Being unmedicated: The lesser of two evils

It’s been almost eight weeks since I stopped taking my antidepressants. I didn’t go cold turkey, I tapered them off gradually over a period of several months.

A year ago, I was taking a ton of medication:

  • Sertraline and Mirtazipine, two kinds of antidepressants.
  • Pregabalin, an anti-epileptic drug that has a heavy sedating effect
  • Quetiapine, an anti-psychotic, to aid my sleep
  • For panic and anxiety, there were ad hoc benzodiazepines as well.

When I list it out like that, it looks like a serious cocktail of drugs. I can’t believe I even functioned while all of that was in my system. My wife says I was basically a zombie. I didn’t notice at the time. I felt like the drugs made things better. Every time I had a feeling I didn’t want to experience, I could chug some more pills and I’d be able to numb out. The meds enabled me to eat, sleep, go out of the house and speak to people. But I was essentially an animated corpse.

Psychiatrists love throwing pills at a problem. They’re happy to keep writing more scripts, adding things in and taking them away. They never actually look at what they are treating. They don’t do brain scans to assess how well their treatment is working. It’s all so subjective. It’s all based on the questions asked on a particular day and how their patient feels in that moment.

I see my psychiatrist once every three months. He asks me the same questions and the prepared responses slip out of my mouth without me even thinking about it much. Sometimes I tell him I want to die. He always asks what my ‘plan’ is. I always refuse to share it with him. For some reason, he interprets that as me not being sold on suicide. That’s just how the formula works.

Next, he asks about my medications. Every time I see him, I ask for less drugs. And every time, we have an argument about whether that is sensible and safe. He would be content for me to be medicated up to the eyeballs for the rest of my life. When I tell him I don’t want to be on a particular drug, he always pushes me to switch to a new one I haven’t tried.

I had to be stubborn to come off the meds. For the most part, I cut them down without telling him. I stopped the Quetiapine first, and found my sleep was a little erratic, but during the day I had more energy and motivation to engage with life. I started running and cycling again.

Then I gradually reduced the antidepressants. I never thought they really worked. They eased my anxiety and helped me sleep. At the same time, they made me feel hollow. They caused me to gain a lot of weight, they killed my sex drive – and made it almost impossible to have an orgasm on the odd occasion I did feel like having sex. That’s enough to make anyone depressed.

I know the drugs were a necessary evil. When I started on all this medication, I was out of control and I was scared of everything. I was self-harming so badly I repeatedly ended up in hospital. I couldn’t make eye contact with anyone. I couldn’t eat and my sleep was filled with nightmares. The drugs enabled me to somehow drag myself through that time.

Now I am without most of the meds. I still take Pregabalin to ease the agitation I tend to feel in the evenings. I’m not ready to give up my prescription for Lorazepam, but that’s a whole other story.

I think most of the antidepressant effect is leaving my system now. I am feeling a great deal more and way more intensely. For the first time in years, I am able to cry when I am feeling really sad. I cry so hard it hurts the muscles in my throat. A lot of the dark thoughts have returned. I’m self-harming more than I was a few months ago. I’m getting overwhelmed and struggling to focus on the tasks I need to complete.

You’re probably thinking I should start taking pills again. And I can see that perspective. My therapist thinks I should entertain the idea. My psychiatrist will definitely push for it if I’m honest with him about how I’ve been feeling.

But coming off the drugs has felt like winning a battle for me. I feel like I’ve freed myself from being sucked into a lifelong cycle of going on and off various medications. I feel like I have taken back some control over myself. Even if that means sometimes the emotions and thoughts are intolerable and I use dangerous coping mechanisms.

How can I learn to cope if I can’t experience my emotions? How will I be able to process anything in therapy if I can’t truly connect with my history and my feelings?

I know that there’s a risk in allowing myself this freedom from being automated by medications. But if I am going to survive in this life and figure out how to eventually embrace it, I need to know what is going on in my own body. That’s frightening and it’s massively painful at times. But compared to living out my days unable to connect with myself and the people I love, it is absolutely the lesser of two evils.

Photo: frankieleon, Creative Commons.


