Day 6 without medication. Hello. I'm alive.
After nearly 3 years, I've finally titrated off of (tapered off) and gone without my medication. If you've known me and this blog for years, you know that I suffered a shattering blow to my brain after the birth of my daughter (after 4 miscarriages). I learned first hand the devastating effects of Post Partum Depression although it went untreated for 11 months. At the time, I described it as a "molotov cocktail to the brain."
I was put on Effexor 37.5 mg, the lowest dose officially available. My dose was never increased because I had what I'd call "positive results" including no more insane, angry freak-out episodes from hell and no more suicidal thoughts (never had thoughts of hurting my baby, just myself).
Being on Effexor made me feel almost better than I did PRE-baby which led me to ask my doctor if this was possible.
"Yes, it could be addressing things you had before, that you've always had but haven't treated."
This is where the term "Attention Deficit Disorder" comes in. I heard it for the first time to describe how my brain works - and apparently has worked for decades - during therapy sessions to deal with the grief of 4 miscarriages.
I was supposed to be on medication for 3 months.
At 3 months, my doctor said "We're getting close to winter here in Alaska. Why don't you stay on through the winter. I hate to take patients off medication when it's always dark outside."
OK, made sense. I agreed.
The next Spring I asked about getting off of it.
"Is it working for you?"
"Yes," I admitted.
"Maybe you should stay on for a little while longer," she suggested, and I agreed.
Then it was winter again.
The following Spring, I told her "I don't want to get off it. I'm finally pulling my life back together and healing all the damage my Post Partum Depression caused me and my family."
She agreed I should stay on it.
Getting off Effexor.
I wasn't planning to get off my medication. I had 3 alarms that would go off daily to remind me to take it because I had read about how horrific withdrawals could be.
Here is what happened one time when I forgot to take my medicine. I knew that the plan for titration would start with putting aside 1-2 weeks to handle the side effects of titrating off medication like this.
"Your brain will try to trick you into believing you need it," my doctor said. "But you don't. Just keep repeating this mantra: 'This too shall pass.'"
I liked how zen that sounded. I was terrified of getting off the drug that I also hated to admit had made me better.
But I was starting to experience things that seemed like my body warning me that it was time to get off Effexor...or else
My Side Effects from Effexor.
- ringing in my ears
- blurring vision
- dry mouth
- hair loss - I didn't realize that my continued progressively worsening loss of hair was potentially due to antidepressants until this article in the New York Times.
Each of the above alone could be warning signs about the Effexor. In combination, they were a clear sign it was time either to switch to another medication or the get off of it entirely.
My life was in more order than ever before, but was it just because of the drugs? I felt ready to try to stop medication altogether. I had lived fine for 40 years without it so I was pretty hopeful I could be better again.
My titration plan was to use a 25 mg tablet and continue cutting it down as follows:
1 Week of 25 mg.
1 Week of 12.5 mg in morning and 12.5 mg in evening (1/2 tablet)
1 Week of 6.25 mg in morning and 6.25 mg in evening (1/4 tablet)
1 Week of 6.25 mg
Then no meds with the ability to take a little if the side effects from withdrawing were hard to bear.
I followed the above schedule almost to a tee, however, the second week was extended to almost two weeks, not because I was feeling badly, but because I was at a conference and traveling for 10 days with my daughter and just wanted to make sure I didn't create an untenuous situation for myself...or others.
This post is written on Day 6 without medication.
My biggest symptom now? I don't know who the hell I am.
This discovery isn't exactly what I had anticipated and certainly not what the doctor told me might happen. I told this to someone the other day and they said "Well, you're probably the Aliza you were before you went on medication."
Well, not exactly, and here is why.
Immediately pre-meds, I was in the hellish throes of Post Partum Depression. OK, easy to know that Was. Not. Me.
I wasn't me the entire year after having my daughter. My symptoms of PPD were so pronounced it still floors me to this day that the midwives who treated me during my pregnancy didn't recognize the signs.
Before having a baby, I was in a 2-year hormone cocktail of pregnancy/miscarriage hormones. No, that wasn't "me" either.
I am thinking this was probably more the "me" that I would know and recognize, however, which Pre-Pregnancy me? The Pre-Marriage Aliza would be an entirely different Aliza than the Post-Marriage Aliza. Because I firmly believe there is who we are fundamentally but also who we become because of our life situations and experiences.
So I think I'm probably closest to the Post-Marriage me, however, I'm now 5 years into marriage so I can't really be the Post-Marriage me that was a newlywed.
So I'm also part Pre-Marriage Aliza because that was the ultra career focused me, the one that could do that job of 8 people and run circles around procrastination. That was the Aliza that would work a full day then spend the wee hours of the morning doing additional jobs and work like freelance writing. Nobody would tell me to go to sleep so I just immersed myself in working and creating and loved every minute of that.
Of course, back then, I had an employer who literally told me to "slow down. Nobody can keep up with the amount of work you do and people are getting angry."
Aliza's Brain Redux
I've always thought my brain works differently than most people. I have only recently met someone who may have a brain similar to mine and also someone who is used to working with someone with a brain like me so I finally felt "understood."
This is how I've explained my brain in the past:
There are right brained people. And there are left brained people. I'm a both-brained person.
But that description wasn't good enough, wasn't quite right.
I also would see images like this:
I'd see the above and think - OK, I get that. That is someone else's brain. But THIS is my brain...
Turning on my brain was never a problem. It was constantly firing on all 8 cylinders. Turning off my brain was a problem but never insurmountable, and I never turned to drugs to it quiet down. Except now that I think of it, red wine has always played an important part of my evening winding down ritual (except when pregnant).
So physically, I am having wacky, wonky moments of twisted equilibrium and feeling like my brain is being shaken in a jar full of jelly. But I'm getting through those feelings because This Too Shall Pass.
I've also been thinking that there is a fine line between inspiration and madness. This is my reality.
The harder part of getting off meds is getting to know myself again and figuring out how that person fits into the person I need to be today to handle my life, my responsibilities and my desires. My biggest desires? Continue to grow and strengthen my relationship with my husband; continue to grow and strengthen my relationship with my daughter; and continue to grow and strengthen my relationship with...ME.
What have your experiences been with coming off medication? Or just figuring out who the heck you are?