What happened when I reduced my antidepressantsPosted: March 13, 2013
Have you ever felt like screaming and smashing something – not just once, but constantly? Ever woken up with a tense feeling in your stomach that won’t go away?
Well, in the space of one or two days, that’s how I felt when I reduced my dose of Citalopram – the antidepressant that has been my constant companion in varying doses for three years – from 20mg to 10mg.
This was meant to be the final push to glorious recovery from depression. It was supposed to be the dawning of a new era – my arrival in the Promised Land. While I don’t have a problem with taking the pills, I’d much prefer it if I didn’t have to.
I’d been well, or ‘stable’ if you like, for nine months when I went to see my doctor at the end of February. Last July, reducing my dose from 30mg to 20mg made no difference and this gave me great cause for optimism.
I’ve known from the moment I was prescribed antidepressants that coming off them is something you have to do gradually. I hadn’t appreciated quite how gradually. It’s astonishing how much difference 10mg of medication can make – or perhaps more precisely, it’s astonishing the effect of reducing your medication by 10mg can have.
Just one day after I’d lowered my dose, something happened that annoyed and upset me. I won’t go into that here. In the grand scheme of things, it was quite trivial. In the context of someone on the rollercoaster recovery from depression reducing his medication, it was massive.
I couldn’t break the black mood that descended. I didn’t even want to think anything positive. I was overcome with fury – possessed by it. My demonic old nemesis, Paul Brookes (a.k.a. Depression), had scuttled out from under his rock and was knocking on my door. In fact, he was threatening to beat it down.
I lived in this state of continuous tension, anger, skull-crushing headaches and distraction for ten days, before conceding that I would have to speak to my doctor again and increase the dose. I knew I was in trouble when I started to lose my memory again. During those nine months of feeling well, it had begun to return, and my thinking was much sharper.
Strangely, going back up to 20mg again has been a relief. It hasn’t felt like defeat or failure, and that’s how I know that this glitch is nothing more diabolical. I haven’t gone back to that kind of destructive thinking.
Although the experience has knocked my confidence and thrown me off course, depression has not returned, but the withdrawal felt like it had, with a vengeance. Later this spring, I’ll be going back to my doctor and we’ll try an even more gradual reduction.
It’s a bit like learning to ride a bike. You first have to get used to keeping your balance with the stabilisers on, then you might feel ready to try riding your bike without them. Some people master cycling straight away. Others take their time. They might sway all over the place, need extra help and support, or even fall off.
Ultimately, though, the bike’s still there, and most of us learn how to ride it.