I’m Going To Be On Anti-Depressants Forever – And That’s Okay

antidepressantsI had been in Paris for less than four days, when I found myself curled around the toilet. I was huddled against it as if I were trying to gain warmth from the cold. My legs encircled the bottom like a make-shift Christmas wreath that someone forgot to decorate, and I gasped for air.

I had been sick all day. I thought I was hungover, but that didn’t make sense. I chalked it up to a flu I picked up on the plane, but with the shaking, and inability to hold a glass, it seemed like something worse. I emailed my esteemed colleagues at TheGloss, told them I was sick and they should find someone to cover for me. And so I laid there, shaking, my stomach burning; throwing up bile and shitting (pardon this part) out my insides like nothing I’d seen since a bad attack of food poisoning. I realized France doesn’t have 911, and not knowing the French equivalent, I assumed I would die there on the floor and my parents wouldn’t find out until weeks later. I imagined it would be Jennifer who would tell them when I didn’t show up on the site for days; I thought it was the end.

When I was finally able to pull myself from the floor, I realized I hadn’t taken my anti-depressant that day. I spilled the pills onto the bureau and counted them out (since I’m in Paris and insurance only allows a certain amount, I have them down to an exact number.) I had missed the past three days.

I never miss taking my pills; it’s part of my daily routine. No matter what time I get up; I go to the loo, stop at the sink and take them. But my routine had been disrupted. I had gotten up too late the day I was supposed to head to JFK, I had been wide awake the whole flight here, including the layover in Reykjavík, and when I finally reached Paris, I made my way, sleepily, to the apartment where I’m staying, and passed out.

I didn’t wake until the next day, Paris time, but it was late in the afternoon. I immediately got to work on what I had to do, and alerted my friends and family that I had arrived safely. Then I got sick.

It was a sickness that I had had before, but it had been so long that I couldn’t place it. So, as I said, I dismissed it as having drank too much the night before (four glasses of wine wouldn’t do it), or a flu I picked up. But once I counted the pills, the truth was clear: it was withdrawal.

In many occasions in my life, I have gone off my anti-depressants, but only so I could get on another one. It was a weaning process. I have also kicked my body’s addiction to Xanax; I know what it feels like, I’ve been there. But this was wrecking a havoc on my body that I didn’t even know possible. I had given up – unconsciously – the two meds that keep me alive and stable, cold turkey, and my body wasn’t having it.

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    • alexandra

      Not everyone does have to be on them forever! However, given the severity of your troubles with mental health, it does sound like you are a lifer ): but there’s nothing wrong with that. Medicine is meant to augment lives that would have otherwise been subpar without it. You have accomplished a lot in your life. I’m sorry you have to be on meds but I hope they continue to help.

    • alexandra

      Not everyone does have to be on them forever! However, given the severity of your troubles with mental health, it does sound like you are a lifer ): but there’s nothing wrong with that. Medicine is meant to augment lives that would have otherwise been subpar without it. You have accomplished a lot in your life. I’m sorry you have to be on meds but I hope they continue to help.

    • Amber

      I finally just got off my anti-depressant after taking it for 5 years. Thankfully no withdrawal on this one because it had stopped working for me a while back. That being said, getting off effexor 5 years ago after only a 6 month period on it was an absolute nightmare so I was nervous doing the cold-turkey method. I always thought I’d be a lifer too. I may end up trying them again down the line if I need it but now I’m okay with that. I hope they are helping you.

      • Amanda Chatel

        When I was weaned off Effexor and put on Pristiq, although it was all dosed out by my doctor, it really was bad. Effexor is the absolute worst one to kick.

      • lucygoosey74

        That sucks, I definitely know the feeling. My change from Effexor to Pristiq was actually the smoothest med change I’ve ever had, but of course I was terrified because I’ve had some horrendous experiences with med changes, such as the time they tried to switch me from Seroquel to Abilify..I can’t even explain the feeling, I think Hunter S. Thompson says it best when he writes about “The Fear”. I felt like I had the gas pedal and the brakes jammed on at the same time. I had to go crawling back to Seroquel which I did not want to be on because of all the weight it made me gain, and I’m not talking about a few pounds..try 40 lbs! I finally came to the conclusion that I’d rather be a little on the chunky side than be bat shit crazy in the hospital. Ours is not an easy illness to live with and I wish you love and luck and never, I mean NEVER EVER forget that you are not alone in this!

