Antidepressants Are Not Like Antibiotics...You Can't Just Stop

At 21, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. It was an experience I laugh about now. I was in college at the University of Florida. Keeping up with my rigorous class schedule, working, living away from home, drinking way too much and eating just about the most unhealthy foods known to all humanity... (Two words: Ramen Noodles) got the best of me. I remember going to the doctor after months of feeling lethargic, sore, hopeless and overall just worthless. I thought for sure I was dying! I didn't want to do ANYTHING. I used to love to lift weights. I didn't want to do that. I used to love to socialize and go out with friends. But I stayed in bed from the minute I got home to the minute I had to leave for class again. I was angry one second and crying the next.

I was so broke that I put off the doctor as long as I could because of the $20 copay. But when I went and told him to test me for cancer because I was sure I had it, he just laughed at me. After I listed off my symptoms and he did a few tests...he told me I was probably just depressed. He prescribed me antidepressants.

I was horrified. How could I possibly take antidepressants?!?! At this time, it wasn't nearly as talked about or accepted as it is now. This was 15 years ago. People thought if you had to take a pill for your 'mental illness', then you were crazy. There were no shades of grey. You're crazy and unstable or you're not.

I reluctantly took the lexapro every day and in just a week...I felt 10,583 times better. I got my normal self back. I was back in the gym. I was focused more in class and most importantly, I smiled again for the first time in months. I would even laugh from time to time.

But of course, like medicine should, I thought it cured me. Months had passed with me feeling just fine. Better than fine. So I figured I didn't need to take it anymore. Kind of like antibiotics, I assumed stopping abruptly was 'frowned upon' but not that big of a deal really. After all, I was better.

I was SO WRONG. I had brain zaps within a day or two of stopping. It felt like someone was connecting a car battery charger to my head and turning on the engine. I was sick to my stomach. I was dizzy and truly felt like I was withdrawing from something serious like heroin. I had the shakes. It didn't even occur to me until a few days later that perhaps quitting a brain altering drug cold turkey could affect me this way. Again, I was a 21-year-old kid.

A few weeks later, the withdrawal symptoms had subsided and I thought I was starting to turn a corner...until one day...that dark, ominous cloud returned.

The cycle began all over again.

Turns out, with a strong family history of mental illness and me turning an age where these types of things start to rear their ugly heads, the depression I experienced wasn't a temporary-stressed out-college-kid kind of thing. It was a real diagnosis. One that at that time I wasn't able to understand or even accept.

Over the last 15 years or so...I kept treating antidepressants like antibiotics...assuming I was 'cured' after taking my 30-day dose because inevitably I would feel much better. I now know the reason I felt better was because of the pills, not independent of them.

5 more times...yes, 5...I would be prescribed and then ultimately stop taking an antidepressant.

It was about 3 years ago when I got back on and every time I've wanted to stop...I've been able to slap myself into reality and kept going. There are plenty of reasons we convince ourselves we should stop...a little weight gain for some folks, headaches for others...nausea and occasional dizziness are the side effects that usually make me want to throw in the towel. But at the end of the day, if it's more than just circumstantial, you probably have an illness that doesn't get cured...it gets treated.

My kind of depression...a clearly genetic issue that's affected me for years, doesn't go away...ever.

You can keep playing the back and forth game like so many people do, or you can accept what you can't change and you can be happy. That's ultimately what I decided to do 3 years ago and I'm so glad the roller coaster is over.

My husband (who has severe anxiety and always has) tried getting off his Zoloft a few months ago, without telling me, and let's just say he'll never do it again. He had 3 panic attacks in as many weeks...for no reason at all. It wasn't until I suggested he consider changing up his medication when he told me he hadn't even been on it at all. I gave him the look I gave myself 5 times before...it's the 'come on you know better than this because there's nothing wrong with medication if you need it' look.

He's back on now ... has finally accepted what he can't change and is happy, calm, content. As am I. We're about as 'normal' a family of 4 as you could ask for and I know us accepting our flaws and addressing them has a lot to do with it.

If you struggle with the idea of going to a doctor to talk about this kind of problem, don't wait another second. There's such a bright, vibrant, happy life to be lived. And if you get so far as to take the medication you're prescribed...I only hope you stick with it. There's no shame in what's right for you and your family. Learn from my mistakes...don't try to be a hero. The real strength is when a person can ignore the fear of what others might think.

Mix Mornings with Laura Diaz

Mix Mornings with Laura Diaz

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