SSRI Free & Finding Success
The History Between Myself and "Her"
I feel that I am in tune with my body. Even though "she" rebels against me often, gets angry with me and offers me pain that brings forth tears or will often shut down on me so that I find it difficult to be mobile, I understand my body. Every part of her has a need that needs to be fulfilled. As a woman who works, raises a family and manages a household, I often neglect my body and put her needs last. When I do, I hear about it. Throughout my life, my body has alerted me to different conditions; sometimes serious, that doctors laughed off (a tumor, gall bladder disease, blood disorder to name a few). Other times, she has only complained through back aches, throbbing feet or neck pain. I find it is important to listen to "her". Even if I choose to shut out her complaints, at least I am aware that the issues exist.
I began medicating myself (with a doctor's assistance) for a depressive/anxiety condition over 9 years ago. I was going through a divorce from a marriage that had been anything but happy. I had tried taking SSRI's when I was married but stopped taking them due to being called "crazy" and "sick" or "mentally ill" by my soon to be ex-husband. While I know for a fact and truly believe that a person is healthier and stronger emotionally when they can accept that some hormones might be out of "whack" or they cannot pull themselves through a crisis emotionally and may need to seek the help of a physician and take a medication to help them; I also couldn't risk losing custody of my children and I feared false accusations thrown around a court room would cause unfavorable decisions toward me.
I would like to think that in this day and age, prejudice toward people that take medications for anxiety and depression wouldn't exist but sadly, it does. Tom Cruise didn't help things by blasting Brooke Shields when she openly discussed her need to take anti-depressants after experiencing post-par tum depression. I didn't know if a court mediator would look at me, listen to the ridiculous claims spouted by my ex and envision me in a straight-jacket; surrounded by men in little, white coats. I couldn't risk that. So, I chose to stay depressed, suffer immense anxiety and feel miserable until I felt that my life with my children weren't going to be threatened.
At the time, I have no doubt that I needed an SSRI medication to help me navigate the stressful journey I had begun as a single mother of two. Bills were outrageous, I was working full time, dealing with child care, a bitter, vengeful ex and raising two children that had been taken out of their first home and moved into a new home to begin a new life with one parent.
I sought out counseling as well and I firmly believe it was the therapy that aided my decisions and helped my self esteem increase. However, I cannot deny that my little "happy" pill, as I called it, got me through each day and helped me sleep at night.
During the 9.5 years I took an SSRI, I switched to a different kind twice. Both helped me with what I called uncontrollable, repressed rage and constant bouts of crying for what appeared to be no reason.
In the beginning, I noticed some immediate changes in my body when I began taking SSRI medication. I didn't cry as much. I still cried; don't get me wrong. I wasn't walking around in a stupor nor did I have the "deer in the headlight" expression. I felt emotion...just not as strongly. I still got angry. I still had anger over experiences out of my control. I still laughed and felt joy. I just didn't cry about everything that felt challenging to me. I also didn't feel that feeling of rage I had felt right before my divorce. The rage I am describing is that in my mind. A feeling of helplessness, anger and the want to fight all at once! It was a deep-seated, haunting and hollow feeling that could come out in yelling fits or physical moments where I could haul 10 bags,weighing 40 pounds each of manure across the yard and not feel the weight due to my anger. Later in the day, once I had worked it out physically, I wouldn't be able to move my body.
I never used my rage against anything to harm it. I used it to harm myself by over working and over stressing my body's capabilities. Sometimes I would drive in my car and scream on the top of my lungs. Sometimes I would walk in the woods until it became difficult to lift up my foot to take another step.
The SSRI quieted these strong feelings. They were there but as if sitting on the proverbial bench; on the side lines. Present for the game but sitting out of the game. I could acknowledge that they were there but didn't have a need to call them in for the play. I just didn't care as much that they were waving from the sidelines. I didn't feel a need to let them on my playing field.
I liked that. I began to remember what it felt like to be in control. I hadn't felt in control of my emotions in a long time. I used to stress constantly about what others thought and what they may or may not be saying about me. I worried about whether I was raising my children correctly. I worried about my life in general and if I would grow old alone. All of these thoughts contributed to a very high anxiety ridden person. The SSRI medication quieted all of those thoughts in my head to a dull murmur that I could stop listening to.
One change that I didn't like was I couldn't lose weight. I have always struggled with my weight. I used to think that I was really thin at different points of my adult life. Then, I looked at pictures. I can honestly say that from the age of 30 to now, I have been fat. I found that losing weight was difficult to do. I didn't gain weight due to the pill. I gained weight due to over eating. The SSRI however, made it possible to not care that much about carrying those extra pounds. That had both positive and negative parts to it!
The last side effect noted was libido. I did not have a wonderful relationship with my ex; in or out of the bedroom. When I began to meet eligible men to date, I found that my libido wasn't necessary affected but the ability to reach that finale was hampered. It took a lot of practice and patience to work with my body to overcome this side effect.
Time To Embrace What Is
You may wonder why, after describing so many positive effects that an SSRI medication had on my body, would I want to change that?
The answer is simple. My body became immune to the positive effects of the medication.
In looking at case studies of people placed on anti-depressant/ anti-anxiety medications, some that took the medications for short periods of time (months to a couple years), coupled with therapy; were likely to continue self improvements and experience more positive outlooks on life in general.
Some taking medication to combat depression and anxiety for an extended period of their life, often were given additional medication to combine with their prior medication or were still struggling with depression and anxiety. The research swayed both ways.
I questioned which way my life would lean if I chose to wean myself of medication and I was somewhat fearful of how my body and mind would react. However, I did know that if I didn't try, I could spend the rest of my life taking medication that didn't appear to be helping me.
I began to feel that explosive rage again about a year ago. The one that I had referred to before. This time, it was coming out at work and in my home. I never physically touched anyone but my voice and the anger in my face (my kids described it as flickering, evil lights in my eyes) when something or someone challenged me or made me feel cornered, began to rear its ugly head and people were actually afraid of me! It was as if the couple times this happened, I had an out of body experience and afterwards, couldn't comprehend why I reacted the way that I had. I also began to feel a deep, spiraling feeling that I was in a hole that couldn't be climbed. I often felt that my children would be better off without me as a mom. I took their struggles and failures as my own and thought horrid thoughts of ending my life. I never acted on these and did seek out therapy to discuss this with my therapist. Those sessions allowed me to evaluate my lack of judgement and rational thinking.
Because these feelings began to surface more frequently, and my doctor kept urging me to increase my dosage, add another medication to the mix and then add an "enhancer" for those, I began to question the abilities of the "happy" pill and what it was doing to my body.
The research implied that people have found success in life off of medication. It also showed sometimes, people will need to be treated their entire life. I wanted to know where I stood in the research so I made a decision to slowly take myself off of my medication.
The Journey and the Victory
It has taken me months to wean myself slowly off of my SSRI medication. I read many horror stories from people who tried to stop too quickly and the nightmare of side effects they experienced.
I couldn't risk that. I had to function at work and at home. I decided to cut my 40mg pill in 1/2 and take the half dosage for 1.5 months. Then, I would cut that dosage in 1/2, take that for a few weeks and then, if I felt like I needed to, cut the 1/4 of a pill in half as well.
The things I noticed most in cutting back on my meds were vertigo and my nervous habits of chewing coming back. I had grown some really long, pretty nails this year. This in itself is highly strange as I usually bite my nails to the quick and beyond. When I began lowering my dosage, the need to "chew" came back. I began to chew my fingers to the quick again and often so deeply that they would bleed. Presently, as I type this, I have three fingers that are sporting a bloody after effect of my gnashing teeth! I also began to chew the skin on my lips and in my mouth.
Now, one may wonder why? If I am able to recognize that I am doing these things and know that they are nervous habits that I shouldn't be doing, then why? Why am I doing them?
My response of "I can't help it" wouldn't be accurate. If I am aware of what I am doing, then I can stop myself. What happens to me is a fixation on the feeling the chewing produces. It is somewhat stimulating to feel the skin being bitten off. It doesn't hurt when I am doing it. However, the results often produce a lot of pain that lasts for days and sometimes over a week. I don't like the way my fingers look or the feel of my inner cheeks when it simulates little holes in my inner mouth lining. I think that the behavior I describe is known to many. Anyone that has nervous habits or suffers from OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) knows that what we do doesn't make sense but it somehow soothes us when we are feeling nervous or need something calming.
