The Devil in a Red Dress

Via on Sep 29, 2011

Effexor XR

The devil in a red dress (or white dress depending on your dosage).

I have been on this SNRI, a relative of the typical SSRI’s for over 10-years to help with anxiety and occasional depression.  It has always worked well for me, if “working well” can be defined by numbing out large parts of my brain.  I started exploring tapering off of this medication about 6-months ago and with the help of my doctor, started the process.  Coming from a relatively high dose of 225mg I knew it was going to be a long process as Effexor XR is considered to be the hardest of SSRI’s or SNRI’s to get off of.  Don’t believe me?  Read these threads! I did fairly well with each taper, only experiencing some of the side effects that withdrawal can causing such as brain shivers, fatigue, nausea, foggy headedness, and blind spots.  Some of the drops were more difficult that others and after some problems with my insurance company trying to give me the generic form of the medication I did make one bigger leap in my tapering than would have been recommended.  Surprisingly, I didn’t have problems with that drop, something I credit my yoga and meditation for helping with.

Up to date I have been thrilled with the effects of coming off the medicine, an opening to feelings, emotions, and creativity. Things I hadn’t experienced since I was first put on Effexor XR!

A couple of weeks ago I found myself at the low dose of 37.5 mg, housed in a lovely peach-blue capsule.  Getting off of this was to be my last step.  I spent a week at this dose with no adverse affects, followed by a week of one-day-on, one-day-off.  Aside from some fatigue I was still feeling pretty good even though this taper was faster than any doctor would have recommend.  At this point I wanted to push to the finish, win the race to be free!

I seemed to have forgotten that sometimes the push to the end can be a bad idea, after all that was how I developed my eating disorder.  The weight loss wasn’t happening fast enough and I just wanted to be done with it.  I supposed you could say that that got me into trouble.

Last week I took what I thought was to be my last dose.  Then it happened.  Horrible withdrawal symptoms.  Insomnia, blind spots, fatigue, flu-like symptoms, dizziness, irritability, mood swings, hot flashes, anxiety, nervousness, dry mouth, crying spells…the list goes on.  I thought I was going to tough it out, that this would only last a few days and be gone within a couple weeks.  However each day seemed to be getting worse.  As is ingrained in me I can push through life and to the outside seem ok.  Sadly I’ve spent years honing my skills at ignoring any physical discomfort that my body brings up and thought that since this withdrawal wasn’t “really me” I should just deal with it.  However a week later and with things getting worse I decided to do some research.

As it turns out tapering off Effexor XR too quickly can cause a prolonged experience of worsened side effects, sometimes drawing them out to last well over a year in length.  Often the body isn’t able to acclimate to changes quickly with those medications and it can take 4-6 weeks for the body to begin producing its own neurotransmitters again. While I can deal with a disruption of life in the short term, akin to having the flu, I’m not ok with losing a year or more of my life to this drug.  As of one-hour ago I’m going back to one-day-on, one-day-off protocol.  I’ll stay here for a while and then begin to move off the drug, perhaps even breaking open capsules to drop the dosage slowly as this is something that is frequently used in getting off this drug.  I’m not thrilled about being back on the drug wagon, but not all things in life are a race to the finish.

Perhaps you are surpassed at my speaking so openly about the usage of SSRI’s and similar medications?  People slink in and out of Psychiatrist’s and Psychologist’s offices, afraid to admit that they may have some issues that they need to talk about.  They are afraid of the stigma of mental health and the “weakness” this may symbolize.  I’m a firm believe in speaking my truth and using my experiences to help others.  The more people talk openly about their struggles the more the veil of this “weakness” can be removed.  As of 2008 a not surprising 11.4% of Americans take antidepressants and 5.8% take anti-anxiety medications, percentages that have increased from 2.3% and 3.6% in 1994.  As a culture we need to accept that so many of us struggle and encourage our friends, family, co-workers, and peers to seek help.  Despite being on medication for so long I don’t advocate long-term usage and am a firm believer that while short-term usage my be indicated, intensive psychotherapy can often be just as, if not more, effective.

What are your thoughts on this large and timely topic?

Note: I am not a doctor or medical professional and the above is only my opinion and is not to be used as medical advice.

