I am finally free from Effexor hell. When I first began taking it, the very first thing I noticed was that my knees no longer hurt. That is the only good thing I can say about Effexor. I did well on it at first, but I’ve learned that Effexor is an insidious thing. It’s a creeper drug. What I mean is, the change it caused in me came on so subtly that I didn’t realize how negatively it was affecting me. It changed my entire personality. I’m usually kooky, crazy, and always making stupid jokes and acting a fool. On Effexor, all I wanted to do was sleep and eat, and I didn’t give a shit about much of anything. I think Effexor actually made me depressed. I wasn’t much fun to be around – and I didn’t realize it until the thought just came to me one day. Once I became aware of how shitty I had become, I went straight to my doctor and told her to take me off of it.
In the eight or so months I was on it, I gained 40 pounds. F O R T Y, as in 40, friggin’ pounds! I struggled (and lost) with intense sugar cravings, especially late at night. I felt like I was starving all of the time – and tired. On the weekends, or when school was out, I would sleep 13 or 14 hours straight. I do that sometimes still, but not as much as when I was on Effexor.
I wrote a little about Effexor withdrawal three months ago. When I tell you that it is horrendous and excruciating, I am not exaggerating. After writing that post, it got much worse. For weeks, I kept a constant headache that made my head fee like it was going to explode, I was so nauseous that I was salivating – you know that feeling, right? – and I couldn’t walk for being so dizzy. I could not walk. Not even to go to the bathroom.
The most excruciating thing about the entire ordeal was the “brain zaps.” Have you ever gotten a mild electrical shock? Imagine that feeling inside your brain, then double the intensity. Honest to God, it feels like an actual, literal short circuit inside your head. Holy shit. (← I don’t know why people say that. There’s nothing holy about shit. Just a thought. Carry on…)
One day, I didn’t have anyone to help me take care of Tater. The girls were at school and my mom decided to go shopping all day knowing how sick I was. (Don’t even get me started on that one). On that day, I was so sick that I could not hold my head up, much less get out of bed. Fortunately, I had an unusual moment of clarity and rightness of mind to put him in his play yard beside me with plenty of toys, milk, and snacks. He fussed and cried and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it, except talk to him and hold his hand. It makes me cry just thinking about it. Little Tiger came and got him after school, fed him dinner, gave him a bath, and put him to bed that night. The next morning, she got him some milk, changed his diaper, and got him all set up before she went to school. Thank God for her. She’s an amazing young lady. That was the worst day.
It took nearly three weeks for the headache and dizziness to go away and nearly six weeks for the brain zaps to stop. After it was over, I felt like I had been beat up and left in a ditch to die. I was just weak, completely exhausted, and in pain all of the time. I struggled with flu-like symptoms more severe than before, panic attacks, chest pains that made me truly afraid I might have a heart attack, rapid heart rate, and rampant wild mood swings. I’d be fine one second, then bawling my eyes out or biting someone’s head off the next. And when I say “biting someone’s head off,” I mean fits of rage – over nothing. That is so not me. One night, I was lying in bed and my heart rate was 95 bpm, just lying there. That was really scary. It has been three months, and I’m just recently feeling better. I haven’t had a panic attack or near heart attack in about three weeks.
I had a similar experience with Paxil, another antidepressant, when I was in my twenties, which I was taking for postpartum depression. My body just doesn’t seem to respond well to antidepressants. At all. What pisses me off is that doctors don’t warn patients about how hard it is to come off antidepressants. They give it a nice name: “discontinuation syndrome.” MY ASS! I think crack addicts might have an easier time. Well, probably not, but in all seriousness, it’s really, really bad. I wonder how many people have actually had a heart attack during “discontinuation-syndrome-my-ass,” because I seriously think I came close? I prayed for my life several times. Seriously, I did. It was terrifying.
With Paxil, it took me three attempts at withdrawal before I was free of it. I couldn’t get lower than 20 mg without getting jacked up. On my last attempt, I took vacation from work and laid in bed and ate pain killers for a week. My withdrawal from Effexor was much, much worse. I honestly felt like I needed to be in the hospital or a drug rehab, under constant care. Yes, it was that bad.
My doctor asked me if I wanted to try the Cymbalta again, since my insurance would probably pay for it having tried their Step 1 drug without success. I said it straight up, “Hell no!” I will never, ever put myself or my family through that again. Paxil sucks, and Effexor sucks, too. I don’t give a shit how bad my knees hurt, I’m just not doing it. No more antidepressants.
Trolling around on the Internet, I found too many stories to count of people who had the same withdrawal experience as me. Have any of you tried antidepressants for fibromyalgia, or anything else? Did it work for you? Did a personality change creep up on you from taking it? What was your experience coming off of it? I’d love it if you shared your stories in the comments.
Until next time…