Should psych drugs be avoided at ALL costs?

My brain isn’t functioning today quite honestly so my apologies if the following makes no sense whatsoever. It’s long and I ended up rambling.


Lately, I’ve been thinking about whether there are any benefits to using pharmaceutical drugs. I have blogger friends who are very much anti-pharmaceuticals anything, try to avoid drugs as much as possible but take them if necessary, or think pharmaceutical drugs are a Godsend.

I’m still trying to figure out where I stand.

Pharmaceutical companies are in the business of making money. It is not to their advantage to put out completely shoddy products that do not work. I’m sure many of them bury negative data and findings that do not shed a positive light on their drugs but if something works overall, they’ll put it out there. I don’t believe the doctors who are involved in these trials are all dirty, rotten sell-outs. Some of them are very well-meaning and honest who work to make these drugs as effective as possible. Call me naïve if you like but I just can’t bring myself to believe there are more greedy docs who skew results than there are those who are concerned with advancement.

I don’t think twice about popping Excedrin Migraine when I’ve got a painful, debilitating migraine; I have no problem taking naproxen (aka Aleve) when I’ve got menstrual cramps, and taking ibuprofen isn’t an issue if I have severe muscle pain. I don’t question the safety of these drugs. I’ve used them for so long, they’ve proven to be relatively safe for me (not everyone can tolerate those drugs) and efficacious. The safety risk of taking Excedrin Migraine sometimes outweighs the benefits of not taking it. (Note: I only speak of adults in terms of ingesting this kind of medication.I don’t believe developing bodies, such as youngsters, are able to handle medication that can significantly affect mood.)

When it comes to psych meds, I am not anti-medication. Psych meds should be taken on a case-by-case basis. There are some people who consider these meds to be a life-saver while others complain that it has made them miserable and worsened their lives. This is the gamble people take when choosing to ingest a psych med—most people don’t know that. Trouble is, most people don’t know when the stakes are high enough to take that risk.

I shouldn’t be in a position to judge anyone but when I hear people taking antidepressants based on circumstances—a job loss, failed relationship, loss of a life—I worry that it’s unnecessary. We are becoming a nation that is more reliant on “quick fixes” rather than developing coping mechanisms. It’s easier to pop a pill and dull your emotions than it is to face problems, tackle issues head on, and learn to work your way through it. Case in point: rising unemployment hasn’t slowed sales of antidepressants or sleeping pills.

  • I have an aunt who was a violent paranoid-schizophrenic. She was placed in a mental institution and drugged up the wazoo. Now, she’s basically existing; the lights are on but no one’s home. The drugs have killed her. She’s alive but not really.
  • My father was a non-violent paranoid-schizophrenic. It got to the point where we needed to medicate him to get him on track. The medication helped him to function “normally” but his thought processes and physical ability was significantly slowed. He once told me that he felt useless because my mother was busting her butt at work to pay for my college and he was basically an invalid because his mental illness had prevented him from being able to work. He died 4 months later. A few days after the funeral, my mom began to find his psych meds hidden all around the house. I often wonder if the drugs killed him.
  • Another aunt (this is all on the paternal side of the family) also became a paranoid-schizophrenic. She was a brilliant woman who was basically reduced to moving from place to place to the point where she eventually became homeless and could not hold down a job. She disappeared for a while but during one cold winter, was found and brought into a homeless shelter. She was placed on meds and her cognitive functions returned despite the fact that her speech was sometimes garbled. She traveled the world, went on cruises and various excursions. The change was remarkable. Psych meds improved her life and saved her—the benefits of the drugs outweighed the side effects.

As I withdraw from Lamictal, I am curious to see who I am without this drug. Will my creative juices flow freely once again or are they now somewhat hindered? Will my cognitive functioning correct itself or will I forever suffer from problems? Will my short-term memory loss issues smooth out or will I still suffer from intermittent forgetfulness? I have some side effects that may remain with me for a while or perhaps forever (though I hope not) but seeing others fully recover after taking drugs for 10 times longer than I have gives me hope.

I feel the majority of my progress has come from intensive counseling and being infused with the truths as laid out in the Bible. I’d say 90% of my progress has been due to counseling. I give the meds 10%. You can tell I don’t place much stock in them. But they’ve helped to cut down on the mixed episodes.

So far, I haven’t had any suicidal thoughts are behaviors that are out of the ordinary. (Thank GOD.) I’ve been dealing with a mild depression but that stems from basing my worth based off of my career rather than any biological imbalances. The last time I suffered a severe depression, I was on Lexapro (if that tells you anything).

I’ve gotten a lot of resistance and concern from family members who question my decision to come off of the medication. They’ve seen a miraculous change in me and attribute it to being on meds. Meds aren’t a cure-all. They don’t see the counseling and shifting of thought processes going on that has helped me to develop coping mechanisms. Meds may help people “cope” but they don’t develop the tools needed to cope.

