I’ve been writing a lot about anxiety and depression, and I think that’s because it has been a huge influence in my life for the past few years. Last summer, when it was starting to feel like too much for me to handle, and with encouragement from my PCP, I decided to try medication. This wasn’t an easy decision, because prior to this I was very strict about what chemical substances I let into my body. I don’t even take hormonal birth control. But therapy alone just wasn’t cutting it, and I was finally convinced to give something different a try.
I went into the process expecting failure, which was probably a sign that this wasn’t the right thing for me to be doing, but with my trip abroad approaching, I was willing to try anything to get me happy and healthy again. For those of you who don’t know, taking antidepressants is a slow process. It takes weeks, sometimes even months, for you to notice any sort of improvement. I didn’t have that kind of time. I didn’t want to still be experimenting with different medications while on a different continent, away from my beloved Dr. Kang. Regardless, I took the prescription to the pharmacy and started popping my first pills of Celexa, a SSRI.
It was bad news. I’ll never know for sure if this was medication related or a result of my nerves surrounding taking the meds, but that night I woke up with some of the worst anxiety I have ever experienced. I spent the majority of the night hunched over the toilet, nauseas and dizzy. The next day, the doctor switched me to Zoloft, another SSRI.
I tolerated this one a little better, but after about a month, I wasn’t noticing any improvement. I felt tired all the time, and my anxiety was still very present. Maybe I should have given it more time, but I felt the pressure of September approaching, when I would be shipping myself overseas, and I wanted my quick fix.
The doctor decided to put me on a different family of anti-depressants called SSNRIs. Unlike SSRIs, which only affect one chemical in your brain, SSNRIs target two, serotonin and dopamine. They rewire the synapses in your brain to be able to produce and absorb more of these chemicals. It’s pretty powerful shit.
The medication he put me on was called Effexor. It was relatively new and showed a lot of promise from online reviews (don’t judge me), so I was optimistic. But it also is notorious for its side effects (nicknamed “side-Effexor”-yikes) and its unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. However I was at the end of my rope, and decided to give it a try.
I tolerated Effexor pretty well, surprisingly enough, and after about a week was actually starting to feel better. My anxiety subsided exponentially and my mood improved by the day. Soon enough I left for Spain, with a three month supply of my happy-pills in tow, and had the best time of my life, not once feeling depressed or (unbearably) anxious.
However when I got back, the tables turned completely. I fell almost immediately into my same rut of depression, and I was unsure why. I started worrying that the medication hadn’t actually been helping me at all, but rather the change in my setting that improved my mood. I saw the doctor at my school, and she increased my dosage. First by .5, and then double the amount I was originally taking. It didn’t help. If anything, I started feeling worse, not able to get out of bed in the morning, missing class and work almost daily. After a few months of feeling worse and worse, I made the decision to go completely off medication once and for all. I wanted to be back to normal Kelsey, even if normal Kelsey was an anxious mess. At least I would know that those feelings came from me and not from a pill.
However given the nature of the medication I was taking (and am still taking, at increasingly smaller doses), quitting cold turkey wasn’t an option. I needed to reduce the dosage by small amounts each week until it was completely out of my system. Currently, I am only down to the amount I was taking originally (75mg), but I have definitely been feeling the withdrawal. If I forget to take my pill too long after waking up, I’ll be hit with a dizzy spell so overwhelming, I have to lay down until it passes. I will get pins and needles, the kind you get from sitting on your leg for too long, but all over my body. I feel nauseas more often than I don’t. It’s a bad time.
I’m still not sure if deciding to quit taking medication is the best option for me. I know it’s a trial-and-error process, and there may be that one pill out there that magically cures all my problems, but for now what I need is to be cleansed of all of this. My biggest worry is that my depression will come back full force, and I’ll realize how much it was actually helping me this whole time, but that is a risk I am willing to take. It’s a constant battle, but I have faith in my strength to persevere through it. If anything, I am resilient.