Depression Remission? Or Just Intermission?

Almost five weeks ago, I stopped taking antidepressants.

I had been weaning off them slowly for months, but I hadn’t planned on stopping when I did. After a major breakdown, though, I stopped taking the meds altogether.

Counterintuitive? I don’t know, but it worked. And I had been feeling great – until a few days ago. Now I’m not sure what’s going on. And I’m realizing I’m hesitant to go back to the meds.

Like many people who deal with depression, I have mixed feelings about antidepressants. When I was really in the depths of postpartum depression, Zoloft was my savior. It really was. It made me feel like me again. Not fuzzy or loopy as I had feared – just like me again. That’s how SSRIs helped me for years – they just made me feel normal. (Most of the time, that is.)

Then, after more than three long years, I started to suspect I was finally coming out of my depression. So armed with a plan and the support of my doctor, I decided to see what JD on no meds was like.

And I tell you – for the last few weeks I felt wonderful. The only way I can describe it is lighter. When I was depressed, the SSRIs definitely made me feel like me again. But there was always an underlying heaviness there. Maybe it was the weight of knowing what I was fighting against.

The picture of the umbrellas above is perfect to describe how I had been feeling. It was like I was seeing in un-muted, bright color again. I felt lighter on my feet. I was floating from sheer, clear happiness, because I was so thrilled that I had left the depression behind me. And there were no meds providing a subtle filter that I only now realize was there.

I knew that it would probably not last. But I hoped it would for a while. I struggled with depression in college and it was not until Gracie was born that it hit me again. So maybe, just maybe, I would have years and years of normalcy.

But for the past week, I have been slipping. I have been attributing it to hormones. I really, really hope it’s just because of the hormones, the stress of the new school year, and the lack of sleep. Because I want that lightness back. I want to be free of this bastard depression. I don’t want to be on meds. I want to be normal, dammit.

But maybe normal, for me, is only achieved with meds. Maybe the lightness just isn’t something I get to feel. And that thought has me spiraling back down again into a sad place. A place in which I am yelling at my kids, getting in fights with my husband, raging against an invisible assailant.

I’m giving it a week or so. Maybe I will end up having to take some sort of med for severe PMS each month, I don’t know. I can deal with that. But I just don’t want to go back to taking antidepressants every day.

If I have to, I will, of course. But I’ll be aching for that lightness all the while.

If you currently are dealing with depression, have in the past, or have loved ones who do, does this struggle with SSRIs sound familiar to you? What is your attitude about them?

If you have stopped taking antidepressants before, did you go through a period like this? Did it get better – or did you have to go back on SSRIs?

 Image courtesy of treborwilson via Flickr CC2.0.

{{This post was inspired by Write On Edge’s weekly prompt. This week, the prompt was the picture of the umbrellas. The image immediately inspired me to write this.}}

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36 Replies to “Depression Remission? Or Just Intermission?”

  1. I don’t have depression, but I do have thoughts on medicating depression, if it’s okay for me to share.
    I have asthma. Sure, I can take nothing and deal with it. Or take a little of this, or do some of that if it gets really bad. I wish I could breathe perfectly fine on my own with no meds.
    But that’s not the case.
    People don’t realize I am asthmatic, because the meds do the job. A couple times, I’ve even stopped them because I felt fine.
    Then it backfired. BADLY.
    So, to keep everything balanced, I take my meds. It’s just part of a routine that keeps me well. I let go of the not wanting to take meds. It’s just not in the cards for me, so I do what needs to be done and move onto decisions I have more say in. Like buying new shoes.
    I hope this makes sense to you. Maybe I’m getting you wrong here, but I thought maybe my story would help.
    I hope you’re better again soon.

    1. Hey, Let Me Start, I met you at BlogHer last month. Like, 89 times. Every time I turned around, there you were (me: short-haired redhead complaining about yet MORE sliders, for chrissake…).

      Thanks for comparing depression to a more concrete, physical problem that people often give more credence too. I am also on antidepressants for really bad PPD and I can’t help sensing an air of “Of course parenting is hard…buck up!” from some people (as well as, “Careful, she’s really fragile and can’t handle SHIT…she’s on drugs for PPD”). I too would like to stop taking medication but not if it means wanting to kill everyone around me…or kill myself.

      I most appreciate this: “It’s just part of a routine that keeps me well. I let go of the not wanting to take meds. It’s just not in the cards for me, so I do what needs to be done and move onto decisions I have more say in.”

      You’re funny AND kind. (And somehow everywhere at BlogHer’12!)

