Recently I had a bad bout of gastro. I don’t just tell you this because I have a shameless love of sharing my bowel movements with people, I mean I do, but that’s not the reason I’m mentioning it this time. This bout of gastro meant that I couldn’t take my antidepressants. I simply couldn’t keep them down, not to mention the husband is not exactly a quality nurse. He found it quite odd that I’d need to be checked in on more than twice a day so dispensing medications was quite beyond him. So I went from Tuesday to Friday without any antidepressants. That’s four days without antidepressants. What could go wrong in four days? Surely that’s not that long. Wrong. The result of being off antidepressants were swift and brutal. On the Saturday I was well enough to get out of bed and keep some food and water down. I was feeling very odd, I’ve been in a down phase for over six months now but this was different, I took my antidepressant at about 8am for the first time in four days but it wasn’t soon enough to stop the effects that the withdrawal had on me.
At 9am I went back to bed. I still wasn’t very well from four days of exploding from both ends and not being able to eat. I proceeded to have vivid nightmares of memories that I prefer to keep buried. There are some people that are of a theory that you must confront and deal with every single memory and feeling but quite frankly there are some that I’m perfectly happy with keeping buried deep down under the concrete fog of suppression. They can stay buried as far as I’m concerned because there are some things in this life that I will never be strong enough to deal with and they get to stay in that box. Unfortunately they came running out of that box and dancing around in my head. I woke up. They continued to run around unfettered. Jumping about, opening other boxes. I desperately tried to close them. I began to shake, I began to cry, and I began to think I was losing my mind. I felt that my kids would be better off without a crazy mother and that I should kill myself rather than have them endure my endless psychological burden on them. I tried to contact my husband, he was busy. I tried calling the medical centre my GP works at, they were fully booked and nobody could see me. I then contacted my two best girlfriends, Helen and Lisa, they were probably busy, they’ve both got kids and commitments, Lisa was even in the process of publishing her book, but they pretended they didn’t. They sent me the number for a home doctor visit and asked if there was someone they could call for me, was there someone they could get to come see me. They immediately wanted to look after me and make sure I was cared for. At this point, 11am I sent the following message to my psychologist:
Hi _____. I’m really sorry to bother you on the weekend but I’m slightly concerned that I might be having a bit of a psychological episode. I can’t stop having nightmares even when I’m awake. I think it is because I’m so depleted from gastro, which thankfully stopped and I hadn’t been able to keep my medication down since Tuesday and because the pain in my leg is quite bad at the moment but I’m really struggling and just don’t quite know what I should do. I’d normally just duck in to see my GP but she doesn’t work on weekends and nobody else can see me and I was just unsure what I should do so was wondering if you had any advice. Sorry, Robin
She sent me a message saying that she would call me back in 15 minutes.
In four hours I had gone from feeling a vague sense of impending doom to feeling like I was losing my mind and wanting to kill myself. Such a short amount of time and I was ready to end it. That’s how intense sudden withdrawal from antidepressants can be. There was no lead up into this overwhelming despair it just hit full force within a matter of hours. I had started taking a new antidepressant a little over a month ago and had found it quite effective for me, it was like all that had been undone and I’d slid even further backwards. When my psychologist called she explained to me that I probably wasn’t losing my mind that I was probably suffering withdrawal symptoms. That the feelings that I was having were from the chemical imbalance rather than some sort of break in my mind. This was very comforting to me. She spoke to me for quite some time to make sure that I was okay, and told me to go to the emergency department if I needed too, and to not simply suffer through the symptoms if they were unbearable. That sudden withdrawal from medication was awful but it would be over in a few days but there were things that doctors could do for me in the interim, such as prescribe a drug like Xanax to keep me more settled whilst my regular medication kicked back in. Just knowing that I wasn’t crazy, that there was a reason that my brain seemed to be melting out of my ear provided me with great relief. It gave me a lens to view my thoughts through that let me know that it would pass, and that they would go away. The symptoms were still to server for me to cope with on my own so I took 25mg of Seroquel over the next few days whilst the worst side effects were present.
A week later and I’m back to normal and I actually feel really proud of myself. I know that probably sounds weird, proud of myself having a complete meltdown, but I am. 2 years ago when I went into Saint John of God Psychiatric Hospital I was having similar feelings. I went to my husband for support, he’s not good with the feelings, he was too busy. I continued to flounder and could not cope and felt like there was nothing I could do. This time round, in a matter of hours I had repeated the same process, reached out to my husband, he was too busy but I am hopeful that one day he will have made enough progress that he reaches back, on being rebuffed I tried my GP, on being unsuccessful I still didn’t give up and contacted my two wonderful friends Lisa and Helen and then my psychologist. In the last two years I have made three fantastic decisions that have made me a stronger and better person. I chose Lisa and I chose Helen to be my friends, without them my life would be so much less productive, and I picked the best psychologist that I have ever seen. Someone who understands me and how to treat me. Someone who is willing to take time out of their weekend to treat me. I am so proud of myself for making these healthy choices in my life. I am so proud that instead of spiraling out of control for months that I got onto it in a number of hours.
So I guess I write this blog entry to both warn people on antidepressants that if you get gastro or any other illness where you can’t keep your medication down then please go see your GP or a hospital immediately, because you’ll have effect beyond the illness and they are savage, but also, just because you fall it doesn’t mean you can’t get up. And just because you fall doesn’t mean you need to be ashamed. You can be damn proud of yourself for how quickly you got yourself back up.
If you or someone you know has postnatal depression you can find good resources on the following sites:
- Gidget Foundation http://gidgetfoundation.com.au/
- PANDA http://www.panda.org.au/
- PIRI http://www.piri.org.au/
- Black Dog Institute http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/
- Lifeline https://www.lifeline.org.au/
It’s so hard to reach out when it’s all slipping away, you’re amazing and so brave and I’m so glad you’re doing okay. Thanks for writing about your experiences, the more we talk the less stigma there is. xo
And there’s so many things that you don’t think about. When I had gastro I certainly wasn’t thinking about the impact of going off my antidepressants cold turkey, because it wasn’t a deliberate choice, but the result is the same. So, yeah, you need to be extra careful.