I have never had a problem with medications in general, and in my work as a nurse, I’ve seen how much good they can do. Despite that, I’ve gone off the meds I take for depression a few times, and that’s what this post is about.
My first episode of depression was in 2007. I ended up hospitalized following a suicide attempt, and I spent 2 months in hospital. I continued taking my meds for a few months and I then had another suicide attempt, this time by overdosing on my psych meds. Since I didn’t do any significant damage, I chose not to tell anybody at the time. I decided to hell with it, if I was on meds and still feeling shitty, what was the point of continuing meds? Since I didn’t want my treatment team to know I wasn’t taking meds, I continued picking them up regularly from the pharmacy. I ended up getting into full remission without meds, and I remained well for almost 4 years.
My plan all along was that if I started to have signs of getting worse, I would restart meds. When the depression started to hit me in 2011, I quickly recognized the red flags of poor sleep and low mood, so I made an appointment to see my GP. I had to practically beg for meds. He begrudgingly gave me 10mg of citalopram, although his preference was that I attend group therapy. Two weeks later I ended up in hospital.
It took a year and a half to get fully well again, and I ended up on multiple weight gain-inducing meds (lithium, quetiapine, and mirtazapine). The weight gain was hard to adjust to, although I recognized it was probably a fair price to pay for being well.
After 2 years in full remission, I decided I wanted to try going off the quetiapine, and my psychiatrist was agreeable. We tapered down the dose gradually, and at first, it seemed like I was going ok, until suddenly it wasn’t. I got really slowed down with psychomotor retardation, and ended up having to go back on the quetiapine as well as up my dose of lithium. Clearly, I needed my full med cocktail.
Going without a prescriber
It wasn’t too long afterwards that I experienced some traumatic events and became quite depressed again. My psychiatrist’s reaction was tremendously invalidating, so I stopped seeing him. I’d recently begun seeing a new GP, and when I told her why I wasn’t seeing the psychiatrist anymore, she came out with the same invalidating comments he did. There was no way I was going to see her again, so she booked me to see another GP at the same clinic. That one ended up being even worse.
I couldn’t bear the thought of going to see another doctor, so I decided to do a gradual taper with the meds I had on hand and then stop. It wasn’t that I wanted to stop taking meds, I just wasn’t willing to see another doctor. Not surprisingly, that strategy didn’t work out very well for me. I was barely sleeping despite taking everything over-the-counter I could think of.
It was when I decided that I needed to go back on meds that I found my current GP, who’s very reasonable and pragmatic. Even so, there have been a couple of times that I’ve thought screw it, there’s no point going in to get my meds reordered because I just feel like crap anyway.
My logical mind is very adamant that I need meds. Unfortunately, sometimes depression sneaks in and twists things around. For me, I don’t think that will ever go away, no matter how pro-meds I am most of the time.
Do you have experience going off meds in the past? What was that like?
For more info and MH@H posts on psychiatric medications, visit the Psych Meds Made Simple page. There’s also a Psych Meds 101 series covering:
Ashley L. Peterson
BScPharm BSN MPN
Ashley is a former mental health nurse and pharmacist and the author of four books.