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.