What’s it really like to take Antidepressants? I think many of us ask that, especially those who think it might be the next step on their journey. I was like that. In fact, I was terrified of taking them. I battled with myself; sure that I should be able to do without them; concerned about how others would react or what they would think of me; and wrestling with how they ‘measured up’ to my faith. But above any of those things, came these worries – How will they affect me day-to-day? Will they ‘change’ who I am? And will I become addicted to them?
Turns out, I am not the only one questioning like this. I know because I came across 1000’s of others asking those things. Perhaps the worst thing you can do, when trying to decide the way forward with and AD, is to type your question into Mr ‘know-it-all’ Google! I did, and I firmly regretted it. I was met with countless sites and forums, where many were asking those questions, with even more in-putting their answers. Unfortunately, 90% of the time, the advice is very negative, with people sharing the worst of their own experience without the leveler of some of the best!
This scared me even more! EVERYONE seemed to have a horror story and their ‘worst of the worst’ scenario to impart. Now, with my logical head on, I can understand why. I think people feel the need to the share their pain, and many find comfort in connecting with others, on forums, who are suffering as they are. I have come to accept that those with positive stories are not contributing to the pages – they have moved forward in their experience and are not necessarily moving in those circles anymore. So the advice seems to be weighted towards the negative. If you do a search (which I don’t recommend) you’ll find people sharing terrible side effects, disastrous reactions and painful examples of how they work.
With that in mind, I feel the need to share a balanced account (hopefully) of what an antidepressant has been like for me.
Before I continue, I want to be clear – I was prescribed medication by my GP. I recommend you only consider taking them if you have also been given a prescription by a medical professional.
I was given 20mg of Citalopram, initially. I’ll willingly admit, I was distraught taking the first tablet – I cried as I put it in my mouth; wishing it wasn’t where I had ended up; frightened of how they’d leave me. But I had got to the end of myself and knew that they were my last hope, and I had to be willing to try anything.
So…what about all these dreaded side effects everyone talks about? Ok, let me be honest. They do come with side effects, but in reality many things do, even if we don’t really noticed it. Sometimes I wonder if they are heightened when someone is taking an AD as we are already ‘on the edge,’ so notice every little thing our bodies do. Anyway, if you read the leaflet with the medication, you’ll get a in-depth review of what CAN happen not what WILL happen. Not everyone gets every thing on the list; some people get a couple; others actually get none! Of course, I had myself in such a state that I was expecting to get everything on the list – no matter how illogical I knew that to be – so I had myself prepared to become an absolute mess and be removed from them immediately. Thankfully that did not happen. But, yes, in all honestly I did experience SOME side effects.
You are warned, that for the first few days/weeks you might feel worse before you feel better, that suicidal thoughts might increase and you may end up feeling very ‘down’ and distressed as the medication settles in. Yep! That happened with me. It was horrible, I did feel like giving up, but I held onto those around me and trusted that this was ‘just the medication’ settling and it would pass. I will absolutely not deny that this was a very dark time. I needed my family around to encourage me to keep talking about how I feeling. As they were aware of this initial side effect they kept a close eye on where I was at. I promise that the darkness did pass and things did begin to look up. The key, I think, is to make sure another person knows that you are starting and this is a common problem – so you are not facing it alone.
My other side effects, for the first few weeks, were – difficult sleeping or resting peacefully. But I switched to taking them in the morning (with food!) and that helped – my body was not starting to process them during the night. I also found that I was a ‘bit out of it’ for the first few weeks, sweating a lot, making lots of saliva and found it hard to focus and concentrate. They also made me dizzy and nauseous. After about 4 weeks most of that went and what was left was at a minimal level, so I could easily deal with it. When I had my medication dose increased 6 weeks in, many returned for a short time, with a few new appearing. Again, these did go. I am now on 40mg of Citalopram – which I am told is the highest dose of this drug.
