When Silent D And Me was last live, I promised that I would discuss my experiences of antidepressants with my readers. In this blog post, I’ll do just that.
Antidepressants and Me
I was first prescribed anti-depressants when I was 15 years old. I had been struggling with my depression, and had the beginnings of an eating disorder (my psychiatrist disagreed that I had an eating disorder, but I’ll leave that story for another blog post.) Following a suicide attempt, I was admitted to hospital. I was assigned a psychiatrist, who prescribed Fluoxetine AKA Prozac.
When I was discharged from hospital, I remained under their care as an out-patient; and met with my psychiatrist on a weekly basis. At first, the Fluoxetine seemed to work well for me – the suicidal thoughts became less frequent and intense; and I felt less nervous about facing the world. But I still struggled with eating. My psychiatrist was happy to keep prescribing the medication, and combined it with talk therapy.
Out of the blue, I started to experience very strange symptoms. I was back at school, but only in body. I didn’t remember the majority of the day, and the parts I did remember were spent feeling overwhelmingly drowsy.
I would come home from school at around 4.30pm. Almost immediately after I got home, I’d fall into a deep sleep. I slept through to the next morning, and when I woke up, I struggled to stay awake.
Out of The Fog
The crunch came one morning, when I fell asleep face down in my cereal (and I don’t just mean the sound the cereal made, when I passed out and face planted it.)My mother dragged my semi-conscious body back to the hospital, and demanded answers from my psychiatrist. He took blood from me, and fast tracked it through the lab. The results came back that I had a Sodium deficiency, and my psychiatrist put it down to me starving my body of nutrients.
My mother wasn’t having any of it. She insisted that I was having an adverse reaction to the Fluoxetine, and demanded I be taken off it. As I was only 15 at the time, and medically a child; my psychiatrist had to grant my mother’s request. But he advised that just stopping the medication could have more adverse effects on me. He and my mother (reluctantly) came to the agreement that I should be gradually taken off the Fluoxetine.
Things didn’t start to improve, until I’d stepped down to the lowest dosage of medication. It felt like I’d had my head underwater for a long time, and had finally broken the surface. I was more conscious and lucid; but I was still sleeping for long periods of time during the night. I’d wake up the morning feeling groggy and heavy-headed. It was like having a severe hangover. It took a couple of hours, before I could function properly; but at least I was back in the land of the living.
I continued with the talk therapy for a few months, after I’d come off the medication. I was eventually discharged from the hospital, 2 months before my 16th Birthday.
A Medicated 20 – Something
The second time I was prescribed antidepressants, I was 23 and had revealed to my GP, my plans to end my life. I’d been planning my suicide for around 4 months, and a week before my self imposed expiry date, I reached out for help. I’m so glad I did. When I look back at that appointment with the doctor, I feel annoyed with him. I’m annoyed because I’d told him what I was planning to do and when I had planned to do it; yet his first resort wasn’t to refer me for counselling, it was to prescribe me some pills.
This time, I was prescribed Citalopram. Although they were a different drug, they had the same effect on me as Fluoxetine. I was back to being a half conscious spectre, but this time I couldn’t afford to pass out at the breakfast table. I had a toddler and a young baby to care for, and the last thing they needed was a half conscious mother. My husband was working full time, so I had to be lucid and present.
Remembering how I’d been gradually been taken off the Fluoxetine last time, I went back to my GP. He agreed to slowly bring me off the pills and again, I broke the surface of the water I was immersed in. I’ve haven’t taken antidepressants since.
So Who Do They Work For?
Although antidepressants haven’t been a great help to me, I know people who they do help. My Sister is one of them. She has Sleep Apnoea, which causes her to have night terrors and nocturnal panic attacks. She has a very demanding and stressful job, which involves sleeping over at her workplace. She was prescribed Fluoxetine a couple of years ago, and it helps her to keep the panic attacks under control.
She recently looked at the possibility of coming away from antidepressants and with the help of her GP, she began the process of decreasing her dosage. This had disastrous consequences. Where I broke the surface of the water at the lowest dosage of Fluoxetine, my sister sank to the bottom.
She went on holiday with her partner, and after a series of phone calls from her employer (badgering her to cut her holiday short, to cover a sick colleague’s shifts), she spent one night in the grip of a ferocious panic attack. Her partner was horrified. My sister was half asleep, running around the apartment, frantically trying to escape. After what must have felt like an age, my sister’s partner managed to persuade her to go back to sleep.
When she woke up the next morning, she didn’t have any recollection of her Somnambulant panic attack. When her partner told her what had happened, she decided she should go back to her GP and have her Fluoxetine dosage increased.
The other person I know who’s on antidepressants long term, is my husband. He’s takes Amitriptyline to ease the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Because his brain doesn’t produce enough of the hormone which enables him to progress into the REM sleep stage,the Amitriptyline helps him to go into a deep sleep.
When he wakes in the morning, my husband feels fuzzy headed, and heavy limbed. This is due to the mild tranquilizer contained in the medication. This is actually the lesser of the two evils. If he doesn’t take the Amitriptyline before he goes to bed, his joints are incredibly stiff and painful in the morning.
So the sedative effect of antidepressants can be useful to people with medical conditions, such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Sleep Apnoea.
What’s the bottom line?
Whether or not anti depressants are effective in treating mental illness, is largely subjective and depends on the individual patient and their circumstances.
Anti depressants such as Fluoxetine are usually used alongside a form of talk therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioual Therapy (CBT). This is because the medical world acknowledges that conditions like depression aren’t solely caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. There are usually external factors at play in the development of depression. The combined therapy is designed to address both causes of the patient’s condition.
I personally haven’t had the best experiences with anti-depressants, but that doesn’t mean they don’t work or they’re not helping people. Every individual is different, and people living with a mental health issue should find a treatment that works for them – even if it means they’re on anti-depressants for the rest of their lives.
I’d rather hear of someone using anti-depressants until they die of old age, than hear of someone not taking them (if they work for them) and dying by their own hands, well before Mother Nature got to have her say.