  2. I know all too well of what you speak unfortunately. I have struggled with depression on and off for the last 20 years or so. And post partum depression? Oh, I get that too unfortunately. I had to go through a Day Treatment program at the hospital after each time I gave birth it was so bad. For me, my depression seems to be progressive as I’ve gotten older. When I was in my early 20’s, I could just take something for a little while to get me through a specific rough patch or stressful time. Now however, if I go off my meds, which I have tried to do in the last couple of years, it’s not a pretty picture. At this point I have resigned myself to the fact that I have to take my meds. Every day. For the rest of my life. And while sometimes that reality sucks, the truth is this: I would much rather suck it up and take my pill every day then feel the way that feel when I don’t. Depression robs my kids of their “real” mom, my husband of his wife, my parents of their daughter and most of all, me of my happiness. And if I have to take a little pill each morning so that doesn’t happen, to me it’s a small price to pay. Feel free to email if you want to chat more about this….Hugs!

  3. I, too, know the feeling of spiraling downward, yelling at my kids, crying all the time. I can feel it, and I am helpless to stop it. I don’t take antidepressants, probably because I mentioned my sometimes depression in a routine physical, and my doctor prescribed an antidepressant when I was not depressed. It made me feel BAD, so I am hesitant to use it. I am on a roller coaster, and I’ve been okay for a couple of years. Not sure if I’m bi-polar, don’t really have a “high”, but my mother is, and she suspects that her father was, too. The point of all this is that I hear you, I know what you are feeling, and I hope and pray that you will live life in lightness without medication soon. And if you can’t do that, I hope you may find a medicine that lets you feel the lightness. ((hugs))

  4. I do struggle with depression and started zoloft after I had my babies. I too want to just let go but then I feel like I am slipping. I don't know why I fight it. I love the asthma analogy that LetMeStart made. It's a good one. If only I didn't have so much shame and resistence. I support you doing what you need to do. I don't have any answers, but I love that you write about this.

  5. I do struggle with depression and started zoloft after I had my babies. I too want to just let go but then I feel like I am slipping. I don’t know why I fight it. I love the asthma analogy that LetMeStart made. It’s a good one. If only I didn’t have so much shame and resistence. I support you doing what you need to do. I don’t have any answers, but I love that you write about this.

  6. I was on an ssri, but my psychiatrist switched me to an snri. I hope to go off of it someday, but I’m afraid of the withdrawl. If I take my meds more than a few hours late, I get the worst brain zaps and I feel like garbage.

    At my last appointment my psychiatrist said she expects that I’ll be on meds for the rest of my life, and that I probably shouldn’t expect to reduce my dosage by more than 25% once I get to a point of looking for a “maintenance” dose. I really don’t like this idea, but it is what it is. If it is what I need to do, it’s what I will do.

    I’m at the point where I don’t even know what my normal is anymore. I’m just getting frustrated with this whole thing.

  7. I'd like to echo Christie Tate below. I'm also weaning off of Zoloft for PPMD. I don't experience the lightness you talk about but two weeks after I lower my dosage, I always have some sort of relapse. Headaches, grumpiness, yelling, body aches, NO patience with my little ones, picking fights… It lasts for a few days or until I decide that I can make a change and move on with gentleness toward myself and those around me. I do this by telling others that I don't feel well and I ask for hugs. It's incredibly healing to feel the pure love from my husband and children and sustains me until I'm feeling better. Think about this way – a medication has been bridging the gaps that your brain hasn't been able to make. By reducing the meds, your brain is learning how to bridge that gap. Your body can respond in so many different ways to this change. Please be gentle with yourself as your brain builds this skill. It's going to be ok. Really, it will. You've made it this far, you can do another minute, hour, day… Come back to the moment and remember that everything you've done and all you are exists in every moment. So all of your successes and failures and learning and pain and joy are all there ALL THE TIME. So, it's ok. <blessings>

    1. Thank you Rane. This is important stuff. I have a good friend who's going off a long term med, and there's a lot to deal with. So glad you have the support and the smarts and the heart to use it well.

    2. Some people marvel that I've been off meds for over 7 years. I mean, I'm clearly messed up enough that I should be on them. But I have learned that I can get through the bad times with good coping skills. I don't have to be super or wonder woman, I can turn to others too. The Depression, Bi-polar, PTSD, PPD, SAD, Anxiety will never be "gone". I just learn to handle them better. When I "slip" I just get back up and learn from it. I show my girls it's ok to make mistakes and it's ok to turn to others for support. Too often in this culture we expect everyone to be an island and a rock. But we are neither. We are battered by the wind and washed away by the rain. There is a huge power in recognizing your own vulnerability and learning how to be strong within that vulnerability. My brain may not have the same firings and connections as a "sane" person. But then again, I know another level of my brain and am in tune with it because of these experiences. I send huge hugs and offers of shared strength to anyone who ever deals with their own brain trying to kill them….. or at least drive them mad.

