Tag: wellbutrin

An Update: Abandoning My Antidepressants

An Update: Abandoning My Antidepressants

It’s been over a month now since I quit taking my antidepressants (Wellbutrin). If you didn’t see my original post on this topic, you may want to check it out here. To briefly summarize, I hated how it made me feel in that it made me feel nothing at all. Now that its effects seem to have subsided, I wanted to give an update on how things are going.

So… what are some of the differences I’ve noticed? first and foremost, I can feel again. Things have begun to affect me the way they used to. I’ve been writing again. I’ve been thinking deeply again. I feel more present as opposed to like I’m watching my life go by through a foggy window. I’m okay.

I’m finding myself torn. On one hand, I’ve always been a big supporter of medical science and getting help when you need it. When someone is suffering, I always recommend going to a doctor for antidepressants or other therapy. Hell, I work in a mental health clinic and help people get their prescriptions every day. I think for a lot of people, medication can be a life saver and the answer to their problems.

On the other hand I feel a bit like a hypocrite when I see things differently for myself. I think maybe some people are just meant to feel things more intensely than other people, and maybe that isn’t a sickness; when you take away the ability to feel you take away the ability to create. I’ve talked to a lot of fellow creatives on this topic and nearly all of them have been diagnosed with some form of mental illness. Many of the old greats have been diagnosed post-mortem with depression or anxiety or bipolar. A common theme seems to be the inability to create on medication. It numbs the senses crucial to the act of creation. I’ve tried two very different antidepressants now and they both essentially did the same thing: one brought me to an almost violent serenity and one brought me to a sensory deprivation tank filled with my own blood where I lay there smiling with no care in the world.

I was afraid that maybe this time I wouldn’t wake up again. After a couple of weeks passed and I was still struggling to form a coherent thought or to care about certain things I thought maybe whatever part of my brain was responsible for it was killed off or left on permanent vacation.

To my immense relief, I was reading an article one day and it actually made me emotional. Shortly thereafter, I started to get a lot of really great ideas for writing, or little projects I could do. This went on for a week or so. Then, I seemed to have some sort of second breakthrough where I started to take better care of myself. I started going to the gym again. Today was my day off from work and I’ve had a lot of really wonderful time to myself to think, and the epiphanies keep coming. I want to re-embrace my minimalist lifestyle and do another wardrobe purge. I want to  go back to eating 100% paleo (a diet in which I felt healthier than I ever felt in my life) but to avoid my usual urge to dive in with both feet. A gradual change is hard, but it’s what I want to do this time to make sure it sticks.

Overall I know that going off of the antidepressants was the right choice for me. It’ll be a difficult path but a beautiful one. I don’t want this to come across like I’m promoting living with mental illness unmedicated. I’m very much a believer that everyone should walk down the path in their own way and find what makes them happiest. You should talk to your doctor before making any changes in your medication. For me, twice was enough to know. While there might be a medication out there that would work for me without killing the emotional side of me, I’m not willing to try anymore. At this point, I’m going to keep going with what has worked for me in the past, which is keeping my creative outlets open and fortified strong against my demons.

 

Why I Abandoned My Antidepressants

Why I Abandoned My Antidepressants

I have gone back and forth where psychotropic medications are concerned, and though I recognize their necessity for some people, I have always had a hard time coming to terms with them within my own life. I have been on antidepressants twice in my life. In both instances, they seemed to work for a while before eventually making me feel dead inside. It sounds dramatic, but it’s pretty accurate.

To give a brief history of my mental illness: I was diagnosed with PTSD as a child and at the time was treated with regular visits to a psychologist. As an adult I was diagnosed with complex PTSD, major depressive disorder, and OCD (I had severe issues with being “contaminated” from which I am currently recovered).