12 Comments Add yours

  1. cherished79 says:

    I recall the cocktail remedies for me that never seemed to actually work. I see you were on Seroquel, that med can let you sleep well, but it can also make you go a bit loopy also. I was on it for years, but a new pdoc came along and wondered why I was on it. Same as Lithium, I was on that for 10 yrs. at the highest levels and I’m not bipolar. Yes, those docs and their scripts! I think they have them written before you show up for your appointment because they seem to ask the same questions every time.

    Did you find with your pdoc that he never gave the meds a chance to work, but just increased or decreased it? Do they really know what they’re doing?. Thanks for this post it was well-written 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura Black says:

      I think it is all trial and error. My old consultant used to just keep upping the doses every few weeks, but the current one I see a lot less frequently so he can’t! That said, I know if I were willing, he would almost certainly increase things each time. They seem to work from the perspective that a person simply cannot be medicated enough…


  2. bethanyk says:

    Thank you for sharing this.very helpful at this time

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think you’ve explained very well that in addition to the withdrawal process itself, one of the dilemmas/issues when you come off medications is facing the question of how much benefit you were really getting and whether that was worth the cost in terms of emotional blunting and other side effects, and to what extent the biological model of mental illness on which a lot of prescribing is based is even valid. Once you challenge those assumptions you can end up feeling both empowered and very lost, because you’re on completely new ground.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura Black says:

      Sounds like you totally understand where I’m at! Plus, another challenge is dealing with the fear of people who care about me. It makes them feel less worried when I’m on the drugs, which is probably illogical, but that’s another part to this process. I feel pressured by people who are worried about me to go back on the meds so they can relax.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. yeah, that was the reaction of my (now ex) GP. I got really pissed off with her because I felt as if her treatment plans were more about managing her own anxiety than about what would benefit me.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Of course when I read some of the difficulties my thought was, um, maybe this isn’t such a good thing. I’m a hypocrite to think it though. My medical docs would have me taking a this and that injection or mixing this and that cocktail of meds that stars were dropping dead taking. I eased myself off pain meds bc it’s the lesser of two evils. However, I will not push my mind beyond its limit for anyone, including my own pride.

    I’ve primarily gone the holistic route with some pain meds available to me. It’s an option but as ruler of this body, I decide when to unscrew the bottle.

    Even when the options are complex and deep, an informed decision is the best decision.

    Knowing you have struggled with cutting, I’m confident you know how to clean it properly and care for the wound.

    With hope,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience Faith. I am trying to make a balanced decision. I see my consultant in a few days, so I have some time to make my mind up. Laura


  5. La Quemada says:

    This resonated for me, as I am currently working to get off medications (not sure right now if the end goal is to get off entirely or if mostly off will be enough). I, too, had been saying this to my quarterly check-ins with my former psychiatric nurse, who never seemed to hear it. Half the time I would leave the check-in with another med or an increase in one of the ones I was already taking. Finally I weaned myself off the Klonopin.

    In February I switched to a new psych nurse, and I’m hopeful. First of all, she was shocked at how much Effexor I was on. And she took my suicidal thoughts seriously. We are working together to slowly back off all those med.

    It might sound weird, but I read your account of crying hard with some hope. I have cried maybe three times in the last 15 years or so (and most of that time I’ve been on meds). Sometimes I think I need to cry and cry and cry to let things out. Of course we need to be able to stop as well and need to be able to feel something besides grief. But masking the grief and pain with meds for such a long time doesn’t seem to have moved me forward at all.

    I’m glad you are happy with your decision, glad also that you are paying attention to how you feel. It’s always possible to choose to use medications again if there is a good reason to do so. That’s why I say I may not go entirely off meds. But I am going to work with this nurse on diet and supplements, I have my mindfulness practice, and I’ve recently increased the amount of time I’m in therapy. All of these seem more valuable to me than pharmaceuticals.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura says:

      I am glad to hear things are working out for you with the new nurse. It’s tough dealing with healthcare professionals who don’t listen to you. After all, you know best what’s going on in your body and what it might need.
      I think the meds have a time and a place, especially when there’s a high level of risk involved. But it seems that often people are kept on them for fear of what might happen when they stop. The problem is, as you say, they seem to keep you in limbo. It’s hard to progress with therapy when you can’t feel very much, or identify what you’re feeling.
      I really hope this all works out for you. I appreciate how much hard work is involved, but you’re doing it – which is amazing. Laura

      Liked by 1 person

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