Updated: Feb 10, 2021
I've shared several posts about depression and medication topics and, in doing so, have shared pieces of my story. But where am I today and why? I believe in the transformative power of storytelling. Whether written or spoken, our stories are ours alone, but the hallmark of good stories is that they speak to our universal humanity.
It's been three years since I spent a week on the psychiatric floors at Danbury Hospital, CT, USA.
5 days and nights I will never forget.
I think I've shared in other blogs that I honestly did not want to be on any psychiatric medication and tried to get off them a few times. In 2012 I was finally at least 6 months medication free for the first time since 1991 (The most prolonged period I was able to stay off them in 23 years!). I reduced my prescription in the recommended amount and time. This timeframe depends on the medication's available doses, usually not more than 3, which is decreased step-wise within a 2-3 month timeframe—pharmaceutical companies market doses for getting safely on meds but do not provide quantities to get off safely.
I was in a great place in my life. I was beginning a new career and feeling optimistic. I handled myself professionally through a thorough and long interview process. I answered tough questions and marketed myself as the perfect candidate for the job because I genuinely believed I was—all without the benefit of antidepressants.
Once hired, I had three months on the job during which I had to demonstrate that I brought to the table what I said I did during the interview process. ✅ —all without the benefit of antidepressants.
Now, it's off to two weeks in sunny Arizona for training! I am an adventurous soul and a lover of lifelong learning. I viewed this as a wonderful opportunity for personal and professional development. And a chance to recharge. I had mild anxiety about flying alone. We mostly flew as a family those days. Still, it was normal parental separation, and I was good with it—all without the benefit of antidepressants.
My dear kind husband stands in the airport line with me until the very last moment. I'm about to show my identification and kiss my husband goodbye when I get a cell call from my then 16-year-old son. I won't go into the details. Suffice it to say, he was in distress, and I was worried for him. Still, I was able to hand him off to my husband's capable hands and suggest my husband keep him on the phone until he is back home.
Then I boarded the plane for a five hour non-stop to Phoenix.
I do my best to entertain myself and distract my thoughts from growing angst. I listen to music and read. It would be hours before speaking to either my husband or son. I spend the flight writing my son a mother's love letter on my phone. I write of all the wisdom he'll gain, the experience of feeling deep human emotions from this first and now lost love. I'm emotional because I'm not there for him during his first emotional loss. And want to tell him how lucky he is to feel deeply for someone and that people who feel deeply are stronger and wiser for it. I'm able to share my thoughts with him when I land. And he is already sounding like himself.
The following morning as the sun rises and peeks into my darkened hotel room, the cortisol in my brain spikes, as it does with us all, to help me wake. As I sit up in bed, some switch in my brain goes into overdrive. I feel my senses on hyper-alert. I experience extreme anxiety, intense thumping in my chest, and lightheadedness, unlike anything I've felt before. Not at all like anxiety I've had in the past. Suddenly I'm in fight or flight mode, and there is no threat. It takes all my strength to continue through two weeks of training.
My psychiatrist tells me it is the symptoms of my disease returning. It is a script that psychiatrists and physicians were given from the pharmaceutical companies; the result is most of us go back on the medication rather than feel debilitated and unable to work. And that is great for the pharmaceutical companies but not for us.
I don't understand, so I ask him, "Why did it take 6 months to come back when I was doing so well?"
His answer, which I'm paraphrasing, was that even though you are not taking the medication, it is still kind of spinning in your brain for a while. When it stops, and we don't know when it will, your symptoms reappear. This explanation made no sense to me.
What disease do I have officially? Clinical depression. I sought help with my postpartum depression in 1991. I ended up on medication and with a lifelong clinical depression diagnosis to go with it. This fact knawed at me constantly. Why am I still on these? Where is the support to get off if I want? For most, it isn't inside the medical industry but on sites like this one popping up all over the place!
All this only makes me want to get off and stay off antidepressants even more. But it isn't looking like a good time to continue getting off. I don't know how long it will take for these symptoms to reside. I worry about how will I function? How will I take care of my kids? How will I make a living with these unrelenting symptoms?
I had a choice to make and made it freely and super reluctantly. We had the lifestyle and the bills that come with a two-income family. Plus, I knew my demeanor at work had drastically changed as I battled symptoms daily in a competitive environment. I could lose this job. I went back on medication and continued to do well at work. I felt okay on it, except for the unpleasant side effects. Little neurological tics in my legs and torso and burning sensations on my back that make me gasp accompany me throughout my day. And the research shows it can become permanent in some.
We now know getting off psychiatric medications must be done slowly and carefully, or a good 30% of users will experience extreme and/or protracted withdrawal symptoms. Some of whom never recover. I don't want to be in that percentile.
Keep an eye out for this blog post's second and final installment coming soon.