Mental Health

Like Death Warmed Over – Dealing with Side effects

clawed hand holding a tablet
Image by Dawid Cedler from Pixabay

I’ve never been especially prone to side effects from medications.  I’d only ever stopped a medication once before due to side effects.

Then I got hit by the prednisone bus last week.

It’s an experiment that my doctor and I had been mulling over for a while.  I’ve had elevated levels of inflammatory marker in my bloodwork for a few years now.  I saw a rheumatologist last year and there wasn’t anything substantial enough to make a diagnosis, but my GP is still pretty convinced there’s something autoimmune bubbling away beneath the surface.

The idea of trying out prednisone, a steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, was to see if targeting the inflammation would put a dent in the psychomotor retardation (slowed movement) that’s been really limiting my functioning.  However, there was also the possibility that it could make things worse.  Whether it’s depression, mania, or psychosis, steroids can get around.

So, last Wednesday I started on 50mg a day with a plan to reassess in a week.  That first day my mood tanked and I started having thoughts of suicide.  Since I don’t get a lot of side effects, I tend to look for other explanations before coming to a conclusion.  I happened to start my period the same day, and while normally period-related mood dips are pretty minor for me, it was a possibility.  The next day I felt the same mentally, and also unwell physically.  Day three, the same mentally, and even worse physically.

I would’ve liked to stay on the prednisone a bit longer, as I would’ve expected that if a positive anti-inflammatory effect was going to happen, it would be around day 5.  But the side effects were kicking my ass, and it was definitely time to call it a day.  The really low mood and suicidal thoughts abated on my first day prednisone-free.  Physically I still felt lousy, though, and the next day I felt even worse physically; I guess taking it those three days and then stopping abruptly was enough to cause withdrawal.

Now that I’m no longer feeling like death warmed over, it fascinates me that side effects from a medication could have such a significant but time-limited effect on my mental state.  It had been a couple of months since I’d last had thoughts of suicide, and it’s interesting that it popped up specifically on those three days I took the prednisone.  And no need to be concerned, by the way; there was no risk of me acting on it.

There’s a certain element of bravery in trying new medications.  You really never know how your body is going to react.  I’ve always felt very lucky that I’m not prone to side effects overall, but this is a good reminder not to take that for granted, and not to make assumptions.

Now it’s back to the drawing board in terms of the psychomotor retardation.  It’s frustrating that it’s so entrenched; it’s not usually this bad for this long.  But my doctor and I will just keep on grasping at straws.

Have you had any nasty reactions to medications?

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63 thoughts on “Like Death Warmed Over – Dealing with Side effects”

  1. I am glad that you are feeling better. I was just writing (rambling) yesterday …that I had skipped a dose of my medication (by accident) and felt terrible. Just one day. It’s amazing how medicines work for us…and not work for us.

  2. Ashley, I am so grateful you decided to write this post. People really do need to be aware that the “list of side effects” isn’t a random list of words strung together. These things we hear and read about really can and have happened for some people. It is definitely very risky, especially if someone is side effect prone.

    Prednisone was a tough one for me, as well. I’d been on it many times throughout my life. Typically I did well the first 5-7 days if the dosage was correct. Then I’d start to experience severe depressive episodes, inexplicable pain in my body, anxiety enough to drive someone to suicide and my whole body retained fluid. A couple of times were so bad that it damaged my skin. This last go ’round with it, I began to bleed internally. I was showering and noticed blood pouring out…. yeah, talk about scary.

    Prednisone and other medications have their place. I’d never want to disrespect anyone for their choice. But my goodness, please be aware (without being paranoid) what the pros and cons of any medical choice are.

    Blessings to you, Ashley. I hope you & yours are well today ♥

    1. Thanks! Yeah it’s hard, there can be good reasons for trying something, and there’s no way to know ahead of time how you’ll react. I think what’s important is that prescribers are responsive and deal with these things appropriately when they come up.

      1. I wholeheartedly agree with you about the prescribers being responsive and caring. Sadly, as you well know, this often isn’t the case. “Oh, don’t worry, it’ll get better. It’s probably all in your head anyway!” (sigh)

  3. Sorry to hear this. I’ve been lucky with medication side-effects, as I’ve very rarely had them, except for lethargy (which is probably at least partly the depression itself) and weight gain.

  4. Yes, a blood pressure medication I was put on at one time made me feel ‘hot’ ( the hot flashes of my life now hadn’t surfaced yet) and like my head was going to explode from pressure. I, like you, thought maybe there were other factors and tried the stuff again the next day. Same reaction. I stopped it at that point, and called my doctor who put me on a different blood pressure medication which didn’t evoke the bad response. I have a similar reaction to contrast dye (which is given for CT scans and other procedures, as well as a stress test alternative for those of us who can’t run any longer. I know they add something to the dye to make the stress test work..) but all contrast dye makes me severely nauseous, and feeling hot and short of breath. I do believe (and I’m a layman but not about my own body) that I’m allergic to that stuff. Lastly I get wicked vertigo (I literally can’t stand up for being so dizzy) from certain anti-depressants which is why I stick to Zoloft even though it’s becoming outdated according to some mental health professionals. It works for me. None of the others have worked as well. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it is my motto…I’m sorry that you experienced that bad reaction to Prednisone, but take comfort in the fact that you won’t be at risk for the other bad side effects that drug may produce.

  5. I’m so glad you quit taking it! That sounds horrible!

    Have you considered supplements with anti-inflammatory qualities? I think there are several to choose from! Turmeric comes to mind.