I briefly saw a psychologist during a major relapse in my mental health in 2005, following a major nervous breakdown and significant self harm (I used to cut pretty severely). I went to my doctor, who prescribed Effexor and set me up to go see a psychologist. He also gave me 3 months stress leave from work. I started the medication immediately and lasted a few sessions with the psychologist before calling it quits. It just didn’t work out. I could tell exactly what she was doing and why, and she insisted I talk about things that didn’t need to be said at the time.

The Effexor started off with a struggle. I became agitated, suicidal, and didn’t trust myself to be alone while I adjusted to the antidepressants so I surrounded myself with friends who I knew would look out for me if I faltered. It seemed to level off after a month and a half, and started to “work” in the sense that the cloud of depression lifted enough that I could see just how bad I had gotten. I remained on Effexor for about a year before a different kind of depression took over; I felt trapped, useless, and too numb to care.

As an artist/writer/creative type, I need emotion to create beautiful things. It has always seemed like I feel things more intensely and fully than some people. On the Effexor, yes, it took away the bad feelings, but it took away the good ones as well. I found myself simply existing rather than really living. I was numb, I couldn’t feel, and It was killing me.

I went back to my doctor and told him I needed off the Effexor. He prescribed me two stages of taper doses so that I could wean myself slowly down.

The withdrawal I felt coming off Effexor was one of the worst feelings I have ever felt. I was like I wasn’t in control of my body or my mind. The worst symptom of all was something I called “brain zaps”. The best way I can describe it is that I felt as if every time I moved my head, my brain moved a fraction of a second later. I would get tracers in my vision or it felt like I was vibrating even if I was still. The weaning from the drug took a long time. When I got to the lowest dose capsules, the biggest struggle began. I couldn’t seem to just go from the smallest dose to nothing at all, or the brain zaps would be unbearable. I survived by cracking open the capsules and dividing the little beads in half inside. That took too long, so I started just taking on every second day, then one every third day, and eventually I would take as needed until I was completely off without the antidepressants’ withdrawal symptoms.

I could write again. I could paint again. I could think again. I felt like I had my life back. I could feel the depression. I could feel the PTSD. They were there, but I tried using other methods to cope with them when they got ugly. I took up knitting. I started the meditation that would eventually lead me down the path of Buddhism. I dove head first back into art and writing and even though all that darkness was there, I embraced it as a part of me and channeled it into the positive output of creating.

All in all, weaning off took a full year, after which I swore I would never go on antidepressants again. And I didn’t… for 10 years.

Fast forward to about 6 months or so ago when I went to my doctor drained and apathetic. I had no motivation to do anything. I felt like I was at my wit’s end with myself. I didn’t want my doctor to prescribe me anything in the same class as Effexor, so I did some research and landed on Wellbutrin. That was what I asked my doctor for and what he prescribed for me.

At first, it didn’t seem to do much. It sort of took the edge off and I felt a little hopeful that it would be “the one” that would work well for me. For a few months, that feeling continued. I didn’t notice any huge changes, just a lot of little things that improved gradually over time.

It was about a month ago that I noticed this gradual change was drifting toward making me numb again. I stopped being able to feel anything. I looked back and realized I hadn’t done anything visually creative since I started on the Wellbutrin. I felt like I didn’t know myself, because I didn’t feel like myself. I would rather feel hopelessly morose than emotionally stunted and alien in my own skin. I would rather wake up every morning basking in the familiar melancholy I’ve known my whole life than to feel as if I have a big blank space in my brain.

So after a conversation with my doctor, we decided to end the Wellbutrin with no plan of switching to something else. He advised me against going cold turkey, but that it should be okay given I haven’t been on it a super long time. If I have any problems, of course, I’m to call him.

So far, so good. It’s been about 7 days, so I know that its effects will still in my system for a bit longer, but I’ve experienced no negative effects at this point. I’m looking forward to feeling like myself again, bruises and all. I’m going to resume my meditation practice and bleed myself into my writing, for which I find the words coming easier already.

UPDATE: I posted an update on how being med free is going here.