Making the decision around medication is complicated, to say the least. And making the decision to stop (safely, of course) and try life without something that’s been a part of your life for a few years can be even more so. While I’ve been thinking about this, I quickly realized I didn’t have a lot of people in the same boat to chat with.
I can vividly remember (mostly) every detail of the appointment I had with my doctor when I approached the subject of going on a medication to help my mental health. I hadn’t actually done a lot of research myself, as I knew if I began the Google deep dive on what medication might work for me, I would be lost in the internet abyss for a long time.
So I knew next to nothing going in. Just that I had ended up in the hospital, and had learned that it actually was not normal to be having anxiety attacks daily at work. Honestly, I didn’t even fully realize that’s what was going on. I had panic and anxiety attacks on and off since college and just rolled with it. I can remember my very first one, but even now I wonder if I had one sooner and just wasn’t aware. Because even between today, and when I started university, the awareness around mental health has grown so much – and that gives me a lot of hope for the future, even if there’s still a lot that can be worked on.
But anyway, back to the main point, which is me oversharing in hopes that someone who is trying to sort themselves out stumbles upon this because I personally haven’t had anyone to turn to who has gone through the same thing. Lots of ‘friends of friends,’ and Reddit threads, but that’s about it. I recently had the honor (truly) of discussing all of this with a colleague as they made some choices about their own mental health and it was a reminder that while I feel like I’m writing to myself and the abyss of the internet, sometimes the words land exactly where they need to.
It was a pretty simple choice to start my prescription but that’s because the first thing I tried was what I went with – and I imagine it is not always that simple.
Note: I hope this is obvious but please consult your doctor about anything medical as I am always talking about myself on here, and everyone is different.
Did the medication work?
At first, no.
The lower dosage helped, but I was still having attacks weekly or so and I took that as a victory. When I checked in with my doctor about a month or so in, I remember he chuckled as I had accepted this fate.
“If it’s not fully working, it’s not working.”
Which made total sense but I felt better! And I thought that was great! I’m not sure what that says about me but I’m glad that he didn’t accept the bare minimum was a victory.
We then doubled the dosage and that suited me just fine, and that’s what I’ve been taking for about three years or so.
The medicine itself is called Venlafaxine, an antidepressant, which I now know is pretty common. It’s often used with new mothers to help with post-partum and is very tricky to get addicted to. Even at my higher dose, it still isn’t considered a high dose compared to other meds, and that also varies from person to person too! It’s all very personal, as one would expect.
What I’ve learned
Even though I wasn’t into Googling everything about my newfound medication at the start, I’ve done a lot since.
Turns out this medication did have quite a few side-effects, and I don’t remember discussing them. I also know that I was such a nervous/anxious mess during these appointments that I 100% was not prepared with any questions. It was overwhelming to say the least.
Now I read them and I wonder if they’re the reason why my sleeping is horrible (although it’s always been bad), or why I have the worst memory as time goes by (again, never one of my strengths). They did affect my appetite in the strangest way, especially at the start: I constantly felt like I was low blood sugar and would eat constantly to make up for it. So whereas weight gain is a side effect, it could also be because I was working in an office with a fully-stacked kitchen of delish snacks for the first time. So that’s hard to tell, what came first.
Also interesting to me was how the medication helped with my stomach issues and I got to the point where I now eat in public willingly for the first time since…ever.
I’ve also learned the importance of your surroundings when it comes to mental health, which I think we are all becoming more aware of.
Why stop taking medication now?
When I started I was living in not the best area (it was common to hear shootings, there were cockroaches, it was a stressor for sure) and my workplace was going downhill with multiple layoffs, team tension, and constant pressure. And then of course getting laid off, and jumping into two new jobs. One of which I quite literally had a Crying Staircase to escape to. Of course, that’s going to affect me! Your work is a huge part of your life and this was no exception.
It wasn’t until the last month or so that I realized, despite COVID, my feelings around my job and the people I work with have changed. Yes, I still get stressed now and then, but I know there’s support if needed. I manage a lot of different tasks but they are reasonable, versus juggling too many things and dropping a few. It’s a cautious statement for sure, as I felt confident in the past about where I was working, but I’ve now been in my current role longer than the previous two and the confidence is still holding.
And living outside Toronto makes a world of a difference.
Yes saving on rent is great, but it’s also just quiet. I’ve always said once I’m away from the city for a weekend I dread going back and the feeling hasn’t changed. I feel like I fully unwind here at night, and on the weekends, versus being in a constant cycle of go go go.
A lot has changed in the last three years, and I feel more capable of my coping skills as well. I know now that physical activity makes a huge difference, drinking less alcohol and honestly not being as social. This sounds hilarious in COVID times – of course, I miss my friends but the less late nights and money spending is good!
This wasn’t a quick decision, but one that I thought about myself then chatted about with family and then my doctor.
Here’s what that means…
I called my doctor and chatted it out with him, as I would urge anyone to do with any prescription. You can’t just stop the medication and carry on and I did not know this in the past! Your body will not like that and you will face the dread brain zaps. Which I hate with my whole being.
I went from a full dose to half for three weeks and then one pill every other day. I still get mini zaps, but they aren’t half as bad.
So I really won’t know how it feels to have them out of my system for a month at least. Strange, isn’t it?
I am going to be doing a lot of self check-ins and know that if this ends up being a horrible choice, there’s no shame in changing my mind again or exploring other options.