So This Is Withdrawal

So This Is Withdrawal

One of the most important things I planned to do upon intermitting from Cambridge was to wean myself off my anti-depressants, because they weren’t working. I would have stopped taking them earlier, but for the fact that a change of dose is always a difficult process and can make you feel really ill, so I had to wait until I didn’t have any commitments or obligations before I could risk it.

I started taking medication for my anxiety (and mild depression, although that wasn’t my main reason) a couple of months into university. Initially I was on one called citalopram, but that made me feel really sick and constantly unwell to the point where even if it had helped with my mental health, I couldn’t tell because the physical effects were just as bad.

After stopping citalopram, I tried sertraline instead. Sertraline seemed like a better option at first because it didn’t seem to have nearly so many physical symptoms, but it was also hard to tell if it was helping with the mental stuff. I started it in January 2015 and, come February 2016 when I’d tried different dosages, up and down, I concluded that it wasn’t working.

So this month I gradually reduced my dose, which seemed to have fewer physical effects than I’d expected, and even made me feel a bit better because I stopped having so many stomach aches. Then, last week, I stopped entirely.

It has not been pleasant.

Despite being careful to wean off slowly rather than just stopping abruptly, the effects of withdrawal have been noticeable. I’ve had terrible headaches since a couple of days after stopping, and normal painkillers have absolutely no impact. Usually, the only way to get rid of these kinds of headaches would be to sleep, but my ability to do that has also been… variable. Two nights ago, I lay awake until nearly 5am, and woke up after less than five hours sleep with the headache still intact. Last night, on the other hand, I fell asleep shortly after 2am and didn’t wake up until nearly 4pm, so today has been a total write-off.

You know what the worst thing about oversleeping by six hours is? Not being able to decide whether to have breakfast or an early dinner. I’m still debating that one.

And another effect of the withdrawal has been worse than the headaches, and the accompanying dizziness / nausea that they’ve brought with them, even though those have been horrible: my body doesn’t seem capable of regulating its temperature. So I’m either swelteringly hot, sitting around sweating despite it being a somewhat wintry March, or I’m shivering with cold. I can’t get comfortable. Lying in bed is too hot. Sitting upright is too cold. Nothing I do seems to make any difference to this.

But I don’t have a temperature, so I’m not actually ill — I’m my usual 36 degrees centigrade. My body just has no idea how to deal with not having sertraline in my system for the first time in over a year.

It doesn’t help that the dizziness and nausea and sweating and headaches have made it pretty much impossible to go out and about without feeling like I’m going to pass out, and then my anxiety has reared its head. I’m not sure whether it’s the lack of medication making me anxious because that’s my natural state without it, or because the change itself is the problem, but the only time I left the house in the last six days I ended up having a full-on anxiety attack in the middle of Greenwich Market and had to go and hide in Waterstone’s with a cup of tea. Even being surrounded by books didn’t help.

Basically: I feel horrible. I’m glad I left more than a week between stopping taking the meds and going to Canada (next week), because I can’t imagine adding this to my fear of aeroplanes and the inevitable jet lag from such a long flight. At this point it’s hard to imagine feeling better, although I keep telling myself that this’ll pass.

I’m filling the indoor hours with books and Daredevil season two, as you’d expect; I read a handful of review copies that I’ll be reviewing on my book blog soon. (This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, Read Me Like A Book by Liz Kessler, The Wolf In The Attic by Paul Kearney, The Space Between by Michelle Teichman.) I’m trying to distract myself, even when I can barely decipher the words because my headache is killing me. I’m using books to fill the hours between 2am and 4am when I’m wide awake and angry that I can’t drop off, and for the most part, they’re helping.

I was going to go to the library today, but I slept instead. Probably just as well. I’m not sure I would have managed the fifteen-minute walk without having to sit down and rest for longer than it normally takes to walk there. I’m not sure I would have been able to do it without being too anxious.

I got approved for the next of Derek Landy’s Demon Road books on NetGalley, Desolation. I’m excited, but I’m also too exhausted and in pain to imagine reading it any time soon. I’ve been on the computer for less than twenty minutes and already the screen feels like it’s burning my eyes because it’s too bright and I can’t quite make out the words I’m typing.

It’s just as well I didn’t try and do this while in Cambridge, because as much as I was struggling to do work while I was there, I’m now struggling to exist.

