In my 3rd year at University, I went on meds for anxiety and depression. I needed it, and I was finally ready to accept help. I always struggled with mental health, but antidepressants seemed like admitting defeat; that I couldn’t handle it on my own without help.
Once they began to slowly work, my friends mentioned I was a little more outgoing; that I didn’t stay in my room as much anymore. My partner said that we didn’t fight as much, that i didn’t sweat the small stuff. I felt like myself; only better. I was able to focus on my academics and had the energy to complete assignments with quality. A pleasant surprise from the terrifying fear that once I swallowed that little white pill, I would slowly turn into a walking zombie, a little more dead inside each day, until I lost myself completely.
I started with a low dose (5mg) and then gradually went as high as the doctor felt appropriate for me without risking heart damage (20mg). The stress of grad school applications, final grades, finances, and long distance relationships, frightened me. I couldn’t control my obsessive paranoia, spiraling thoughts, and ‘What if” mentality.
Eventually, everything worked itself out, I got into my #1 grad school choice, I got straight A’s in my final year, I got a huge scholarship from the University, and I visited my partner almost every weekend while in grad school.
At first the 20 mg antidepressants were what I needed, but a couple weeks into grad school taking 20 mg, I started not really caring much about anything. The things that used to bring me joy, didn’t anymore. My beautiful commute to my partner’s house, being intimate, seeing my family together preparing dinner, getting to know new people, writing, and discussing social issues. It all just seemed a little lackluster, like they weren’t as good as before, like I was numb to the enjoyment it gave me once before.
For a few years I stayed on 15 mg and it seemed to be the perfect amount. 10 mg, I would start panicking about things I couldn’t control, drain my partner of energy by vocalizing every anxious thought I had, and be angry at myself for not being able to be normal. But 15 mg was perfect, it worked for me, and I felt good.
Last month, I forgot to take my antidepressants, 2 days in a row. Then I went away for the weekend and forgot to bring them with me. 5 days. Then, I thought it was too late to restart so I missed 8 days. It made me think, I’ve been feeling okay for the past 2 years, maybe it’s time to come off them? I have a great job now, and I’m happy.
10 days. I didn’t feel any different. Maybe I really didn’t need them anymore.
14 days. I felt delighted and proud of myself that I was able to come off my meds; cold turkey without any side effects. That I wasn’t reliant on my Cipralex. I felt I was healed.
20 days. I began to lose a little weight, my sex drive came back screaming for attention, I was able to manage my stress without it.
On the 24st day, it hit me.
First, came the headaches. The painful headaches. All day. Every day. From the moment I woke up, to the moment I fell asleep, a dull thumping pain on my head. As if someone was trying to knock common sense into me with a brick.
Second, came my inability to focus. I would zone out, not remembering what I was thinking, driving to work became a blur, I wouldn’t remember a single song I listened to on the way. I couldn’t focus on work. If I was lucky, I dragged a brush through my hair, but most days it went up in a deceptive bun to hide my knots and tangles.
Third, came the fighting with my partner. Taking out my frustrations on him. Apologizing. Doing it again. Hating myself a little more each time I hurt my best friend.
Fourth, and possibly the most important to acknowledge, came the disappointment in myself.
I failed to stay off my antidepressants.
Yes, I didn’t do it correctly. Fine. I didn’t have a family doctor to talk to either. I was so frustrated with myself. I’ve always been very strong and able to overcome. But, I felt like I peeked under a band aid I’ve had on my wounds for 4 years, only to see that nothing has healed. Nothing got better in 4 years. I’ve always felt at war with my mind, but this time I went through a lot emotions of defeat.
So the other day, I took a 10 mg pill. I’m back on my meds. I know I will go through all the symptoms of going back on the meds, but I think it’s the right choice for me right now.
After a long time of self-reflection, I’m beginning to change my perspective on my experience. I didn’t fail. I wasn’t defeated. There’s nothing wrong with taking medication, and I shouldn’t be so unkind to myself. This flawed thinking only reproduces the stigma for other people. It’s complicated, when it’s you. How to balance your own feelings of defeat towards your mental health, when you would never think that of someone else.
We’re always hardest on ourselves. I had to keep reminding myself of that, when I start to doubt myself.
This is my roller coaster ride with a single medication, and I suppose there is a certain respect to be given to them.
If you have learned anything from my mistakes, do not quit your antidepressants all at once.