As many of you who read my blog regularly will know I have been engaged in therapy now for just over 18months and if I’m honest my life is being transformed as a result. There have been many milestones along the way, from my adventures at the seaside to those in the kitchen and it’s certainly been an experience. This week I celebrated another milestone though that for me personally means so much, I have finally stopped my anti-depressant medication.
Now this may not seem like a huge achievement to many people but believe me when I say that it is, after all I have been taking these pills for such a long time. I never thought I’d get to this point and it’s not been without its challenges after all my psychiatrist wasn’t on board with the changes. But there is nothing worse than a determined woman, a woman on a mission and I guess that was me.
Back in the 1970’s I was prescribed my first set of anti depressants I was a little short of my tenth birthday at the time I didn’t know what the pills were for, I just knew I had to take them. I knew they numbed my pain I guess and even if they didn’t I was made to take them by my mother anyway, my teachers were so concerned at the sedation they caused they wrote to my doctor explaining their concerns and fears, but little was changed. Sedated and numbed from life I entered my teens and twenties in a daze a drug infused daze not of my own making.
I stayed on medication for the majority of the next decade and by then they became my crutch. Joined by Benzodiazepines this cocktail of pills was my lifeline and right through my twenties and thirties these pills remained a present force in my life. Yes they’d be stopped and started by the doctors depending upon how my life was, but I spent more time on them than off and rarely had any time without either of them.
I have lost track of the various varieties of pills I have been prescribed but recall Prozac featured highly in my thirties, there was propranolol and Sertraline, whilst Valium and Diazepam well they were my benzo friends. By the time I reached hospital in the early 2000’s I was stuck on anti depressants and then the medical profession placed me on a list of other medication. It became a regular cycle of tablets, the good old medical model of care and each time my medication was reviewed it would be added to rather than re-evaluated fully. Suddenly in 2007 it was decided that the new type of anti depressants didn’t suit me and so I was forced back onto old style drugs like lofepramine which I’ve taken for the past 8 years. I can’t recall a time I didn’t take some form of prescribed medication and that, well that became scary.
In hospital the drugs lists just got longer and longer as more and more drugs were added to the list, seroquel was stuck in there, despite me not having any symptoms that would warrant such a drug. It came to a head about three years ago when I realised I couldn’t think or feel in any way, I slept more than I was awake as a result of the cocktail of legally prescribed medication I was made to take. It was a feeling I remembered from my childhood and those early days of being medicated, I told my then GP I needed to try and sort out the sedation it was impacting upon my life and thankfully she listened. Slowly we reduced and then stopped the Seroquel but it did take many many months and when I suggested further reductions she said not unless your team approved, they didn’t.
So for the past couple of years I have complied with this guidance despite believing the drugs made absolutely no difference to my well being at all. I did manage to persuade the team to allow me to reduce the diazepam down from over the legal limit to an average amount, yet they didn’t want to go any further than a partial reduction. But that changed a few months ago when sick of the side effects of the lofepramine I spoke to my current GP, who was willing to help without seeking the teams input first, so we began a slow reduction of both the lofepramine and the diazepam.
Each reduction had to run at least a month before we reduce further and every reduction was tiny in order to avoid massive withdrawals. Previously I encountered horrific withdrawals when refusing medication in hospital, my refusals back then were more about me trying to gain some control in the chaos of my life at that time. Of course serious withdrawals just led to forced medication and even more control, being exerted over me. This time around this was a serious decision made with a great deal of thought and self belief and to ensure my safety I read all the literature I could find on the impact of withdrawals and became quite hyper vigilant at looking for signs.
Twice we had to stall the reductions and let my body catch up with coping with suddenly not having as much of these drugs inside us. I have been quite persistent at getting further reductions and my GP and I have often laughed at the irony of a patient who is actually not asking for pills but wanting to stop them, it’s apparently rare. My diazepam reduction is still ongoing we have three more weeks to go before I hope we can finally say goodbye to the drug I’ve taken for the majority of my life.
But this week heralded that moment when I stopped the last of my lofepramine, I’m keen to ensure that there will be no more anti depressant tablets in my medication cabinet. My poor team didn’t know a thing so imagine my joy at sitting in my CPA and announcing to the old team worker and my newly appointed care coordinator from the new team that I’ve reduced and come off this medication. The look on their faces was priceless and I’m glad I did this reduction the way I did, in my control and without their support.
You see I knew these meds were not helping me, I knew I wasn’t depressed, I knew my anxiety levels were significantly lower than its ever been. In fact I know that I feel so so much better as a result of stopping this medication, I know I’ve been proved right I didn’t need these drugs, they didn’t help me.
What has been the impact of all of these medication reductions, well for the first time in my life I am feeling real feelings, my feelings. I can cry tears that I know are mine, not falsely suppressed or brought on by a drug. I’m actually waking earlier than before and I’m coping really well with any changes in anxiety levels, I’m utilising alternative techniques to cope with life. Mindfulness is really helping me as is being able to talk about things with my psychologist, understanding why I cry and why I have low days is helping me to grow and develop.
I no longer sleep in the daytime and I’m managing to pace my life to make it safe and manageable, I felt able on Monday to tell the medical professionals that I know my body, my moods my emotions and if I need help I’ll ask, until then I don’t want them to force medication onto me. For the first time in my life I feel empowered and I feel alive.
Forty years of mental health sedation is quite enough and now I’d like to move forwards free from all the impact of chemical stimulants and suppressants, I want to fly I want to soar high and live the life I’ve never been able to do. This is a turning point and yes today I’m wearing a big broad smile on my face.
Disclaimer : Please be advised never stop taking any medication without first seeking medical advise. Any prescribed medication should be taken in accordance with prescribing guidelines.
Copyright DID Dispatches 2015