Detoxing off Effexor - My Horror Story
What the hell am I on?
As I struggled to open my eyes, my first reaction was - am I still drunk? I had been out of town for a few days with friends and there had been a fair amount of drinking involved. I tried to remember all that had happened the night before...but the feeling was beyond any hangover I had ever experienced. I was dizzy, fuzzy...struggling for a clear thought through a dense mental fog. I had never felt anything like this. Had someone slipped me a something? No idea at this point - I only knew something was not right at all. I cautiously stood up out of bed - bracing myself every inch of the way. Unable to stand, I lost my balance and stumbled straight into the wall. All of a sudden, I felt an electric shock in my face. It was so powerful that I felt like I had been hit by a 2 x 4 straight to the head. The "zap" of electricity was so intense that my head flew back and I fell to the ground. Extremely confused and in pain, I looked for something electrical I may have touched that resulted in the shock. I rolled over to my knees and looked up on the wall for a bare wire or light switch without a cover. Nothing. ..What... the fuck.... is going on.... the room continued to spin and I began to panic. I knew this, whatever this was, was bad. I sincerely thought I was going to die. My heart had started racing. All of my senses were completely out of control and I was terrified. A lump in my throat was growing and without even trying to hold back I started crying. My kids are going to find my dead body right here in the hallway. I began to gasp for air in between sobs and progressed into a full blown panic attack. I grabbed at my chest fighting to get air and regain some control over any one of the things going wrong inside my body.
A voice broke through the melee... "Mom.. what's wrong?"... that sweet, scared little voice coming toward me brought me into a moment of reality like cold water to the face. I wanted to answer but I couldn't make words come out of my mouth. I managed to nod my head and give her the "ok" hand signal. Honestly, I shouldn't have but that's what parents do. I didn't want her to be scared. What I should have done was let her call 911. In that moment of clarity I thought about the fact that I hadn't had my prescription of Effexor for about 3 days...could that be what was causing this reaction? I didn't think that stuff was even working. If in fact that was it, withdrawls from the drug, then I obviously had no clue of what I actually on. I tried to stand when ZAP!, another brain shock caused everything to go black. A short but unknown amount of time later I woke to find myself laying flat on my back. My tongue had gone numb and my ears were ringing. I need help and I need it now. If I could have put a thought together I may have reached for a phone to call for help. But I couldn't put one thought or word in order enough to make sense. I crawled on all fours back to my bedroom.
4 Months Earlier
It was time for me to get a yearly checkup. I didn't have a regular doctor but being a 42 year old woman, I knew it was time to get all the girly parts checked out...ugh. The thought made me cringe. I chose the doctor based upon my insurance company's recommendation. But when I called they said he wasn't accepting new patients. Instead they suggested a doctor who was new to their practice. They thought she would be a good fit for me. I agreed and set the appointment. When I met her I saw that she was young but, because it was just a physical, I honestly didn't care. When she asked me to tell her about my health I reluctantly talked to her about some issues surrounding my monthly cycle. There was almost always one to three days where I felt noticeably depressed. Also, the older I have gotten, my periods had become heavy and annoyingly long. She suggested having my hormone levels tested. I agreed. Then she brought up the possibilities of getting on an antidepressant to control the moods. I stopped her mid sentence. I DID NOT want to be on any type of antidepressant. She brought up Effexor and said it was for regulating hormone levels and just recently had been found to also help with mood swings due to those hormonal spikes. I explained the reasons I was against antidepressants. When I had gone through my divorce 11 years earlier I had problems with anxiety attacks and was put on Zoloft. I knew absolutely nothing about it at the time. After a few months on the drug I ended up a zombie with no emotions whatsoever. I weaned myself off. It was NOT pleasant, it took a long time, and I swore - never, ever again. I don't mind being sad once in a while, getting angry occasionally, even muddling through a day of depression. To me that's just life. I am not going to dope myself up so that I don't have to learn how to cope with life's problems. I am not criticizing anyone who does need it, I know it exists for a reason. But for me personally, I do not want it. I also strongly believe they are over prescribing these drugs - but that is an issue for another blog.
She reiterated that Effexor is not "that kind of drug" and suggested I pick up a prescription that day. She said to go ahead and start taking it while we wait for the test results. Even if the tests came back normal, she said it was ok to start taking now and evaluate how I was feeling in a few weeks. Had I just waited for the test results, had I just asked a few more questions, had I just read about this chemical POISON, I would never have had this story to tell. But ...I didn't - so, I do. And by telling it I hope to save someone from going through what I went through. I consider myself lucky, I have heard stories of psychosis which led to violent even fatal attacks on family members and severe paranoia that some not so lucky ever recovered from.