      • Ms. Pants

        And this right here– this is why i still take two orange pills a day that do fuckall for me.

      • nocebo3

        I’ve been on Effexor for several years. It’s worked the best out of the numerous I’ve tried since I was a teenager. But if I miss a dose or two, I fall into a void I can hardly describe. Not really any physical symptoms, but… something like an abyss. Hopeless and hysterical. What I would be without meds, times 100.
        I’d love to not depend on Effexor anymore, but Pristiq made me extremely fatigued, to the point where even sitting and watching television was exhausting. So for now, Effexor is what keeps me going.

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/SirWinstoneChurchill Winston Blake
      • SamsMom

        I love how open everyone is on here with their mental health or lack of! I also took effexor for over 2 years and had the WORSE withdrawals. Brain zaps!!! Literally like getting electricuted in the brain every 20 seconds! After about a week and a few acupuncture sessions I was FREE! I will never use that medication again…..lesson learned!

    • Tania

      The first time I tried anti-anxiety meds for my social anxiety, it was awful. I have never, before or since, felt suicidal from the depression that often accompanies my anxiety, but while on them, I felt nothing. Not happy, not sad, not anxious. I felt empty, and like there was nothing to lose. So I stopped taking them, and I’ve been terrified of feeling that way again ever since. Even though I’ve been struggling for almost two years with getting out of bed and everything that goes along with that, I’ve been avoiding medication because I’m more afraid of being empty than I am of crying for hours every day.

      So the fact that you are brave enough to keep working on feeling better, even knowing that something might make you feel worse instead of better, makes me respect you so much. And I already did from your writing.

      • Amanda Chatel

        This comment made my day. Thank you, Tania.

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/SirWinstoneChurchill Winston Blake
      • http://www.facebook.com/CydniiWithTwoEyes Cydnii Wilde Harris

        I started taking Wellbutrin in the Spring of 2010, and felt the exact. same. way. The drugs made me feel crazier than my demons ever did, barnone. The lack of feelings is startling in and of itself. So, I stopped, and swore off all meds, save for adderall, which of course only added to my anxiety, which only furthered my depression.

        I started taking a low dose of Buspirone (?) a couple weeks ago, and I don’t hate it. I might even feel better, actually, which is a surprise to everyone but my doctor. So, this time, I’m just trying to swear off hard and fast rules.

        This isn’t Staples. We don’t get an easy button. We just finger around in the dark until we find the light switch that helps us see a little better. And it sucks, cause there’s actually a thousand switches, which can be overwhelming. And some of the switches are covered in used bubble gum and cheeto dust. And we’re both afraid of the dark, but so used to the abyss that sometimes it feels like less trouble to say “fuck the lights” and stay in the dark, but really, we just gotta start fingering. Sooner or later, we have to start fingering and getting our hands sticky so we can eventually flip the right damn switches, turn on the lights, and wash all the gross shit off our hands.

        It sucks, but honestly, I’d rather feel everything I feel, and know everything I know, than be less of myself any day of the week. Even if it takes me 8 years to finish undergrad cause I didn’t start gingerly fingering til Sophomore year. Even if I’m the oldest girl in my classes at my women’s college. My path is my own, and for all that it’s been, at least I can say it’s never been boring. That’s what would really suck.

        Thanks @amandachatel:disqus If nothing else, I needed some reassurance that I wasn’t alone.

      • Tania

        The part about school – are you me? I know I should try, and I don’t even have the money barrier Americans might have, but I suppose that’s another problem with social anxiety. Being anxious the doctor will judge me for waiting so long. :/

      • http://www.facebook.com/CydniiWithTwoEyes Cydnii Wilde Harris

        “I don’t even have the money barrier American might have” – I might be you. You might be me. We might be each other.

        That’s the worst part sometimes. You’re anxious about your anxiety and depression and whatever else it is you might be dealing with, so you don’t leave the house to see the doctor. Then, you start feeling anxious about how long you’ve waited to get treatment, and that fear keeps you in the house all on its own. Then, suddenly, it’s finals, and you’re fucked.

        It’s a messed up merry-go round and I’m ready to get off the GD sea lion.

