My Blog Motto

"Good judgement comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgement"

~Rita Mae Brown

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Medication Conundrum

It's not news that a shocking number of Americans are being treated with anti-depressants. Nor is it news that these drugs are often prescribed for "problems" that may or may not involve actual depression whether directly or indirectly. And I'm sure it's also no surprise that I myself have fallen into that ever increasing statistical range of individuals who are being "treated' with anti-depressant meds. In my usual Aquarian perspective there is no right or wrong definitive response to this phenomenon. There are however, questions that need to be asked and information that must be considered in order to effectively utilize critical thinking processes when deciding whether or not to use medications.
I was taking a fairly common and frequently used SSRI for nearly 3 years. Now I am not. Before I continue, let me make clear that I did not abruptly end my relationship with this drug. In fact I took a good six months to slowly wean myself off. And to use the common and sensible disclaimer "I am not a physician and therefore cannot give medical advice". I am an individual who has experienced the pros and cons of anti-depressant meds and can share my personal story of my experience with them.

I started taking them at a point in time where I was experiencing what is commonly referred to as "situational depression and anxiety". It was a time in my life when pretty much anything that could go wrong did. A real shit hits the fan chapter that left me feeling powerless, anxious, panicky, extremely depressed, angry and hopeless. I also had a lot on my plate that needed to be attended to because even when life pulls the rug our from under you, the rest of the world keeps right on going and there are situations that require you to pick yoursle up off that slippery floor and forge ahead.
At that time, the medication was helpful. I found it easier to focus as the constant anxious chatter in my ind was silenced. The nightmares I had been experiencing, triggered by trauma, pretty much disappeared. My energy levels were more stable. i was able to cope with the challenges life had tossed at me and managed to finish my degree and apply my energy to looking for employment.
Now three years later my life has stabilized and I realized I have time time and the knowledge to cope with mood swings or depression as it comes and goes. I presented the idea to my psychiatrist who, although a nice enough man, really doesn't know me all that well. The typical "med follow up" visit lats about 5 or 10 minutes and consists of a predictable series of routine questions "are you able to maintain safety?" (i.e. are you  gonna kill yourself), "how is your appetite" (are you gonna starve yourself?) and "how are you sleeping? ( do you need more pills?) When I asked about possibly getting off antidepressants his suggestion was, since I had previously experienced "depressive episodes" it was advisable to take the meds for the rest of my life as a "preventative measure".
Wait a hot minute. The rest of my life? Just in case?
Not a lot is understood about SSRIs. In fact doctors and pharmacological companies admit that they're not really even sure how they work. They've only been around for a few decades so there haven't been sufficient longitudinal studies the assess the long term effects on the mind and body. I seems logical and, just in case the logic of a former drug abuser can't pass the validity test, there have been scientific studies that suggest that the longer a person takes SSRIs or other psych meds the less likely that persons brain is to stabilize it's own production of "happy chemicals". In other words the patient becomes 'dependent' on these drugs.
I know what's next...and I've used this argument myself. "if you were diabetic you'd take insulin, what's the difference?"
The difference is diabetes is not over-diagnosed. Diabetes is not something that can arise out of a situation crisis only to dissipate once the crisis has passed. Diabetes is detected by a blood test, easily defined. Depression/anxiety are diagnosed subjectively using criteria that nearly everyone experiences at some point or to some degree. Although depression in it's most severe forms can be debilitating and can lead to devastating results like drug abuse, self harm, violence or suicide, it's important to distinguish the level of depression and the risk attached. Nearly everyone experiences some level of depression at some point in their life. Sadness and grieving are normal reactions to stressful or crisis events. The use of prescribed medication is one option out of many that can be used to cope with these events. It's not news that the numbers of people who are prescribed antidepressants has skyrocketed. Its not news that the pharmaceutical companies are making billions of dollars on these medications. For a person like me, who questions authority on a regular basis all these facts make the decision even more complicated. Am I just being defiant and rebellious? Or am I right in my assessment that people like me don't need a lifetime of medication to live a happy life?
Let me repeat that I took this process very slowly. Being the kind of person I am I initially attempted to stop quickly, weaning down by half a dose per week. Not a good idea. I experienced a kind of vertigo every time I turned my head, racing thoughts, and anxiety; it was as bad as quitting any street drug.  I changed my plan to allow myself an entire month to adjust to each decreased dose. In the final month I had tapered down to the lowest dose every other day then every 3 days. It's been about 2 months since I took my last half a pill.
I've been paying close attention to my moods and thinking patterns since stopping the medication. I keep a journal which helps me to objectively review changes or patterns. So far this is what I've observed.
I'm not really any more or less depressed or moody. My dreams are more lucid and clear, both the good ones and the nightmares. My ability to think and act creatively has improved. I occasionally have a sex drive (anti-depressants are notorious for putting a damper on that). My anxiety may have increased a bit, but I am actively practicing relaxation techniques to help manage that.
For the most part, I don't feel much different. The most significant improvement is my creativity. The most significant drawback is the nightmares.
As I said, this is my experience and I'm sharing as a means of providing one perspective for anyone who may be on meds, considering meds or coming off meds or anyone who simply has an interest in one persons experience. If you end up on medication to help with a situational depression I encourage you to do some research, talk to people who have had similar experiences. You have the right to make an informed choice.

Here are a couple of resources that address the problems that can be associated with discontinuing SSRIs and there are many more stories available.
© 2010-2012 Nanakoosa’s Place, authored by Jennifer Hazard


  1. Thanks, Jenny, this is an amazing article. I have been in a similar boat with anticonvulsants and other "non-addictive" pharmaceuticals for chronic pain. Sure, I was also at a desperate point where I would have done almost anything and wanted to work with my doctor, but the doctor didn't really have a plan other than managing me in a way they were comfortable with (i.e. these are "good" drugs).

    After four years of this, I enlisted a trusted friend who's a nurse and we read the records and literature and made our own long-term plan; down to one drug instead of five, augmented with meditation, etc. It's a struggle and it probably always will be, but at least my personality is back.

    Loving your writing, nice to read someone with experiences/outlook I can relate to.


  2. Sarah,
    Thank You for your response. I know what you mean about gaining your personality back. I have felt robbed at times, of mine. A friend of mine said it very well once after I described the "diagnosis" my doc gave me....he said "well jenny maybe that's just who you are meant to be"