My journey of taking medication for mental health related illnesses has been one that I have been on since I finally made the decision to start taking them in 2010 after suffering a full-blown mental health breakdown resulting in me not working at all for 11 months.
I can still remember the fear of initially accepting the script from my Psychiatrist, followed by handing it over at the counter at my local chemist, through to then having to take it every day. After accepting that it was an avenue that I needed to try it took me quite a while to get used to the feeling of being on medication for a mental illness as I thought that I would be on them for the rest of my life.
Initially I struggled to find the right medication for me as I found out that I was quite suspectable to the side effects of some medications and that I needed a medication that would also help me sleep. But after about 6 months it was sorted and I found a medication that at the time seemed to suit my needs and help me get back on track in life.
I reckon I took that medication for about 5 or 6 years straight before a discussion with another medical professional prompted me to change medications for one that was better suited to my conditions. The new medication took a few months to kick in and it was certainly much better for me than the previous one that I was on as the previous medication had a few annoying side-effects such as:
- Not making me feel full after eating food, thus I would eat more and more
- It made my lower legs sweat constantly.
Fast forward until February 2023 and I have been taking the same medication now for about 7 – 8 years with little to no side effects.
So why would I want to stop taking it all of a sudden you might ask?
Good question, so I thought I would share and explain my answer in case anyone else is taking medication and has ever contemplated going off of it.
You see I have absolutely no big issues with continuing to take my current medication every day for the rest of my life, it’s cheap to buy, has little to no side-effects and it has assisted me through some quite stressful times over the last 7 – 8 years.
But I found myself asking why? Why am I still taking this medication every day?
Is it because I really need it to function in life or could it just be a habit that I have gotten used to over a long period of time. You see I have been fully employed since 2011 and made a career in a completely new industry that has taken me to local, national and international levels, some of which carried really high levels of stress.
So, I started thinking, do I really need this medication now or have I evolved enough, built enough resilience and learnt enough to have a crack at life without it?
There is also something else that was quite a big driver in my decision to go off my medication and that was that I have been missing certain feelings that I have lost since being on my medication. For me it has been the loss of the ability to feel really happy or excited about things or to appreciate really nice things such as a beautiful sunrise, cloud formation, good news or simply something really beautiful.
It is quite hard to put into words and I am not saying that I have not experienced joy or happiness whilst on medication, but I do know for me that it kind of ‘dulled’ those low and high emotions and feelings, and kept me on a more level and moderated medium. I guess I also wanted to see with all I have been through in recent years am I strong enough within my own mental health to manage and do I have enough strategies in place to be able to go off my medication and get through whatever life throws at me!
I have gone off it once before about 7 years ago for about 5 – 6 months, until I received a promotion at work and found myself in quite a stressful situation which in turn triggered some of my not-nice physical symptoms of Anxiety, PTSD and Depression. I was quite ok about this at the time and simply went back my long-term Doctor and asked to re-start my medication. I can remember telling him that I have been dealing with this for long enough to know when I was not well and that I should go back on my medication, so I also had this in the back of my head (for good and bad) in February of 2023 when I was looking at going off my medication again.
My doctor was supportive and provided medical advice on how to down cycle my current medication so as not to suffer any major withdrawal symptoms too quickly.
For me this meant taking a half dose for 1 x month, then taking a quarter does for 1 x month before stopping altogether.
The Ride Begins!
Within a week of halving my dose came the headaches, nausea, lethargic feelings to name a few. These lasted for up to around the 3 x week mark and although not nice they were bearable and expected as they are also quite similar to the side-effects I got when I started taking medication. The good thing was I knew that they were temporary and that with some over the counter pain relief and some rest I could get through them.
One thing I didn’t count on was how reliable and dependent my body was on me taking this little tablet every day. Even when I dropped my dosage in the following months I would occasionally forget to take a tablet and my body would give me a subtle reminder of what it was missing by giving me a day or two of headaches and dizziness.
And then it happened just into the second month of my cycling down, and it is the first time in about 13 years I had felt that feeling. I was driving in my car and looked out at the amazing weather and cloud formations that we were experiencing (Spoiler – I have lived on the Sunshine Coast for 30 years so it is definitely a beautiful part of the world) and I simply felt a feeling of appreciation, joy and gratitude that I have not felt since being on medication.
I looked at the sky and really felt its beauty and appreciated it so much it brough a smile straight to my face, and in that moment, I felt a feeling that I had been missing for the last 13 years, the feeling of joy and euphoria!
That day alone has made the journey worthwhile for me, but it has not been without its lows as well. I have noticed myself being a bit more emotional and suspectable to the odd tear or two when watching tv or expressing my feelings verbally.
I am so lucky that I have a partner who I can talk to about anything, and I have shared both my experiences (high and low) with her and what changes she may see in me as I cycle off my medication.
As I write this article, I haven’t taken any medication at all for about 2 weeks and was only taking it once every 4 x days for the month before that and once every second day for the month before that as mentioned.
Having openly dealt with my mental health challenges for the last 13 years I am acutely aware of both what my triggers are and also what my coping mechanisms are to keep me ‘on track‘ and to be the best version of myself as I can.
I also think that now I have a few things ‘in order’ so to speak that has allowed for some lower levels of stress in my life which is definitely beneficial (Job/Partner/Fitness), had this not be the case I can say that I would definitely not have a crack at going off my medication.
Will being off my medication for only the second time in 13 years last? I hope so and I am pretty confident that it will and that I will be able to experience the highs that I have been missing and get through the lows that will happen.
What I do know is that if something dramatically changes for the worse, that I always have my medication there as a backup should it all get too much, and that I have absolutely no issues with having to make the decision to go back on it at all. Medication has been good for me, and I don’t regret taking it for a second!
I am happy with my decision and am looking forward to feeling those feeling that I have missed for quite some time.
If you are thinking of going off your medication, then please ensure that you consult your Doctor or treating specialist for advice and support. If you are taking medication and staying on it than that is also great!
I hope the story of my recent journey provides some information/assistance to you or somebody you know.