How & Why I Got On, Off, And Back On Anti-Depressants (And Lived To Tell The Tale)
Back in January, I wasn't good. In fact, I was so NOT good that I posted a series of videos to my Instagram story at my lowest point in an effort to connect with my followers on a much deeper level about WTF was going on with me.
I'd been on an anti-depressant since I was 25 going on 26. I've had anxiety my entire life; truly, I cried non-stop for the first six months of my life because, as the doctor told my mom once he realized there was nothing physically wrong with me, "She just... feels and reacts to everything," and by God was he right. However, I more or less have always had somewhat of a handle on my anxiety until the month before I turned 26. I don't know what happened, honestly. I could attribute it to a slew of things; a perfect storm, as they say. But I like to sum it up by saying the chemistry in my brain went a little awry, and I suddenly found myself dealing with not only anxiety but, for the first time in my life, depression.
It was terrible and fucking scary. I had never felt so lost, low, dark and, worst of all, hopeless. It felt like something in my brain had clicked permanently, and I was never going to be who I was before these feelings. I was terrified to be alone with my intrusive, disturbing thoughts, so I packed up a few bags, grabbed my dog, and drove 25 minutes up the road to stay with my parents until I felt like me again. I didn't give a fuck that I was in my mid-20s and a functioning adult — I WANTED MY MOMMY.
I got in to see a psychiatrist as soon as I could, she set me up on the medicine she thought was best suited for me and then, as you do with most types of medicine but especially anti-depressants, I waited. It took a few months, but once the drug kicked in, it was literally like a fog cleared. As much of a cliche as that is, it's exactly how it feels. Nothing compares to the day you wake up and realize you feel good again. Georgia Hardstark from the My Favorite Murder podcast described it best in this tweet the other week:
And it's true. Suddenly, food tasted good again. The sky seemed bluer than usual. I was genuinely laughing without having negative background thoughts. Hours then days would go by until I would realize "OMG. I haven't even thought about if I feel bad today, because I don't!" Getting on something was the best thing I could've ever done for myself. I felt like me again, and it was wonderful.
Then, I fucked up.
I did the thing SO MANY PEOPLE do. After a good three years of being on my medicine, not experiencing any depression, and feeling like Emma, I had THE thought:
"I feel great. In fact, I feel REALLY great. So, why the fuck am I even ON something?
I don't NEED TO BE!"
Because that makes sense, right? It's perfectly logical thinking that you feeling great has nothing to do with being on a drug that helps correct what's going on. It's just you! Being cured! Medicine schmedicine, AMIRITE?
I don't know why so many of us have this thought process. If you take one second to think about it, it's bass ackwards. You feel great because of your medicine. So why in the literal fuck would you think you are good to go without it? Beats me, but I was that person. I decided I didn't need to be on the dose I was on, so I cut it in half (after consulting my doctor, of course. Don't ever try and wean off or taper down alone, or you're in for a bigger world of hurt than you already are). A few months into my self-inflicted tapering, I couldn't figure out why I was sobbing all the time like a fragile dandelion and finding it hard to get out of bed.
"Didn't you cut your dose in half?" my mom reminded me.
Luckily, at some point, I finally readjusted to my lower dose and all was well for a while. But then, I fucked up. AGAIN.
This time around, I decided I didn't NOT just need a low dose, but that I didn't need any dose at all! Once I realized how dependent my brain and body were on this medicine, I made up my mind that it was time to get off of it for good. As I said in the video up there, I didn't like the instantaneous withdrawal symptoms (accidentally missing a day = extreme vertigo) or the fact that I would inevitably have to get off the medicine if and when I'm ever pregnant (not any time soon, obvi. But like, one day). I told myself I was in a much more solid place in my life than I had ever been. That I wasn't the young 20something of five years ago going through a quarter-life crisis, losing her shit over every everything. That perhaps I didn't actually have a slight chemical imbalance and was completely capable of handling my anxiety and coping on my own without medicine. I mean, sure. I had had a terrible first half of 2017, clad with devastating dating disappointments that had stripped away a good portion of my self confidence and left me questioning my worth as a partner, woman, and whether or not I was loveable. But, besides all that, NOW WAS THE TIME TO GET OFF MEDS!
Sometimes (most of the time), I could slap the shit out of past Emma.
So that's what I did. Against my doctor's professional opinion (she still OK'ed it, but was not happy about it), I started tapering off my medicine for good back in August. With each taper, I had bad days, would question why the fuck I was doing this, then bounce back and be okay with it. This went on from August all the way to January 1, 2018 — the first day I had been completely anti-depressant free in almost five years. I was elated. I did it! I fucking did it. I got myself off a medicine I deemed not suited for me any longer and, although it was mostly brutal, I was still standing. I felt alive, invigorated, and ready to take on the new year. Nothing could stop my drug-free self now!
