Effects of Antidepressants: A Personal Account of the Grim Underbelly

Depression is not a single emotion, but a constellation of emotions, postures, decisions and health issues that erect what I call the brilliant stop sign of the soul.” –Karla McClaren

I wrote about my choice not to take antidepressants long term. I used them briefly as a life raft to float through the move out of our family home, a particularly grim time. When my doctor first suggested them, I resisted, terrified that they would somehow alter me or cloud my mind. I can’t explain why my fear of the drugs superseded the need to escape the mental circus in my head, but it did. I fiercely felt I needed all my faculties to face this complex situation.

In fact, what they did for me was completely dull everything. I became a flat line version of myself, devoid of any emotion for a couple of months. It allowed me to cope. No, what it did was push a hold button on the emotions and when I stopped taking them, reality and my emotions were still there waiting for me. Re-entry into myself felt like I had been run over by a train. Then came the stop sign of the soul, where I collapsed into the bathtub and the pool of despair.

My friend Suzani wrote this beautiful account of her battle with antidepressants:

“I sat on the edge of my bed again last night and took the tiny pill into my mouth. This time, however, I didn’t swallow it whole. I bit it in half, holding vague hope that this effort would be yet another step in the direction to once and forever release myself from its tenacious and evil grip.

pills | Dianna Bonny Photography

It’s been nearly 17 years since I foolheartedly bought into the lies of an anti-depressant sales pitch. My doctor believed me when I looked into her eyes and told her my story, a story that unleashed a waterfall of tears, refusing to stop. My tears were a way to create space back then, during a time when my breath was so shallow I wasn’t sure if I was actually “here”. I always felt I was floating above or beside myself, detached from my body. Fact is, I didn’t want to be here, drowning in the unbearable pain and confusion. Were it not for my small children, I’m not sure what would have become of me.

The storm that raged back then blew in the death of my brother and his wife. It blew in worry about the 3 small children they left behind. It blew in a business bankruptcy. This storm blew in losses so deep I fell into a vortex of despair.

When our family dog died on top of it all, my four and half year old son looked at me with very sad eyes and said, “Mommy, May is not a very good month.”

“Yes, son, Mommy agrees.”

I found Prozac to be quite helpful. It unplugged me enough from reality so I could perform daily functions. I believe I took the drug on as a “partner” in my survival at the time. I remember trying to remain conscious in this way, which seemed the wisest choice I could make.

As it turned out, Prozac had a side effect of numbing me and numb was a pretty good place for grief and despair. However, when my sexual response became numb it was time to get back to the doctor.

prozac | Dianna Bonny Photography

No problem! We just switched drugs and I was introduced to another secret weapon called Effexor. This is where things got a lot more complicated. I fell into a groove with Effexor and time rolled on. Actually years and years and years went by. Eventually, life started to figure itself out and children became less dependent. I became expert in all things yoga and thought I was sitting OK in my spirit.

The tears had all dried and I was certainly stronger now. Surely it was time to break up with my meds.

The drugs had another agenda in mind.

So began a crazy wrestling match between Mommy’s little helper, the doctor and me.

Every time I attempted to change my dose, I was reminded how “bad” my depression had been. I was becoming convinced it ran in my family and I was one of the unlucky ones who just couldn’t manage to “do” life. As my energy drained and my bodily symptoms worsened, I became more and more hopeless of ever finding a way out of the drug maze.

Every year for five years, I walked up to the door and tried to kick it down, and every year I failed.

Then, one day, while accompanying a friend to a natural healing seminar, I heard what I needed to hear. Perhaps it wasn’t depression I was experiencing, and my failed attempts at quitting were not due to lack of willingness or willpower.

Maybe I was simply strung out on a drug.

I immediately began to develop an approach to kick my habit. I found a new doctor and together we designed a plan to step down gradually. I also sought the help of others online who told absolute horror stories as well as amazing stories of how they learned to unhitch the wagon. More than a few people described the experience as intensely painful.

It’s been a year now and I have managed to decrease my dose from 75mg to 37.5 mg. My last request from the doctor was to get a pill I could break. For the last few months I have been biting that pill in half.

Today I feel a lessening of its mighty grip and yet I know it would be foolish to try and outsmart this monkey. I trust I will know when the final break up comes.

The door will not have to be kicked down. It will open and I will walk through, free at last.”

Thank you for sharing your journey, Suzani.

Have you wrestled with antidepressants? Have you found a better way to “do life”?

-db

Who is Dianna Bonny?

Hi, my name is Dianna Bonny. It’s my mission to candidly share my journey with you. For me, it’s all about the healing: to create a radiant healing energy for others who have befallen a similar fate. Together, we can forge beautiful lives of belonging and connection. Thanks for joining me today! I look forward to hearing from you.