I’ve decided that I’ll probably give that Christian psychiatrist a call. My counselor recommended him and she said that he’s very neutral on meds and doesn’t shove them on anyone. I mentioned that I wasn’t sure if anyone would accept me as a patient only to lose me in the end—she insisted he wouldn’t mind. The intake cost is hefty but since I was able to temp a few days for my job this week—I’m not permanently returning, I can swing it.

Which brings me back to my position on psych meds: I said it earlier but I think it’s a case-by-case basis. In my personal life, I’ve seen the benefits outweigh the side effects and I’ve seen the side effects outweigh the benefits. And I’ve seen benefits (not necessarily beneficial) as a result of side effects. Psychiatry is the biggest medical guessing game of all medical specialties. There are no certainties, and there’s no one medication that works best for everyone. Pharmaceutical companies make it a point to put the disclaimer on the patient information sheet that they’re not exactly sure HOW these drugs work. All that stuff about serotonin, dopamine, and neurotransmitters is pure speculation when it comes to depression. You’ll have me convinced about chemical imbalances once I can get a MRI and blood test done. Until then, it’s all trial-and-error.

So if I do suffer from relapses while withdrawing from this medication and it gets to the point where I may need to be hospitalized, I’m not averse to remaining on the drug. Better to be alive and on a psych drug than dead because I was determined not to use it at risk to my safety. If I end up having to stay on the drug, the future of giving birth to children will seem a bit more uncertain.

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Drug-induced suicidal ideation

This is a great post from Ana on how she struggled with suicidal thoughts while tapering off of Effexor. She was a lot better about identifying this stuff than I’ve ever been. I’m linking to this because I want people to know that suicidal thoughts CAN be drug-induced. I’m well aware of that now coming off of Lamictal. No problems so far but I have struggled with it in the past when I tried to jump down from 200 mg to 150 mg.

Lamictal withdrawal: fatigue & insomnia

I'm having the weirdest combo of side effects on this. I'm tired all the time, but I can't get to sleep easily no matter how hard I try. Then when I do sleep, it's craptastic and it feels like I never slept in the first place. Anyone else experienced this or heard of anyone who's experienced this? It's wearing me out and causing me to suffer from a lack of patience.

Lamictal withdrawal: 125 mg… and counting

I'm down to 125 mg… I'm feeling sluggish and wiped out. I have what I call "body zaps" — basically I feel little prickles, like someone sticking a pin in my skin — that I find highly uncomfortable. (It's similar to feeling "brain zaps" or "brain shivers" throughout your body.) They mainly occur when I'm still, especially when I'm laying down in bed at night.

My sleeping schedule is also out of whack. While my body can be tired by midnight or 1 am, my brain simply will NOT shut off. My brain decides to shut down along with my body around 3 or 4 am from sheer exhaustion.

A few people have recommended I take melatonin to get back to a normal sleeping pattern, but I'm not sure whether that would be okay as I withdraw from the medication. Melatonin seems relatively harmless but right now, I can't tell what's normal with my body and what's not.

Lamictal withdrawal + sickness = out of it

I'm most likely out of commission for the week. I traveled this past weekend and came down with this nasty cold. Along with tapering down on Lamictal, I'm feeling kind of spacey and out of it. Thanks to a good friend's advice, I'm holding off on tapering down some more until I'm feeling better. So right now, I can't tell whether I'm suffering from Lamictal withdrawal, the effects of a common cold, or a combination of the two.

Except for the blurry vision — I've had that since starting Lamictal and the withdrawal is making the difference much more, er, visible.

Effexor (venlafaxine) Withdrawal

I’ve compiled a list of my posts on Effexor (venlafaxine) withdrawal in chronological order. Do NOT take any of the information from these posts as official medical advice. This is based on my own experience; experiences may vary.

Antidepressant rankings: Zoloft and Lexapro considered best overall

A number of antidepressants were recently ranked in different surveys:

Zoloft and Lexapro came in first for a combination of effectiveness and fewer side effects, followed by Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine), Cymbalta, and Luvox among others.

The first was efficacy — or how likely patients were to experience the desired effects of the drug.

Efficacy:

1. Remeron (Mirtazapine)
2. Lexapro (Escitalopram)
3. Effexor (Venlafaxine)
4. Zoloft (Sertraline)
5. Celexa (Citalopram)
6. Wellbutrin (Buproprion)
7. Paxil (Paroxetine)
8. Savella (Milnacipran)
9. Prozac (Fluoxetine)
10. Cymbalta (Duloxetine)
11. Luvox (Fluvoxamine)
12. Vestra (Reboxetine)

The second was acceptability — the likelihood that a patient would continue using a drug for the duration of the study (it is generally assumed that a high ratio of patients dropping out indicates the presence of undesirable side effects for a drug).

