Coming off antidepressants and how it was for me

Each one of us as an individual is able to deal with our mental health in a totally personal way in the same way we do with our physical health. If god forbid we were diagnosed with cancer we would be given information about the treatments available to us, how each would affect us and given the opportunity to decide for ourselves which is the best course to take in our own opinions.

When you are diagnosed with any kind of mental health issue the idea should be the same. You should be offered a number of possible routes you can follow in order to feel better and cope with what could be a chronic condition. The good thing about the various treatments for mental health issues is that they can all be used in conjunction with each other (with a couple of exceptions) and usually at least one of these options will help you and make you feel like you again.

I like many of us who has suffered for a long time have tried most of the options available to me to assist with my depression, anxiety and self esteem issues. When I first tried antidepressants I was eighteen. I had reached a point where I couldn’t continue any longer and I at the advice of my GP took the tablets. I also agreed to see a counsellor. I have to say that my experience here was awful. I was so young and numb to everything that I didn’t think to question when the counsellor suggested a different tablet he felt I would respond better to and asked my GP to change my prescription. I didn’t even see my GP to discuss this I just collected the prescription and swapped from the one I was on to the new one in the space of a day.

Anyone who has tried to change or come off antidepressants may now be screaming at the screen. This was of course a ridiculous thing to do without first weaning myself off the first one and I had what can only be described as a psychotic episode at a family friends wedding one day after changing the tablets. Luckily I had only been invited to the evening and managed to keep my meltdown to the toilets otherwise I am quite sure my bizarre behaviour would have ended the friendship. I don’t remember all of it but I can recall screaming, wailing and not being able to stop crying or calm myself. I was so scared. The room didn’t feel like a room and my mum who was trying to look after me could offer me no comfort whatsoever. It got so bad that my mum had to call Karl (we had been together a year at this point) who was working to come and physically remove me from the building and take me home. I remember him having to undress me and put me into bed and stay next to me as I just couldn’t calm down. This may have gone on for hours, I have absolutely no idea.

When I did return to see the GP he was angry I hadn’t been given any advice by the counsellor in relation to the change of tablets and the leaflets inside the boxes just didn’t make it clear that the side effects of withdrawal can be devastating. I’m incredibly lucky that the episode I had was around people who knew me and as much of a nightmare as  I was looked after me and made sure that I was safe. I still shudder to this day when I think back to that night. This was in 2003.

So fast forward to 2014 when after resisting for sometime and in the middle of an eating disorder I relented and realised that tablets were something that I needed again. I had always promised myself that I would never ever go back on them and that I would be a failure if I did. But I had two boys that I needed to think about and it was my responsibility to do all I could to make myself better and with a lovely Community Psychiatric Nurse explaining to me exactly what to expect I got another prescription.

I have never been unable to care for my children with my mental health issues and although I probably don’t need to say it I always feel like people will judge my abilities as a mother when I say about them so to make myself feel better I feel the need to make that point.

I was prescribed Fluoxetine as this I was assured would not make me put on any weight (something that at that point meant a lot to me even though I was so very ill) and I had months worth of therapy, I felt that I totally embraced treatment and wanted to get better and with time I felt the benefit of the treatment choices I had gone with. I had some raises in dosage and being honest my tablets became a part of who I was. Long after the talking therapies ended and I felt ‘better’ the tablets were there with me every morning with my cup of tea and the little green box that contained them was never far away.

As many of you know I had another massive crash in 2017 and this was the one which I think provided me with the most clarity about my mental health. I feel more at peace with my issues now than I ever have and I no longer try and pretend they don’t exist. I acknowledge I am in treatment in some way each and every day and always will be and I use what I need to in order to assist me. These are mostly things I have written about before. Its like my own personal treatment plan that involves me choosing what I need at the time whether that be talking therapies or others I will cover later in this post. The thing is though that in 2018 I was still taking the same increased dosage of my tablets I had been since 2014.

I made the decision in August to wean myself off them not because I felt that I didn’t need them anymore but because of some physical side effects I had been suffering with that my GP felt could be as a result of them. I had never been told that some of the side effects you can have from antidepressants can increase the longer you are on them and when I found this out the thought scared me. I realised that I had stayed on them because I thought I should as opposed to knowing that I absolutely couldn’t cope without them. The doctor and I came up with a plan for me to wean myself off them slowly so I could see if the physical side effects reduced with a view to beginning another if I felt I needed them.