I want going off my meds to be the sign that I can get better now, because they weren’t helping at all. They were making me tired, they were making my depression worse while barely helping my anxiety, they generally made it impossible to tell what my mood was doing. But right now it just feels like getting worse.

If any of you have any experience of withdrawal after stopping anti-depressants or something similar, and any methods for making it better, physically speaking, please let me know. I can’t keep taking ibuprofen and paracetamol for a headache that never goes away, and I can’t deal with sleeping five hours one night and thirteen the next.


14 thoughts on “So This Is Withdrawal

  1. I have no experience so I’m 100% useless there…but are you swapping over to doing something else now that you’re off the anti-depressants? Because I mean, and obviously you know all this so I’m probably just sounding like an annoying gnat, but you probably should be taking something since anxiety has this habit of getting worse without help not better. :( I’m useless (AGAIN OMG; at least I can talk intelligently [?] about books :P) because I take natural/herbal stuff. Which doesn’t always work, granted, but I’d be even MORE of a mess than I am now without it.
    I HOPE THIS PASSES SOON OMG. It sounds awful. *builds pillow fort around you*

    1. I’m hoping to do a course of CBT over the next few weeks/months, but haven’t started yet (largely because I’m about to go to Canada). And I probably should have mentioned in this post that I have some beta blockers, propranolol, for dealing with the physical symptoms of anxiety if not the underlying causes. Other than that I’m all about the herbal tea and sleeping all the time.

  2. I wish I had an answer for you. Your description of coming off Sertraline exactly described the one and only time I tried Effexor, hideous headache, cold chills, hot flashes, vertigo and all.
    (I was able to take Sertraline for three whole days before the side effects made it impossible to continue.)
    I see someone above mentioned herbal remedies. Here’s one an acupuncturist recommended to me when I couldn’t find anything useful in western medicine. It’s a “mood balancer” and works for me as both an anti-depressant and an anti-anxiety remedy.

    1. Thanks, I’ll check it out. I have to be careful with herbal stuff because I have a lot of allergies (someone suggested eating fresh fruit might help my mood to which I could only say that swollen lips and a sore throat that makes it hard to breathe have never done much for my moods…heh) but I’ll look into it.

  3. *hugs* I hope you start to feel better soon, and that you enjoy your trip to Canada! (Also, I’m super jealous that you’re already reading Desolation.) *hugs again* I don’t have experience with this since I’ve never taken meds like that, but I would imagine that it sucks to go off them.

  4. Haven’t been prescribed SSRI’s myself, but a couple of my friends have. One of them had a course of melatonin supplements while tapering off, which both improved sleep and removed the amount of pain that was down to the fatigue from not sleeping properly.

    I don’t know if it works for everyone, but might be worth asking about.

  5. I’ve come off medication a number of times in the past (for chronic migraine) and unfortunately the only tried and tested method for me is to just give it time. I know right, not what you want to hear right now and very easy for me to say in retrospect. It’s a seriously unpleasant/painful process (I mean, your body is literally addicted to a substance) but it is finite. I just had to take it easy and as for the sleep thing, I just took it whenever/wherever I could get it. I think after about 10 days I didn’t feel nearly as bad (though can’t remember all the specifics now if I’m honest).

    Also, as for the CBT, are you already on a waiting list for that/is it ready to start? If not, I’d get referred asap because those waiting lists can be incredibly long.

    1. Yeah, today the dizziness made me black out and I broke my nose, because gravity. So that was a bit rubbish.

      Since I didn’t get on very well with the NHS stuff a couple of years back (namely because it took forever) we’re going privately on this occasion, so at least waiting lists aren’t a concern in the same way.

  6. Hang in there. Sounds trite as f**k, but just hanging around is nine parts of life. I have a brother who is in your shoes right now, and if I lost him I would be destroyed. And for what it’s worth, I was once part of the Dark Brethren myself. (You have to make something significant and epic out of it in the gaps between the pit)The bitch of it is, that it seems to be the best and brightest who are pursued most avidly by the black dog. Take some small (tiny) comfort in that. And keep typing. Whatever you do, keep typing, putting it all out there – somewhere. I have found that communicating this stuff makes a ladder to climb out of that pit.
    I wish you all the very best this f**ked up life has to offer.

    1. Thanks, I appreciate it. Dark Brethren is pretty epic, but I’m not sure if it’s the phrase for me. I’ll have to come up with some intensely dramatic metaphors and euphemisms, and then decide which one to use. Heh.

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