Acceptability:

1. Zoloft (Sertraline)
2. Lexapro (Escitalopram)
3. Wellbutrin (Buproprion)
4. Celexa (Citalopram)
5. Prozac (Fluoxetine)
6. Savella (Milnacipran)
7.
Remeron (Mirtazapine)
8. Effexor (Venlafaxine)
9. Paxil (Paroxetine)
10. Cymbalta (Duloxetine)
11. Luvox (Fluvoxamine)
12. Vestra (Reboxetine)

antidepressantsMy experience with Lexapro was a disaster and I’ve written about Zoloft’s connection with irritability and rage. Paxil’s side effects are especially rough (see Bob Fiddaman’s Seroxat page) while Effexor’s withdrawal effects proved to be significantly challgenging. Although Prozac offset Effexor’s withdrawal symptoms, it causes severe somnolence that can impair cognitive functioning. And last but not least, Cymbalta contributed to the unfortunate death of Traci Johnson who had no history of depression.

These drugs may be effective for many people but it’s still a guessing game. Dr. Mark I. Levy, quoted in ABC News’s article on the rankings, mentioned that while psychiatrists may not have much use for the rankings, he sees them as beneficial for primary care physicians. And Dr. Harold G. Koenig, a professor at Duke University Medical Center, adds:

“I would be likely to start patients on either Zoloft [because it’s cheaper] or Lexapro … Unfortunately, that is almost none of my patients. By the time they get to me [a psychiatrist], the primary-care doctors have tried Zoloft and other antidepressants, so my patient are not the “new to medication” kind of patients,” he said.

I won’t rehash my thoughts on PCPs prescribing antidepressants and other psych meds. You can read about them here.

Coming off of Lamictal (lamotrigine)

Medication

I am officially joining the ranks of those who are facing the challenge of Lamictal withdrawal.

On Wednesday, I went to see my psychiatrist with a plan to come off of Lamictal:

  • 150 mg for 3 months
  • 100 mg for 3 months
  • 75 mg for 3 months
  • 50 mg for 3 months
  • 25 mg for 3 months
  • 12.5 mg (depending on whether my side effects on the 25 mg are bad)

I told him that my husband and I were looking to have a child sometime next year and that I’d like to taper off of Lamictal but was open to the possibility of getting back on it should I encounter severe suicidal ideation and mixed episodes. He warned me against it and thought it was a bad idea.

He proceeded to say that it’s a maintenance medication, I have a lifelong disorder, it won’t just go away, my symptoms would probably return, I have a higher risk of attempting suicide, blah blah blah — am I aware of all these risks?

He explained people with bipolar depression after coming off of meds can actually be worse, undergo severe depressive episodes, have more suicide attempts, and yadda yadda yadda. To sum it all up, I was risking my life just to get off of Lamictal.

My pdoc was trying to scare me into staying medicated.

He then added if I really wanted to come off of my meds, I could “just stop.”

WHAT?! My eyes flew open.

He stated he’d had patients who had stopped cold turkey without a problem. According to him, anticonvulsants don’t have severe withdrawal effects.

WHAT?! His advice just flies in the face of what most doctors recommend. In fact, quitting Lamictal immediately increases the risk of seizures, which is exactly what I’m afraid of.

Philip’s experience and Gianna’s experience along with the comments on each blog are proof that many people have experienced tremendous withdrawal effects from decreasing Lamictal’s dosage. In the past, I’ve quit Paxil and Lexapro cold turkey — both with not-so-good results to put it mildly.

I insisted that I wanted to come off of it slowly so he said I could just cut my 200 mg pills in half and jump down to 100 mg and stop after 2 weeks.

For real? Two weeks, doc? I had a plan that would take me over a year and you’re reducing it to a mere two weeks? On 100 mg dosage?

Again, I insisted that I wanted to take more time. He reluctantly wrote me a 30-day prescription for 100 mg and said since I was off the medication, I had no need to see him anymore. “Good luck,” he flatly told me.

When I came home after the appointment (and a bitching session to my husband), I remembered that I’d stashed a few 150 mg pills away sometime ago after I jumped back up to 200. So as of Wednesday, my arsenal included:

  • A bottle of six 150 mg pills
  • A bottle twenty-five 200 mg pills
  • A prescription for thirty 100 mg pills

I dropped down to the 150 mg on Wednesday and have been doing all right so far. I intend to keep myself at 150 mg (cutting the 200 mg and the 100 mg in half) for at least 2 weeks, then drop down to 75 mg for 2 weeks and then 50 mg for 2 weeks. I’m most worried about coming off of the 25 mg. This is a way more accelerated plan that I hoped for but I’ve got to work with the cards that I’m dealt.

