I was prescribed Sertraline (Zoloft) in 1998 when I had postnatal depression. I was told to take it for a year to 18 months. I went from deep depression/anxiety to euphoria in the space of about two weeks, I felt pretty damned fantastic, there was nothing I couldn’t handle. As time went on I continued to feel well but my emotions were dampened down, so I was functioning well, no depression, but no “joy” either. After a few months of feeling well I decided I didn’t want to be on Sertraline anymore, didn’t read the patient information leaflet or talk to a doctor, not that that would have helped anyway. I just stopped taking them. My head felt terrible, it began to feel water logged, if I turned my head there was a time lag between my eye balls catching up with the fact that my head had turned, so dizzy, gradually intense sadness would kick in, really really intense sadness and anxiety, oh the anxiety, pumping adrenaline and nerves shot to bits. I went back on the Sertraline.
The doctor told me to do the alternate day thing, alternate days for a fortnight,then every third day for a fortnight, then one tablet a week, I did this various times over the next few years to no avail. I tried a pill cutter and halving the tablet, it wouldn’t break down easily without crumbling so that was unsuccessful. Every time I tried something, I ended up in worse shape than the time before, it was all getting steadily worse. I tried meditation, healing, exercise, cognitive behavioural therapy, counselling, fish oil capsules, NOTHING touched it. I pressured my surgery to refer me to a psychiatrist for advice,but the psychiatrist had no clue and could only recommend switching to another drug. I did switch to Citalopram for a while, and Mirtzapine, I felt constant fatigue on Mirtzapine, and then back to Sertraline. Yet another psychiatrist recommended halving my dose of Sertraline and taking diazepam to mitigate the withdrawals, so replace one powerful drug with an even more powerful addictive drug.
This is my description of how withdrawal felt from my blog, I only recently found out that what was happening had a name,akathisia:

“5am and for about the 3rd night in a row I’ve barely slept, I can’t stop the adrenaline pumping round my body, my stomach is tightly knotted, I’ve barely been able to eat properly it makes me feel sick. I’m clammy, sweating and crying and P is trying to reassure me, but he has to go to work. I get up and drag myself through all the motions of the day and making sure boys get to school, I feel like the living dead, I make sure they get fed and make sure they and no one else is aware of what’s going on, I don’t hang around at the school gates. Oh I do kind of tell a few people I’m not really feeling right but I play it down.
The constant adrenaline is tormenting me on the inside and I can’t stop it.It’s been building up over a period of months and I’ve been fighting and fighting the feelings but it seems to have reached a peak of exquisite torture.It’s like being at the top of a roller coaster that never stops. Someone else mentioned birdsong, and it was a funny thing, the torture was worse in the mornings and over the summer months while it was slowly building, birdsong in the morning outside the window had become a kind of torture as well. I had to go to work only 2 days a week and God only knows how I managed it. I had taken
my last Sertraline tablet months ago, and come off it as per the doctors instructions, and now my depression/anxiety was back tenfold to punish me for daring to presume I could stop taking it. I must be wired up wrong, no one else feels like this do they? What is wrong with me? Maybe I really am insane, maybe I just can’t cope with life without my tablets, how come everyone else can cope with life, and I can’t? There must be something fundamentally wrong with me. By now the Orwell Bridge was beginning to look a bit attractive and I just wanted to escape the adrenaline surges torturing me, my nerves were in shreds”.
This was 2003,at the end of 2003 I gave in and went back on the sertraline.

