One day last October, I stopped taking my antidepressants. In about 24 hours, I went from taking, in total, 655 mg of potent psych medication each day to none — because I ran out, didn't have a refill and hadn't found a doctor yet in my new hometown. And at first, things were fine. At first, I actually felt pretty good — better, perhaps, than before, when I had to take pills morning, noon and night and forgot at least one dose each day. I felt bright, alert, easy-to-smile, quick to laugh. I felt happy and light.
So I shrugged it off and didn't go see a doctor, because it was too much of a hassle, it was out of the way, and hey, maybe two and a half years of medication was working and I was healed.
Besides, I figured, people said it was good to get off medication. One of my meds had led to some pretty substantial weight gain, and of course there was the increased risk of diabetes and the fact that I was permanently exhausted. Not to mention the preposterous cost of antidepressants. All these and more were reasons pointing to why I should, eventually go off medication. Why couldn't "eventually" be now?
Life on antidepressants is hard…but it’s so much harder without them.
So I thought, maybe I don't need a doctor to tell me to go off my meds, maybe I can just...stay off them.
Things were good.
Until, suddenly, they weren't.
Suddenly, about a week and a half into my meds-free life, I had my own personal thunderhead trailing above me, splattering me with heavy rain and lightning.
I couldn't smile anymore, for any reason. I started being paranoid again, feeling like people were reading my mind and judging me for the rude thoughts that came of their own bidding and that I couldn’t control, no matter how hard I tried. Just like I had done in middle school when the paranoia began, I counteracted it by shouting vicious words at myself.
I had to will myself to take a step back every time the train approached for fear my errant brain would convince my traitorous body to jump in front of it. I daydreamed about dying. I started hurting myself again. I burst into tears at random moments and had to leave whatever I was doing. I put off doing my work in favor of staring at the ceiling. I stopped functioning.
It wasn't the first time these things had happened to me, but it was the worst episode in several years.
Finally, I dragged myself to the psychiatrist at school. She smiled and asked how I was doing. I started crying. "Not well."
That's an understatement.
For what felt like at least an hour, I poured out my thoughts to the doctor, telling her everything — how suicidal I was, how I had new cuts on my arms, how I'd been depressed since high school, suicidal since college, and had one previous psych hospitalization.
I shouldn't have been surprised that she suggested going to the hospital, but I was.
In the end she convinced me to go, if only because I knew home wasn't safe. And besides, she said, just like you can't go off your meds cold turkey, it's best to be in a controlled environment while starting a new regime. (I understood why, because a year earlier a doctor had prescribed a new medication that enlightened me as to what it means when they say a medication can make you feel more suicidal.)
That was seven months ago, and I'm still recovering.
My mom, whom I speak with at least over text every day, says I haven't been the same since October. For the past month, I've been in a deep depression so dark I could barely see some days.
The doctors are still working through what medication I should be on; we recently dropped one and added another, and I’ve had a genetic test done to see what medication works best for me. Figuring out your antidepressant is always a little touch-and-go, but it's been more than three years since I first went on meds and I haven't been on a consistent mixture and dosage for more than a few months at a time. It's been three years and I'm still, essentially, "going on" medication, still in that awkward transition phase where my body is trying to figure out whether or not this new thing is going to work.
These past few weeks have been better than the past seven months. I celebrated a birthday, started a new job, and I've been consistently taking my medication for a while now. Then I lost my job without spiraling into depression again.
But I'm looking forward to the days when my mood stabilizers actually stabilize my moods, when my antidepressants actually counter my depression and when I'm not living in fear of the next dip.
In the meantime, though, I’m not going to freak out and stop taking my medication again. It’s generally frowned upon to quit without a doctor’s approval, and for good reason. My experience spiraling out of control and being hospitalized for seven days has taught me that yes, life on antidepressants is hard…but it’s so much harder without them.