    Yeah, in college, or shortly thereafter, a psychiatrist put me on klonopin. I’d told him I’m really sensitive. The drug made me walk funny, like I was keeling over, so I researched it and found out it was anti-anxiety. I was mad, because I hadn’t told him I was anxious. I’d told him I pick up on too much.

    I have awful periods after I’ve changed a med–whether to add a drug, or adjust a dosage up or down, including discontinuation–it ALL messes me up during my upcoming period. And it doesn’t matter which drug. I originally used Trazodone successfully for sleep, but then it quit working; and when I tried it again, it was messing up my hormones somehow, but I don’t remember much about it. But it still had lost its efficacy for sleepytime.

    Oh, yeah, Ambien! Remember Calvin? 😀 God bless Sonya for helping me go off that drug altogether, is all I can say.

    I think overall, my side effects go unnoticed by me ’cause I’m so used to them, like dry mouth, spaciness, etc. What you experienced with the prednisone sounds so much scarier!!

  6. I didn’t have any severe side-effects besides some brain zaps and horrible headaches, a feeling of coming down with the flu, while upping up my medication.
    I guess you need to try them out before you know how you’re going to react. I really hope you and your doctor can find something to better the psychomotor retardation.

      1. They are. But then again I’m glad that the medication exists and that my doctor is willing to adapt them to my experiences.
        He says that medications are there to help me and not to pose more difficulties, he is very strict on that one.

  7. Some medications don’t seem to bother me at all while others have me flat on my back feeling like I might die. I try my best to wait it out at least 4 weeks if I can, but it doesn’t always work that way. It’s especially hard when it’s something that can take months to work–do you try to wait it out and hope the side effects wear off or do you quit because the risk is too high?

    My last switch in medications had me pretty much non-functioning for about 6 weeks until we could get the doses right–ulcer, tons of weight loss, dizziness, generally feeling like I might fall over and die. For me, I find most anti-inflammatory medications mess me up big-time in the beginning.

    The only one that’s ever sent flashing question marks though, has been Wellbutrin. I’ve been on it for about a month now and I’m not sure if I want to continue taking it. At first it made me super jittery and agitated and I’ve had to be very careful what I eat/drink while taking it (nothing with caffeine at all). I’m pretty sure it’s making my depression and thoughts of suicide way worse–although it could be something else as those tend to cycle on me. I see my doctor later this week and we’ll see what he says about it all, but I don’t have much faith because he’s still a bit of an idiot if you ask me.

    I’m sorry the prednisone was a bust for you. When the anti-inflammatories work well it’s like night and day, but when they don’t it’s almost better living with the pain than dealing with the nasty side-effects.

      1. that’s what I was thinking too. I honestly know very little about different antidepressants so I have no idea what to expect. Hopefully we can find something that doesn’t make me feel so edgy.

  8. Before I had my first baby, I used to take codeine for pain occasionally. After pregnancy though, I became violently ill every time I tried it. Within a half hour, I’d begin vomiting several times. Weird! I tried an Rx allergy med once that kept me up all night. Don’t remember the name, but I only took it once. Usually medicine agrees with me.

  9. I am so sorry that you had such an intense reaction to the Prednisone, really glad to hear that you’re no longer on it. I’ve never had extreme reactions to medication, but I’ve also never been on a medication that effectively treated my symptoms of anxiety/depression. Wishing you the best in finding new ways to treat your depression <3

  10. Ugh, side effects are the worst part of being mentally ill! The weight gain, the mood swings going on and off meds, the constipation, the sleepiness and fatigue… I can understand why some people refuse to take the meds and try to go with natural healing, even though I’m not sure that is always the right answer.

  11. For me it was the side effects of the first antidepressants I was on – had absolutely no appetite, felt sick all the time and lost a lot of weight.
    I hope you find something that works for you!

  12. I’ve used prednisone off and on for years, the side effects were never ad extreme and what you described. That being said I have had major side effects to other psychiatric drugs in the past and they all suck. The worst, obviously, has been the suicidal thoughts and actions on my part

  13. I’m happy you are okay now. Always here for you ❤️🙏 I know a little girl from 6 year old which takes prednison and has leucemia. She gets loads of side effects as well such as being nauseous, darker hair. I use sometimes valium for anxiety and just get tired and sleepy but I love that because it’s a nice effect. I know with antidepressants you can also have bad side effects so I’m careful about that. Only took once low dose and didn’t help too.

  14. I’m glad you’re off of it! My mom gets really sick physically off prednisone (sp?). She gets prescribed it often. She’s always sick. I’m lucky. I hardly ever have side effects except fatigue and weight gain. Or hypomania from certain anti-depressants.

  15. I seem to be rather sensitive to meds. Thankfully my doc recently did a dna swab of my mouth and I was given a 55 page report on meds that are ok and not ok. Lo and behold all the ones I’ve had nasty side affects to were in the stay away from list. Science is crazy! I’ve heard voices, seen hallucinations, had nightmares, been so drugged I couldn’t function…..this test would have saved me from many not so pleasant experiences!

  16. Prednisone was awful for me in the past. The worst, though, had to be Topamax for migraines. I somehow got all the crazy mental health effects, and it has that well-documented but bizarre effect of making all carbonated drinks taste like copper. Which, for me ended up being interpreted as tasting like “blood.” Between the mood side effects and the fact I’m normally a foodie, I ended up having a complete PTSD depressive meltdown that I was going to have to choose between “being myself” or being in chronic pain forever and going way more scary to myself in my thoughts about that choice than I am used to except in the depths of active crises before suddenly I had a flash of inspiration and realized that – though rare – the Topamax could be to blame, per the literature. Going off it fixed things, but eek! I do not take side effects lightly now.

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