Giving up Anti-Depressants
A Traveler's Guide by Alcibiades
No matter which anti-depressant you take, after a while it’s likely you’ll want to stop taking it and try “flying solo” again. Having been down that path myself I’ve learned the hard way that there’s a few important things to remember; hopefully they’ll make your journey into life after depression a little bit easier.
Please remember, however, that when it comes to an illness as serious as depression, everyone’s experience is different, and that the best advice can only ever come from 2 people: your medical practitioner and yourself. Only you can know exactly how you’re feeling, and only someone professionally trained and qualified in the prescription of anti-depression medications can properly advise you on their usage.
This doesn’t mean your – or any – doctor is infallible: if you don’t feel they’re listening to your concerns and needs it’s always a good idea to get a second or third opinion. Just make sure that the opinion comes from a reputable and qualified expert – unfortunately when the time comes for you to stop taking anti-depressants there’s never any shortage of people ready to give you all kinds of wild (and often ridiculous) advice. I’ve been told by one well-meaning ”expert” that a certain herb would be a great replacement (it just made me feel like throwing up all the time), by another that everything just boiled down to unforgiven sin, and that by simply repenting of this I could leave anti-depressants behind immediately and forever (you can guess how well that worked – not at all), and by a third “professional” that there was no way I could ever give up, and would simply have to take my (at the time) very heavy dose of Sertraline for the rest of life – irrespective of the very unpleasant side-effects it caused.
All this advice (and much more like it) proved wrong, thank goodness. No, it wasn’t easy – but nothing about depression is. Yet by working closely with a doctor whom I have grown to know and trust, and with the support of many very dear people around me, I’ve reached the point where the illness and the medicine which helped me beat it are both pretty much history. And if I can do it, then most probably so can you – but please keep these points in mind along the way:
Talk to your doctor and those closest to you. Listen to what they suggest, just as you’d like them to listen to what you feel about stopping. Even if you don’t agree with what they say (my wife, for example, was very apprehensive when I first said I wanted to stop: she was terrified I’d relapse in the dark days through which I’d passed), hear their reasons for feeling the way they do and think about them.
Take your time. There’s no race; nobody’s going to wave a checkered flag and give you a trophy if you quit in a huge rush – all that’s likely is you’ll soon relapse and crash back to where everything started. Remember that depression is an illness which can take many years to develop – a year or so isn’t too long to wait when it comes to getting rid of it once and for all. Consequently going “cold turkey” with all the side effects that can involve (diarrhea, toothaches, boils, muscle aches and cramps, prolonged crying, nightmares and sleeplessness – to name just a few) isn’t going provide much of a foundation for your new post-depression life. Cut down gradually, and listen to your medical practitioner as you do. Life is a long-term adventure; there’s no point racing to a short-term failure.
Be nice to yourself along the way. Simply still being alive makes you a hero, even if you don’t feel like one. Depression is an illness that kills many, many of people every year; in coming this far you’ve already proven you’re a survivor; so when things feel a bit much sit down. Take time out, read a book, take a walk – anything, just remember that even the fittest athletes need to rest sometimes.
Exercise. Don’t worry if you don’t enjoy going to the gym – there’s plenty of other ways to burn off the last of your blues; try taking the dog for a walk, or if you don’t have a dog, contact a nearby animal shelter and see if you can help by walking the pooches there. Or start riding a bicycle – remember how much fun this was when you were young? Maybe it’s time you stopped dreaming about learning how to sail and did it. Or joined a bushwalking club. Anything, but do something – this is really important, as you’ll not only feel fitter and healthier, but the boost to your metabolism will help your body deal with the last of the medication remaining in your system.
Don’t be too hard on yourself for having started taking medication, this sort of criticism can quickly extend back onto yourself, and there’s more enough for you to handle without running yourself down as well. Even if you experience very severe side-effects, remember that your medication helped you when you needed it most. This is just a stage at the end of the process, and it won’t last for ever. If it hadn’t been for the help your medication gave in the past you quite possibly wouldn’t have made it this far, and the worst is over now. No matter how things may feel just now, things can only get better from here.
Hiccups happen to everyone along the way. Maybe you’ll find you’re not quite ready to give up just yet; perhaps instead of stopping altogether it’ll be better if you stay on a lower dosage for a while. There’s no such thing as failure when it comes to reducing your need to take anti-depressants; it can just be a question of the timing not being quite right. If things feel too hard talk to the people you trust around you: it may be time to take a break and try again in a few months. There’s no need to hurry.
Talk to your health-care professional: speak regularly to your psychiatrist or doctor, and listen carefully to their advice. I know I’ve said this before, but It simply can’t be said enough – don’t try doing things on your own. There are people who care about you, and want to help along this stage of your journey. Let them, and you can be sure things will move a lot more safely.
Lastly, take care and God bless you. Remember that no matter how dark the night may seem, there’s always a new sunrise in the morning. Be patient, and I can promise that sunrise will be worth the struggle and wait.
Engage with Alcibiades online at the 'Caliban's Dream' blog, where you'll meet the notorious 'Duck Noodle Gang'
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