I started taking Cipralex over three years ago. I had just started a new job that quickly became a big source of anxiety, depression and regret. In addition to this, my partner at the time and I were in a bad place surrounded by a lack of trust and a world of unspoken issues. I can pinpoint this as the time when if I had had the courage and the resources to change my circumstances, I may have been able to quell the anxiety enough to get by. Instead, it continued to mount and after a period of a few years where it had become quite manageable, I started to fear that it was returning at with the same strength it had 7 years earlier when it had more or less brought me to my knees.
I do not consider that beginning Cipralex was the easy way out; I do not consider that decision to be easy for anyone. There is so much uncertainty and fear that comes with that decision that anyone who says you took the easy way out and should have just “dealt” with it should be kicked in the balls, but hard. It can be a life altering decision and if you are really unlucky and find yourself experiencing the shopping list of insane side effects that can come with beginning one of these treatments, it can be more than just altering. I was prescribed 10mg to be taken daily but I only ever took 5mg, breaking each pill in half. Within a few weeks I was noticing that I was able to run more, go for walks on a busy street and make it through the work day without experience chest tightness, a rapid pulse or shaking hands. In other words, it really seemed to be working. I don’t know that I was less depressed, I just know that it allowed me to function without having the anxiety symptoms to contend with in addition to facing poor career decisions and a failing relationship. I felt a bit stronger. Sadly no pill in the world will change the people around you and jobs and relationships will fail no matter what safety net you have in place. So things went south and for the next three years there just never seemed to be a good time to come off of the meds. I still had some attacks while taking them, brought on largely by a lack of sleep, high stress and sometimes drinking (socially), but they were few and far between.
It was last fall (2013) that I decided to stop. I have been asked many times why I felt the need to come off of them and there is not one straight answer. I wanted to feel clean and clear, I wanted to see what life was like without the meds, I wanted to be able to take a cold & flu pill without worrying about possible drug interactions. I just got sick of being on them, logical or not. Very few people supported this decision and quite frankly they looked scared. Like me being off the pills was going to make life harder for them. I see their point, but Jesus.
I began by dropping the dose to 5mg every two days which I did for 5 months. In this period I did have some increased anxiety which actually leveled out after a few weeks. I was having a bit of head pressure, a bit of shakiness but nothing that I felt was more than I could handle and not what I would call severe. In late March of this year (2014), I decided to drop to 5mg every three days which I did for about three weeks and then, that was that. I was off of Cipralex, the one thing that I and I think anyone around me worried was the one thing holding me together. It was a terrifying realization that It was now just me and me alone. Freefalling
For the first couple of weeks things were mostly ok. I was moody, more depressed and definitely more anxious but anyone who experienced this past winter knows that many of us were in that state regardless of pre-existing conditions. That winter was relentless and I brushed off much of what was happening inside me as winter blues paired with a bit of withdrawal. Then around mid/late April, the bottom dropped out. There are many truths about these medications that a Doctor or online support group cannot tell you. You can prepare yourself for some discomfort (“you may experience a return of your anxiety”…), but you cannot prepare yourself for the world of shit that comes on when no one told you to expect it. So just when I thought the worst was over:
- Immense pressure in my head that lasted for several weeks. It felt like there was internal bleeding.
- Stiff neck that lasted for about two weeks and brought on significant pain and worsened the head pressure. No massage or warm bath alleviated this.
- Numbness in my face, neck and arms as though that half of my body had fallen asleep but would not wake up for hours. *Intense twitching in my eye, lasting hours at a time.
- Intense dizzy spells that would actually affect my balance when walking or standing still.
- Night sweats, soaking night sweats.
- Intermittent rage and uncontrollable crying. I mean sobbing.
- Faster than usual resting heart rate (I work out and do cardio 6x/week so I noticed when my heart felt like it was on doing a 5K without me)
- Anxiety attacks like I had never felt.
Once the real withdrawal started, it did not let up for about a month and a half before beginning to subside. Just thinking about these now is making me stop and rub my own shoulders. Like the memory could possible bring it all back. In that time I scoured the web for anyone who could list these similar symptoms and tell me that eventually it would subside, to just hang tight. Unfortunately that’s the real bitch of anxiety; it hits us all differently and takes different forms, much like the Cipralex withdrawal did. I found people who had somewhat similar symptoms and many who were going through something entirely different. I went to my Dr. (who frankly seemed angry that I had come off the meds and didn’t seem to want much to do with me after hearing this), got a series of tests and x-rays to rule out the possibility that it was something bigger (right back to 10 years ago) because telling yourself “this is normal” while the havoc is being wreaked on your body and mind is just not possible. I can’t remember a more frightening time since the onset of my first anxiety attack. I am not exaggerating when I tell you, it was hell. All I could do was keep showing up to work, to auditions, to social outings. I did my best to try and outlive it and it sucked. Every minute of every day of it sucked and I was scared as hell. The fact that my partner still looks at me as though there is anything desirable remaining after this ordeal is enough to make me consider marriage. He is a rock. I started a small regime after speaking to my Dr. and a pharmacist who suggested the following would help alleviate the withdrawal effects. I was already taking fish oil but splurged on a higher dosage. Each morning I took the following:
- Fish oil (900mg EPA/DHA)
- Vitamin B complex (50mg)
- Magnesium (100mg)
I read many times that a common withdrawal effect was something that people online referred to as “brain zaps”. I also read that the fish oil could help with that. I don’t know what a “brain zap” is but it sounds truly monstrous and if the fish oil can be credited with sparing me that, then thank you to the people at Webber Naturals. I may owe them what small amount of my sanity was left in the embers after this experience because any more unexplainable bodily chaos would have been more than I could have handled. The magnesium was recommended to me by a pharmacist who told me that when we have anxiety attacks, our magnesium levels drop and that taking the supplement would help to build it back up and reduce some symptoms at least mildly.
It is now August 18th and though I look back on the summer with some anger and resentment (and exhaustion) after having spent most of it continuing to battle the lingering twitches and the increased level of anxiety that has been left behind, I am feeling somewhat relieved. This worst really is over, it did get better. I can’t say that the supplements did or did not help, but they didn’t hurt. I noticed a slight calmness after taking the “calm” drink featured in the photo here. Also not a miracle worker, but a bit of the edge was taken off. I keep that on hand for days where I am unable to shake it off along with a pack of strong gum (my mother’s advice). The menthol helps keep my airways opened up and also helps me focus and think less about chest discomfort and dry mouth. Was coming off of Cipralex the right thing to do? I don’t know. My anxiety is worse again but I am having more good days as of late and it definitely is not life consuming. I am a bit more down sometimes as well, but I have always been somewhat of an Eeyore and I find I can live with that. I don’t spend too much time wondering if I should have stayed on the meds anymore, but I am angry. I have had to resist making an appointment with my Dr. just to take a few minutes to thank him for being so quick to prescribe something that he seemed to know nothing about. To thank him for not telling me about possible drug interactions (there were a couple of minor but scary incidents). Mostly to thank him for telling me that if I chose to come off the pills at any point, what to expect. Not his problem it seems, and that’s fucked up. Worse is that it seems to be the norm among practitioners (based on talking to people from the aforementioned online support groups as well as one or two friends who have opened up to me in the past couple of years) for a Dr. to prescribe these without a second thought and then say “the rest is up to you”. So I guess the bottom line is that a Dr. can prescribe, but he/she won’t be there to hold your hand when shit goes awry. I wished throughout this that people would talk more. These forums are great but why do we have to talk to strangers and then sit in front of a friend over coffee or a beer and pretend that none of this is happening?