I’m not a doctor. And I am in no way giving medical or mental health advice. This is just my story.
With that disclaimer out of the way, here’s what happened.
I stopped taking the antidepressant that saved my sanity 5 years ago when intrusive thoughts about harm coming to my children were destroying my life. I had a new baby and a two year-old. You can read what I wrote back then in my blog entry, Haunted Housewife.
I tapered down gradually because the side effects feel like biting down on tinfoil with braces on-an intermittent zapping in the brain that produces not only discomfort, but sound. I’d love to tell you that I had a plan, but I just saw that my prescription was going to run out long before my yearly doctor appointment, so I started taking less medication, sometimes forgetting for days until the zapping became life-alteringly bad, then taking it again until the symptoms subsided. Every day, I vowed to call the doctor “tomorrow,” a perfect plan for something I never intend to do.
My mood changes with the spring. That change is subtle in Southern California. Some years, it’s undetectable. This year, we’ve had a tremendous amount of rain, so as the stretches between storms become longer and the days get warmer, it feels undeniably like spring is coming. I feel all of the feels that I would mark “cliche” in the margins of my students’ papers. Rebirth, awakening, heightened sexual awareness.
(Probably a good place to stop reading, Dad. Love you)
Things have been bad between Odie and me. Things have been bad between everyone and me. I’m grouchy with my students. I have pulled back from friendships unless you count Facebook. And, you don’t. My closest work collaborator and I drifted apart after two years of productive collegiality and John Oliver jokes. In short, my life was what Bud Light tastes like. I just plugged into my computer to read, watch Hulu (Netflix is for hip people), or search for something fulfilling on the internet.
One day, a long time coming, it blew up. Odie let me know all of his frustrations from my laundry on the floor to my empty Diet Coke cans stacked up Revenge of the Nerds beer pyramid style on the table by my reading couch. But when I listened to his litany of complaints about me, underlying it was the real story: you won’t have sex with me anymore.
I had no interest, and when I did do it – always for him, because I love him – I felt almost nothing. I wouldn’t keep eating chocolate if I couldn’t taste it.
Where’s the pill for that? My body would be so bangin’.
Other than feeling zappy, I was sad. I no longer cared so much about my spinning obsession. 4-5 days a week, every week became a habit in February 2015. The difference in my body, mood, and confidence was striking to every person who knows me. When the invasive thoughts started coming back, my coping mechanism was to block them with self-loathing. Like a familiar groove in wood, so easy to slip into. I have to give myself credit, though. It was self-care in its own bizarre way. I have a tool chest of far more self-destructive and terrifying ways to block the assault of my own brain chemicals. Cutting. Drinking. Cheating.
So, I stopped exercising, and then I had something to constantly think about and hate myself for. To make plans to fix, but let myself down, and then berate myself over. It kept my mind very busy. I’m almost 45, so the softening of my body as well as the fit of my clothes was noticeable quickly.
Two weeks ago, I stopped taking any pills. The taper was done. The zapping almost never happens anymore. I got up at 4:45 to go to spinning at 5:30. I got dressed. Then I went on the app on my phone and late-canceled the class. Odie got up, stumbled past me to the coffee machine, and asked, “Working out?”
“I just canceled. I don’t know how to make myself go anymore.”
“Yeah, I don’t know how to make you do stuff either,” he replied. When we’d argued, I’d been angry and defensive. The guy who used to sit in my passenger seat with his knees to his chest on top of books, clothes, Diet Coke cans and other trash was going to give me shit about being a slob as if I’d suddenly become one? He knew what he was getting. But I didn’t feel angry because I heard his sadness and pain, and a lot of it was my fault.
It turns out, there is no trick to it. I just went. I was late, but I showed up. I hated the music mix my instructor played that day (Justin Beiber? Really? Aren’t we all adults?), but I showed up. I didn’t touch the tension knob the entire class, but I showed up.
“Didn’t you cancel?” the teacher asked?
“Yeah, I had a hissy fit over being late and being tired and being miserable, but then I realized I’d just hate myself more if I didn’t show up.”
“Good for you. I’m proud of you!”
That’s it. Show up. It sucks, but I feel better about 20 minutes into a 50 minute class. The first 19, I’m hating it, especially if the music isn’t good. Then my body sort of goes, “Oh, we’re doing this? All right.” By minute 40, my endorphins kick in and I am high for about three hours.