In 2006 I attempted another withdrawal, but at the same time we found ourselves going through a stressful life event, I tried to tough it out but ended up back on the Sertraline again.
So here I was, several years later and no further forward, and not for wont of trying! Everytime I went in a book shop or library I would try and find anything I could about antidepressants and depression, but nothing really enlightened me. I rummaged around on the internet but couldn’t find the answers. Until one day, I was browsing around Waterstones, and “Coming off Antidepressants” by Joseph Glenmullen jumped out at me, I read it avidly, and discovered TAPERING!!! But, all the examples in the book referred to liquid Seroxat or Prozac, I was really upset to find Sertraline was not available in liquid form. Armed with my new information about the simple concept of tapering, further digging led me to Dr Healy’s protocol of switching to the equivalent dose of liquid Prozac. These two pieces of information became my secret hope, I latched onto them. I decided to take a leap of faith and switch to liquid Prozac. At the beginning of 2007 I marked up my calendar with a schedule, I was going to go down from 5ml to 4.90ml the first week, 4.80ml the next week and so on, as my sons would say “epic fail”. By about mid February the nightmare was unfolding again and I had to give in and go back to the top of my Prozac dose, I was devastated.
Still I hadn’t given up hope, P was sympathetic but he couldn’t understand why I didn’t just give it up and accept I “needed” the drugs like a diabetic needs insulin. After lots more research, and P having interesting and enlightening conversations with a client who was a pharmacist about my problem, I started my taper again in May 2008, this time much much slower and here I am four years later down to 1ml liquid Prozac and still sucessfully tapering. It has needed a lot of self-discipline. I kept this blog/diary of my progress; I’ve been amazed to meet a few others who have been tapering longer than me. Nowadays my withdrawals are fairly benign, but I still feel a bit scarred from the experience,the akathisia has left me still feeling like my nerves are quite raw and very close to the surface but I can live with that now.
There is a huge assumption that these drugs are benign and harmless, they are not; they can cause extreme agitation and internal torture. They are dished out like smarties and people left to deal with the results. Starting them is like playing a game of Russian Roulette, you might be a lucky one who can take them and come off them with ease, or you might not. My understanding was that they were meant to be taken for only a year or so after you feel “well” but many many people are stuck on them for years or forever, I know many people who’ve given up hope of coming off SSRI’s and I hear many people say “oh I’ll be on these the rest of my life”. There is NO support or advice in place through doctors or psychiatrists on how to taper safely off the drugs.....if anyone does find any help in the UK, please let me know, although it’s a bit too late for me now as I’ve almost done it myself, but I know a lot of other people who might like to know!

Thursday, 17 January 2013

There IS light at the end of the tunnel - and no I don't think it's an oncoming freight train.

My younger son who takes an interest in this blog came up with the heading for this blog post, and his sense of humour is a bit of a worry.

Oct/Nov/Dec saw me unravelling in a nightmare way, the worst things were the fairly severe internal anxiety and adrenaline surges, and resultant insomnia, I’m a bit scared to publish this but in the interests of an honest log of my progress here goes, at my lowest points, a few nights saw me self medicating with tamezapam and whisky, either one, or the other or both together, 2 or 3 hours of total oblivion even with a hangover the next day was slightly better than 7/8 hours of sleepless anxiety with someone snoring beside me, only slightly better and it was the bit of oblivion I was after. The tamezapam has virtually all gone now and I won't get anymore and I've abandoned the whisky, especially after reading alcohol is no good for damaged nervous systems anyway.

I also had a lightbulb moment about a multivitamin I was taking, I'd read that too many B vitamins can be aggravating to messed up nervous systems so I looked at my Holland and Barret vitamin bottle (other brands are available) and discovered that I was taking over 100% of the RDA, so I ditched them and just sticking with the high EPA fish oil capsules and a healthy diet.

Mid December I realised I’d got to guesstimate the best dose of Prozac and stick to it for better or worse, messing about with the dose was sending my nervous system into constant turmoil. Just before Christmas I could feel myself starting to come out the other side, somewhat, the internal anxiety, dread and adrenaline surges subsided, but knew I still had a little way to go to get stable again. There was a fair bit of “faking it to make it” through December, in other words I had to get a grip and force myself through the motions of whatever I had to do on any given day, whether it was work, working with P or Christmassy preparations, but "going through the motions" is grim.

Now into January, I can feel myself feeling more like my old self again, my normal sleep pattern is coming back, not 100%, still getting odd bad nights but definite improvements and feeling more normal, whatever that is, "normal is a setting on a washing machine" comes to mind.

At the moment, I just want to relish feeling “normal” for a few or even many months, I am torn between feeling desperate to get off this last 1ml of medicine drug poison, and terrified to rock the boat and do anything about it.... ever.

As an aside, a colleague at work asked me the other week, is there no help or withdrawal specialists on the NHS? really?!?! Yes really!!

I am grateful to P for being my rock, and to Alto Strata and other friends at Surviving Antidepressants, and my nurse friend, for helping me untangle this and work out the best dose to be on.


Lori B said...

Hi Sheila,

Love hearing this news and I'm so happy you're 'making it through'.

I had the same crap withdrawing from benzos. I had this moment (very short-lived) about 3 months (of hell) after quiting cold turkey - and I CLUNG to it. I knew in my heart that that moment would get longer and longer if I persisted. It did.

Keep it up love.

The way out is the way through.

Lori B

SMH said...

Thank you for your encouraging coment Lori!