We’ll see what happens.

Lamictal in consideration of pregnancy

My husband and I are talking about expanding our family. While that sounds all well and good, I just have one issue:

Lamictal.

For most women, they think, “Well, I want a kid” and the most they have to do is probably get off birth control. Just finish off their contraceptives, maybe feel a little nauseous, and move forward with their plans.

(sigh) Not me. If I want to do this right, it might be a good 6 months or so before I can consider trying.

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John Grohol interviews Wyeth's VP of Medical Affairs on Pristiq

Dr. Grohol interviewed Dr. Phil Ninan, Wyeth’s VP of Medical Affairs on Pristiq, its efficacy, and surrounding issues. It was quite an interesting interview (and long) but here are some highlights that I chose to comment on. I’ll be making some comments in between Dr. Ninan’s answers due to the extensive length. Some parts of the answers have been truncated.

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Light posting again

POSTING
Posting may be light through Friday as I’m proofing an ENTIRE website — medication-related, actually — and making all the web copy is correct, the links work, and that the design/layout isn’t funky. Since it’s a website, it’s a huge job and it may take me until Friday. Here’s an example (not the real site I’m working on) of the monstrosity of the kind of work I’m doing.  I’m proofing every single piece of text on every page.  Funny thing is, I don’t mind. I love what I do.

PSYCHIATRIST APPOINTMENT
I have my psychiatrist appointment at 3:30 pm so I might be able to get a quick post in to let you know what happens. He’ll probably be concerned that I didn’t take my Abilify, but I just stopped taking fexofenadine (Allegra’s generic equivalent) and have begun to drop weight. I don’t need Abilify to help me pack it back on it again. I can do it quite easily with the help of the amazing bakery across the street.

COUNSELING
I had counseling last night but will be going again next week. I usually go once every two weeks, but my counselor is concerned since I’m having a consistent reoccurrence of suicidal thoughts. Even when I’m in a good mood, I still think of finding a way to kill myself. That’s not depression so much as it is my negative way of thinking. However, it’s still cause for concern considering that dwelling on the idea could actually lead to another attempt.

RISPERDAL WITHDRAWAL
I’ve read a few blogs in which people are enduring Risperdal withdrawal. I have a friend who’s currently coming off of Risperdal because her blood sugar is so high. She’s been on it for years. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t want to take an antipsychotic. Doctors put patients on it for long-term maintenance when most of the clinical trials have only studied short-term effects.

LAYOUT
I’ve become dissatisfied with how narrow the layout is on my blog so it’s possible that if you visit the site, it’ll look funky every now and then as I play around with it and decide on one I like. I’m not an expert with CSS so I tinker with it until I’m satisfied. I’d like my text area wide enough to post YouTube videos and pictures without them getting cut off. Just letting you know so you don’t wonder what happened to your browser.

FURIOUS SEASONS
Last but not least, if you like this blog, then please go to this one and donate $1, $2, or $5. If you know me in person, please donate as well. (I made a plea about this last week.) That blog provides me with inspiration to keep on going.  You can donate to Philip Dawdy via PayPal, check, or money order. (I guess you could send cash too but that’s never recommended.) Philip’s blog, Furious Seasons, has helped many people in the mental health community including myself.

The Great Medication Debate, Part 1

"For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more." — Luke 12:48

Gianna at Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal and Recovery has written a post about reconnecting with her spirituality and working with her doctor on more med tapering. Toward the end, she wrote:

I went for a walk the other day with a woman who could’ve been my client from years ago when I worked with the “severe and persistent mentally ill.” She was so sweet and warm—yet there was a deadness in her that I recognized as familiar from the clients I worked with on heavy neuroleptics. I was so glad to walk with her as an equal and not as a social worker—she is my peer and we talked to each other as such. She is getting tardive dykinesia from her neuroleptic. I asked her how long she’s been on it and it’s been 2 decades. I asked how long she has been stable and she said 12 years. I wanted to scream. This poor woman is half dead inside for no good reason. She is on three medications for bipolar disorder and has had no symptoms in 12 years. I see that as criminal, especially since it’s clear a part of her is dead, just as I’ve been dead for many years but am now coming back to life.

I gently talked to her about talking to her doctor. “If you’ve been symptom free for 12 years maybe you don’t have to be on a toxic drug that is giving you tardive dyskinesia,” I suggested. I didn’t add she struck me as part dead too. I want to help all of us who are being over-medicated and poisoned. How can I do that? This blog is simply not enough.

In response, I wrote this comment on her blog:

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The Effexor Chronicles: Lucky Her

One woman had a near trouble-free time getting off of Effexor.

I was taking effexor for about 4 months due to having a anxiaty attack one day.

One day I just felt like I was ready to get off of them.

