "forgot" I was talking to someone.

There are times I am tempted to just quite taking my medication and suffer through the ensuing pain, but the stories of people who have done this and are living with these, and worse symptoms years down the road, hold me back. I still have at least 2 years ahead of me and sometimes I think I can't do it, listening to these stories puts that time frame into perspective. Last night Dean told me to look back on the 2.5 years I have come through and focus on them which is helpful, however I know the further you taper the more intense the withdrawal symptoms and that is not at all comforting!

The frustrating thing is, that the pharmaceutical companies tell doctors that this medication, and others like it, only cause minimal side affects in a select few patients, or that if the patient does have withdrawal that means he needs the medication. 

There is one bright spot though, every time I taper and come through the withdrawal, I can enjoy life a bit more. For so many years my senses were numbed by this medication. I didn't realize it, but now that I am slowly getting it out of my system, the sky is brighter, there is joy in life again....but by then it is time to taper a little more and I go through the whole cycle again. Another plus, I have already been able to successfully eliminate one of my prescription medications, so I will keep pressing onward!

Not all antidepressants cause such intense withdrawal when you try to discontinue them. Only SSRI's and SNRI's have this ability with SNRI's being the worst of the two, and I have the dubious privilege of being on an SNRI. I share this because I know how freely antidepressants are given out (I also acknowledge that there is a place for them) and if my story can spare anyone the pain and trauma me and my family have been enduring these past years, I will be grateful! 

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  1. Lots of love and hugs to you. You are very brave to tell this story. Unfortunately it is another instance of greed versus truth. The value of this story is the connection you have to the group now being targeted by Big Pharma. I have PTSD from 33 years on the front lines of this parenting challenge. Both the caregivers and those with the disability are so vulnerable! We are sitting ducks for a professional who says they can help. We must arm ourselves with verifiable information. None of these drugs were studied for longer than 6 weeks! Thank you for your story!

    1. Thank you Catherine! I can get very angry with Big Pharma when I think of the damage being done to me and those like me. Blessings as you carry on, PTSD is no picnic either!


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