5 Things I Realized When I Ran Out of My Antidepressants
Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.
I ran out of medication last week. Turns out this was a bit of an oversight on my behalf, and not the most fun way to spend my week. I don’t mean I ran out of vitamin tablets either (although I ran out of them too), but rather I had to trudge through the week without my antidepressant. Which also doubles as an anti-anxiety and is one really useful pharmaceutical aid.
Before anyone else wants to have a go at me for being so silly as to run out of tablets (trust me — I was the first in a long line of people to hone in on my idiocy), can I just say – in my own defense – I knew I needed to fill the prescription, so on Monday I trotted down to the nice friendly pharmacy where all my prescriptions are kept on file, only to discover it was out of date. Now that was not something I had anticipated. I couldn’t get in to see my doctor until Friday afternoon, so girded my ample loins for the rough week ahead. And by jove, it was a really rough week. I needed much bigger loins.
Here’s a list of normal withdrawal side effects which start somewhere between 24-36 hours after the missed dose:
• Brain zaps
• Concentration problems
• Crying spells
• Flu-like symptoms
• Mood swings
• Panic attacks
• Sleep changes
• Suicidal thinking
Does that sound like fun? By Wednesday afternoon, I had most symptoms and by Friday the only box I hadn’t ticked was vomiting.
My anxiety levels skyrocketed really quickly. At work I became so anxious about making mistakes, I had a full panic attack before I even had the opportunity to make a mistake. Luckily there’s a costume cupboard at work, so I hid in the racks of tulle and onesies and Alice in Wonderland frocks, working on slowing my breathing down (I also secretly hoped to discover Narnia at the back of the wardrobe). Once calm I returned to my desk and then I did make mistakes, and from there the week just got worse. I sobbed my way through most of the days. Sometimes I knew what I was crying about. Sometimes I had no idea.
Mood swings and a sense of hopelessness, coupled with extreme irritability, made me want to never talk to my husband again. Every time he looked sideways, I’d swear he was doing it wrong. Normal parental worries left my world caving in so I denounced myself for being such a dreadful parent. Every day I visualised my family having catastrophic accidents and morbid deaths with great clarity. I came to the conclusion all my friends hate me because I’m such a dreadful person. And of course the random lump in my arm had to be cancer (turns out it’s a hematoma — Google was wrong).
I think I can sum up last week as: Perspective-Gone-Awry.
The one thing that got me through was my determination to keep repeating my age-old phrase, “This too shall pass. This too shall pass.” Followed by lots of reminders that one should never make permanent decisions based on temporary feelings. A very important rule I have usually managed to abide by.
Now for some time, part of me has wanted to go off the antidepressants altogether, but missing those four doses made me realize a few things.
1. I need to be in a really good head space before even contemplating going off them.
2. Timing is everything — life needs to be calm and cruise-y before I whiz up my own self-inflicted emotional storm. I should ideally be on holiday in fact — on a tropical beach. With a cocktail and a good book.
3. Going cold turkey is a bad idea — consult my doctor when the time comes to ease off.
4. It’s very important lots of people know what’s happening as I’ll get super irrational and emotional, and will have even less care for my own safety than usual.
5. If I never go off the medication at all, that is also OK.
I have now had two doses and aside from still feeling really fatigued (I think I’ve reached the point where fatigue is just normal in my life… I just ignore it now), I’m feeling much more stable. I’m no longer staring at cliffs with a great deal of longing.
There was one more lesson I learned from this week… When you’re feeling teary and weepy and despairing — when it feels like you’ll never be happy again and what’s the point of life and just fuck it, who cares – that is not the best time to book flights for a holiday you’ve been planning for five years.
The upside to this down week is my husband and I will be flying to London in comfort next year. And my very lucky husband (who pissed me off every time he breathed last week) is flying back from Paris in first class — using all our frequent flyer points… I don’t have a return ticket yet (I’m meeting friends after he leaves and will fly home with them). But I suspect I’ll be flying economy on the cheapest airline with the worst layovers. Unless of course I run out of antidepressants again. In which case I’ll stick a one-way first class ticket on the credit card and just be done with it.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Unsplash photo via Pina Messina