What it’s like to come off SSRIs
There may come a time when you’d like to try to come off your anxiety or depression medication.
Maybe it’s destroying your desire to do human sexy times. Maybe it’s making you feel worse than you did before. Or maybe things have gotten better for you and you want to see if you still need them.
For me, it’s the last one.
This is a journal-ish kinda-thing of my experiences trying to come off my SSRIs. It is not a how-to guide. It is also not a recommendation.
It is not a condemnation of SSRIs or medical interventions to mood disorders, nor is it a celebration of them.
It’s just my experience.
What is an SSRI?
SSRIs are a type of medication that can help ease the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
I’m not going to explain exactly how SSRIs work because I’m not a doctor. There are lots of sources out there that will do a better job. Seriously, just Google it.
What kind of SSRI was I on?
How long have I been taking SSRIs?
About 5 years.
I started on 10mg, stabilized at this super low dose, but moved up to 20mg about 4 years in, and then back down to 10mg 6 months later.
From my understanding, and don’t quote me on this, taking 40mg daily is the highest dosage you’re likely to be put on.
How did I stabilize on such a low dose?
I’m sensitive to medications. When I started on SSRIs, I saw a noticeable change after just 3 days.
I was also working at a naturopathic doctors’ office at the time, and though they weren’t stoked on my decision to go on SSRIs, they were nothing but supportive. They checked in and helped out in any way they could. From bodywork and acupuncture, to diet advice and supplementation, we threw everything at it.
And I had a counsellor, and great community, and I was exercising all the time.
All of these things helped to support my mental health, and likely contributed to my ability to stabilize on such a low dose.
What did it feel like going on SSRIs?
I mostly just remember the internal noise quieting. The relief.
Like someone was turning down the volume on my emotions.
I also recognized an indifference to things that I would normally lose my shit about.
My body took a bit to adjust to the new medication. I had headaches and belly aches and felt generally lethargic for a while.
Eventually, it went away.
What was left was an ability to articulate my experience more dispassionately than I could before. Soon, I was able to be the observer of my feelings more easily and more often. I didn’t get quite as wrapped up in my feelings as I used to.
But that was sometimes.
I still had some very low, lows.
For a couple years in there, I don’t think I felt happy even once.
Sometimes I believed that I wouldn’t experience happiness again. And though that thought bothered me, it should have probably bothered me more.
There were lots of dark days.
But I knew they would pass. And though it was incredibly painful, it was better than without medical intervention.
Things SSRIs helped me with:
Turning down my inner dialogue and getting a tiny bit of peace (sometimes).
Numbing out some of the intense emotions I had around the trauma I was dealing with and made daily life more manageable.
Easing my symptoms of PTSD (sometimes).
Helping me find mental space to build better tools, structures, and connections to manage my emotional states and mental health.
I didn’t want to die anymore (99% of the time).
Things SSRIs did not help me with:
I did not become happier.
I did not become more sociable.
I did not become more active.
I did not stop doubting myself.
I did not become less anxious.
My pain didn’t go away.
My trauma didn’t go away.
My PTSD did not go away.
Why am I coming off SSRIs?
I am in a good place. (Finally). I have a secure job, good people in my life, good health, lots of time and opportunity.
I have a counselor I’ve been seeing a while, and I trust her. She’s helped me build better processes and given me tools to deal with the vastness and intensity of my emotions, as well as the complexity of my life.
The three factors driving my decision to attempt to come off my SSRIs are personal:
I’d like to see if I can do it. I’ve done a lot of work and growing, and I want to see where I am at.
I’d like to start a family in the next five years and I wanna get this shit in my head locked down.
But, I don’t need any justification. I just want to k?
But what if you’re miserable and you have to go back on SSRIs?
No harm. No foul.
SSRIs have helped me a lot. And if it turns out I can’t have the life I want without them, then I will go back on.
The benefits thus far have always outweighed the drawbacks.
It’s okay if I fail. Even to say failing is a weird way to put it.
If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.
At least I know SSRIs have worked for me in the past and I can likely go back on without a hitch.
So, how are you going to come off your anxiety and depression medication?
The truth is, I’m not coming off all of it.
I also take Bupropion.
Bupropion is an NDRI (norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor).
Again, not gonna try and explain how that one works. Not a doctor. Google it.
So, I am not totally coming off my anxiety and depression medication. I will still be on some.
Why come off the SSRI rather than the NDRI?
First, the specific NDRI that I am on does not affect sexual functioning as much (yay!) and two, it doesn’t make me as lazy as my SSRI does.
I’ve found my NDRI gives me lots of energy and has had a more profound effect on my mood than SSRIs ever did.
Bupropion did give me a low key, buzzy anxiety feeling when I first started, but I got used to it.
But it’s not perfect. I feel anxious more frequently than when I was just on SSRIs.
It’s a process.
What do I need to do to come off my anxiety and depression medication?
The first thing I did was book a doctor’s appointment.
I am really lucky:
I live in Canada (free healthcare, whatup!?!?)
My doctor is the best
I’ve had the same doctor through my whole PTSD ordeal (including breaking down in his office within 2 seconds of meeting him, unable to speak I was crying so hard, getting on SSRIs, and dealing with some other fucked up situations). He has been pretty incredible and instrumental in my mental health management.
But alas, he is MY doctor. Not yours.
AND I am not you.
So what I am doing, is not what you should do. You should talk to a professional.
Never come off mood-altering medication without the guidance of a certified, trained, regulated medical professional.
So, I talked to my doctor and he was game.
Since I am on such a low dose, it would have been hard to go on a smaller dose unless I started splitting my pills.
And going cold turkey can be quite a rollercoaster.
With that in mind, we decided that an alternating day-on, day-off schedule might be worth experimenting with first.
He also checked in to make sure I still was seeing my counselor frequently and that I had people to talk to.
And he made sure I had some healthy ways of caring for myself during this process, like community, yoga, journaling, bodywork, etc. Supporting yourself in other ways makes all the difference.
Possible side-effects of coming off SSRIs
My doctor also warned me that there would be side effects from coming off my anxiety and depression medication.
Much like starting on SSRIs, I could experience:
On that note, over the course of my ‘coming off’, I hope to document my experience for science.
Hopefully someone out there finds this useful.
As I publish new post on this topic, I’ll post the links here so you can follow along.