the silver linings pixlet: withdrawal;

My decision to come off anti-depressants is motivated not because I feel any better, but rather because I can’t imagine feeling any worse.

Over the past few months I have been experiencing more-intense-than-usual fatigue, more frequent headaches, stomach cramps, extreme thirst and something that I can only describe as “brain fog”. I began to feel as though I was no longer physically capable of a full-time work week, which is a pretty sorry state of affairs at the age of 33 (albeit not something of immediate concern given the amount of time I’ve had off for adventures in May and June). More than once I caught myself Googling “can you give yourself diabetes by eating too much cake?”.

The results of this research was inconclusive, but the results of the blood tests my new doctor asked of me so that she could rule out any physical causes before we started fiddling with my levels were thankfully as conclusive as it gets. She had been a little concerned about the amount of sertraline I was taking anyway (it’s four times the starter dose and, or so I’ve been told, the maximum a doctor will prescribe before throwing up her hands and giving something else a go). And so a plan was set for what may result in me coming off medication entirely, or what may end up with me on something else. We’ll see how it goes.

Happy Pills, Barcelona

This is a genuine shop in Barcelona. It sells pick n mix sweets in medicine jars. Photo by Paul Phin.

For at least the next two – ideally the next four – months I will be reducing my daily dose by 50mg. I will check in with the doctor after a couple of months to see if I am still standing. This month, on the first six days after reducing I woke up feeling as if I had a terrible hangover; on one occasion coming home to Stringer sobbing that I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just chuck it all in a one-er and go to bed for a week (I have form for this, the first time I stopped taking fluoxetine, which was clearly a raging success). But on Day 7 I woke up – after only six hours sleep, and a Taylor Swift concert the night before – feeling like I could take on the world. I mean, that morning I was able to hold my own on Woman’s Hour, holding the phone with one hand while simultaneously fire-fighting something work-related whose severity ran in inverse proportion to the number of emails I was getting about it. Although a bit of me worries that this was a recurrence of the manic episodes I used to experience when I was less sedated, I think it’s more likely I haven’t had a properly productive day in so long I’ve forgotten what it feels like.

Now I am neither an apologist, nor an evangelist, for pharmaceutical intervention in the field of mental health. There is no reason why somebody shouldn’t take a tablet every day to manage their illness as they would any other clinical condition, and as I have done almost every day of my adult life. Talking therapies and related techniques have their place, but I don’t think I could possibly know myself any better than I do right now and it’s a bit of a time-consuming exercise when you just need something to stop you having panic attacks at your desk sometimes. But if I’m feeling pretty terrible every day, and there is no physical reason why, then it makes sense to look to the synthetic serotonin I put in my body every day as a potential cause.

I will, of course, keep you posted.