How and I Why I Kicked Anti-Depressants Cold Turkey
Ten days ago, I stopped taking my anti-depressants. Cold turkey. After 15 years of continually popping that 40 mg peach pill every morning. Knowing it wouldn’t magically fix me but that it would take the edge off. Really hoping the day would come when I wouldn’t need it any more, but never really knowing when that day would be.
Turns out that day was last Saturday, January 16, 2016, and it was completely by accident.
I was taking my morning pills (I take Singulair for my asthma, plus Vitamin D and other supplements daily as recommended by my doctor and nutritionist), when I noticed my anti-depressant bottle was empty. I shook a couple other bottles on the nightstand--empty, empty, and more empty--save my Singulair. I remembered I had filled the Celexa (my preferred brand of coping in a bottle) earlier in the week. When I was deliriously sick.
I searched my purse. My gym bag. The car. Under the bed. Empty CVS bags in the trash. Piles on the kitchen table. All my searches turned up empty handed.
I panicked. I knew my doctor wouldn’t call in a refill, as I was already out of refills and had just refilled my prescription five days prior. I was already almost year overdue for a physical and snagged an appointment for early February (the earliest I could get with my schedule) and had just sweet-talked a nurse at my doctor’s office into refilling the rescue inhaler I’ve used since I was eight.
No way were they going to approve anti-depressants without an office visit. And it was a weekend. The withdrawal would already set in by the time Monday rolled around.
And then extreme calm. Acceptance. Resolve. This would be the day I would kick them for good.
I preface this very personal tale by saying this is not physician-approved. Even under a doctor’s supervision, I’m sure I would have had to cut back my dosage, gradually and carefully, over the course of many months. I had tried this a few times before and failed miserably. Each time, I would get down to 5 or 10 mg a day, and then have another major life event and eventually end up right back at that steady 40 mg dosage a day.
This is also not a condemnation of anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication in general. When I started taking these meds at 24, I was in a very dark place. Newly transitioned into the workforce from graduate school, recently promoted to a position way beyond my expertise, in a difficult living situation and a Mean Girls-like break up with college girl friends, and coping with all of it very poorly by crying uncontrollably both behind closed office doors and in staff meetings as well as restricting my food intake to less than 800 calories a day.
I needed help. And I got it, and I will be forever grateful.
What is this about then? Me and my life right now.
I just turned 40. I have an amazing support network--a wonderful hippie therapist, a supportive spouse, work I love, a schedule I manage, understanding friends, a thriving running and Pilates regimen, mostly healthy eating habits, and good coping skills. Life happens. Bad things happen. Things out of my control happen. Big things and little things, day after day, month after month, year after year.
But I was tired of being numb. A little bit less than 100% in feeling and reacting.
It’s no coincidence that the calm of this decision was made after taking a ten day break from alcohol. My drinking habits have been fraught and complicated for a long time in ways that are best explained in another blog post.
Without the additional depressant or numbness, plus the onset of debilitating head cold, my mind suddenly felt sharp and clear. I had plenty of time to think. And sleep. And cry. And write. And dream. And decide what kind of life I wanted to live.
And it was time to go all in. With running and training. With choosing writing projects I believed in, ones that were better for my overall health and well-being and relationships and craft. With teaching when and what I loved, and leaving the junk behind.
It was a miserable week. Shaking, incessant waves of nausea, crying jags, irritability, insomnia. I knew these symptoms could go on for several weeks, even months. But I was determined to make it through. I journaled and talked to select friends; I ran every day; I juiced like a mad fool; I consumed vegetables like candy.
And suddenly, it all passed. My energy is off the charts. I couldn’t even nap after a 5 a.m. wake up time and a 15K mile race on the back end of a two week-long cold yesterday afternoon. The thought of sugar turns my stomach. I feel I can stop at one drink, on the days I chose to drink at all. My legs feel sharp and strong. I wake up happy and clear, not groggy and foggy.
I know the path is not linear. That there will be difficult days ahead. But I won’t go back.