Sunday, 28 January 2018

I don't know whether I should come off my antidepressants or not

One of the most common topics on my blog is medication.
I often find myself writing about anti-depressants and defending their use. No one questions the use of medication for physical illness with the same vehemence they do for mental illness. This remains one area where stigma remains strong.

I'm proud to take anti-depressants for my mental illness. I'm not ashamed. And I've always been open about it.

But it's been 7 years, and at some point my health would be better served without medication. There are some long-term side effects from using anti-depressants, such as blood disorders and liver damage.

So after 7 years, I'm starting to wonder if the time to stop is now?

It's been two years since I've had a breakdown. Yes, my mental health has been poor on occasions since, but everyone's mental health takes hits and dips. I haven't felt helpless, hopeless or had thoughts of suicide for over two years.

After a seven-year struggle, I now have more good days than bad. I've developed coping skills. I've found strategies that help, and I know what I should be doing for good mental health, even if I don't always do it.

But the thought of quitting is scary.

I've been on my current dosage of medication for about six years now, seven years since I started taking anti-depressants. What will happen when I change the chemicals in my brain?

I've also only been with my current doctor (GP) for just over a year now. It took me a long time to find someone who was and who I trusted. But my GP doesn't know my full mental health history. She wasn't there for the bad times. How can she advise on what's right for me if I have only ever been in a good place when I've been her patient? I know that you should never go 'cold turkey' off antidepressants on your own, without the support of a healthcare professional. But is this the right person to support me now?

And how do you know when the right time is right?
One of the joys of depression is that it could reoccur at any time. Quitting means balancing the risk of relapse. And there is nothing scarier than the thought I could end up in the horrifying pit of darkness that was me at my worst. 

I also worry about whether I'll be seen as a hypocrite for deciding to quit. I've been so vocal about taking medication for my mental illness, that stopping taking them looks like I don't support their use.

Articles I found online about stopping anti-depressants call the decision a 'personal choice'. But this is not something I can decide on my own. I will need the full support of my friends and family, but especially my partner if I'm to get through this. I could need time off work, time to recover (again), time to go back to therapy. Coming off medication is a slow process which takes time, as this advice from Dean Burnett writing in the Guardian says:
"Take it slow, get help and advice, do it gradually and carefully. It’s not like ripping off a bandage or plaster, one sharp shock and it’s all over. It’s more like slamming your brakes on while in the fast lane of the motorway: it may be safe in other scenarios, but you’re currently in a situation where that’s extremely hazardous."
It's like facing the great unknown. I could sink or I could swim. But I guess you never know until you try?

Until next time,

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