Photos: healblog.net, knowanxiety.com

About Hannah Siegle

Hannah Siegle began to do yoga four years ago initially for the physical practice, however she quickly discovered that the yoga began to do her in ways she never anticipated. The mind, body and spiritual connection that yoga cultivates has helped Hannah through the ups and downs of life, both large and small. She regularly blogs at Balancing on Two Feet on topics such as yoga, mindfulness, eating disorder recovery and all those things people don't like to talk about. She was trained at the RYT 200 through Laurel Hodory and is currently working towards becoming a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist. She teaches yoga throughout Central Ohio with GoYoga ,yogaServe, and also works as an Assistant Editor for the elephant journal!

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15 Responses to “The Devil in a Red Dress”

  1. Joyous Living says:

    YOU GO GIRL!!!!!! I had 3 months of HELL coming off effexor :( I feel you! trust your instincts – listen to your body and remember HOW FAR YOU HAVE COME!!!

    I am know nearly 2 years off all meds after 2 decades of medications (effexor for the last 6 of those)

    Yoga Nidra saved my life; well that and a very supportive family. I still sometimes struggle with depression – well I struggle less now and recognize it. I forgive myself more readily and Love living free from the "capped" feelings of being drugged. take your time and THANK you for your honest real and hopeful share.

    Love and light

  2. Scott_Newsom says:

    I AM a psychologist and I agree with you. Whats more – I always felt I was lacking something in my training as a psychologist until I found yoga. It completed the circle. So, yes, psychotherapy is good, but I think the yoga is a necessary part of the healing process. Most therapists are not trained to use the body to aid healing, or to help embody the healing you do so that it becomes part of you. Yoga does both of those things if you allow it to do so. I wish you the very best in your quest to get off the drugs. Namaste" Scott

  3. I know nothing of these drugs so I have nothing to add to this but I want to say; Hannah hang in there. This is such an honest offering. I'm sure it will offer comfort to others who share your experience. It sounds like a lonely vigil so keep reaching out.

  4. ashley says:

    I’ve been on Wellbutrin for a little over a year, and this has been the most stable, calm year of my life. In your article, you talk about depression being stigmatized and I completely agree with this, but I have to ask, are you stigmatizing yourself, and in turn feel the need to stop taking the medication? If a person, after years of suffering, was finally diagnosed with IBS or some such condition, and started finally living a ‘normal’ life after the appropriate medication, do you think that person would feel the need to cease taking their medication? Of course not, and why should they? What is the brain other than just another organ in our imperfect bodies. Our stomachs can malfunction, our noses can malfunction, our gallbladders, knees, eyes and very other part of the body can cease to work properly. Why is the brain exempt? Of course it can malfunction. The brain can have neurotransmitter issues, and conversely you life can be hell. I for one realize that I have an issue in my brain, just like I could have had an issue in my pancreas, and if the medication makes me whole, then I feel no shame or guilt in taking it.

  5. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Bob W. Editor
    Facebook / Twitter

  6. Tamera says:

    I take Cymbalta and Wellbutrin and have also been thinking of going off my meds. I know that if I choose to do it, I will do it under the guidance of my doctor. More importantly for me at this point is to develop a disciplined yoga/meditation practice. I'm still kind of hit or miss with these things, and I know that the practice will be the foundation of stability for me when I do choose to go off the medication. Thanks for the first hand account and the willingness to be open.

  7. Brent Binder drbinder says:

    Hannah, you have a great understanding and awareness of your self. That is the most important factor I know regarding SSRI withdraw. I know you can do it.

    Posting to Elephant Wellness on Facebook

  8. shay dewey says:

    Posted to http://www.facebook.com/ElephantHealth on Facebook.

    Shay Dewey

  9. GeoffOfOz says:

    I was on zoloft for 18 months and then Pristiq which I found better. I was lucky, mine were "only" psychological issues, fortunately not further complicated by chemical imbalances. I went cold turkey, knowing that I needed to maintain my balance with exercise and ongoing "maintenance" psychology appts (about every 6 months when shit gets ugly).

    This is a great talk about a lot of things but she really nails it when she talks about how when we numb pain (anxiety, depresion) we numb joy then what to do about it. PLEASE watch the whole thing but of you must go to 15.25 where she talks about numbing painit's been a slowly burnng life changer for me. http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerabi

    This is the follow up talk from a few days ago… wow. http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to

  10. Thanks yogiclarebear! I agree with you that awareness is important when taking these drugs. After initial usage it can be good to explore life on the drugs and life off. I have very close family and friends who have tried time off meds only to result in disaster. They need to be on them and to recognize that takes strength!

  11. So interesting!!! These drugs really do crazy things to our brains!

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