Let’s talk about antidepressants…

Whether or not you should take antidepressants should be your choice. Antidepressants are drugs and they will have effects on your physical and mental wellbeing. This should not be a treatment that you agree to lightly. However it is difficult to know how medication will affect you if you haven’t taken any before.

I have been on antidepressants for 18 months. Actually I can now proudly say that I was on antidepressants for 15 months as at the time of writing I have been off medication for 7 days J. Getting off the meds need to be handled carefully, ideally with the support of the doctor who subscribed them to you in the first place. This turned out not to be as easy as I thought, which gave me the idea of writing this post, but this is getting ahead of ourselves.

Let’s start at the beginning, i.e. when you get on the meds.

Starting antidepressants

The first thing you should do is look at the side effects list on the leaflet of the antidepressants you are being offered and make up your own mind as to whether you want to take the risk or not. Personally I was taking Citalopram which is a very common antidepressant in the UK and here are the known possible side effects.

When the side effects are so bad that you have to stop taking the tablets and see your doctor…

Uncommon side effects

  • Mania
  • Inability to urinate

Rare side effects

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling generally unwell
  • Fever
  • Itching
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Light coloured bowel motions
  • Dark coloured urine
  • Seizure
  • Heavy bleeding or bleeding of the gut or rectum

Thoughts of suicide and worsening of your depression or anxiety disorder

When the side effects are deemed acceptable…

Very common

  • Drowsiness, sleep problems or difficulty sleeping
  • Headache
  • Feeling sick
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased sweating
  • A feeling of weakness

Common

  • Weight loss, lack of appetite
  • Memory loss, difficulty concentrating
  • Strange dreams
  • Feeling anxious, feeling confused
  • Decreased sexual drive
  • Feeling agitated, nervous
  • Migraine
  • Fast, irregular heartbeats or thumping in your chest (palpitations)
  • Tingling or pins and needles
  • Shaking
  • Dizziness
  • Attention difficulties
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Itchy runny nose
  • Indigestion, stomach pain, discomfort
  • Vomiting
  • Wind
  • Increased saliva
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Ichty skin
  • Muscle pain, joint pain
  • Impaired sexual function in males
  • Abnormal orgasm in females
  • Tiredness, yawning

Uncommon

  • Increased appetite
  • Increased weight
  • Feeling high
  • Increased sexual drive
  • Aggression
  • Depersonalisation
  • Hallucinations
  • Fainting
  • Dilated pupils
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Sensitivity of the skin to light
  • Hives
  • Rash
  • Hair loss
  • Reddish spots on kin
  • Heavy periods
  • Swelling due to excessive fluid in the body

Rare

  • Changes in taste
  • Uncontrollable twitching, jerking or writhing body movements or other movement disorders
  • Feeling generally unwell
  • Coughing
  • Decreased levels of sodium in the blood

How it was for me

Hopefully you won’t get all of the above. Personally I ‘only’ got the following:

  • Thoughts of suicide and worsening of your depression or anxiety disorder
  • Drowsiness, sleep problems or difficulty sleeping
  • Headache
  • Feeling sick
  • Memory loss, difficulty concentrating
  • Strange dreams
  • Feeling anxious, feeling confused
  • Dizziness
  • Attention difficulties
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased weight

And according to the leaflet these side effects were only meant to last a couple of weeks. They lasted a month. Within a week of starting antidepressants I found myself at the top of a very high building in London considering whether I should jump on that day or the next. I was feeling low before I got on the meds but not that low.

I found out later on that this is a well-known side effect of antidepressants and that on the continent they counter it by giving you anti-anxiety medication for the first few weeks to prevent suicide attempts. I wished the NHS knew about this too!

Also some of the side effects lasted much longer than a few weeks. Some of them stayed with me for the whole 18 months, such as memory loss, difficulty concentrating and drowsiness.

I am very much looking forward to no longer feeling suddenly sleepy when I am driving now I am off the meds Smile.

What you can do about it

The only thing you can do if you decide to go with this treatment is to have a perfect routine!