Truthfully, I do have continuing side effects – weird dreams, occasionally feeling a bit sick and dizzy and my head being foggy. I also have numbness in my arms, which will often wake me up in the night, alongside the crazy dreams!! I can also find it hard to focus my eyes on things, like the computer. Many mornings, I wake up with a ‘hangover’ sensation – despite not having touched a drop. From chatting to others this is quite ‘normal’ with the drug. On that note, you’ll read lots of advice on alcohol and AD’s. My experience is that my tolerance level is significantly lower – so I have to be careful. I have come to accept these all as simply side effects, which makes them easier for me to deal with. I sometimes have lots of headaches and feel exhausted, but much of that could also be PND related and not the medication.
How long does it take of them to work? Umm…that’s a hard question to answer. I found that at 4 weeks I turned the corner where side effects where concerned, so I could start to see some of the positives. But my therapist assured me that it would take a good 3 months (at my max strength dose) for me to really feel the true benefit. That would only have been this month. Yes, I do notice a big difference. Very much so where my anxiety and physical symptoms are concerned; definitely at helping to regulate my emotions; and certainly at mentally keeping my thoughts in check. But that doesn’t mean that every day is good – I shared last week that I was struggling with a ‘set back’, you can read that here.
I guess the best way I can describe, what Citalopram has done for me, is this – they have stabilised my base line. For so long my ‘base line’ i.e. day to day how I was coping and generally feeling about life was like this –
So I was constantly up and down, never knowing how I’d feel from one minute to the next. That meant that when I was faced with anything out of the ordinary – good or bad – I had no means to cope with it all, as my energy was being taken up just trying to survive whatever point I was at, in that moment. The AD’s have helped to stabilise my base line so that it looks more like this –
I feel more settled, more secure, more calm, more confident minute to minute, hour to hour. I am more stabilised. I can cope with more and respond in appropriate ways to things that happen. So, when I have a bad time I have a much more stable base line to work with and come back to. I’m not sure if that makes sense to you, it does to me!
Am I addicted? No, SSRI’s are not addictive. They are not healing me, they allowing me space and time to get the help I need to recover. That being said, I have no desire to come off them anytime soon and do not feel the need to know when that will be. When I am ready, I will take that step – I will blog that too, so you know what that process is like!
This post is not an ‘endorsement’ of AD’s. I do not believe that they are the only answer in times of trouble, nor are they the right choice for everyone. I have not taken time to argue why I think it’s okay to take them or to dispel the myths that (I believe) can surround them and faith. That’s not the point of this post. I have shared my experience to open up some of the dark clouds that surround information on what taking an AD looks like. I want to help anyone else, like me, who is online searching for some support before taking that step, or is in the midst of difficult side effects.
To anyone reading in that position – you will not know how you’ll get on until you try. No one can tell you what YOUR experience will be like. If for some reason it is awful (I have no reason to believe that it will be) you will need to stop taking them and talk to your GP. Please do not be put off trying something that might help, out of fear – it might be just what you need. If your side effects are miserable and you are reading this to get some hope – it does get better! Hang in there. There were honestly a few times I thought about quitting, but I’m so glad I haven’t. Of course it hasn’t been plain sailing but neither was life before them, trying to deal with PND on my own. For me they have truly been a life line. Don’t let anyone else’s opinion about AD’s sway you, including mine.
Again, let me stress, I am NOT a medical professional and I am just another hit on “Mr Google”. If you really need in-depth help, regarding your medication, please get in touch with your GP – they know much more, than I do, about you and your situation.
Feel free to get in touch, if you’d like to me answer anymore particular or personal questions, I will try to do so honestly! If you’d like to leave a comment about your experience of medication please do so in as balanced a way as possible. Let’s all remember, someone may be reading this, in the depths of despair, so we should be mindful and careful for their sake!
**Edited now to include this update – “Coming off Citalopram, antidepressants, for Postnatal Depression”.