Coming Off My Medication
It's been four weeks and I'm still medication free. It's good, weird, thought provoking and weird and good...
*** This is my experience with medication, depression and withdrawal. It may not match your experience or expectations. Please discuss any medication queries with your GP and or a medical professional. ***
Back in 2014 I finished my year with a breakdown, literally on New Year's Eve evening/ night rolling into 2015. Looking back there was a lot of rage, confusion, aggression, sadness... so much sadness, and that night the barriers fell and my emotions ran out.
I had seen a GP in October and picked up medication, but I didn't want to take it at the time. After that New Years experience, on January 2nd or 3rd, I started to take my medication. I was prescribed citalopram, which I would take for about two years, until my medication was changed to sertraline. Which I then took for about three years, bringing us up to last month.
I was really fortunate in that for the most part my medication worked for me, I didn't have to trail lots of different medications. I had an increase in my citalopram once and that one change to sertraline.
My visits to the GP were very minimal, I think in that 5 and a half years period I visited the GP five times, six tops. I'd say it was a mixed bag; I had kind but not very helpful, really helpful and understanding and o, my goodness I would never see them again.
On a couple of occasions I have wanted to come off my medication, but usually a 2-3 month ok spell was followed by an event or time that could prove difficult. So I stayed on knowing I still needed that balancing support.
Then last October (2019), I once again felt like I had had a few ok to good months and wanted to think about/ discuss coming off my medication. I visited my new GP (I'd moved 2 months prior) and it was honestly one of the worse experiences I have ever had of seeing a GP. Despite knowing what they had said had little to no reference to my experience, it hit me and knocked my confidence. So I stayed on the medication.
After that experience I spoke to a few medically qualified people that were not my new GP and with their information I was able to find resources and support to make an informed decision about my medication. I decided that I would first try just to reduce my medication and that could be it. If that worked and I felt well, I could then consider reducing my medication further. Knowing that if I needed to work back to my original dosage I could slowly increase it again, but it would be slowly. No big sudden changes.
One thing that held me back was the worry of side affects and how this would/ could affect my work and in particular my ability to interact with people without my emotions overflowing. Fast forward to March 2020 and a world wide pandemic keeping us at home. Fortunately, I have a job that can be done from home/ remotely, so I continued to work. In my mind I quickly thought this could be an opportunity to trial my reduction of medication. Having wanted to for over a year, I felt ready, I just wasn't sure what to expect. So I just stuck to the plan, a slight reduction and see how that goes.
At first it was taking my medication 6 days days a week, then 5, then 4, 3; with each stage lasting about a month.
Around the middle of July I stopped taking my medication, and it's now been about four - five weeks.
Despite hearing a lot of not great things about coming off medication, and trying to mentally prepare for some of that; I didn't experience much. I had some days I was a bit moody, and some days I felt a little low. I assume that was my body starting to re adjust. But it was manageable, I had prepared and expected it. I would say I allowed myself a good amount of time to withdraw and gradually come off my medication, it was around 4 months. So this may have meant it was easier, I don't know.
I think it's a bit early to say I feel 'x/ whatever' being off medication, but I have noticed small differences. Some I think will fade away as I adapt to my body's new internal balance, some may stick and that's cool.
One of those changes I think will stay, is the ups and downs. My medication generally worked to keep me 'balanced'. Ensuring I didn't get too low or too depressed. However, I found that also meant it kept me from feeling some of those positive highs.
In the last month I haven't felt super high or low, but I have noticed that there's less of a barrier keeping me in place.
This is where all my learning comes in, the CBT, the discussions about self worth, the ideas on distraction, the knowledge of physical activity and mental impact. They all become... not more important, but their use/ implementation needs to be more proactive. So I have got up and walked around more, I've made sure I keep up the weekly run (currently interval training, because I can't run as long/ far), for now I am ok with the not amazing diet (because now isn't my time to change it), and it's been a time to ensure I don't over work to much too.
Another proactive tool I have found very valuable is the Super Laura. Being able to have open conversations, still isn't easy every time, but it is something I value every single time. Being able to say "today I'm feeling x/ whatever", or being able to have someone ask, "today you've seemed a little different, how are you?" makes the world of difference. She is super.
I know I will likely always be affected by depression, but I am ok with that, I accept that. For me this journey was never about 'getting rid of the depression', it has been about trying to understand it, trying to be able to manage it and live with it. I think there was a big shift in my thinking when I experienced my suicidal thoughts. That's definitely for another time, but it did make a huge difference for me. Some things I was worried about before just became less important. But I also now have moments, like my recent birthday, when I feel a wash with emotion because I really thought I wouldn't be here. Which again makes some of my concerns (about an interaction, what someone thinks, about spiders) feel much less important.
Another big thing for me was not thinking, this is it, I'm coming off my medication and never taking it again. I am fully... mostly prepared to take my medication again if I need to. Would I be a bit sad or disappointed, yes definitely. But, I know it's ok to take it when you need support, I'd know it does work for me and it has worked for me.
Right now it's about being proactive and using the tools and techniques I have built up over that last few years to manage my wellbeing, and if I need backup; I know my sidekick is there if I need them.