So, I started taking it. Over the next few weeks what I can tell you is I felt happy, really happy almost all of the time. This didn't concern me too much. It probably should have been a red flag but it wasn't. If you remember what I said about Zoloft, it made me feel NOTHING - not happy, not sad, not anything. I was a zombie and I was very aware of the fact that I had zero emotions. I didn't care mind you, but I was aware of it. On Effexor, I was happy but I was clear headed. I didn't feel like I was on ANYTHING. There were two side effects that I did feel however. I gained 25 pounds almost instantly. The drug gave me a sugar craving that was insatiable. I have never been a sugar person - give me nachos over a doughnut any day. But I started polishing off entire bags of candy and going back for more. The other thing - and guys bear with me - have to talk about boobs for a minute. And not in a way that you like to think about boobs, but about what they were actually created for. You will have had to have breastfed children to know exactly what I am describing. Just before your milk does what they call a "let down" which is simply when the milk develops in your breasts just prior to feeding time, there is a certain cycle of things that happen. It is slightly different for everyone but mine went like this: First - a feeling in my stomach that is like a slight bit of nausea, then that stops and is quickly followed by mouthwatering thirst. Last my breasts would get really tight and then- Viola! - feeding time. Well, on Effexor- my body did that whole cycle, minus the milk, about 6-8 times a day. It was extremely weird and annoying. That was the flag that actually concerned me enough to call the doctor. She said there was absolutely no way it was connected.... Really doc? It stopped as soon as I was completely detoxed off of it so- please explain that?! Throughout this ordeal I came to realize that she either had no idea what she put me on or she lied.
Back to the hell...
I don't know how I made it through the next 48 hours. I should have gone to the hospital, but I couldn't think that clear. I even attempted to go to work. I remember looking at a pen for a good minute before I realized what end was the end to write with. Accounting wasn't going to happen, not accurately anyway which is important to most of my clients... so I gave up.. Instead I got online and poured over everything I could find on Effexor and its side effects. Sure enough I found hundreds upon thousands of people just like me who had gone or were going through the exact same hell. Some of these poor people had been trying to wean off it unsuccessfully for years. I was teetering between relief that I now know I am not dying and the panic of - will I ever be ok? The first two days were repetitive cycles of the electric brain shocks followed by numbness in my face and tongue and ringing in my ears. The following six weeks were a special kind of hell. I was in a state of a paranoia that left me in fear of everyone around me. I was sure everyone who came near me was secretly trying to kill me. Cars on my commute were driving too close and I would often have hallucinations that they were swerving into me on purpose. My dreams were horrifying with violent acts of murder, suicide, torture etc.
I couldn't go to the store by myself for weeks. Even a 7-11 trip would leave me in a panic attack crying all the way home.
A few months later, on a nice Spring day I thought I would get out in the yard and start some pre-season weeding. I found myself startled at every car driving by. I felt like every bird flying over head was about to dive bomb me. I felt like someone was sneaking up on me and kept looking over my shoulder. I gave up and went inside. I didn't have the strength to try to put on a happy face for anyone nor the patience to even make small talk. I avoided all my friends and couldn't go in public. The only people I trusted were my immediate family and even that was a stretch. Temporary or not, I felt psychotic. I continued to research and read about Effexor and found that many people who quit taking it felt back to normal after....wait for it.... a year or more. What if I never got back to normal? I was furious that her snap decision and my lack of research could have just possibly ruined my entire life.
I am not here to tell you what to do except that if you aren't already taking it DON'T START - there are other options. If you already are and you decide to quit taking it - DON'T go cold turkey. Results could be much worse than I experienced, even fatal. I have been focusing on all natural remedies, along with healthy diet and exercise. Life is a roller-coaster, and that's ok with me. I believe we enjoy the good times much more when we have had to kick and scratch through the bad. Valleys in life teach us who we are and it is there we learn how to cope. Effexor for me was nothing short of POISON. It is nicknamed "the drug everyone wishes they never started" for a reason. I think the most dangerous thing about it is how subtle it sneaks in and doesn't make you feel drugged out. But drugged out you are, and not by any old drug, but you have just been charmed by the Ted Bundy of all antidepressants. A charming beginning with a terrifying conclusion.
I know there are people reading this who will defend pharmaceuticals such as these. I would never judge a person harshly for needing the leveling out that they can provide. I know that some people can not function with out it. If that is you, please know that I am not making the broad statements that NO ONE should be on anti-depressants. Also, I take complete responsibility for what I did. The side effects I went through were my own fault because I went off it cold turkey. By the time I knew what was causing my reaction, I had been off them for 4 days and I was furious. I wanted it out of my body and to get through it as quick as I could. I thought the worst was over at that point and was scared to think about what it was doing to my body and mind. I just wanted it out of my system.
The good news is this, it has been a year now and I am feeling great. Every so often I get a ping of paranoia and I find myself closing the blinds a little more often than I used to. But for the most part, my life is back to normal.