I had to be very mindful of what withdrawal could do as well as equipping myself with ways of dealing with my mental health issues while the chemicals in my brain did their thing. Sounds so simple, right?! I also had to continue to work and be a mum while this was ongoing. I didn’t feel nervous or worried though, I actually felt empowered and like I was doing a good thing for me and my body.

At first I was exhausted but I think that was probably because life at that point was so very busy. The GP explained to me that Fluoxetine is usually one of the easier tablets to come off as it has a much shorter half life than some of the other common ones so gets out of your system more quickly but that this often didn’t work like that and particularly not for people like me who had been on them a long time.

I started to get very dizzy after about a week, not so much that I couldn’t do anything but I was aware of it. I felt spaced, vacant and a bit removed from life. That sounds ever so dramatic I know but that’s exactly how it felt. My memory seemed to suffer a bit and I felt like I wasn’t firing on all cylinders. I took a few days off work to just rest and spent the majority of that time in bed. This was the end of August and very hot so not the best time to be in bed but I listened to my body and it just needed to stop.

I started some new sessions of talking therapies at this time knowing that I would likely be going through some new emotions and not being exactly sure how it would effect me. This helped me massively as the counsellor within about five minutes made me see how anxious I was. I sat in front of her picking at my nails and making the sides of my fingers bleed. I hadn’t even realised I was doing it. At the end of that session she gave me a stone and asked me to keep it nearby and if I felt the need to pick my fingers to pick it up and feel it. Sounds so strange but it really worked. I would feel the stone and roll it around in my hands, feel the edges, the smooth parts, the rough parts and it gave me something else to focus on. It was a calming influence too and I still two months later have it with me wherever I go for if I need it. I actually have two now as I quite like picking the colour I fancy!

She also gave me a notebook and asked me every time I felt I needed it to open it and write down how I was feeling. She explained that she did this every morning and during the day when she felt that her emotions were getting out of control. I began to use the book at work mostly. I would get in every morning and while my computer was logging on I would jot down how I was feeling. Not war and peace and at times just single words but I found it a very efficient tool at clearing my mind which made me more present in the moment. This is something else I still do every morning. Funnily enough I don’t tend to do it outside of work I think because I am in my own sanctuary at home so find it a safer space to talk and be open but without failure at the start of every shift I write a few words in my book. This is something I think I will now continue to do as part of my mental health treatment as I like how in control I feel for addressing those thoughts and feelings and there is something almost like purging them when you write them down.

I spent the following month and a half feeling relatively ‘normal’ for me (don’t laugh!) I had ups and downs but no worse than when I was on my tablets and actually that made me think, do I need to start on new ones. I decided not and to persevere with my own methods and see how I could be as a mental health sufferer without tablets. All was going really well until this last week when I feel like I have had a real slump. I can honestly say I’ve been the most miserable I’ve been in a long time. I’ve just felt low, down, angry , frustrated and unsettled. It occurs to me though that I at this point am totally chemical free. My brain is working itself out on its own and that will surely be having an effect on my mood. luckily it has coincided with a period of annual leave from work where I am focussing on self care.

I have been evaluating, journaling, talking and being kind to myself (lots of hot chocolate too)  I can’t tell you how easy it would be for me to go back to the GP and put myself back on tablets but I feel like I need to give it another month and then look at it again. I think for me acknowledging that I need to give my body and brain time is a massive thing and a way in itself of me taking control of my own treatment. If I go back on another tablet that’s absolutely fine and if I don’t then that’s good too.

I am so much better at listening to myself and not expecting so much of myself and this means I don’t feel like a failure the second I get something wrong. I am also very lucky that I have people around me who know my journey and are always willing to listen. My handbag is full of stones, notepads, essential oils (lavender is amazing) bright lipsticks (an instant boost) and a couple of little things the boys have bought me that always make me smile and I like my handbag am full of things I can do for myself to take charge of the bad days. I can meditate, I can take time to breathe and if I need to I can push pause and take time out. This isn’t always easy with little people and work but it’s amazing how just a couple of minutes of time out can make a difference in a shitty day. I also have the GP’s phone number in my phone and I’m not ashamed to call it if I need to.

