Going off antidepressants is a big decision to make only with your mental health professional or your doctor. It's not a choice to make on a whim, it's not a choice to make without proper preparation, and it's not a choice to make without deep consideration. If you go off of your antidepressants improperly, the effects can be dangerous — even fatal.
On the more common end of the spectrum, people who go off antidepressants cold turkey might experience flu-like symptoms, anxiety, insomnia, and exhaustion. But on the other end, withdrawal might increase depression, causing suicidal thoughts. It might even cause seizures and other health complications. All of this is to say that it's important to talk with your doctor about the right time and the right way to go off, because every medication, dosage, and case is unique.
For me, antidepressants were always meant to be temporary. I went on them while I was in a rut and it made sense to me and my doctor to go down that route. But two years later, it became clear again to both me and my doctor that it was the right time to taper-down. And while coming to that decision was only slightly difficult, the actual process of weening off of antidepressants is incredibly emotionally trying and confusing, regardless of how ready you are to be pill-free. These are seven emotional stages of going off when you're actually ready to:
"I'm Not Ready."
Immediately after you decide with your doctor that you're ready, fear of the unknown will settle in and you will second guess your choice. You'll feel like you've forgotten what it feels like to be off medication. You worry it's not the right time and that you should wait until your life feels more steady. The process will feel rushed and scary.
"It Will Always Feel This Way."
When you first start to cut down your dosage, you'll notice some changes. While doctors will tell you that it's just your body working itself out and that after a few weeks, you'll be balanced, you don't believe them. You've convinced yourself that the headaches, the anxiety, and the other symptoms are there to stay.
"I Should Go Back On."
When your doctor tells you that it's time to lower the dose again, you'll feel like doing the exact opposite. They'll tell you your current dosage is barely enough for a cat, that you're almost completely off, and instead of that bringing you comfort, you'll start to worry your mind isn't ready to handle the world without the pills. You'll go back and forth between convincing yourself that you're ready and then telling yourself you should increase the dosage, just for a little while.
"Maybe I Don't Feel Any Different?"
Once you're off the pills, you'll start to analyze how you feel. Despite all the worries about how different you might feel off the pill, you can't actually put your finger on any obvious changes. Maybe you're sleeping more? Less? Maybe your appetite is stronger? Weaker? Maybe you feel calm? Slow? It's not as clear as you thought it would be.
"I Don't Want To Fail."
Even though your doctor will tell you that you're not a failure if you need to go back on the pills, you'll worry you are. It will feel regressive to have to start back up after the whole process of going off. This fear of failing will put a lot of pressure on you to be hard on yourself. You'll have to fight those judgmental thoughts and give yourself a break. There's no failure, there's only happiness and health — and if you can achieve them without pills, great. But if you can't, that's fine, too.
"Am I Being Crazy?"
Every time you experience a mood or a strong feeling, you'll obsess over whether or not it was warranted. You'll be so concerned with the idea of other people judging you that you'll be an even harsher judge on yourself. You'll get upset over something totally valid and talk yourself out of sanity. Emotions are normal and healthy and necessary. Eventually you'll remember that it's OK to have them.
"I Feel Balanced Again."
One day you'll wake up and not think about the pills or lack thereof. You'll go on with your day without second guessing the value of your feelings. You'll make choices that you feel confident. You won't have a headache, you won't be exhausted — you'll have figured out how to regulate your sleep and your moods with exercise and healthy eating. Once the absence of the pills stop taking up as much head space as the presence of them, you'll be over it and they'll be a part of your past. And you'll be comfortable enough with yourself that you'll know it's OK if you want to go back on at some point. Feeling good isn't a luxury; it's what you deserve.