Prozac and the path of surrender part 1 | Surrender to SSRIs or to life without them?
Are anti-depressants friend or foe? Surrender to taking them? Or surrender to going without?
I started Confessions From A Woman In Wellness for two reasons
#1 To promote wellness. To share the things I’ve learned that might help others feel better in themselves.
#2 To write. It’s my way of processing. Of turning round the Rubik’s cube of thoughts inside my head, until eventually ‘click’. They no longer need to spin.
It was vital to me that working in wellness didn’t come to mean presenting a picture perfect image of myself. I never wanted to put that pressure on myself and besides, what would be the point? Life is like a river: for every stretch that flows, there’s another where we hurl towards a dirty great rock. Obstacles are inevitable, I think it’s good to tell the truth about that.
So without further ado, welcome to another confession. Strap in…
My friend Prozac
The first time I took it I was eighteen. It was my first year at Oxford University and I was a fish out of water, but that’s a whole other blog. All you really need to know is that I was struggling to cope and so I went to the GP for help. His solution was fluoxetine, Prozac, and it worked. After a short period of side effects — (the strangest, a feeling of being one step removed from conversations and paranoid that everyone could tell) — I was able once again to love life. Friendships with my peers began to blossom. I had a housemate from Darwen and we really hit it off. Once he said I laughed just like a mynah bird. I was concerned, for a moment, before he made me laugh too much to care.
The years that follow, my twenties, were up and down and prozac was there for the ride. Each time I went on it, it always had a stabilising effect and when I came off it, it was easy to do so — no weird side effects.
Fast forward to my thirties and I spent a good five years med free. All the hard work I’d done in my twenties to build a life that worked for me — not against me — was starting to pay off. I worked less, enjoying time off between freelance marketing contracts, which I used to pursue my passions like making music and studying different therapies. I also shacked up with my now fiancé and moved from London back to my infinitely more affordable home town. I still experienced wild PMS but over all, I distinctly remember thinking Prozac was a thing of the past.
I was wrong
About a year ago I decided to reach for my old friend. It was a difficult decision because I’d grown increasingly attached to the idea of natural wellbeing, plus this particular experience of anxiety was easier than previous episodes: my thinking was straight, I was able to see all the things that were challenging me from a higher perspective. My body on the other hand wouldn’t let up. My jaw and shoulders were painfully tight, and from morning to night my sympathetic nervous system was alive — permanent, relentless ‘flight’. I tried a few things to help balance me before starting back on Prozac:
- Channeling my nervous energy into positive tasks — like de-cluttering
- Listening to my favourite astrologist Mollie McCord to understand the bigger picture of the energies influencing us all
I also knew I should exercise and practice Transformational Breath® more — both proven to boost mental health — but I felt resistance. The times I did walk round the park or get a facilitated breath session, I immediately felt the benefit. Yet committing even more deeply to these things was difficult, for reasons still slightly beyond my comprehension.
Perhaps I didn’t truly want to have to change to my lifestyle. (Humans are notoriously good at staying in our comfort zone, even when it’s really quite uncomfortable.)
Or perhaps I simply struggled to summon the energy, on top of the day-to-day demands of life. A bit of both most likely and so I told myself…
- ‘I let go of the pressure I’m putting on myself to heal naturally’.
- ‘I let go of the pressure my peers in wellness are putting on me to heal naturally’. The pressure is real my friends, I’ve encountered some militant perspectives along the way. People mean well of course, but it’s one of those topics everyone has an opinion on, whether they’re talking from personal experience or not. (The most vocal, often, are not.)
And so, after a long hiatus, I re-started Prozac. And once again it worked. My partner and family all remarked on the change in me, and I too felt a sense of fun and lightness coming back. As I write, I’m still on the stuff and life is good. Really good actually. So what could possibly be the problem?
Why not simply continue on with Prozac?
Because everything is fine until it isn’t
This one time, I accidentally skipped a few day’s medication. A week later it was like it caught up with me, palpable anxiety that seemed to arrive from nowhere. A few months later the same thing happened again. Just a few days off Prozac and all hell let loose. I’m still not sure what to make of it:
- Does Prozac work so well that I’m utterly unaware how much anxiety is still in me, until it has the opportunity to run riot? I feel so much better day to day that I find this hard to believe. How can weeks and weeks of doing good come crashing down so suddenly, and without a hint of an emotional trigger?
- Has my body become so used to Prozac that stopping it triggers a nasty reaction? Given the severity of my ‘reactions’ this feels more likely.
I have never struggled to come off Prozac in the past, so I didn’t stop to consider the prospect of withdrawal symptoms this time round. Now though, I have the sneaking feeling that I could be in for a rough ride if and when I choose to come off it. It’s sort of looming over me.
‘56% of people experience withdrawal effects when stopping various antidepressants. Around 46% of these people report “severe” symptoms. One of the studies in the review found that out of 95 people who abruptly stopped taking fluoxetine, 67% experienced withdrawal symptoms.’ — 2019 systematic review
‘Stay on it indefinitely’ I hear you say.
Yup, I’ve thought about that too. Turns out there are other things about Prozac that don’t sit right with me though:
- Recent studies suggest SSRI’s can have a negative impact on your gut microbiome, which in turn can exacerbate mood disorders. Put another way, the medicine can actually become the poison.
- In addition, no one really knows what the long-term effects of taking SSRI’s might be. These medicines are still relatively new. Only time will tell.
- And finally, what if you can’t get hold of meds? I know, I know, it’s unlikely to happen. Not least because the manufacturers are making a sh*t ton of money from it. But still there’s something reassuring about knowing you‘d be fine if you found yourself stranded in the jungle, the desert, or any of those other extreme environments that I (a-hem) have never been to.
I guess what I’m saying is I’d like to feel more confident in my mental strength and resiliency. I’m a highly sensitive person, of this I am sure, but what if I could learn to better manage my energy, my boundaries, my mood? Other people have sovereignty over their body and mind, what if I could get there too?
For all the moments this past year I felt great about surrendering to Prozac, I now find myself wondering whether to surrender to life without it.
No sudden moves
If you were hoping this blog would end with an affirmative conclusion, tightly wrapped up in a nice spangly bow, I’m sorry. My next step (uncharacteristically of me) is to sit tight. Having had a taste of SSRI withdrawal symptoms, I want to thoroughly research how to come off them from every perspective; like gradually lessening the dose, learning what foods will best support me, and so on.
I also want to be sure I want to come off Prozac. (Weren’t expecting that one were you?) For all my growing reservations, there’s a lot to weigh up. SSRI’s carry risks but so does depression; the impact of ‘the black dog’ on your quality of life and relationships cannot be overstated — it’s very hard to know which is the lesser of two evils.
What I do know is that I’m curious.
What would it be like to surrender once again, to putting down the pills this time?
What changes would I need to make to increase my chances of thriving? What new edges of myself would I have to face?
For now I’m happy just pondering what the answers to these questions might be, to keep researching and listening to my intuition. Today it whispers change may well be in the air, but for now I should surrender to not yet being sure.
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