I started by slowly bringing down my dosage. Did that for 2 weeks. The 3rd week I stopped taking them all together.

The worst sympton I felt was the dizzy feeling, I think they call it vertigo. That lasted for up to 2 weeks after stopping the medication.

I am proud to say I am now completly effexer free, with no side affects any longer. It can be done. Just go slow !

Good luck.

Gone but I don't know where

You have been drifting for so long / I know you don’t want to come down / Somewhere below you, there’s people who love you / And they’re ready for you to come home / Please come home
~ Sarah McLachlan, “Drifting”

I have an appointment with my psychiatrist on Tuesday morning. I’m not quite sure what to do.

My “symptoms” are back. Now that I know what to look for as someone with bipolar disorder, I am aware of them. I’m having mania moments. I don’t want to sleep. I have no desire to. My husband sometimes MAKES me go to sleep. I’d rather be up doing the laundry, washing the dishes, blogging, reading other blogs, making to-do lists, and organizing the apartment–all at the same time–at 2 or 3 am. (This doesn’t mean all of this stuff gets finished.)

My husband and I have had physical fights in the past where he has had to restrain me because I wouldn’t go to bed and I wouldn’t sleep. It would be 4 in the morning and I refused to sleep and I’d fight him tooth and nail. I don’t know why. I have no problem wanting to sleep at 2 pm. Make it 2 am and there’s too much to do suddenly. I have the superhuman ability to get things accomplished between midnight and 5 am more than I can during the hours of 9 am to 11 pm. Right.

So now it’s almost 1 in the morning and I have nursery duty at church later in the morning. Then I have a hair appointment in the afternoon. Then I’m paranoid about what my hair stylist thinks of me.

She says she’s my friend but I wonder if she’s just pretending to like me because she feels sorry for me. I’m really lame you know. People at work acted nice to my face and then dissed me behind my back. She does the same thing to others, why wouldn’t she do the same to me? She just keeps me around and kisses up to me because I tip well.

Thinking like that scares me. It reminds me of the way my father used to think. Paranoid. (You can stop reading here. At this point on, it’s just a manic ramble that’s basically full of nothing but stream-of-consciousness just because i can.)

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Response to "Mental Health Blogs Going Bye-Bye?"

From one of Furious Seasons’s latest posts:

Mental Health Blogs Going Bye-Bye?

As I noted earlier, there’s a spate of mental health blogs that are going on hiatus of some kind. Now, it’s my sad duty to report that Gianna Kali’s Bipolar Blast blog is going on an indefinite hiatus as well. You can read her post "Quitting?" for the details. Bottom line: all those years of very high doses of psych meds seem to have injured her body. I cannot even begin to send her enough good wishes. I cannot even begin to express my disgust with some of the bad doctors she ran into over the years.

Also, the Psych Survivor blog, written by a man I only know as Mark, was taken down a few weeks ago, and from what I gather he is in the hospital with heart problems. His was/is a good and strident voice on these issues we all care about and his work is missed.

All of this kind of makes me feel glum, since the two people above had been at the blogging game for well over a year and I sensed that they’d both be around long-term. These are people I care about and it sucks that they won’t be the presence they once were.

Why is it that mental health blogs are so difficult to do and keep going? Why is it so hard for them to find the substantial audiences they deserve? The Internet is crowded with blogs about politics, technology, gadgets, gossip and parenting and many of these seem to do quite well and have huge audiences and long lives, despite the fact that many of them are merely echoes of one another. Are readers of blogs that simple-minded that all they need is the latest news and opinion on Apple’s or Microsoft’s latest bit of software or Obama’s or Hillary’s latest gaffe?

You’d think in a country where 10 percent of the population is on anti-depressants and another 5 percent to 10 percent is likely on some other psych med that there would be a substantial audience for these issues (regardless of what one makes of the dominant mental health paradigm), especially given how wildly popular neuroscience is on the Net. It makes me wonder if we all–and here I include myself–have done something wrong in how we analyze these issues (are we too contrarian?) or if we all simply haven’t been crowded out of the big search engines (that’s how most people find mental health information online) because the Net is so over-populated with pharma sites and allied pro-pharma health websites. I can certainly say that the mainstream media–which usually loves writing about characters on the Net who push against life’s many intellectual tides–has given very little attention to sites like this one, despite the fact that sites like mine have been a very real service to many in the media.

Or maybe the mainstream approach to mental health care is right and the public is just trying to tell us something.

What do you think?

I’ll tell you what I think.

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Today's lesson: Paxil and Lexapro are not great antidepressants

Dawdy at Furious Seasons wrote a post on an editorial in the LA Times by Summer Beretsky’s experience with Paxil. After reading her editorial, I’m reminded that my own experience with one antidepressant wasn’t all that unique. Her drug was Paxil for panic attacks; mine was Lexapro for depression following a 3-month (on-and-off) stint with Paxil. I’m struck by the similarity of our experiences; not only did the same thing happened to me but I was also a communications major in college as well.