Later that week, it all came crashing down as evidenced by my Instagram story video.
I'd like to first say that the outpour of messages I got from sharing those Instagram stories was incredible. I think I got around 120 direct messages, but I lost count somewhere along the way. Everyone who wrote me was so ready to share their own story, offer firsthand advice, or just simply send me good thoughts. I was moved, truly. I saved almost every single one in a special folder in my phone, and referred back to them on bad days: "Give it a month or two, and you'll feel back to normal!" "You'll want to go back on them so bad, but don't. Just sweat it out — it'll be worth it!" "I don't know how the fuck you stopped. I would die without mine." So, I put the proverbial towel in my mouth, bit down as hard as I could, and tried to ride the tsunami-sized withdrawal wave.
But a great white shark named Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) came out of nowhere and ripped me to shreds. You see, PMDD is a very real thing. And it very much runs in my family. It's like PMS with the hunger and sore boobs and cramps but PLUS heightened anxiety, depression, tremendous mood swings, crying spells, and an overall arresting feeling of hopelessness that sometimes doesn't lift for a solid week. Alas, I had unknowingly been avoiding the worst of it the past five years by diluting its potent evil with anti-depressants. So, when I felt it full on for the first time sans anti-depressant, all hell broke loose.
It all started one Tuesday morning (about a week before my period). I had spent the night before meal prepping and made what can only be described as a vat of chicken salad for lunches all week. On Tuesday morning, I managed to get ready, pack my individual lunch portion for the day, and leave for work early for once. I was so proud. That is, until while pulling into the parking garage I realized I had left the entire container of chicken salad sitting out on the counter.
And not just shaking-my-fist-at-the-air lost it. I'm talking complete mental and emotional breakdown that was so out-of-body, it felt involuntary lost it. Screaming and sobbing — the kind of sobbing where you can barely see and that is very dangerous to be operating a motor vehicle while doing. I angry-drove home, put the vat of chicken salad back in the fridge, was 25 minutes late to work, and my day was ruined. And so was the next day. And the day after that. One day that week, I cried SEVEN TIMES. Now, I'm a crier but even I know my cap and seven times is goddamn ridiculous. Most days, even after I got my period, it took (what felt like) hours to convince myself to get up and at 'em. I most definitely called into work at least one day. In short, it was the worst I've felt since before I had started anti-depressants five years ago. Because PMDD is very fucking real, and I very much fucking have it.
Realizing that and dealing with it without any sort of medical assistance even just one time was enough to send me running back to my doctor, and ya know what, guys? I am so fucking glad I did. SO fucking glad. I gave it a shot. I got off anti-depressants for a moment, which was an incredibly tumultuous journey to take. I gave myself a chance to see if I could/wanted to handle a life free of anti-depressants, and I decided FUCK NO I DO NOT. I recognized that my brain chemistry + PMDD may be the genetic card I've been dealt, but by no means should I have to suffer. That maybe the medicine I had been on for five years wasn't the right fit, but something else is, and I wanted to find it. And I'm so relieved and happy to report I think I have.
The first 24 days on my new anti-depressant were iffy — I won't sugar coat that. I had forgotten what it was like to adjust to that kind of medicine in your body. You know how they say it often gets worse before it gets better? Yeah. That. For two weeks straight, I had night sweats that almost sent me over the edge. And I'm not talking about waking up and you're a little damp from a bad dream. No. I'm talking you wake up DRENCHED like you just jumped in a pool or got out of the shower or fucking drooled all yourself and soaked through your shirt. It was horrific. I was at my breaking point and coming to terms with this maybe not being the pill for me until, one day, no sweats. Clear mind. That heavy feeling in my chest? Gone. I've now been on my new medicine for a solid month and could cry tears of joy with how much better I feel. After seven months of weaning off a medicine, experiencing life without it, and getting back on one, I finally feel like me again which, at several times, felt impossible. But here we are. I fucking made it.
So, that's my story of how and why I got on, got off, then got back on an anti-depressant and lived to tell write this extraordinarily long post about it. To anyone who's going through it, has been through it, may go through it in the future — you are never, not even for a brief moment, alone. Listen to yourself, your mind, your body. Talk to friends, family, hell even strangers. Do what's right and best for you. I had plenty of people suggest a more holistic approach to me, but you know what I say to that? I don't have the time to be patient and test out new, organic methods. Not when I feel that bad. Plus, I ❤️modern medicine.
Thank you for reading 'til the end. I love you.