Learning to Live Without Antidepressants
Posted by dirkgently1066
20th Apr 2017

Just over a year ago I made the decision to go back onto antidepressants.

Having left therapy, I had thought that my reliance on medication to manage my mental health was behind me and in part, this felt like a regression. However I took consolation from the fact that this was a decision of my own making following a realisation that I needed additional support.

A year on, I have made the decision to come back off the medication, for reasons I will explore. So, what lessons have been learnt?

It is worth bearing in mind that antidepressants (or SSRIs) are a powerful medication. Like all medicines, as well as the many benefits, they come with a list of potential side effects that most of us ignore but sometimes become relevant.

I took them primarily to help manage my anxiety. They helped to lift and stabilise my mood and generally speaking, I considered myself to feel better and more balanced than I had prior to taking them.

On the other hand, the side effects were severe. Principally I was hit by extreme tiredness that caused associated symptoms. I started on Citalopram before moving to Sertraline and then Fluoxetine, ultimately doubling my dose. Regardless, the exhaustion remained and became predominant.

Tiredness is a difficult one to convey properly. This isn’t the tiredness of lack of sleep. Indeed given the opportunity (ha!) I would sleep for hours. It became far more permeating such that it felt like a real effort to move, my limbs needing to be almost dragged around. My eyes felt constantly tired and heavy, simply wanting to be closed whilst my brain felt like it was operating in a dense fog. Whilst I tried to maintain an outward appearance of joviality, which fairly reflected my overall mood, internally I began to feel detached.

I began to rely on caffeine and glucose drinks, justifying the eating of sweets or chocolate on the basis that I needed an energy (read: sugar) boost. Having lost over a stone in weight in the previous 6 months, I piled the pounds back on, my appetite increasing whilst my reduced energy levels made it nearly impossible to maintain the same exercise regime I had previously so enjoyed.

Wondering if there was something more at play I sought blood tests, which revealed no underlying condition. With my eyes so tired I went back to the optician wondering if there had been a deterioration to my sight, only to find my prescription virtually unchanged.

And so I find myself at a crossroads. The tablets have undoubtedly improved my overall mood but at the cost of weight gain and energy. This in turn has started to gradually pull my mood back down. I had a choice therefore; accept these side effects as part of the medication in return for stable mood or risk a deterioration or fluctuation of mood in exchange, hopefully, for renewed energy and a return to my healthy living lifestyle.

There is no wrong answer here but my own determination is that I cannot continue as I am. The benefit of the various treatments and experiences I have had afford me the confidence to take control of my recovery. Antidepressants can be an important part of mental health treatment but they are not a panacea by any means and should be taken in the wider context of seeking to address the underlying issues. In effect, they allow me breathing room, slowing the carousel of life down just enough that I stand a fighting chance of getting my bearings. Once done, it is then up to me to implement the daily changes to my thoughts and behaviour to manage my health long term.

Anxiety remains a daily companion, an angry little wasp that I have to continually swat away. For now, his buddy depression has been kept at bay and, remembering the lessons learned in CBT, I hope to keep it that way.

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