Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Are Anti-Depressants Addictive?

It’s been a while since I have written about my depression and the experiences I have been having on my medication, and last week something happened that I feel is really worth talking about. Remember when I said that I was going to try and be as unbiased as possible when it came to telling you guys about how the meds are working for me? I’d like to exercise that in this blog entry, and talk about something that may be difficult for some people who have been on anti-depressants for a long time to face – the threat of addiction.

When I started my meds, I didn’t really think about the fact that my brain could become very accustomed, in fact – addicted, to them. I think in our society we tend to view drug addiction as something that happens with recreational drugs, or at the very least drugs that can be used to get high, not psychoactive drugs. But the reality is that your body and your mind can become accustomed to any chemical substance, and when you take away your daily dose, it can be very difficult to function without it. Although people will try to tell you differently, I don’t see how it’s possible that these drugs aren’t addictive. Everyone has a different opinion on this, however, so I’m not trying to say mine is fact. But I do believe that anti-depressants are addictive and that this addiction can pose a threat.

Last week I fell ill and so of course was very preoccupied with all of those things you tend to do while sick – sleeping, whining and more sleeping. I was so preoccupied that for two whole days I forgot to take my meds. That’s four doses. For whatever reason it just completely slipped my mind. On Friday I spent the majority of the day alone – the rest of the farm occupants were all gone to a cottage up north, and the entire vast space of the property was empty save little old me and my cat. By around 6 PM I started to feel stir-crazy, which isn’t unusual for me. I began texting friends asking them if they wanted to get together to hang out, but everyone was busy. I panicked. Suddenly, a lonely feeling spread through me like ice. It had been such a long time since I had felt it, but I recognized it immediately - it was the same way I used to feel in these sorts of situations before I started my meds. Soon I had collapsed on my bed and was weeping. I felt completely alone. I’m sure that anyone who suffers from depression knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Soon I remembered that I needed to take my meds, so I quickly popped a pill. My friend Kate talked to me and calmed me down a little, but I decided I couldn’t stay on this big farm all alone, and set out for a friend’s house to stay there for the evening while he was away (and use his claw foot tub). It took me nearly an hour of trekking through the snow and the freezing wind to get there, but I made it. By the time I got there I had already started feeling better, and soon I was back to my regular self. The medication had made it into my bloodstream, you see, and the chemicals in my brain were all where they should be again. 

That scares me! Granted, stopping any medication cold turkey like that isn’t good for you, and if I had eased myself off of them my reaction wouldn’t have been so strong. In fact, I may not have even had a reaction at all. But the idea that my body has become so used to getting its twice daily dose of anti-depressants that it simply cannot function normally when the supply is cut off is absolutely terrifying to me. What about people who have been on this medication for years? Have their brains ceased being able to fend for themselves all together? Are they like opiate addicts writhing in pain as soon as the juice is cut off, because their bodies don’t know how to produce their own endorphins anymore? The fact of the matter is, probably! If you take the time to wait it out, eventually your mind will get back to normal, but when it comes to mental health and people who suffer from debilitating depression, asking them to “wait it out” may not be the best idea! Very bad things could happen during that waiting period.

I’m not a doctor, and I’m not saying that my opinion is fact or that I know everything about these meds and what they do to peoples’ brains. But the fact of the matter is that the brain can get used to any change in its chemical levels. If you eat a lot of salt for years and years and then stop, you’re going to crave salt, it’s going to drive you nearly crazy. So wouldn’t it stand to reason that if you’re pumping SSRIs into your brain for years and years that it may become accustomed to those as well? So all of this just drives the point home for me that I do NOT want these pills to be a lifelong solution. I don’t want to be dependent on any medication in order to be able to function normally.
So what do I do? I don’t want to stop taking these meds yet, because I am also using them to quit smoking, and for that you’re supposed to be on them for at least six months. So far, I’ve been on them for almost three. They have been doing wonders for my mood, and I feel lighter and happier than I have in years. It’s also been a lot easier for me to dig to the root of my issues, and I’ve been having a lot of revelations lately about the way I think and how I got to this place in my life, so I don’t regret starting them. I don’t think it would have been possible for me to do all this work if I were still trapped in a pit of depression. So in that sense, they are doing exactly the job I had wanted them to do. 

So. I’m going to continue doing the work, continue trying to find ways to cope with my depression and my negative moods without the meds. I’m going to keep trying to get to the root of my depression, and find healthy, natural ways of fighting it, like eating specific foods and developing an exercise regime. If you are on anti-depressants, I urge you to do the same! Try and think of your meds as something transitional, not permanent. Talk to someone – see if your doctor’s office has a counselor you can speak to or find out if your health plan covers psychiatric visits. Do some reading, and try and find a method of calming your mind that works well for you. You can try guided meditation, which I find works really well when I am too worked up to sleep. You can search ‘guided meditation’ on youtube and find a lot of really great videos that help make it easier. Start researching different foods and herbs that help with depression and anxiety, and develop a regular exercise routine that will get your blood pumping and the endorphins flowing three or four times a week. Find a method of dealing with your chemical imbalance aside from just popping a pill every morning. That way, at some point when you do decide to go it alone, you will be a lot better equipped to deal with what’s coming your way. And remember to take your meds! Stopping cold turkey is NOT a good idea, as I learned last week! If you do decide to go off of them talk to your doctor about the best way to ween yourself off them, and follow his or her advice.

Above all else, love yourself! Treat yourself the way you are meant to be treated - with patience, love and kindness.