      • Psych Student

        I too, was *terrified* that the doctor would judge me. I was afraid that the doctor would think that I was making it up and there wasn’t anything wrong with me. I only went to the doctor because my best friend said that she knew that I was depressed and I needed help. She threated to send another friend down to take me to the doctor (we were all at different colleges). So I finally went. I poured my story out to my doctor who diagnosed me with anxiety and depression and gave me meds. I was then able to go to talk therapy and learned that my fear that other people would judge me so harsly was the anxiety and depression talking, not the truth. If you’re not comfortable going to the doctor for meds, I suggest finding a therapist you like (it may take a few tries, *please* don’t give up) and talking about what’s going on for you.

        I was lucky that the first meds my doctor gave me worked. I realized that I had spend more than a decade depressed because my base-line was just blah. On meds, I found out that my baseline was ah, and ok life’s not so bad. I reached to top dosage for those meds and tried something new – which made me so restless I only made it about three days without being able to hold still before going back and trying something new. I tried a medication one time that turned me into a zombie. I reached top dosages on several different meds. I know, I know, I know, that being on a medication that doesn’t help is disappointing and adds additional depression, but you have to keep trying (kind of like trying to find a good therapist). Not all meds work for all people. For every success story someone has about a particular medication (ex. I currently *swear* by Cymbalta) but I garuntee that there are at least 10 other people who will read this will have horror stories about how much they hate Cymbalta. So just keep trying different meds under the supervision of a doctor. Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself (I know, to an anxious, depressed person, that may not be possible), but try your best not to let still being depressed and anxious be good enough. Keep trying until you find something that works. Good luck!

    • Emily

      Thank you so much for this post, I completely understand how you feel.

    • ktree

      Thank you for this post. I think the hardest thing to accept is not the idea of being on pills forever, but the idea that you can’t change who/what you are – someone who suffers from a chemical imbalance – by outsmarting it, or working harder, or finishing school or whatever. For many people, changing how they eat, or switching birth control, or quitting drinking, can help, and for others it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. It’s hard to come to grips with the fact that you aren’t going to wake up one day and not be depressed/bi-polar/whatever anymore.

    • Colleen

      Every time I read your stuff, I love you even more.

    • Cea

      Don’t refer to yourself as a broken toy! You are not broken; no one is perfect:)

    • Paul

      Hello Amanda: Having been on SSRIs since 1994, I’ve seen and experienced more than I’d wish on the most heinous Nazi. You might want to read “Prozac Backlash” by Dr. Joseph Glenmullen. The drugs no longer work for me, but I take them to keep my doctor happy. I did go off them in 2010 for a year, and unfortunately developed PGAD, which adds another dimension of agony to my ever-present “Hamlet Two-Step”. If I could have my testicles removed to end the pain, I would, but self-surgery ain’t looking too good. I just missed out on being a thalidomide baby as I was born in 1966. Pharmaceutical companies have a long, grim history of using patients as lab animals by putting their wares out on the market, as per Glenmullen’s book. Eventually the class action lawsuits appear. It seems these drugs work via chemical lobotomy on the microscopic level. I’ve had high cholesterol and obesity since starting on them, as well. Just something for your readers to research for themselves.

    • Alli P.

      You basically summed up my inner struggle in a short article. Thank you for articulating this- it is so hard to describe how I need meds to function to family that just don’t get that my brain doesn’t work the same way that their’s does. Maybe sharing this article will help them get that I need pharmaceutical help just so I can be the “normal” that they take for granted.

    • Lrpapotto

      You, so eloquently wrote every thought that filters through my brain. Thank you for writing this and helping me feel a tad less crazy.

    • commentary42

      Oh, good grief – what a ridiculous whine! I thank my lucky stars every single day that I was born in this century and not fifty years ago. Can you imagine what your life would be like without those meds? Every female in my family has or does suffer from depression and apparently it goes back generations. I remember my Grandmother smoking in the dark hour after hour – absolutely miserable. My Mom didn’t get diagnosed until she was in her 60s and once she got on her meds remarked, “I never understood why people smile.” One of my sister when finally treated reported a very strange reaction to her doctor – that she would sometimes find herself laughing at jokes and asked if that was something she should worry about. I also take powerful meds for rheumatoid arthritis. Do I consider myself “broken?” No thanks to those meds I can live my life and joyfully travel all over the world when opportunities arise. People don’t understand RA any better than they do depression – but that is their issue. It most certainly is not mine!