    3. Thanks Rane! My mom taught me a lot about dealing with mental and emotional issues. When I was first diagnosed with Depression she gave me some very wise words. She said that it's like having a broken leg. You wear a cast for a time and use crutches to help you heal. When that comes off the muscles are weak and need to be strengthened again so you sort of have to re-learn to walk. But after a bit you get it again and are fine. But every so often your leg hurts or you're more prone to injuring it. So, you get crutches again, or you try a new therapy. But it doesn't mean you're damaged or broken. It just means you need that extra help from time to time.

      Sorry, don't mean to get so long winded. With my and my mom's history I tend to have much to say on the topic.

    4. I can only imagine what it is like. I hope you feel better soon. I have another friend who found that a 5HTP supplement was beneficial. It should otherwise be harmless and is considered a food supplement and not a drug. My friend reported that it helped over time not suddenly, but that is a single anecdote.

    5. I bet some homeopathics, bach flower remedies and acupuncture could help you with the transition. Just a thought. And good for you!

    6. Jenny Rock: Fish oils help a lot. It's like the fats just go straight to me starving brain and smooth everything out! Howard Cohen: For some reason, my doctor doesn't feel that those are the best for me. I wish I could recall why. Heidi-rose Isenhart Creuziger: All that pain and frustration should amount to something positive, eh? Thanks for sharing. I love the broken leg analogy. It is very apt.

  8. Writing makes it harder to love the meds. They a so, so good for my daily life. But sometimes I can’t grab that special thought and direction I want to take when I’m writing. I’m not light enough (that’s a good word for it!). It’s painful to acknowledge that the drugs dull the edges of emotion, for better and worse. No low lows, but no high highs. It’s hard to fly when you carry a lead parachute.

    BUT, it’s not impossible. And without the parachute, the fall is so much more dangerous when we need to jump out of the plane.

    Good luck. I’m pulling for you to find the right balance. And to find lightness.

  9. I’ve never taken antidepressants – but I’m suspecting I should. Suffered a tremendous personal loss and since then The brain just doesn’t funtion like it should (lousy memory), extreme fatigue, lack of initiative…etc. Slugging through now a few years it dosen’t seem to go away. I’ve been leary. I once had a friend who starte down a track of more and more meds, tremendous weight gain, and brain fog. Finallly she moved and got a new slate and before long was as fine as she wa
    The head physically just hurts sometimes. So…..maybe its time to cautiously try Zoloft.

  10. I had a very similar experience to you when I went off my antidepressant a couple of years ago. I felt light – as if the antidepressant had been keeping me from feeling true joy in addition to keeping me out of the depths of despair. It was wonderful – but not a long lasting lightness for me. After the initial feeling of being fully me again for a couple of weeks, I bottomed out. I spiraled right back down into the dark well of depression. I have excellent coping skills and a fabulous support network – but I had to go back on the meds. I'm still on them now but, like you, would love to be able to go off them and feel that clarity and lightness all the time. I may try again at some point. I wish you much light and clarity!

  11. I weaned myself off of Zoloft after being on it for one year after having my daughter. It was a hard transition. I was light headed a lot. But I kept with it an continued responsibly without a doctor. Eventually all those feelings stabilized. My husband said I was more myself. Yes there were real highs and lows instead of the medicated moderation, but thy were natural highs and lows. Also I saw the weight melt off, I think the Zoloft was keeping me from losing my bab weight.

  12. I just wanted to say I love you!!!!! I dont think I have any answers though, just understanding. I could have written this post myself. Right now its also been about 3 weeks since I taken my prozac. Had been on it this time for 3 years. Since not taking it I feel lighter also. That was a perfect description. Tried to explain that to husband, but couldnt find the right words. Felt like I was getting more done with a clearer head. But not trusting the feeling to last very long. Never found the SSRI to make me fully feel better. Not sure what is wrong with me. But I suppose it did take the edge off of the screaming and yelling I do. maybe I need xananx on a regular basis. But I feel that will just numb the feelings too. So frustrated with this brain and mind of mine! I was thinking too maybe it was an increase in hormormes and I will just start again taking it before my period. But who am I to medicate myself. Oh well. Much luck and love to you. I will be hoping for the best for you too!