By taking antidepressants you are stressing your body with aggressive chemicals, hence the potential side effects. The only thing you can do to counter them is to treat your body like a temple: eat heathy, get plenty of sleep, exercise and avoid further aggressions to your system such as smoking, drinking alcohol and caffeine. And my personal favourite: treat yourself with regular massages and spa breaks.

And all these things will help you feel better anyway (see https://memyhealthandi.org/how-to-fight-depression/) so it’s a double win Smile.

Being on antidepressants

The medical consensus was that the fastest way to get better was to follow a therapy and take antidepressants at the same time. The reasoning behind this is that antidepressants are supposed to level out your emotions. Your highs and lows are meant to be less intense. I do insist on this last statement; your highs and lows will not disappear; they will just be less strong. Also the amount of medication you are given will impact the degree of intensity of your emotions.

Personally I did not feel the difference until I started reducing the dose I was taking towards the end of the treatment. Indeed during the treatment I often wondered whether the therapy and the medication were working at all as the suicidal thoughts kept coming back.

It is when I started reducing the meds, which I did over a 3 months period in agreement with my GP, that I noticed a return of certain emotions that I had become a master of. I suddenly became a lot less chilled that I had gotten used to and the little things in life started getting to me when I had absolutely not cared about them for the last year or so.

So yes, the medication had been working. And that just in itself is quite scary. In what state would I have been if I had continued to refuse antidepressants like I had always done? I would rather not think about it.

Now antidepressants on their own will not get you far on the road to recovering from depression. They are not a cure; they are a crutch to help you walk while you are doing your physiotherapy to get your leg back to full strength.

At some point you are going to need to do the hard work and deal with whatever has triggered the depression in the first place.

The traditional way to do this is therapy. This is not the only way. And actually it is the slowest way to deal with depression. I have found that using hypnosis therapy and NLP techniques can help you get back on your feet much faster. But this is a discussion for another day.

So the bottom line is: if you want to get off the meds quickly, hurry up and deal with the real issue as quickly as possible.

Stopping antidepressants

We have now established that antidepressants are strong drugs that will affect your physical and mental wellbeing. The longer you stay on them, the more addicted you will be. And like with any drug, when you stop taking it, there is a period where you will suffer withdrawal symptoms while your body is detoxing.

And we are back to a nice long list of potential withdrawals symptoms

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Dizziness
  • Vivid dreams
  • Electric shocks / head zaps
  • Insomnia
  • Flu like symptoms

I suffered all of them except for suicidal thoughts and head zaps. And I had extra ones (as otherwise it wouldn’t be fun):

  • Difficulty to focus
  • The return of emotions

Now the good news this time is that those horrible withdrawal symptoms only lasted a week. Given what had happened when I started the antidepressants I had braced myself for another horrible month but was happily surprised when I started feeling better towards the end of the first week of being meds-free.

What you can do about it

Hopefully you will be in much better shape by the time you get off the meds compared to when you started them. That in itself should mean that the withdrawal symptoms should be less painful that the side effects you suffered when you started the antidepressants.

Stop the medications gradually

This goes without saying, you should follow the advice of your doctor as to when to stop the medication and how to do it. This is a gradual process. In the same way that you probably started on a low dose which was gradually increased, you need to decrease the dose in the same way.

If you are reducing the meds gradually you will feel various symptoms as each stage. For me the toughest was the last stage, when I stopped taking a daily dose. It seems logical at some point you will stop taking meds all together. However, another thing I wished the NHS had known when I discuss getting off antidepressants with my GP, over on the continent, they have a trick to ease this last stage. You add another stage: you take a tablet every over day instead of going cold turkey.

Have a perfect routine

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the stronger your routine, the less you will suffer from withdrawal symptoms. It’s basic: if you have been nurturing your body and treating it with the respect and love it deserves, it will be fitter to fight the changes you are putting it through by stopping to take a strong drug on a daily basis.

Detox – be kind to your body

Help your body get rid of the chemicals by doing a detox. Personably I found one that worked pretty well for me on Bembu: https://bembu.com/natural-ways-to-detox-your-body

Brace yourself

It will be tough but you will feel so much better for it afterwards that it is worth the ride. So brace yourself, get ready for it mentally and physically by following the tips above and it will be fine. Welcome back to the world of you being 100% you Smile.

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