So why are you coming off your meds?

27 Sep

There are people who think I shouldn’t talk about my mental health on here; in real life, and online, I’m told it’s ‘unprofessional’, and might make you, the reader, feel uncomfortable or that you can’t relate to me. I’m not here to argue that people feeling uncomfortable about discussing mental health issues is a stigma we need to get rid of, don’t worry.

However, this blog is about my creative process, and my mental health is absolutely related to this. If you don’t want to read mental health stuff, that’s fine, just stop reading now.

I’ve been trying to live better for the last year – it’s gone OK. I’m not smoking any more, not drinking as much, and my eating has settled into a pattern. I break these rules, I’d say, once a month – on these days I literally don’t know what else to do with myself, and I might eat 5 donuts, drink a bottle of port, or both. I’m not proud of this, I’m just telling you so we have a baseline.

I went and had a regular check-in with the nurse, and my blood pressure was high, high enough for me to be medicated if it continued, so I had to go and see the GP. He also checked my BP and it was still high. Turns out my anti-depressants raise blood pressure, and after five years they’re really taking their toll.

I’ve always said I’m happy to stay on anti-depressants, and am not ashamed to have to take tablets daily for the rest of my life. However, taking another tablet to counteract the effects of them isn’t something I relish, and being overweight affects my blood pressure enough without extra problems.

My medication, Venlafaxine, I don’t mind saying, is a bitch. It’s an SNRI, so unlike Prozac (arguably the most well-known AD, and an SSRI) it works on two neurotransmitters; norepinephrine as well as serotonin. This means that withdrawal is a nightmare. When I started taking it, I wasn’t told this, or if I was, I don’t remember. I spent a lot of December 2008 in a daze, either in bed, or crying.

I’d already experienced withdrawal symptoms just from missing one dose – this is due to its incredibly short half-life (i.e. it doesn’t stay in your system very long) so I wasn’t really looking forward to it. The doctor halved my dose to lessen the withdrawal, but I still got discontinuation syndrome.

I’d say that some days of discontinuation syndrome are actually worse than my depression ever was. Brain zaps in particular are, to put it frankly, fucking awful. If you want to see a full list of symptoms, all of which I’ve had, then follow that link above, but I’m not here to bitch about how bad the symptoms are.

Six weeks on half dose, and I’m feeling good – so, time for my check-up, and he gave me a choice. I could either half my medication again, and then discontinue in a month, or just discontinue them now – in other words, feel as bad as the last month for another couple of months, or feel even worse, but get it all over and done within a month.

That’s not much of a choice, but I went for just not taking them any more. There were a few factors behind this

1. It’s my birthday in about a month, and I’d like to feel well enough to go out

2. I’m out of tablets and don’t really want to pay for another prescription

3. I just want to be done with it all and start FEELING again – this is what I want to talk about in more detail

If you’ve never taken anti-depressants, don’t know anyone who has, or usually don’t read blogs about mental health, let me explain something. Anti-depressants aren’t ‘happy pills’. They don’t simply make you happier. If they did, then everyone would take them.

Depression is caused (it is believed) by a lack of serotonin in the brain. So what SSRIs do, basically, is keep the serotonin released by your brain IN your brain. If you’re not depressed and you take anti-depressants, it won’t create more serotonin, you just might end up with too much serotonin in your brain, and ultimately serotonin syndrome. (Before you say anything, I do know that what they do is a lot more complicated than this – I did neuropsychology at university – but it’s dull, and you can find out online if you want to know in more detail)

SNRIs, as you might imagine, keep serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain for longer, and have basically the same outcome – you no longer really feel highs or lows.

I know this sounds strange, but everything elicits a flatline response. After about three months on them, I stopped feeling so low, which was brilliant. After months of crying at everything and feeling like I didn’t want to live any more, I started to feel some nice feelings.

As your brain becomes used to SNRIs, you start to level out, and instead of see-sawing between the occasional low (e.g. 1 out of 10) and some uncomfortable highs (10/10) about ridiculous things, everything elicits a response which varies only from 4 to 6.

This is a relief for a while; when someone tells you they’re pregnant, instead of feeling rage that it’s not you, you can just show genuine pleasure. When an advert for Oxfam comes on the telly, you can feel a bit sorry for them, maybe donate a tenner, and then get on with your life, instead of sobbing uncontrollably and trying to give them all your money.

But then it becomes monotonous. You get some genuinely awesome news, and you smile, but you don’t feel that excited, or you get some truly awful news about a friend, and you’re a bit sad, but not enough. None of it is enough.

So that’s why I decided to try going without medication – I want to feel dizzying highs again, I want to be genuinely excited about things. Now and then when I’ve accidently missed a dose I’ve seen a glimpse of what I’ve been missing – something will make me really cry on TV, or I’ll have a giggling fit at Jimmy Fallon. Yesterday I was laughing so much at the Tumblr which collates bad estate agent photos that I couldn’t stop my mouth twitching – it was weird, but I was excited by it.

The last six weeks, I’ve also been more creatively sparked than I have in a while, and I’m sure it’s not a coincidence. In two weeks time I have another appointment, but fingers crossed I can get through this, and enjoy my new emotions. Wish me luck!

4 Responses to “So why are you coming off your meds?”

  1. David Nelson 27/09/2013 at 11:14 am #

    This is an excellent article. I also use Venlafaxine and have the same “flat-line” reaction that you mentioned. I too miss the highs. I told my psychiatrist my goal this year was to get off the medication. He said there is over a 90% chance of relapse. I liked your writing style- informative and too the point. Plus, it was accurate. I shall re-tweet this. Thanks. David www;

  2. Phillippa peice 27/09/2013 at 1:03 pm #

    Hey Chloe
    Good luck with it all xxx I’m back in my bad place, bereavement counselling has been suggested. Going to give it a go soon. Take care xxx

  3. tillymint 27/09/2013 at 3:11 pm #

    Totally relate to this. The flatlining is what is making me reduce my meds at the mo. 8 yrs of ‘Oh? That’s nice’ or ‘Oh? That’s bad’ is enough. I have a small child here and I want to be able to enjoy him. I have to stay on a maintenance dose to keep the OCD in check, but not too horrendoys yet. Couple of wobbles, but back on track.

    I’m gtateful that you write posts like this

  4. Julie Parker 11/02/2015 at 10:06 am #

    I have been taking Venlafaxine for a few years and I feel that it makes it harder for me to think and reason clearly. I have a lack of enthusiasm. Days go past, and I wonder what I’ve achieved. (Usually nothing). I think the tablets also made me put on more weight.

    I have experienced the dreaded brain zaps before when I was late getting a new prescription. My GP never warned me that this drug had withdrawal problems.

    I decided to break my tablets in half. Haven’t seen the GP about this, because I hate going. After about 3 weeks, no brain zaps, but lots of headaches and a general feeling that every task is too overwhelming to start. I sleep a lot during the day. Thanks for writing about this subject. It is nice to feel that we are not alone.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: