Monday, November 21, 2011

Dealing with the Dizzies

I don't know how many of you have experience with being on anti-psychotics (the broad term for all that Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Wellbutrin, etc family of drugs), but they are a whole barrel of fun.

(EDIT: thanks to naughtsauce for pointing out that anti-depressants != anti-psychotics. Every anti-dep I've been on has been of the SSRI class, which is different. Thanks, and yay for having smart friends!)

First, you start taking one. There's no telling if it will positively impact you until you've been on it for a few weeks or even months. If you then discover that either it doesn't do a damn thing for you, or worse, it makes everything even more horrible, then you get to go through the fun of easing off that medication so you can repeat the whole process with a new one (complete with new side effects!).

In college, My First Time was on Paxil. I had been mega-depressed for weeks and just didn't really know what to do about it. Finally I went to a trusted professor and said to her, so this stuff we're doing in class about Keats? His poem where he wants to die and such? Yeah, um, I TOTALLY GET IT. She marched me right over to the health center and volunteered herself to be my emergency contact and we both signed some sort of weird document saying I promised if I felt suicidal and was on the verge of Juliet-ing myself, I would call her instead.

The head of the counseling center there talked to me for all of 5 minutes before sending me to the campus doc for anti-depressants. The campus doc interrogated me about my weight -

Dr: "Do you have an eating disorder?"
Me: "No."
Dr: *suspicious peer* "No issues with food? (etc etc)"
Me: "None. I eat a lot, and all the time."
Dr: *puts on sympathetic face and Looks Me In The Eyes* "Now... I'm your doctor. You can trust me. You have to be honest with me."
Me: "Holy crap, ask my roommate if you want to! I just have a fast metabolism!"

Finally he prescribed Paxil - conveniently forgetting to mention to me that a common side effect is weight gain, and also that you cannot simply stop taking one of these meds cold turkey.

After a few weeks, I realized my pants were snug. I was a college student - I didn't have money for new clothes. The weight gain itself wasn't a big deal, but the fact that my jeans weren't fitting anymore was. I learned that was a side effect of Paxil, and grumpily stopped taking the pills. Next thing I know, I'm in the nurse's office because I'm dizzy and feel a bit flu-ish. After some pokes and questions, she learns about the Paxil and explains to me that I have to gradually reduce that med, not just throw it down and walk away! I had no idea.

I explained to the doctor that I do not fucking have a goddamn eating disorder, you dishonest dick, but I can't afford new pants, so unless he wanted to foot my shopping bill, he needed to switch my medication. (this was a private Christian university, so I definitely did not say it even remotely similar to that, but that was the gist.) He put me on a different med called Celexa. I later learned on my own (because A. this doctor was apparently not a fan of telling me anything about what he prescribed and B. Christian university - it was assumed if a student was unmarried, said student was obviously going to be a virgin) that Celexa had the lowest rate of sexual side effects of any other anti-deps on the market at that time. Bonus!

While switching meds, my moods were all over the place. I remember at one point getting into a HUUUUUGE fight with my ex-husband/then-boyfriend over some stupid scene in some stupid movie. It got so ugly that I made him pull the car over on the drive home so I could get out and storm down the road, all full of insane, baseless rage. (He still married me... wtf.)

I stayed on Celexa for a few years. It wasn't a miracle drug; in fact, I did attempt suicide twice while on it. It helped, though, and could've helped more had I bothered to pair it with therapy. Eventually I reached a point where I felt comfortable enough to make a go of things on my own, so over the course of a couple of months, I verrrry slowwwwly reduced my dosage until it was no more. To be honest, it took me a few tries to do it: I'd start reducing, feel like shit, and go back to my regular dose again.

Here's how it feels to go off these meds: you're dizzy. When you move your eyes, it feels like it your brain is a second behind. You can feel your eyes moving around in their sockets (oh god unpleasant). Your words come out scrambled sometimes, and you have even less of a verbal filter than you might have normally (I don't have much of one to begin with, so this is bad). Every so often, it feels like a little dart of energy goes shooting through your whole head, jumping on a trampoline, and it's totally disconcerting.

Which is a big part of the reason why I was so hesitant to ever try meds again: I remembered how awful it felt to try to go off them. Last year, though, I reached a point where I realized I needed the boost. I was ready to accept help. I went to a doctor and was prescribed Zoloft, an incredibly low dosage. I began taking it, and ... began barfing. EWWWW. So I had to basically reverse the process of easing off the meds, and ease ONTO them. Going through all THAT hassle has made it even more difficult for me to make the decision to go off Zoloft - holy crap, do you even KNOW what I had to go through to get this shit IN my system?? That was a lot of work and I'm gonna fuckin ride it for as long as I can!

But it's been a bit over a year now, and I feel ready. So I've been oooooooooooooozing off. The MMJ actually helps with this, but of course, when I'm at work or running errands, I'm MJ-free. One thing I've noticed is I'm crying more. I'm not a crier. I hate to cry. But I'll be sitting there watching TV, and something sweet will happen on the show, and I will burst into tears. Like, BURST. 5 seconds later, I'm done and left wondering what the effing hell just happened. I'm also being way too sensitive about my dating situation. I've started seeing someone new, and I'm WAY too jumpy about every little thing he says or does. I over-analyze as it is, but I'm making myself insane, convincing myself that he doesn't even really like me and I am once again wasting my time and affection and what is WRONG with me and how long before he finally admits to me he's Just Not That Into Me?

So there's the fun of anti-depressants and such, if you've never been on them and wondered. Right now I'm managing to go 3 days without any pills, and then half a pill on the 4th day. My brain no worky well right now, but soon... SOON MY MINIONS... I will be back to over-analyzing everything in my life WITHOUT AN EXCUSE. Mwahahahahaha!


  1. I've gone on and off Wellbutrin, much the same way. Real fun is trying to figure out dosage for ADD meds, which are close relatives to methamphetamine. Too high of a dose, and it does what you expect (WOOO TWEAKING 'til 5am every night). Just right, and it compensates for a fundamental lack of certain brain chemicals.

    I'm not sure if I've asked you before, but are the side-effects of being on anti-depressants that much of a motivation to get off them as soon as possible? Wouldn't staying on them, especially at such a low dose, be a good thing? Kinda like glasses? (I've accepted that I'll be taking mine until they figure out how to remodel brains)

  2. The side effects of a higher dosage can be daunting... no sex drive, flat-lined emotions... I think we've talked about that part before, how putting a creative person on meds like these can totally squish their creativity because it evens out all those emotions that tend to inspire.

    On the low dose, there's not much except my desire to not be dependent on these drugs. I don't like the way it feels to miss a dose, and having been broke and without insurance in the past, I know how awful that is when you're supposed to be on these drugs. Considering I have other options for treatment that are not physically addictive, I'd rather go with those.

    Were my depression more severe, I would gladly accept that I need this help permanently. As it is, mine is transient and simply recognizing it is often enough to keep me from going fully into the suicidal stages again. In fact, the majority of anti-depressant use is, theoretically, supposed to be only temporary.

  3. A nit-picky thing - most regular meds for depression are not actually anti-psychotics. They are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Most anti-psychotics don't effect serotonin, they effect dopamine. The anti-psychotics also have a lot more nasty side effects than SSRIs. I have been on lots of meds over the years, and over the last four years I have been taking one of the "new" anti-psychotics, called atypical anti-psychotics. I did some research over the last year and found out how HORRIBLE they are, and have been slowing weaning myself off of them. I take two other medicines whose long-term side-effects have been studies, which I will continue to take.

    Take a look at this article by Robert Whitaker:
    I have seen him speak at the conference for the Association of Behavior Analysis, and own one of his books, Anatomy of an Epidemic", which is very good.

  4. I knew that most anti-deps were SSRIs, but I'd always heard them lumped together with the other types of anti-psychotics as well. Thanks for the clarification!

  5. A common term for all of these meds is "psychotropic" or "psychoactive", which sounds a lot like psychotic, so it makes sense that there would be confusion.

  6. I've seen the side effects of a lot of different anti-depression meds. It kinda sucks because sometimes they make you seem like a totally different person.

  7. I took Celexa for a week and it was awful. No sleep, sweating all night, racing heartbeat, no sex drive or appetite. It was the single worse experience of my life.