    • Diana

      This is what really terrifies me about seeking help. I know that I should be on antidepressants, and probably antianxiety meds. And maybe antipsychotics, just for good measure. But I don’t want it to be a life-long thing, and I’m afraid that it will be. Fundamentally, I just want to be okay, but I also know that I probably never will be, and I feel like to start on meds would mean that I’m always going to be on them, which in turns means that there will always be something not right about me. I guess I keep hoping that this is something I’m going to grow out of, but it’s been thirteen years now so maybe it’s time to accept that I won’t.

      This article really helped me. I know it can’t be easy to be so open and honest about a subject like this, and I really appreciate that you’ve written this.

      • Psych Student

        I am on both antidepressants and antianxiety meds. They are tremendously helpful. I started on them because I couldn’t function. Then I started talk therapy (as opposed to medication). Disclosure – I am a grad student in clinical psychology so clearly I believe in therapy. The therapy helped a lot. I’ll be honest with you and say that I am still on my meds and don’t know when I’ll get off them and am not currently in therapy because I can’t afford it. But, if you think you need help, please, go talk to a doctor, get on some meds and then find a therapist! Keep in mind that you can therapist shop. If you don’t like the first one, try again. It is your right to seek out a therapist that you click with, one you feel understands you, one you like. Please don’t give up if you don’t like your first therapist. I can’t make promises, but the research indicates that talk therapy can go a long way. If you’re not comfortable with going on meds, but you’re ok enough to get to therapy (which does *not* mean that you don’t have serious problems, it just means you can get out of bed and leave the house, you can be in *tremendous* pain, be suffering in a huge way, and still be capable of making it out of the house and to therapy), you can start talk therapy. Find a therapist who won’t push you into meds you don’t want (find a psychologist with a PsyD, a PhD, or an LCSW, or someone with an MA or MS because these people can’t write perscriptions and may be less likely to push them not a psychiatrist).
        Diana, you deserve to be relaxed and happy. You can achieve that! I believe in you!!!! Seek out a therapist, keep trying until you find someone you like (don’t get stuck with someone you don’t like and don’t get frustrated if the first one or two aren’t a good fit). Good luck sweetie! :)

    • Dana

      Great article – thanks for sharing your story!

    • brittany

      this post brought me a lot of comfort…and then the comments from people who’ve gone off their medications brought me down a notch. I think part of the reason people like me, and maybe the author, feel so conflicted about accepting the reality of being on medication for a long time or forever, is because people who have been off medication and gone off it tend to boast of their experiences, or ‘enlighten’ us to this or that spiritual/medical/psychological insight/book/website/doctor who illuminated the error of their medicated ways, and make those of us who can’t go off our meds feel like there is legitimately something wrong with us. I wish that when people posted honest, authentic words like the ones in this post, that people who don’t believe in pharmaceutical solutions or have otherwise abandoned their own prescription could, for one second, take a step back and understand that every person is their own person, and that we need to do what’s right for us, not just for us but for the people who love us and want to keep loving us, and maybe refrain from preaching.

      thank you for sharing your story, amanda. i think it’s really important. every night i lie in bed berating myself for being on meds, and thinking that tomorrow i’ll stop taking them because that somehow would make me a better person. but i know, also, that it would actually make me an unbearable person. thank you for speaking your truth, it is a truth so many of us share but are ashamed to speak openly about. you are strong and beautiful.

    • Lindsey

      Thank you! Coming to terms with the fact that I will never be ok without meds is so hard. Every few years I convince myself that I am “cured” and all better and can do without meds. The last time, I went cold turkey off Cymbalta. BIG mistake! Brain zaps, extreme nausea/vomiting, hallucinations…. my friends took me to the ER because they didn’t believe it could just be med withdrawal! I will never go back on that one. But I am back on another one, and probably will be for the rest of my life. Sucks, but it’s just how it is.

    • Lo

      Don’t think of yourself as a broken toy! You’re just one of the ones that require batteries. :)

    • Kyky

      Just what I needed to read today as I go back on meds after my 3 d failed attempted at fighting my way thru. I like what you said. I don’t like it, but I accept it. Thanks.

    • Bethenais

      Do we think of diabetics or asthmatics or epiliepics as broken toys? No, they are,like,depression & anxiety — all biologically based medical conditions which all require baseline medical treatments! They are chronic conditions!

      I am an Ivy League trained physician treating these very conditions as a CBT therapist in the South of France where the notion of accepting anxiety and depression as medically and genetically based- is like scientists announcing the concept of the world as round!!
      Acceptance of a medical condition is therapy in itself — Bravo pour cette réalisation!