This weekend was surprisingly calm considering it’s my annual ride on the Cray-Cray Carousel, i.e. the time of year when all my prescription medications need renewal and so I go round and round with the powers that be who like to make this process as painful, expensive and drawn out as possible in order to punish me for having tweaky brain wiring. Last year, if you may recall, I celebrated by falling down the rabbit hole for three months with a nasty case of PTSD exacerbated by the fact that my anti-depressant mysteriously stopped working.
Thanks to a cute little memo from the FDA that came out last October but I didn’t discover until last week, I finally found out why: the generic version of Wellbutrin that I’d been involuntarily switched to contained none of the active ingredient listed on the label. So five years after the fact the FDA finally acknowledged what I and many others have been having a tantrum about and pulled that stupid sugar pill from the shelves. (TEVA brand’s budeproprion in case anyone is curious). I actually sat down and cried when I read the densely worded statement obviously crafted to induce confusion, nausea and weight gain rather than clarity. (Just like their drugs! So consistent, Big Pharma!) Part of it was frustration – why do you need 1200 words to say “We were wrong. We suck. Please stop taking our fake-o meds”?? – but part of it was because finally someone was validating the hell I went through.
For those of you who don’t follow my every emotional whim with breathless excitement, I finally got back on my original generic after a protracted battle with my insurance company wherein I had to sob, rant and whine at at least eleventy thousand people who all told me that I’m nuts and am therefore incapable of knowing what’s going on in my own body.
So when I showed up to fill my prescription last week at my pharmacy and was told my yearly Rx had run out and I’d need to start the process all over again, I lost it. First I was mad at the pharmacy (unfair, as it’s not the red-shirted clerk’s fault), then at my doctor (unfair, she’s just following her office policy), then at Big Pharma (totally justified, see above) and finally settled on being pissed off at myself (because that’s always productive). Why me and my non-normal neurons?!?
I did what any crazy person off their meds would do: I threw a hissy fit, had a panic attack and spent all weekend in the fetal position. (I wish. When you have four little kids you never get to do anything so indulgent as lay down longer than 20 minutes. Unless you are playing Princess and the Pea with a pile of legos wedged under your back.)
*I would like to interrupt this diatribe to say that I have talked to my doctor about this and have made an appointment to see her… in two months as that’s the soonest she could get me in. But I’m not going rogue or doing anything against medical advice. Yet. Also: I’m not a doctor or even all that smart so nothing in this post is intended as medical advice in any way. I’m simply relating my personal experience.*
For anyone who’s ever stopped taking an anti-depressant or other psychotropic med you’ll know it’s a mixed bag. Depending on the drug, the dosage and the person you can range from a couple of grouchy days to a full-blown psychotic episode, relapse of depression or worse. Personally, having been on half a dozen different meds over the years, I’ve experienced a wide range of effects and they’re generally not what most people go through. (I’m weird! Surprise!) Going off Cymbalta, an SNRI, for instance, was one of the happiest times of my life. I got these things called “brain zaps” that generally drive most people nuts but made me feel like my brain was having a Yo Gabba Gabba rave in my skull. Or like my brain was sneezing. Either way it was oddly satisfying in a tickly kind of way and I briefly considered going back on it just so I could go off it again and ride that crazy-fun ‘coaster again!
But this also means I’ve quit Wellbutrin several times in the past too and while I get a little panicky and grouchy overall it’s not a huge event. (Unless like last year it’s combined with massive trauma and a pharmaceutical bait-and-switch that still makes me want to punch the first Stock Photo scientist I come across.) That’s one of the things I like best about it. So when my emergency prescription finally came through yesterday – I can only get a few pills at a time until I see my doctor – I didn’t rush right out to take it. I’ve been off my meds for about a week now* and while it’s still dark and depressing winter here and I can feel the damp seeping into my brain, for the first time I’m wondering if fighting the depression and anxiety is better than fighting the meds and the insurance companies. (I should add that my experience may not be typical. My husband has a great job but abysmal health insurance.)
Here’s my reasoning for considering ditching my meds:
1. Side effects. Bruxism (teeth grinding), jaw clenching, headaches, brain fog, anxiety, weight gain** and a racing heart are just a few of the side effects I’ve had to deal with over the years. Also, this may be TMI but I can’t orgasm while taking most SSRI/SNRI meds like Cymbalta, Prozac etc. And what is a life without those? In the past the benefit of not wanting to curl up in a corner nine months out of the year was enough to make them liveable but I’m not sure I still feel like that’s a good trade-off anymore.
2. My success with ameliorating my anxiety with diet. I’ve said it before but discovering the link between my panic attacks and my dairy consumption has been one of the most successful and probably the most life-changing Great Fitness Experiment I’ve ever done. I know how hippie-dippy it all sounds and in the past I would have been hugely skeptical of anyone else making similar claims but after living it, I’m a believer. It’s also opened my mind up to the possibility that I can perhaps use food, supplements and lifestyle changes to regulate my other issues like depression and PMS so severe it makes Donald Trump look reasonable.
3. My growing skill set and knowledge. I may still possess the same faulty wiring and messed-up chemistry that have made the neurotic girl you all know and (sometimes) love but I’m not the same person I’ve always been. I like to think that all of this stuff I’ve learned about health and fitness has made me smarter. Heck, I no longer thing of gummy bears as a healthy snack just because they’re “fat free” so that’s got to mean something, right? So perhaps I couldn’t deal with the depression and anxiety on my own before. But maybe I can now.
4. Perhaps my mental quirks aren’t a flaw but a feature. I’ve been reading a lot of books like Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain and The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron that make me wonder if my “issues” are only problematic because society in general considers them to be. Our world isn’t structured to accommodate the 20% or so of us that are “highly sensitive” (translation: there is no such thing as “background” music to me and fans make me so twitchy I want to rip them out of the ceiling) but that doesn’t necessarily mean that trait is bad. I grew up thinking I was broken but watching my own “sensitive” children has helped me see the beauty and gift that comes with being “high strung” or “tightly wound”.
5. Nothing is forever. I can try it, right? And if I crash and burn I can change my mind, right?
AND YET. I’m obviously not in the best state of mind to be making this decision. But when else do you decide to go off your meds?When everything’s hunky dory? The worst part of being crazy is not knowing when I’m crazy. I feel sane and rational but that doesn’t necessarily mean I am.
So I’m asking you for advice. Again, I’m communicating with my doctor and will not be supplanting your advice for medical advice – but your experiences are valuable to me. You guys know lots of stuff I don’t. And I do think there is a lot to be said for collective wisdom, even if it’s just as a jumping off place for more research. So please, do you have any experiences with mental meds? Have you ever gone off them? If so, what went into your decision and how do you feel about it now? Any recs for books or other methods for dealing with mental illness? (Also, please be gentle in the comments and not pass judgement on other commenter’s life choices. I’m not saying that taking meds is bad. Each person’s situation and experience is different and valid. Feel free to say anything you want to me, though.)
*Do note that it is NOT recommended to go cold turkey off any psychotropic medication. For me, Wellbutrin is fine that way but it’s known to be different than other more typical meds in this respect. If you suddenly quit, say, Prozac you can get nasty “discontinuation syndrome” or worse and make your life completely miserable. So if you are considering quitting your meds, talk to your doc about how to taper. Also, never cut your pills in half without checking with your pharmacist. Lots of these meds are in “extended release” coatings that can make cutting them very dangerous.
** Wellbutrin is known as the AD least likely to cause weight gain and even helps some people lose weight. I will say that it has never worked that way for me. Never lost a pound on it. Which is fine.