I debated whether or not to blog about this topic. But I figured it’s a way to start discussion, open communication, get people talking and perhaps hear about other people’s stories.
I’ve decided to come off my anti-depressants.
I went on a low dose of Effexor (75mg) in April 2011. At that point it had been some months where I’d lost enthusiasm for life, for everything I enjoyed. Everything was an effort. I had to force myself to go to work to entertain people, force myself to go busking, force myself outta bed. And when I wasn’t binge eating or sleeping, I would lie on the floor in the dark in my tiny shoe-box apartment and write depressing songs. It was getting harder to face people, harder to face the day. I decided to nip it in the bud and saw a doctor about it. I was shocked to hear I was depressed. It was hard to admit. Hard to accept. I didn’t want to be given that label, as it seemed so… real… permanent… like it would frame me to BE depressed. I was depressed. Eventually I came around to the idea of pills, along with therapy.
The pills helped take the edge off the depression. The lows weren’t as scarily low. And gradually I started to change my life and feel better. Found love, moved house, tried to find balance with work/personal life, developed some new tools to cope.
I tried to come off the meds a year later. I thought I was doing all the right things in my approach to come off them – I saw the doc and psych and had their support, I was exercising, and I weaned off really slowly over a couple of months. But when I got to the point of half a pill every 48 hours, I couldn’t handle the withdrawals; dizziness, headaches, pins and needles in the face, suicidal thoughts. I was most terrified on the day I went looking for a rope. I knew they weren’t real suicidal thoughts. I just had to keep telling myself “This is not real, this is not real, it’s the drugs, it’s the drugs.” But I didn’t trust myself. I was afraid to be alone. I ended up falling back into depression, I literally cried over spilt milk (and I spilt milk a lot), my relationship couldn’t handle the withdrawals and neither could my body/mind, so I went back on 75mg before I could reduce them anymore.
It’s been over two years since then. Life has changed significantly. I’ve moved to the country, which suits my soul and personality far more than the city. It gives me space to breathe, write songs, be creative and reflective. I’ve got to know new beautiful friends and be part of the community. I do tours here, there and everywhere and come back to my little bungalow sanctuary in the mountains. My music career is full of things to excite me and help me grow and I’m about to do a live album in December. I’ve done a lot of soul searching, reading, self-reflection, journal writing, and got some new tips and tools for life. And… I’ve found new love! I think it’s time. I think it’s time to come off the meds.
I’ve been thinking (and talking) about this for 6 months or so. It seems to be a controversial topic. Some say “Well if you don’t have any side-effects, why come off them and potentially ruin a good thing?” Others say perhaps I’m born with a chemical imbalance and need the meds. Then there are peeps who say “Sure, why not try and come off them? You’re in a good place. You can always go back on them?”
I have faith, if I can JUST get through the withdrawals, my brain will find its own balance and I will be able to handle life without meds. Part of me thinks that “you need the meds cos you have a chemical imbalance” is a cop out – A) it’s a quick Band-Aid solution, B) it stops people having to deal with the fact that I might be depressed and C) stops ME taking responsibility for the way I feel/process/operate only to rely on drugs. In saying that, I know there are certainly cases where people are born with chemical/hormonal imbalances and have a far better life with medication. It’s an individual case. I had depression as a teenager and it was believed that maybe there’s a chemical imbalance. But I don’t think so. I may just be in denial, but I think I was just really struggling with stuff teenagers struggle with – grades, being accepted, being gay, family, friends, religion, society, the media, body image, eating disorders, what to do with life, identity, balance, growing up, sexuality, becoming your own adult person with your own choices, opinion and pathway. That’s not to say I’ve got all my shit together, but I have faith that I’ve learned a few new tools to handle every day – like learning to say no and finding balance between work and social life, recognising that many of my problems are how I perceive them, working on finding self-worth from within rather than expecting it to come from external sources.
I think anti-depressants have their place. For me, at this point in time, I don’t want believe I’ll need to be on them for the rest of my life. I don’t wanna reside in “it’s a chemical imbalance, just take the pills.” I don’t wanna be tied to them. I don’t wanna spend the money. I don’t want the withdrawals on the odd day I might forget to take a pill.
So I am going to attempt to come off them. I saw the doc yesterday. I’ve been prescribed the half dose. This time instead of going from 75mg a day to 37.5mg for a month, then one every 36 hours for a few weeks, then one every 48 hours, the doc has suggested reducing by 75mg over each WEEK. A new plan. And when I get to the end of the 37.5mg script just stop altogether. I also plan to create a list of things to do when withdrawals hit: go for a walk, call a friend, write, sing, etc.
I’m scared. I’m scared of the withdrawals. I’m not really scared of “failing”. I think once I get through the withdrawals things will balance out. I could be wrong. In which case, I’ll go back on them. But I have to try. I’m at the point where I just have to try.
If you have a positive success stories to share with me, with us, give me a li’l pep talk, I’d love to hear your experience and insight (remembering that it’s an individual case).
I also ask that you just… check up on me. Every once in a while. It might be a rocky few months. But when’s a good time to do it really? Life is always gonna be there. But I’m pumped (and scared!) and I’m excited (and nervous) and ready!