  8 comments for “Effects of Antidepressants: A Personal Account of the Grim Underbelly

  1. August 27, 2013 at 3:35 am

    Thank you for sharing this. Several years ago I, too, was prescribed one of these meds. I was in the midst of some really bad family stuff. I took the med for about 6 months until, like you, I found myself numb…without emotion. Being a musician having numbed emotions was not an option. I discontinued the meds. Yeah, the pain was still there, but it was better dealing with it rather than covering it up.
    My wife, however, has been on them for many years. Her doc told her that her condition was like having diabetes or other chronic illness. She would need to take them forever because her brand of depression was not going to be cured. I don’t think that’s quite accurate, but I can’t make her mind up for her.

    • Dianna Bonny
      August 27, 2013 at 9:25 am

      Hi Mike: Appreciate you sharing your experience. Being in relationship with the mind is a very personal experience so I would never judge anyone’s choice on how they engage. Like you, I have found it immensely rewarding to befriend the contents of my brain – although I will not deny that the journey can be scary and overwhelming. Have you seen this fabulous Ted talk by Eleanor Longden? (http://www.ted.com/talks/eleanor_longden_the_voices_in_my_head.html) I think her story is quite illuminating. Thank you for your comment. Be well, db

      • August 29, 2013 at 2:15 am

        Wow! What a great testimony to the resilience of the human mind! Thank you for sharing this.

  2. August 27, 2013 at 11:34 am

    Thanks Dianna, for a very balanced article. I was prescribed anti-depressants in my early twenties; I hadn’t gone through any major trauma, I was just exhibiting various psychiatric symptoms. In the beginning they seemed to work as they really decreased my anxiety and made life a lot easier. But this easing of anxiety had the effect of my making several irrational decisions, as I developed a “hey, whatever” attitude. I also lost all interest in sex. On the one hand, I didn’t miss it(having never had any:-)) but on the other, my total lack of interest meant I gave no thought at all to finding a partner.
    Anti-depressants do indeed have a “dark underbelly” and are over-prescribed.
    I really recommend the book “Cracked: Why Psychiatry is Doing More Harm than Good” by James Davies. Davies describes a colleague who became depressed while working in a job he hated
    “Perhaps his depression was an alarm that signalled he needed to change his life. But rather than listening to the alarm, he just turned it off with Prozac, pulled up the covers and returned to sleep.”
    I’d guess this is a common scenario, similar to my own, though different to yours. I can see how in times of crisis, being capable of caring for those who depend on us has to be the priority.
    Effexor was one of the drugs I took. I’m now completely free of it and know you soon will be too.
    Ellen

    • Dianna Bonny
      September 3, 2013 at 7:13 pm

      Hi Ellen: Thank you for so much information. I have not seen the book Cracked but it sounds like a good resource for anyone trying to navigate these waters. I myself am no longer on the drugs and my friend who shared her story has just freed herself from the chains. I am so glad that you have found freedom as well. I appreciate your presence and hope to hear from you again. xo

  3. September 4, 2013 at 9:11 am

    Anti-depressants are powerful meds with serious side effects including addiction, emotional numbing, and subtle long term nervous system damage. And also – they save lives, and are by far the best treatment option we have for severe chronic depression. I was on anti-depressants for nearly ten years, and yes, I would say they (no hyperbole here) saved my life. I suffered from chronic Major Depression and untreated complex PTSD. Yes this was as awful as it sounds. Without anti-depressants (I took Wellbutrin combined with a very tiny dose of Celexa) I doubt I would have been able to become stable enough to seek – and complete three years of – treatment for PTSD. It’s been a long and arduous journey but I am now free of depression, free of PTSD, and free of anti-depressants – I have a lovely, happy life now. There are so many natural alternatives that work as well or better than meds for depression – nutrition, supplements, exercise, and mindfulness meditation are now the four pillars of my life-long treatment program. But I had to get well enough to have the self-love and self-discipline it takes to implement these techniques, which is no small matter. Healing from depression and the after-effects of trauma is possible, but as I’m sure many of you know, it’s a long and difficult journey and it’s going to be different for everyone. Both my grandfather and my father suffered from the same kind of depression I have. My grandfather was literally crippled by years of electroshock “therapy,” and my father died from an overdose of the powerful sedatives that were prescribed for his depression in pre-prozac days. I often wonder how the lives of these two men I loved so much would have been different had modern anti-depressants been available to them. There are no easy answers, and these drugs can be dangerous. But in the end, I’m very grateful that we have this resource for our healing journeys.

    • Dianna Bonny
      September 4, 2013 at 11:39 am

      Thank you for sharing such an incredible story. I am so happy that you are living a good life now free of depression and the meds. I wholeheartedly agree that it is difficult journey and that self-love is a big part of creating the pathway to health. I too had a friend who got caught in the web of drugs in the pre-prozac days and ended her life while under the influence of them. There are no easy answers but at least we now have a bigger array of options and increased awareness. Appreciate your comments. xo

  4. Alison
    January 26, 2016 at 9:17 pm

    Stumbled on this blog and it is inspiring to here your story,I am in a similar situation and this had given me hope….thank you ❤️

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