Just over four years ago I had a beautiful daughter. Born on Christmas Day, she was everything we could have wished for. Especially since she was a “rainbow baby”, a beautiful shining light through the grey clouds after we lost our son at 27 weeks gestation.
Although our little family was happy, about three months after she was born I felt a niggle of those clouds descending over me. I knew it was postnatal depression because I had the same feelings 11 years beforehand when I gave birth to my first daughter.
Exercise, healthy eating and getting out and about helped me through that first bout of the “baby blues”. But this time, maybe because it had been a difficult day, or because I was tired or just needed someone to talk to, I visited my general practitioner to explain how I was feeling.
She asked me multi-choice questions that told me, “Yes, you’re depressed”. Off I went with the prescription for Fluoxetine [another name for Prozac] and hoped that I would soon start feeling “better than well”.
* I lost my baby to antenatal depression
* Finding calm in the storm of mental illness
* My husband’s last lucid words in over a year
I did, for a bit. After taking Fluoxetine for about a year I thought it was probably time to come off them. My doctor advised me to wean off slowly – take half a pill every second day and so on. I did as she said but because Fluoxetine has a “half life” it takes about two weeks for the effects of the withdrawal to be felt – that’s if you are not sensitive to the drug.
The first thing I noticed was the agitation, I could hardly sit still or focus on my work. Then a deafening chattering started in my head – my own voice repeating phrases or singing song lyrics over and over again. I then started to think about suicide; throwing myself off a bridge, jumping in front of a car – anything to make the chatter stop.
Luckily, I was aware enough to take myself to my local walk-in clinic. When I told the doctor what was happening he just sorted of laughed and told me I was experiencing withdrawal symptoms and that I’d better put my dose back up and go and see my general practitioner.
Her response was that if I was finding it difficult to come off them, I had probably “better just stay on them”. I switched to a different prescription (Citalopram) as we were thinking of trying for another baby and then back to Fluoxetine so I could again try to wean off them – I haven’t been the same since.
My life was under a little more stress than normal, but I became so anxious I struggled to go to work. I felt, and still do feel, like there had been a shift in me. In my personality and my ability to cope with stress, so much so that I haven’t been able to work for a year. I occasionally feel so lethargic that I struggle to get out of bed. I’ve felt sad and ill and anxious – all while taking a pill that is supposed to cure all of the above and more.
Another thing I never knew about was the lack of emotion I would feel. I felt like it was a badge of honour that I didn’t cry at sad movies – but it turns out that I literally can’t cry now.
My brain and the drugs that are ruling them won’t let me.
About six weeks ago I went to a new doctor to talk about weaning off. After telling her about my reaction in the past, her response was to get me an appointment at my local hospital with the mental health team as a matter of urgency. I still haven’t had one.
Again I tried weaning off them – more slowly this time. About a week into it the racing thoughts started and I had such a bad panic attack I was given an electrocardiogram [ECG] and anti-anxiety medication to calm me down. The doctor who saw me told me once again to up the dose of medication.
I’ve since read everything I can on the withdrawal of anti-depressants and it turns out I am not alone in struggling to come off this drug.
The problem is you can only find out the information needed if you look for it. I was not told that I could experience these types of symptoms in withdrawal or that taking an anti-depressant when you’re not actually depressed can do a lot more harm than good.
* Breaking the black bubble of depression
* A record 564 people committed suicide in New Zealand
* More funding needed to prevent suicide
I had always been a real go-getter; I loved working, creating and pushing myself forward. But now I feel like the past three years of my life have been stolen.
One of the best ways to withdraw slowly is with a liquid form of the drug, which, funnily enough, you cannot get in New Zealand. Even getting Fluoxetine in tablet form (rather than the capsules) is subjected to new regulations – making it harder and harder to withdraw slowly.
At present, it is going to take me around 10 months or longer to withdraw. At one month in I’m already suffering side effects such as mild hallucinations, feeling off-balance, low blood pressure and agitation. But this time – with the addition of healthy eating, exercise and meditation – I am determined to take control of my own life once again, one small step at a time.
* Please note this is my own personal experience with Prozac withdrawals – the drug is a lifesaver for many and some people have no issues.
WHERE TO GET HELP
Lifeline (open 24/7) – 0800 543 354
Depression Helpline (open 24/7) – 0800 111 757
Healthline (open 24/7) – 0800 611 116
Samaritans (open 24/7) – 0800 726 666
Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
Youthline (open 24/7) – 0800 376 633. You can also text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
0800 WHATSUP children’s helpline – 0800 9428 787, Open between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day at www.whatsup.co.nz.
Kidsline (open 24/7) – 0800 543 754. This service is for children aged 5 to 18. Those who ring between 4pm and 9pm on weekdays will speak to a Kidsline buddy, who are specially trained teenage telephone counsellors.
Your local Rural Support Trust – 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)
Alcohol Drug Helpline (open 24/7) – 0800 787 797. You can also text 8691 for free.
For more information, contact the Mental Health Foundation’s free Resource and Information Service on 09 623 4812.
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