Breaking up with Medication

The OG SSRI. Prozac 20mg. The start of the journey

WARNING: this is a bunch of opinions around antidepressants. Do not take this literally or regard as any kind of ‘truth’. I am not a doctor or a psychiatrist. Any kind of ‘exit plan’ needs to be discussed with your doctor.

Introduction

Hello. My name is Mat and I have had an intimate relationship with antidepressants for over 20 years now.

About 3 months ago I decided that was it, I’m going to stop taking antidepressants. I’m going cold turkey and I’m going to tough this out.

This is an intimate reflection of my relationship with meds and my way out of this neverending cycle of dependency.

Chapter one — Genesis

I was really depressed in my mid twenties, one night I was drunk as fuck, living in Islington and waiting for my Chinese takeaway. A homeless guy walked up to me and said “whats up? you look as if you have the weight of the world on your shoulders”

I realised then I was depressed. Even the guy whose best mate was a dead pigeon knew I had problems.

Like most people I ignored the alcohol abuse and my borderline dependance on MSG powered King prawn balls in batter (a dirty mistress) and went to bed with a heavy heart (greasy bowel)

When I woke I decided to call the doctor, who listened for all of 3 minutes (being a GP must be really shit) and did what most GPs do, prescribed me with a ‘mild’ SSRI called Paroxetine (Paxil).

Since then I have been on and off, usually after a broken relationship (I struggle hugely with getting over someone I loved, regardless of how bad things were) Also in my marriage my wife ‘preferred’ me on them as I was less likely to lose my temper.

Chapter two — SSRIs and serotonin

The NHS describe SSRI meds very well:

It’s thought that SSRIs work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (a messenger chemical that carries signals between nerve cells in the brain). It’s thought to have a good influence on mood, emotion and sleep.

After carrying a message, serotonin is usually reabsorbed by the nerve cells (known as “reuptake”). SSRIs work by blocking (“inhibiting”) reuptake, meaning more serotonin is available to pass further messages between nearby nerve cells.

It would be too simplistic to say that depression and related mental health conditions are caused by low serotonin levels, but a rise in serotonin levels can improve symptoms and make people more responsive to other types of treatment, such as CBT.

So basically it stops the brain reabsorbing unused Seratonin.

Chapter three — the oversubscription of antidepressants

More than 6 million people in the UK receive antidepressants. Thats nearly one in 10. How did we get here?

Well there is grossly underfunded mental health services. An 18 month waiting list for simple psychiatric help. here, take some pills!

An epidemic in anxiety issues, can I interest you in some pills?

Social media making us all feel fat and worthless. But here are some pills!

Chapter four — antidepressants are brilliant, 9.25/10 would recommend

If you are dealing with loss, divorce, separation, or grief of any kind, then those pills are bang on. After a bedding in process of 6 weeks, you feel calmer, more relaxed and even quite positive. You lose a bit of weight, and feel like a different person.

The issue here is that your brain is now on holiday having been made redundant in its post of making happiness. Like any drug, it creates stuff for you that your body cant make properly, and so your body just stops trying.

Also antidepressants have huge side effects, check out this list of wonderful things to worry about:

Chapter five — coming off antidepressants

Yeah I’m not going to sugar coat this, its fucking rough.

When you finally come off drugs, the issue here is that your body and brain need to relearn how to do their job. The job that the drugs did so fucking well.

You have taken out a high interest bank loan of happiness. At some point you need to pay that back, with interest. You struggle to make the payments.

You can only really quit antidepressants if you are single or in a really stable and loving relationship, as your behaviour is going to be weird for a few months. I always do it after a relationship ends, as I always go on them after the previous relationship ends (hi I’m Mat I have a problem)

If your partner or family want you to stay on tablets, thats normal but you need to push through and they need to support you, no matter what, theres no turning back at this point. Anyone who tells you that they ‘cant deal with you off the meds’ is just gaslighting you into staying medicated. Thats a bit toxic IMHO.

Anyway you stopped taking the meds, heres what you have to look forward to

First month is suicidal thoughts month. Its important to visualise this as simply your brain in pieces, and trying to get you to stay on tablets, its horrible but will pass. The difference between feeling suicidal and actually likking yourself is the size of the grand canyon. Be strong, get some cuddles and ice cream and hanker down. Meditation is good, as is strong alcohol and whatever stuff you like doing to create happiness

Second month is ‘fuck me I am not suicidal but my life is so shit’ month

Remember, these pills have made it ok for you to operate. But you cant go back to ‘normal’ this is because ‘normal’ is scary as fuck. But its not. It just takes a deep breath and some courage.

At this point you could try some beta blockers or a bunch of anti anxiety remedies as you will be panicking a bit.

Third month is ‘Oh holy god I’m depressed’ month

This is still shit, but there will be small pockets of happiness as your brain starts to try to do its fucking job.

Fourth month is ‘Ok I got this’ month.

At this point you have done an amazing thing. If you are alive and still functioning in society, and your support network are still with you, then you did good. You are nearly there. Its so awful, and this is why so many people cant get off the meds, or go back to them so quickly

Fifth month is ‘shit maybe I should go back on them’ month

Like any breakup, it kind of follows the the five stages of grief, which are:

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance

Well you are going to reluctantly accept that you don’t need those pills anymore.

Thats it. You are done with antidepressants. Well done you.

The rest of your life might be more difficult, but you are clean of drugs.

I made a decision to never go on them again, they hardly help, you cant mix them with alcohol (the drowsiness was terrible) and I just want to have an orgasm that does not take 45 minutes (the average guy lasts 7 minutes, so I just want to do that plus 10. Any longer and it feels weird)

I broke up with antidepressants. Like with any break up, I miss them terribly, even the toxic dependancy and the routine, despite knowing I am so much better off.

I hope this helps, all my love xx

Design Director. Dad. Cyclist. Flâneur. Piano student. Fondue enthusiast. Hopeless romantic. Not necessarily in that order. IG/Twitter: @matvenn