Paxil had one pretty undesirable effect on me: I started to lose interest in just about everything. I stopped initiating social activities (who needs that sort of thing?) and was no longer motivated to perform well academically.

My emotions had flat-lined: I hadn’t cried in months, nor had I proverbially jumped for joy. I felt — nothing.

I can still remember sleeping in bed at home on a weekday when I should have been at class. It was 2 in the afternoon, around the time my copy editing class was to begin. My boyfriend at the time (now my husband) lived in Kentucky while I attended college in New York. He planned to visit me that weekend but was getting fed up with my depression and listlessness. He called from work to tell me to get up and go to class. I mumbled on the phone, half-confused, and said no. He demanded, “Why not?” I said quite plainly, “Because I don’t care.” He said, “If you don’t get up and go to class, I won’t visit you this weekend.”

I replied, “I don’t care.”

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Blogs around the way

I’m catching up on reading my fellow bloggers’ posts (see Blogroll to the right), so if you’re not reading their site already, I’d encourage you to do so. Below  are some posts that caught my attention. Some might be a little dated.

Gianna at Bipolar Blast: Has a video up of Gwen Olsen, an ex-pharma rep who says that pharmaceutical companies aren’t in the  business of curing but in the business of "disease maintenance and symptom management." It’s nothing new but here are two quotes that caught my attention:

"And what I’m saying is provable is that the pharmaceutical industry doesn’t want to cure people. You need to understand specifically when we’re talking about psychiatric drugs in particular that these are drugs that encourage people to remain customers of the pharmaceutical industry. In fact, you will be told if you’re given a drug such as an anxiolytic, or an antidepressant, or an antipsychotic drug, that you may be on the drug for the rest of your life. And very frequently, people find that they are on the drug for a very long period of time, if not permanently, because they’re almost impossible to get off of. Some of them can have very serious withdrawal symptoms – most of them can have extremely serious withdrawal symptoms if they’re stopped cold turkey – but some people experience even withdrawal symptoms when they try to titrate or they try to eliminate the drug little by little, day after day."

"We have got to start making the pharmaceutical industry accountable for their actions and for the defective products they’re putting on the market. It won’t be long before every American is affected by this disaster and we need to be aware of what the differences are between diseases between disorders and between syndromes. Because if it doesn’t have to be scientifically proven, if there are no tests, if there are no blood tests, CAT scans, urine tests, MRIs – if there is nothing to document that you have disease, then you in fact, do not have a disease, you have a disorder and it has been given and has been diagnosed pretentiously and you need to get yourself educated and understand that there are options and those options are much more effective than drugs."

I’ve always wondered why doctors don’t run tests to diagnose any psychiatric disorders. From NIMH:

Research indicates that depressive illnesses are disorders of the brain. Brain-imaging technologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), have shown that the brains of people who have depression look different than those of people without depression. The parts of the brain responsible for regulating mood, thinking, sleep, appetite and behavior appear to function abnormally. In addition, important neurotransmitters–chemicals that brain cells use to communicate–appear to be out of balance. But these images do not reveal why the depression has occurred.

If MRIs have shown that the people with depression have a part of the brain that functions abnormally then why isn’t it standard for all people diagnosed with depression to have an MRI done to confirm this? I have one of two hypotheses:  it’s too expensive to get an MRI done for each person and that insurance won’t pay for it or the abnormal functioning cannot be detected in the brain of every depressed person.  Therefore, is major depressive disorder really a made-up diagnosis?

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Tips for proper self-withdrawal from medication(s)

Gianna, a reader of this site, has a great and informative blog, Bipolar Blast. In a recent post, she gives some tips for proper psych drug withdrawal. This is particularly helpful for those dealing with severe antidepressant withdrawal effects. For me, Effexor comes to mind. I also think about "Honey’s" experience with Zoloft. Not only does Gianna emphasize diet and nutrition as an important part of the process, but she also delves into proper titration. (Many people think that the diet and nutrition thing is obvious, but many people overlook that important piece of recovery.)

I understand that many people – especially in the psych world – think Peter Breggin’s a wack job, but he can have some good points. Gianna refers to Breggin’s 10% rule:

"Breggin suggests what has come to be known the 10% rule. Any given drug should not be reduced anymore than 10% at a time. Once a taper is complete the next taper should not exceed 10% of the new dose. Therefore, the milligram, then fraction of milligram amount decreases with each new taper. I’ve found that I have to sometimes go in even smaller amounts. As low as 5% and sometimes people go as small as 2.5%–for people on benzodiazepines it is not unusual to go in even smaller amounts. Cutting pills is not always enough. Sometimes liquid titration is necessary. This may involve dissolving the smallest dose pill in water, club soda or even alcohol, which can then be diluted with water, then using a syringe to cut down milliliters at a time. Medications also sometimes come in liquid form and can be gotten by prescription. It should be noted that some medications should not be dissolved. Especially time released medications. This would be extremely dangerous."