The gauge of my well-being is this. I have to walk up two flights of stairs to my classroom. If my legs feel it at the top because I worked out that morning or the day before (I alternate days), then I am at peace with myself. If I ditched a workout, it’s when I climb the stairs that I remember it, because the movement of my thigh muscles reminds me for good or ill what I’ve done. It sets the tone for my day. I’ve gone Friday and Sunday for a month straight, and last week, I did Sunday, Wednesday, Friday. It’s made all the difference.
I think I can manage my depression with diet and exercise for now. Cut back on the sugar and processed food, ramp up the cardio. Sex is also crucial. Sometimes I feel angry at Odie for his prototypical male libido. Aren’t there more important things to think about and prioritize in this world? It’s easy to think that way with no desire coursing through my brain or body, and no satisfaction to be had from doing it if I did just starfish for the team. Now that I have back the desire and the physical response, it’s a bizarre feeling. How did I forget this? How did I ever think I could live without it, or that our marriage could survive without it? Or that it should? Just a familiar, self-preservation groove. It made sense while it made sense, and now it doesn’t.
If I find myself in another mental health crisis, I am willing to take medication. It saved me. I was on the verge of not being able to bond with my children. With that crisis handled, though, I can’t continue to take the cure for the crisis when the fallout of that cure creates a crisis in my marriage.
This week, I quoted a John Oliver joke to my colleague. He laughed. It’s spring.
I’ve been so scared to stop my medication even though I think it’s time I should. I suspect that better self-care might also be enough to achieve the same result. I’ve never been disciplined enough to trust that I will exercise properly, but meds or not I really need to. In short, you could not have written a more timely post (for me). Thank you! I’ll be thinking of you when my legs hurt and my heart soars.
Again, make sure you talk to your own doctor. I don’t advise doing it the way I did it. That said, I hope that you find self-care that works for you. I wish they’d come out with drugs that help my brain but don’t ruin my sex life. Wouldn’t that be amazing? Take good care. Thank you for reading and responding.
I commented years ago to tell you how much I enjoy your writing, and I still do. I had the same side effects from antidepressants, and the same zaps when I stopped taking them. (I also had insomnia.) Have managed to stay above water for 10 years with self-care and hyper-awareness of symptom onset signs. The key is to be totally self-aware and willing to medicate again if necessary, which it sounds like you are. Best of luck to you. I hope this means that you’ll write more. 🙂
Me too, Kelly. Thank you! It means a lot.
I’ve never been on psychiatric meds, so I can’t really comment on that. I did try taking hormonal birth control, and, in me, it acted like the reverse of psych meds in that they made me into a depressed psychotic bitch, with no libido, to boot. I always say that the way hormonal BC works is by making you not want to have sex in the first place.
I love what you say about simply showing up. It is something I know well, both in the gym and in the voice studio. There are days when the drive simply isn’t there, but I do it anyway, and I never regret it. Even if I simply do a few minutes, it builds more of the me I want to be.
I had the same problem with hormonal birth control! It’s so great to be able to have a natural hormone cycle. I’m lucky my husband had a vasectomy, because I couldn’t breast feed forever. As for showing up, good point. Sometimes even just a few minutes is all you can do, but you know that another time, you’ll do more, and you’ll have the momentum of having shown up before. My instructor says, “You can’t always be motivated, so you must be disciplined.”
Ha! I had the Husband fixed, too. When my Diva Cup suctioned out my copper IUD, I said “It’s on YOU now, buster!” I tried hormonal BC in the time while we were waiting for his snippage appointment. It wasn’t a fun time for anyone.
I love “You can’t always be motivated, so you must be disciplined.” A musician has no choice. A working musician even less so.
I appreciate you sharing your truth. I see myself there in you sometimes and I’m never quite sure what steps I need to take to remedy the crisis(s) in my life. Most often I just wish there was a pill for when I’m at the height of anxiety, otherwise I think I use the low levels of anxiety to be a better human being, which sounds odd I know. Simple example, I had horrible parents (criminally not just me being whiny) and I have a lot of anxiety about myself being a horrible parent, so it motivates me to be thoughtful and purposeful in my parenting and not swing the entire other direction. This usually works well for me. But when I do make a mistake, a #mommyfail if you will, I completely melt down like I’m a horrible human being. Mentally I know it’s okay but emotionally I lose my shit. I’d like a pill for those moments to bring me back from the ledge. I know depression and anxiety are not the same thing but they are “sisters” so again I can see a bit of me in your story. Anyway way too much sharing for me to say…. thank you for this post.
