I started taking them after the birth of my second daughter. I suffered from postpartum depression.
I identified what I was experiencing as postpartum depression because I had suffered from it 7 years earlier after the birth of my oldest daughter. Only at that time, I didn’t know what postpartum depression was. I suffered in silence for the better part of a year. It was different back then (in 2001). I was young, the internet was around but not as prevalent in my life. I couldn’t research the disease or find a community of other women who were experiencing the same thing. It was more “taboo” and not widely talked about.
However, when I had my second daughter, I recognized those “dark days” right away. I was more mature. More self-aware. More inclined to be an advocate for my health.
Under the supervision of my doctor, I went on antidepressants, and they helped me tremendously.
A year went by and I was working 50 hours a week. I was in school ¾ time and I was taking care of a baby and a 7-year-old. My mother and father were both battling cancer, yet I was managing.
I attributed my good mental health to the medication I was taking. I probably could have talked to my physician about weening off the medication, but I never did. I was afraid. I DID NOT want to go back to that dark place. I took on the attitude of “If it isn’t broke, don’t ‘fix it.”
As the years went by, I matured even more. I became even more self-aware, and I became an even better advocate for my own mental health.
Here I was in my mid-forties and in a place in my life where I stopped experiencing all the anxieties and insecurities of my younger self.
I was secure in my marriage, my role as a mother, and my ability to assess my own mental health. I no longer cared what other people thought, and I knew when life threw a curve ball at me I’d be able to get through it. I realized no one was keeping score of what I did or did not do in my life.
I found myself at my physician’s office ready to talk to her about going off my antidepressants. I honestly couldn’t believe that I was on them for almost a decade… shocked even. She agreed, and set me on a schedule to ween myself from them.
Let me be very clear. Getting off antidepressants is very serious business and must be done with medical supervision.
When antidepressants are suddenly stopped, the body may respond with physical and emotional symptoms caused by the sudden absence of increased serotonin levels that occur while taking the medicine. About one in five people who take an antidepressant for six or more weeks may experience discontinuation symptoms upon weening off the medication. The longer you are on the medications, the stronger the symptoms.
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms that may occur when weening off antidepressants could include all or some of the following:
- Depression and mood swings
- Dizziness and balance problems, possibly vertigo
- Electric shock sensations
- Flu-like symptoms
- Loss of coordination
- Muscle spasms
- Trouble sleeping
Symptoms usually go away within a few weeks. But if you have extremely severe withdrawal symptoms, your doctor may recommend other medicines to relieve them.
I experienced withdrawal symptom for about 3 weeks. They weren’t as bad as I thought, considering the length of time I had taken medication. I was dizzy a lot and I felt nauseous at times. I felt the “brain zaps” about a dozen times. I can only describe them as an intense dizziness followed by a few seconds of disorientation.
But what about my mental health? For me the best ways to gauge how I was doing was to ask myself if my mental illness was consistently affecting my daily life without the medications.
For me, the answer was “no.” I knew this with certainty because shortly after I was completely off my medication, my father got very sick and died in my home from cancer.
I experienced grief, but it was what I considered a normal and expected kind of grief. It was nothing like the “dark pit of despair” I experienced when I was in the throes of my worst depression after having children.
There are many levels of mental illness and many ways to treat it. It is a deeply personal subject and one that is continuously surrounded by controversy.
Some people will be crippled by this disease for the rest of their lives. They may find they can never stop taking medication. I’m not here to debate the virtues or evil of these meds, but only to tell you about my personal experience.
For me, taking a pill once a day allowed me to live and enjoy my life during a time when I was not able to function on my own.
I don’t need the medications right now. However, if I feel that crippling despair encroach on me again, I would go back on medication. I’m not ashamed. I’m thankful I have the presence of mind and the resources to do so.
Do I think I stayed on them too long?
Yes, I do.
But I’m not going to beat myself up about that. I did the best I knew how at the time.
I was afraid to stop taking them. I was afraid to go to that dark place again. I still am afraid. But for now, today, I’m living my life, stressors and all, without medication and I’m doing just fine.
The content of this blog is the personal experience of the author and is not meant to substitute any advice provided by medical professionals. If you suspect that you are facing mental-health related problems, you are strongly encouraged to seek professional help.