Why I’m thankful for medication and the dangers of stopping without support

Let’s take a few minutes to talk about medication. Antidepressants can be a useful tool in the battle against depression. Most people suffering can benefit from taking antidepressants and it can be the most effective treatment in relieving symptoms quickly, particularly in cases of severe depression. I won’t even go into the hundreds of different types of antidepressant out there; suffice to say I have been on a number of them over the years and it can take time and patience to find the best fit for you!

Medication has played an important role in my recovery from depression and severe anxiety. I am now at a stage in my life where I can function and hold down a job. Looking back, the biggest mistake I have made over the past ten years is deciding to stop taking my medication. I have done this so many times – I get through the bout of depression that has knocked me for six, and finally life starts to get back to some sort of normality. I start to feel hopeful again, and think ‘actually I don’t need my medication anymore, I’m well again’. So in my infinite wisdom, and without checking in with my GP or medical professional, I just stop taking those pills every morning. And wait to see what happens next, because I’m well now and don’t need the medication anymore.

Let me tell you what happened to me next: bang, crash and burn. If a sufferer stops taking their antidepressants the medicine will leave the body quite quickly and symptoms will return. Not only that, but quitting without consulting a doctor can be dangerous and very hard on your poor battered body which has already been through so much. Abrupt and sudden removal of medication can trigger terrible withdrawal symptoms and you may feel very unwell both physically and mentally. Think of the worst hangover you have ever had, and then multiply by a hundred, and you get the general picture of how bad I felt all those times I stopped taking my medication. Add into the mix the horrible anxiety that came flooding back, and you can see why this was a terrible decision.

Looking back now, I understand why I might have made those decisions and decided to risk the horrible withdrawal symptoms time and time again. Let’s be honest, taking heavy doses of medication for any illness isn’t fun, no matter how well the drug may suit you. Some side effects are bound to occur, and this can be incredibly annoying. For me, the most persistent side effect I have had is a dry mouth. This may sound like a small thing, but it leads to a constant daily battle of drinking litres of water and getting through boxes of mints in order to feel comfortable. Obviously, alcohol and medication don’t mix very well and this can be another annoying reality of being on medication. And for women, the time may come when they start to think about having a baby and this may mean coming off or changing medication. However – important caveat here – for anyone thinking about coming off medication, for whatever reason, the only safe way to do this is under medical supervision. The only person who should be deciding you are well enough to come off your tablets is your doctor or consultant. There may well come a point in your recovery when you are well enough to cope without or with less medication. If this is the case, then your doctor will taper your dose and reduce it very slowly.

Personally, I am very happy to put up with my dry mouth for as long as I have to. For me, the biggest part of my recovery has been accepting that I have an illness and that is nothing to be ashamed of. I always thought that needing medication was a sign of weakness and I fought against it. I fought against it so hard, using up all the energy I should have been using to get well. I’ve finally realized that I am just a person who has an illness, and like any other illness – this needs me to do everything I can to manage the illness. In my experience, this means looking after my body, eating well, exercising and also taking those tablets with my breakfast every morning. If this means I can get up every morning and face the world, then that’s a sacrifice I am willing to make

First published on A Lust For Life