Gianna clearly knows what she’s talking about. Head on over to her site to read the rest of the post.

Blogs: Tracking Effexor Withdrawal

I really should have posted on this a LONG time ago, but Graham’s Blog has done an unbelievable job of tracking his Effexor withdrawal symptoms. Something I learned today:

"| Night Sweats – I had this very bad, constantly wake up drenched in sweat,
literally soaked to the skin and to the mattress. But Have just realised I have
not had these severity of symptoms for some weeks, which is helping with the
consistency of sleep."

Ohh, so that’s why I wake up drenched in sweat in the middle of the night regardless of whether it’s warm or cold in my room. To quote Dawdy over at Furious Seasons, like Paxil, it truly is the "gift that keeps on giving." Hooray for long-lasting effects from psych meds! [sarcasm] Now, I’ve got this occasional twitch in my cheek. I took Paxil for about 3 months in 2003 and I still get eye twitches that I never had previous to the medication.

Check out Graham’s Blog and see the hell that Effexor can cause. Stephany at soulful sepulcher tracks some helpful tips for withdrawing from a psych med.

A final update on my Effexor withdrawal

I failed to update on my Effexor withdrawal because, well, you know why.

After three to four weeks, my Effexor symptoms – well, most of them anyway – have dissipated. The brain shocks were gone by early February. The vertigo as of now has completely resolved. (Although I’ll probably still have occasional instances where it may linger.) The dizziness also has lightened up. I can confidently say that I’m pretty much back-to-normal. All cases will differ, but for me, it took about five weeks total to have a complete recovery.

But don’t do headstands after Effexor – whoo, boy, can that throw you for a loop.

Also – it took about four weeks to get the drowsy effect of fluoxetine (Prozac) out of my system. January was an extremely rough month for meds, let me tell you.

UPDATE: Venlafaxine withdrawal symptoms

I previously wrote about how fluoxetine helped smooth out my withdrawal from venlafaxine. I’m doing much better and am able to function.

What’s the update then?

I’ve got lingering side effects from either the fluoxetine or the venlafaxine – I’m not sure which.

somnolenceThe lingering somnolence/grogginess for about a week or so can definitely be attributed to fluoxetine. I’d never struggled with somnolence on any med except when I first started Effexor in the hospital. Grogginess has never been a problem except for my antihistamine medication hydroxyzine.

The brain shocks still linger. They’re not as bad nor are they frequent. I can walk around, turn, spin – no problem. But if I’m in the middle of walking  down the street and turn my neck slightly to see if a car is coming before I cross – *zap!* – brain shock. That’s all I get for the rest of my 15-minute walk. I’d say that’s pretty good (considering what I’d previously endured).

Dizziness, vertigo, and light-headedness: those are much more frequent. As I sit here and type, my entire field of vision can swirl clockwise and return to normal via counter-clockwise. It happens for about 3 seconds or less, but it’s long enough for me to notice and go, “Whoa.” (Who needs recreational drugs when you’ve got withdrawals from psych meds?) These side effects are not as frequent as they used to be with the direct venlafaxine withdrawal, but they can occur about 30 times or less throughout a 17-hour day (7 a.m.-12 a.m.) for me.

I’ve read that people can use fluoxetine to offset venlafaxine withdrawal symptoms with relatively uneventful side effects. Somnolence was not a fun side effect. Just a warning.

My semi-daily fluoxetine update

Okay, the brain shivers are gone. Completely. I still get some vertigo and light-headedness but it happens maybe three times a day max. So fluoxetine has eliminated some of the effects.

I wasn’t prepared for fluoxetine’s side effects, however. And boy, it’s got some kickers.

Since I was on an incredibly low dosage (10-20 mg), there weren’t many side effects.
But boy, is somnolence kicking my butt.

After becoming used to waking up before I’m supposed to, now I’m having the opposite problem: I can’t get up at all. I need my husband to drag me out of bed. And since he’s so nice, he doesn’t do that either.

Argh. As of Friday night, I’ve stopped taking fluoxetine so I’m praying to God that these side effects will go away. I hate somnolence. I’ve had that issue with hydroxyzine (Atarax) and it’s the same reason that I refuse to take quetiapine (Seroquel). I’m getting sleepy right now. If I can get up before noon, I’ll be so freakin’ lucky.

The metabolism aspect of fluoxetine doesn’t make me jump for joy.  According to my favorite “reputable” site, wikipedia:

“Fluoxetine is metabolised to norfluoxetine, and it may take up to 1 to 2 months for the active drug substance to disappear from the body.”