The vertigo I experienced was not so pleasant. I have never been high, drunk, spaced out on drugs...anything like that (I know...a dying breed!). I can only imagine what one feels when they describe "flying" while experiencing a drug's impact. My vertigo occurred with or without movement on my part. I could be sitting at my desk and the room would start making fractals before my eyes. If I tried to walk, I would swagger as if drunk. I often had to stop and wait for the "roller coaster" rush to subside. This vertigo kicked in once I had cut my pill to 20 mg. This was around the 3rd week of decreased SSRI stimulation.
Sleeping became difficult as well and I still haven't felt well rested since decreasing my dosage. I woke up quite a bit in the night and I have had dreams that could beat out any Steven King novel in absurdity or gore.
I do want to say, that now... having been SSRI free for a month, I have the most clarity in my thoughts that I have had since I was in college. I am able to control my rages without medication and while I still cry at things that puzzle people, I find I feel my emotions and can understand them more clearly than I was able to before.
I don't know if my physical ailments from fibro and neuropathy were calmed by my SSRI meds or not. Those two ailments have become active with many painful rampages on my body. I feel like I carry a brick between my shoulders all the time and I find any sleeping position to be uncomfortable.
So, did I do the right thing? I believe...yes. I feel good mentally. I don't feel clouded anymore. If someone says or does something that is irritating or angers me, I can now approach them and speak to them candidly about what happened. Before, on medication, I felt it was okay to brush my anxiety aside and hope that it "disappeared" without addressing the issue.
I still don't like confrontation but I realize that it is how I confront that will determine a successful resolution or not. Maybe my age has something to do with it too. I just don't care! I don't care what people think of me. I don't care if they think I look good or not. I don't care if they disagree with my "out there" personality and the fact that I speak my opinion or that I am always willing to put myself in the line of fire for others. I don't care if men find me sexy or attractive; although, it would be nice to be worshiped! lol I am at a place in my life where I finally get "it". That my happiness is solely dependent on how I choose to live my life. That I can't wait around for someone else to make me feel complete and satisfied. I have to do that for myself; and I certainly cannot give credit to a little "happy" pill for allowing me to figure that out.
One Step At A Time
Each and every day will be a new adventure for me. One that will contain physical pain that I will have to learn how to handle. One that will be emotionally challenging for me; but not any more challenging than I can accept and learn from. Each day will bring me choices and whatever I choose, will determine my outlook.
With or without medication, life is difficult. The only people we have complete control over are ourselves. I found this to be most true when raising teenagers! As much as we want to "teach" others through our experiences, the sad truth is that they will have to fail and fall flat on their face before they too can understand what our cries of "watch out" mean.
In no way am I denouncing the use of SSRI medication. I would not have been able to navigate the prior years without the help of my medication. I like to think that the medication was the means to the end. The means to show me what "normal" felt like. That there really isn't anything normal. My insecurities and my anxiety stemmed from my inability to have confidence in myself. I have a lot of "skeletons" that I have shoved into the back of my cognizance and feared allowing them to rear their heads. I am slowly allowing memories and pain to escape in a controlled way. If I see myself becoming too stressed, I can stop and regroup. The medications allowed me that practice. I could view control and how to handle unpleasant situations from the inside out.
I hope that anyone that makes the decision to become SSRI free will first research and then find a physician that understands this need of yours. Mine unfortunately is not a holistic type of doctor and admitted to only knowing how to prescribe drugs to cover up symptoms. This journey I have taken has taken years actually, not just the couple of months it took to become SSRI free.
I highly advocate therapy for anyone that is caught in a funk of any kind. We often don't give enough credit to the healthiness of "spilling our guts out" to someone that actually listens. Most times, we choose to offer advice to people who are really in need of talking. I am learning that listening is much more powerful. Try to be a listener too.
Here's to a life full of emotions that I can feel! Here's to a life filled with joy, sorrow, happiness, sadness, accomplishments and defeat. Whatever comes my way, I now realize that I have to accept it first. Analyze it. Choose how to deal with it. Move on.
Mad in America
This organization has a lot of members; all of whom have been "changed" by the use of medication but have also been "changed" again through stopping the use of them. Interesting and helpful as well.
I am hoping...no PRAYING and keeping the good faith that my 50's will become my years of finally "figuring it out"! I've spent a life time catering to the opinions and directives given by others on how I should live my life, what I should do with my life and how I should think about things.
I need to live with my decisions and the consequences of them. With a bit of trepidation, lots of curiosity and a new found flair for discovery; here I go!