In conclusion I am all for doing whatever you need to do to take charge of your own mental health and I respect, admire and have love for everyone who suffers and gets through it in the ways that they can. I of course also know that there are places that in time of crisis I can go and would urge anyone to do the same if they need to. There are places for all kinds of treatments which should be undertaken in consultation with a medical professional if necessary. This is about my personal journey and if you are thinking about making a change in your own treatment please seek advice.

Wow, that was a long post! If you found it helpful please let me know and if you have any questions please feel free to get in contact. I hope I’ve not bored you too much!

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An October review…….

October is one of those months where I tend to have a bit of a review. My birthday is this month and I think as it approaches every year it makes me evaluate where I am, where I’ve been and what I’ve achieved over the last year.

When I thought about it quickly I thought that this year hasn’t been one full of great things and huge achievements but then I thought again. This year I have focussed more on me than I have for a long time. I have had the at times uncomfortable realisations of who I am, what I’m about and what I need to let go of. I have dare I say it become more happy. I have allowed myself to be who I am in ways that I would have feared to in the past. Worries about being mocked or treated differently I haven’t allowed to plague my thoughts like I used to and I am for the first time in a long time  in a position where I can say that the people I have around me understand and embrace me for me no matter what. Not you Mum, you’ve been doing that for almost thirty five years now!

No matter what is a big statement. No matter what is in good times or bad, when I have had successes or failures. When I’ve made good decisions or hideously awful ones. There really is a huge amount of truth in the saying ‘find your tribe’ and when you do you need to hold on to those people with all you have.

I have talked about my mental health more this year and I feel with more authority. I am on a journey that evolves on a daily basis and it’s a journey that I am at peace with as opposed to fighting against. I have made the decision to come off my antidepressants and to take more control in other ways over my mental health. I have started small practices to help me on a daily basis that are becoming habits. I write down how I feel, I meditate, I read more and I am more realistic with myself.

I have put on about two stone and I’m currently wearing a size eighteen. This is a big thing for me to tell you but after all the peanut m&m’s and those yummy Ikea biscuits I am hardly surprised but for once in my life I am being kind to myself. I have realised that limiting myself is a way I used to self harm in the past and denying myself nice things as some strange way of punishing myself did nothing other than make me miserable. I have cut down on alcohol and started running again (slowly and with a very interesting style but still) I have realised that I am meant to have big boobs and they need to be comfortable so I’ve started buying my bras at Victoria’s secrets because they don’t only make sexy, tiny underwear but they make the most comfortable bras I have ever worn. They are expensive and I only buy them in the sale because that’s what I can afford to do but it feels good to be looking after myself and taking pride in doing so.

I see the beauty in having no plans, in living simply and taking each day as it comes. I love to see friends and walk around taking pictures even if it is somewhere we have taken a million pictures of before. I have realised I like yoga and just because I am not as bendy as most people doesn’t mean I can’t do a downward facing dog as well as the next person.

We have made a small house into a big house and have taken pride in doing so. It’s been a massive lesson for us as a family and a couple but it has bought us closer together and bought pure joy. I look forward to getting the garden finished and starting my flower garden and the thought of cutting flowers I have grown myself next year to display in my home brings a huge grin to my face.

I have realised that there are so many things in this life that are so much more important that I ever thought. Sitting with my parents over a cup of tea talking about the birds, seeing my boys play with their friends, listening to the boys read, eating cake with Karl, taking my mum out and treating her like she deserves to be treated and laughing with my friends. These things are priceless, these moments to be made memories that I can cherish forever.

I want to continue to write and talk about mental health. I want to help people, to give blood (once and counting) to explore more creative pursuits, to spend more time with the people I love and to see them go from strength to strength. I hope that when  I write this post next year it will be another year of little things that have added up to massive things when I will be meeting another year older as a welcome friend full of excitement and promise.

Thanks as always for reading, for listening, for being here and being you. You have no idea how much each and every one of you that has taken the time to email, comment on my social media, hit the like button and talk to me about my blog and writing have helped me this year. You are amazing and I hope you never forget it.

Lucy xxx