My Story, Withdrawal from the Anti Depressant Citalopram
What is Citalopram (Celexa)
Citalopram is a drug in the group of selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These are extremely commonly used to treat depression and anxiety, perhaps the most common drug used at the moment.
They are thought to cause few side effects, and work by blocking the re-absorption of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. By changing the balance of Serotonin the drug helps your brain cells send and receive chemical messages, thus improving mood.
I took Citalopram for 2 years, one year at the highest dose of 40mg for anxiety and depression. My depression started after I injured myself, damaging a ligament in my knee. Shortly after a good friend died and my spiral down was almost complete.
Side Effects Whilst Taking Citalopram
In addition to the desired effects, as with any medicine Citalopram can have some unwanted side effects. These depend entirely on the individual.
When I started taking the drug, I felt light headed for weeks. I also suffered from "restless leg syndrome" when sitting or trying to get to sleep. My weight went up (and has stayed up so far) but by far the biggest issue for me was a numbing of the "down stairs" equipment and a total lack of sex drive. Seriously, it was like my tackle wasn't even there for a while, and it only got slightly better. It was a problem for the whole time I was on the medication.
Other people have reported a whole mass of side effects, ranging from sleepiness and pain in joints, to increased sweating and grinding of teeth.
There are unfortunately too many by far side effects to go into here, I would recommend looking at http://www.drugs.com/sfx/citalopram-side-effects.html for more information.
Does Citalopram Work?
In my case, the depression was severe enough to require the use of both medication and counselling. Did it work? Well, it certainly seemed to get me through the tougher times as long as having a head full of cotton wool is your thing.
That's the problem with taking meds sometimes. To dull the depression feels like dulling the rest of your emotions. Life experiences aren't as exciting without the highs and lows that accompany them. Bad choices are easier to make without the thought of anxiety to steer your thought processes. Worst of all is when you make the decision to quit. Perhaps if my doctor had been honest with me in the beginning, and talked about some of the devastating side effects you can get coming off the drug, I would never have started it in the first place.
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Citalopram and Brain Zaps!
I started getting some pretty awful side effects on the high dose I was taking including self harm, anxiety and worryingly manic episodes. This seemed really strange to me, seeing as I was on the highest dose of an antidepressant drug!
So, I talked with a great doctor who thought that it might actually be the Citalopram making me like this. Her suggestion was to stop taking it, but we would need to tread carefully to avoid further side effects. I agreed, feeling that the depression was truly gone. I was ready to stop taking the pills.
We agreed to reduce the medication in stages. 40 mg to 30 mg, week two 30 to 20, week three down to 10, week four 5 mg and then stop on week 5. All was going well, we spoke on the phone in week four and decided, seeing as the withdrawal effects had not shown up, to stop the pills.
My first brain zap hit me like a lightening bolt in the brain. I immediately felt dizzy and extremely nauseous, lost my balance and nearly fell to the floor. This continued every few seconds until I had no choice but to lie down. Word of advice, lying down does not help!
What are Brain Zaps?
Where to begin? Well, it appears that brain zaps effect many people coming off Citalopram. From my research at least 65% have zaps in varying degrees of severity and longevity.
Imagine a lightening storm in your brain, add vertigo and feeling as sick as you have ever felt and you have might have the beginning of an understanding. It is as close to a living hell as I would ever want to get. That feeling you get at the top of a roller coaster as it suddenly plummets from its apex. One hundred plus times a day.
As you can imaging, this can be extremely frightening and debilitating. I missed quite a few days from my job. For me the zaps were influenced by eye or head movement, and by increased levels of anxiety, which of course stays high when you are waiting for the next zap to occur.
A Funny Look At Brain Zaps
Finally no More Side Effects
For me the brain zaps lasted about 6 weeks. This seems to be about average given the dose I was on. I am happy to say that I have only one or 2 a day now, much better than before where I saw no end in sight.
The one or two I get are in no way as severe either. Now, it is manageable and I know that it will only get better with time. This is the thing people suffering need to know. It will get better, but it will take time.
I can also recommend taking Omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin B12. In fact, a healthy diet and good supplements really can help reduce the effects.
Remember, before stopping your anti depressants talk to your doctor and NEVER go cold turkey. To do so invites side effects even more severe.
If You Have Been Affected
by anything in this article, please consult your doctor.
I would love to hear from people who have had similar problems with withdrawal from Citalopram, or have suffered brain zaps. Let me know how it went for you and how you coped!
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