I don’t know if I can tolerate somnolence for 1-2 months. I hope the side effects from this is out of my system by the end of the week.

Come to think of it: somnolence vs. brain shivers?

I’ll take somnolence ANY DAY.

Fluoxetine helps offset Effexor withdrawal

ProzacGreat news: I upped my dosage took 20 mg of fluoxetine last night and the Effexor brain shivers have completely worn off. My cognitive functioning has completely returned and I’m no longer afraid of passing out when walking or turning to talk to someone. I’ll probably take another 20 mg tonight and call it a day for fluoxetine. (Thank you Dr. Ivan!)

So it’s true: If you’re experiencing Effexor withdrawal, ask your doctor or psychiatrist (whomever you’re seeing for mental illness) for 20 mg of fluoxetine and take it for about 2-3 days.  This may not work for everyone (especially those who may be treatment-resistant) but I’m confident it can work for the vast majority of sufferers. I’ll tell you later if I have a suicidal relapse; I’ll be on the alert for the next two weeks. That’s how long it took me to have a relapse when I quit Lexapro cold turkey.

Many thanks to Furious Seasons for the shout-out.

UPDATE: An old post from a blog detailing an Effexor withdrawal experience. I was on Effexor for about 3 months and the withdrawal effects were essentially the same.

Venlafaxine withdrawal symptoms

Work has got me busy, folks, so posts may drop significantly in the next coming days/months. Possibly through April or May. (I’ll probably have one of those work days when I end up doing more blogging than working. It happens every now and then.) But don’t be surprised if Saturday quotes, Wednesday puppies, and Sunday stats are what pops up each week. I’ve got many of those backlogged through April. I’ll try to backlog some other posts on bipolar disorder and depression for the coming weeks and quickly blog on anything that’s timely.

electric shockIn the meantime, I had to take a sick day today. It’s my third day off of the Effexor and I’m having some weird side effects (see Case 1: Standard Dose under the link). Whenever I turn or move too quickly (consider your “natural” body turn), I “kind of” see stars and the whole world slightly spins beyond my field of vision for about 3 seconds before coming back into focus. After doing some light research on the side effects of venlafaxine (Effexor’s generic name), I’ve found out that side effects can incude vertigo, dizziness, light-headedness (associated with dizziness), and something called “brain shivers,” which are a form of electric shock sensations. You know that feeling when you get an electric shock from somebody? Yeah, imagine feeling that throughout your whole body. Precisely; not a good feeling. Nancy Schimelpfening, blogger for depression.about.com, found a newsgroup posting on the brain shiver effect, mainly associated with venlafaxine:

It happens to me if I turn my head quickly, or if I stop suddenly, or in general with sudden motion. They’re worse if I’m nervous.

i’ve seen them described as feeling as though your brain keeps going when you turn your head. that doesn’t seem quite adequate to me. it’s more like this:

you turn your head (or your whole body — this happens to me if i whirl around too quickly as i’m taking the stairs. what. doesn’t everyone whirl on the stairs…?), but your brain *stays put* for a micro second, then tries to catch up but only in a stuttering, stopstart motion, accompanied by a staccato ‘zzt zzt zzt’ with each stop. the ‘zzt’ you can feel in your head, an electric sort of vertigo, and it often reverberates in your hands and fingers. some folks feel it in their toes; i haven’t yet.

sometimes your brain overshoots and comes strobing back, then overshoots again.. this all unfolds in just a second or two.

these days i endeavor to go around corners all smooth slow and steadylike. helps to reduce the number of brain shivers per day

Yeah, that’s me. It’s hard to explain to someone who’s never felt it. I got this feeling after not taking Paxil for three days too. The effects eventually wore off, but it was such a weird feeling.

Read the rest of this entry »

Paxil withdrawal

paxilThanks to Philip Dawdy at Furious Seasons, he wrote about the Uncomfortably Numb blog. The blog focuses mainly on the side effects (and side effect withdrawals) of Paxil. Having been on Paxil (CR), I can identify. I was fortunate enough to ask my doctor for a switch after three months, but I still have this occasional eye-twitch that lasts for days that has stayed with me since taking Paxil back in February 2004. If I didn’t take Paxil for three days, my nerves just went horrible: I felt shaky and my entire life seemed fluid – it was like constantly walking in a pool of water. Nothing seemed real; everything was a dream. But it wasn’t. Everything was too hard, too much effort, too much anything. I couldn’t stand it. I quit Paxil “cold turkey” (again, don’t do this, kids) and felt worse before I could feel better. I went from Paxil to Lexapro and… yeah, felt worse again.

Lesson? Primary care physicians should NOT give antidepressants to depressed people with undiagnosed bipolar disorder.