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.