I look forward to your replies. You remind me of Odie’s situation. I think he has similar challenges. He will defend his parents. but their neglect and abuse was literally criminal. And I don’t use the word “literally” figuratively like most people do. I am sorry that your parents failed you. I am sure that you are breaking that cycle in wonderful ways. We all have our mommyfail moments. I see Odie struggle so hard to be the perfect father he never had (hell, he didn’t even have an average father. He had NO father). He thinks he can’t make any mistakes or that every little mistake will have devastating effects. I try to talk him down. We feed them, shelter them, clothe them, bathe them, love them, and educate them. We never hit them or leave them alone . They’re going to be messed up like all people but they’re going to be okay! Never too much sharing from you. I love your replies. xoxo
You are a dear and always have just the right words to say, both in describing your story and replies. I’m so glad you are using your gift when you find the time, I do hope someday you can get not “just” accolades from us but make some good money from this as well. It’s nice when gifts can be rewarding in many ways. I also wish this for my daughter who wants to be an actress, Gd love her, and script writer. (She has had one paid gig and a few starring roles in unpaid shorts, but eventually she’d like to use it to pay bills).
I tried the pharmaceutical merry-go-round (Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Lexapro, Trazodone) but found the side effects intolerable. So now I (mis)manage my depression & anxiety using my wobbly 3-legged stool of diet, exercise, & adequate sleep (a real challenge w/my chronic insomnia).
It would do me a great deal of good to get my workout mojo back, but it seems to be MIA.
I wish I would have read this two hours ago. I have been afraid to ‘show up’ lately.
We all do what we can. I have good days and bad days. I couldn’t show up to life today. Tomorrow will be better. In fact, I’m making the most of the rest of today, too. Feel better!
You do the same and know you’re not alone.
Checking in on you.
I’m good! Summer (not you, but the season) is almost here! I’m out of the AP Exam fog! New post coming soon!
Good to hear!
I think you should change the title of this post from “Why I stopped taking my meds” to “Why I stopped posting.” Why have you stopped posting? I took meds for what I believe was situational depression following cancer treatment–the physical effects of surgery, chemo, radiation; I wasn’t the same. I did not recognize myself anymore. I couldn’t shake the depression–and thought I should be able to–but meds helped me reset. I resisted taking them until I had no choice–things were only getting worse. I would periodically try to stop but would feel afraid that I’d be vulnerable, and then would start a regular course again. At some point, I followed a plan to cut back set by my doc. I felt ready. I slowly weaned off of it. I haven’t taken any in about two years or so. But meds saved my sanity, and probably my marriage and life. It is impossible to explain the darkness and utter sadness to someone who’s never experienced it–well, you know all this.
Mrs Odie,I hope your troubles disappear with the warm weather. I must say, 4.45am wake up sounds just ghastly. No wonder you’re both worn out. All the best.
I came looking for you today! It occurred to me that it had been a very long time since my e-mail feed carried the news of a new update to your blog……..(like, maybe over a year!) Now, comes the embarrassing part – I’d forgotten the name of your blog (insert red-faced emoji here). But – what I had NOT forgotten was your tag-line – it amused me from the first time I read it. Sure enough, when I googled “like you, only funnier” – up came Mrs Odie! That’s it! How could I have forgotten that?! (I’m 67 years old, and day-care my incredibly active, 4-year old grandson 3 full days, and 2 part-days every week – I’m tired! That’s my excuse for my faulty memory, anyway!)
I was delighted to find you – but, I see you haven’t posted since March. I hope you are well – and enjoying a well-deserved Summer vacation.
Thank-you for being so honest and open about the havoc created by depression. When it happened to me, I thought I was going mad…………I told my Doctor that a crazy woman was walking around inside my body. I was in my early forties, when my Doctor prescribed Zoloft for me……….it saved my life too! She told me that it would most likely be a daily medication for me, for the rest of my life. I didn’t care – I was sane again!
But – because the body is a weird thing – when menopause was over, so was my depression! I can’t explain it – I just knew that it had lifted – and I would be OK without medication.
My Doctor was not supportive of my decision to stop – but, I assured her that I now understood my symptoms, I would monitor myself diligently, and I would return to anti-depressant medication at the first sign of a return of the “crazy woman”………… Fourteen years later, she has not returned.
Thank-you for still being out and about in the cyber world………..I’m looking forward to your next update. I apologize for the length of my comment.
PS: If I hadn’t found you by googling “like you, only funnier”, my next try was going to be “Blogger who hates Kelle Hampton!” 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