  13. I have been down the same road. A year and a half ago I weaned off Celexa, then after a few months felt the downward spiral starting. I denied it for a while until I really crashed. Back on meds and added talk therapy. My doc likened taking the meds to if I had a heart condition or high cholesterol I would never doubt my taking meds, and depression is a medical, neurological condition. I have found the most success with a combo of meds, therapy, and a stint in a day program in which I learned a lot of coping skills. And I have finally let go of my issues with the meds. The alternative is too awful (knowing the crashes get worse each time) and I can’t do that to myself or my family again. Hugs to you!

  14. It’s a scary place where you’re at- I’ve been there. I’m still there, really. After being on many different medications for many, many years, and finally getting to the point where I felt too overmedicated to function, I cut them all out. It was a dangerous, and probably an unwise choice, but I had a supportive fiance, and years of experience with learning how to identify downward spirals that were getting out of my control. And it was quite freeing at first. Since then, I’ve had rare, rare moments of lightness, but mostly, I have to make due with a certain level of peace and complacency. I struggle, and have to evaluate, and re-evaluate, quite seriously, on any number of occasions, where I’m at and how I’m doing. I am vigilant about keeping track of my own warning signs. I push myself perhaps a little farther than I should here and there, but I’ve moved past the dips and downs. And each day I pray that I can keep going on my own strength. Because as much as I acknowledge that there may come a time that I might need that “dullness,” as Ninja Mom so accurately put it (and I will not hesitate to make use of medication again if I feel the absolute need), I feel that my daily fight is worth it to me to live without. But it all comes down to what you are capable of, where your limits are, and what you feel confident- and most functional- doing. I hope that you find the right answer for you soon, even if you can never quite regain that “lightness” again.

  15. I went off my SSRI after about a year on it, and promptly went back down the spiral into depression. I didn't want to admit it for weeks, but I finally did, and got help. However, going back on the same SSRI didn't work for me, so I had to switch to something new, a serotonin and norepinephrine inhibitor, which worked really well. I've been on that for almost 10 years now, and I'm ok with that. I, too, didn't want to be on medication, but major depression runs on both sides of my family. I want to be ME… and the medication helps me be there. I take a pill every day for hypothyroid, and I just think of the antidepressant in the same way–a maintenance thing. Good luck to you.

  16. You could be detoxing. Give it some time and see if it gets better. I have found that eliminating (most) processed foods has had a tremendous impact on my mood and stability. I have PMDD and have had depression/anxiety off and on over the years. I have tried SSRI’s only briefly because I have horrible side effects from them. I took St. John’s Wort for years, and that helped a lot too, but the big diet changes have helped the most. I now buy almost all my food (meat, dairy, and produce) from local farmers, and make as much food myself as I can (homemade granola instead of cereal; yogurt, butter and sour cream from raw milk; etc). It took a few months for my body to adjust, but I feel better now than I have in years.

  17. I've had a similar experience. Depression comes and goes, it's never going to be completely "cured." Nobody can know how long this phase will last, but it isn't forever.

    Do give it a week or so. See how you feel. But try not to spend all your time thinking about how you feel- don't constantly analyze yourself. Just do what you need to do, and in a week or so… ask yourself, "Do I feel okay?" And if you do, keep doing what you're doing. And if you don't talk to your doctor.

    I just want to repeat the things I said the first time I read your blog… "And then, one day, you realize that you're actually sort of kind of *happy*. Inexplicably. And that realization ruins it. But then you have another one. And another."

    I didn't mean that those realizations happen rapidly- one after another. I mean that it's not a one time thing. You don't only get one good month for the rest of your life. you get a good month. And then, sometime in the future (days, weeks, years), you get another.

    And they eventually become the norm.

    As long as you keep being honest with yourself and your loved ones about how you're doing.

    And I happen to know that being honest is sort of what you do. 🙂

  18. “Maybe the lightness just isn’t something I get to feel.”

    So sad. I haven’t had the experience you have, so I won’t presume to offer advice.

    I will instead say that your prose is evocative – especially the line above.

    I hope you will continue to fight your fight and feel the lightness again soon.

  19. I was diagnosed with PMDD this past year and put on Prozac. It has been the best thing for our whole family. I wouldn’t give it up for the world to go back to what I was, if I had diabetes, I’d take insulin. I look at Prozac as the means to an end of “crazy”. Hugs to you.

  20. I’m sorry you’re struggling to find a balance between mood and the way you feel inside. I don’t take meds, so I’m only speaking from an observer’s viewpoint, but I hope you find a solution that works for you.

  21. LOVE your picture, and can completely relate. Made myself stop the Zoloft a few months ago after gaining 20 lbs. Loved the way I felt like I could cope with things more, but the weight gain was depressing. Have been on and off SSRIs for years and wish there was a happy solution (forgive the pun). Anyway, hoping you can feel lifted again soon, however you get there and thanks for sharing.

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