Jenny Biddle Interviews Herself as she Celebrates a YEAR off Anti-Depressants.
Q: Hi Jenny it’s Jen here. Wow, it’s been a YEAR since you came off anti-depressants. Congratulations! How do you feel?
Thanks! Wow! Where did that year go? It feels like a monumental achievement to come off anti-depressants. I attempted to come off a couple years before, but perhaps the timing, circumstances and approach wasn’t right, the stars didn’t line up. Persisting through the challenges to finally get there makes it feel like a big achievement.
What were you on? How long were you on anti-depressants?
Effexor. 75mg a day. Just over 4 years.
I know you wrote a couple of intricate blogs about the process of coming off. Can you recap?
I spent 6 months weaning down. I received different advice from doctors/pharmacists about the speed/rate of which one should wean off. Taking it too quickly the first time, I decided to take a lot longer to wean off the pills. You kind of just want to get off them ASAP when you’re experiencing side effects, but going too quick can have repercussions. I slowed it down, found my own pace to keep side effects to a minimum. In the last weeks I ended up splitting pills and counting microbeads, a little OCD I know, but I was listening to my body.
What helped you get through?
- Daily support from friends, family, my partner
- Reminder notes on the wall that everything would be ok, or call a friend when things got tough
- Better diet & regular exercise (I know you don’t wanna hear that)
- Vitamin B
- Blogging, sharing stories with others and hearing theirs
- Going easy on myself and allowing a little more TLC than usual, chocolate
- Pick your battles
- Keeping on going with work and normal life, being busy
What were the first weeks like after your last pill?
One might think once you’ve taken the last pill, that’s it, you’re done, success. But when you’re altering chemistry of the brain it can take a while for things to even out. Those weeks were challenging. I still had side effects: headaches, neck tension, nausea for a week or so, but the brain zaps lasted the next month or two, just these random crackles in the brain! It took a little while for my emotions to flatten out again.
I also had a big bout of anxiety for months after anti-depressants. This surprised me. I found myself afraid to hang out with friends I’d known for years, feeling anxious in my music career/performing, getting distressed in social situations, running out crying. There was a lot more crying. My psychologist said perhaps anxiety is actually the primary problem, with depression the secondary problem – and my doctor had gone ahead and prescribed treatment for depression alone. In my darkest times before anti-depressants I felt like I was on the edge of a cliff about to lose grip or jump off; anti-depressants seemed to push me back from the edge a bit. So I can at times feel a little too close to the edge. I’ve been surprised by the anxiety I have felt since coming off them, but things have evened out.
What helps reduce anxiety?
- Feeling the fear and doing it anyway. I’ve learned bits and pieces about psychology. We tend to avoid what scares us or makes us anxious and uncomfortable. Yet anxiety works in a way that when we avoid something we are anxious about, the fear grows bigger and gains more power over us. Fear serves to protect us, but in many cases our brains are on overdrive and get anxious about things that aren’t actually real threat. The best way to tackle them is to face them, and face them, and face them again, in increments, piece by piece when you can.
- Understanding anxiety. I read a couple books about it. The Power of Now, Overcoming Anxiety for Dummies, Reasons to Stay Alive.
- Treat yourself when you’re brave
Mentally, how have you been off anti-depressants over the last year?
I’ve felt a normal portion of up and down: joy, excitement, pain, anger, sadness, loneliness, achievement, pride, anxiety, grief, helplessness, love, peace, struggletown, contentment, and everything in between. Life takes us on its rollercoaster. I recall a Silverchair lyric “I was hurting to feel something more than life”. We can strive for eternal happiness, but it’s not a realistic goal. I am happy, then sad, then happy again. I am learning to feel what a human is meant to feel.
Are there times you’ve considered going back on them or regret coming off?
Moving country has been one of the hardest things I’ve embarked on – in terms of feeling pretty isolated, being away from friends, family, support networks, routine, familiarity, starting all over again, navigating new place far from home, and the vulnerability of leaning on your partner. Someone suggest I go back on them. But I don’t believe that’s the answer for me. Perhaps I’m too stubborn. But I believe that I’m meant to feel hard feelings adjusting to a new world and way of life. A pill won’t solve it, or magically assign me new friends, or a new ego, while it might take the edge off the hardship.
You’ve had a lot of support along the way and people have shared personal heart-warming stories.
Yes. I’m very moved by people’s email, sharing stories. Initially I wasn’t sure whether to put the blog out there. But once I did I realised I’m not alone, we’re not alone, and so many people go through this seemingly secret battle of mental illness. Sharing stories binds us together and gives hope.
(Photo by Charlie Brown)
Mental illness affects everyone differently. I think what works for one might not work for another. It’s about trying combination of methods: diet, exercise, new job, holiday, yoga, music, hobbies, friends, opening up, vitamins, therapy, avocadoes, knitting. Anti-depressants certainly help many people. They are the hands to catch you. But alone they won’t magically make everything better. It’s about finding what works for you. We are not alone in mental illness 🙂 We do this together.
This is Part 3 of a three-part blog on Coming Off Anti-Depressants. To read other parts see links below: