Long Term Antidepressant (SSRI) Use

Even if you don’t have a terrible bad reaction to, or a long painful withdrawal from, psyche drugs, using them long term can affect you in very serious ways.  They start out subtle and gradually get worse over the months or years and getting off the drugs are the only way to get back to normal.

These are all symptoms which I had while I was on SSRIs even before I began using Klonopin or began withdrawal from it.  Long term use can do the following:

Give you a fuzzy, slow mind

Affect your memory (Very common)

Affect your ability to learn

Diminish your attention span

Slow your speech and ability to find words

Blur your vision

Make you restless and unable to sit still for very long

Make you a recluse or give you mild agoraphobia

Makes you paranoid as if everyone is the enemy

Make you socially awkward

Make you insecure and take away your confidence

Make you fat (This is extremely common)

Make you irritable, angry, and sensitive

Make you tired, lethargic, and unmotivated (Very common)

Make it hard to fall asleep

I developed food allergies while on Zoloft which I never linked to the drug until I got off and they mysteriously disappeared.  I also acquired obsessive compulsive traits that have been going away the longer I’ve been off of Zoloft.

They come on slowly, not suddenly.  So at first you think it’s just you.  Then when you find yourself unable to do the things you remember being able to do, and you analyze your life, you realize something is wrong (You may not be doing well in school, having trouble getting a job or getting promoted, or find yourself losing friends). But if you have an ignorant doctor, he/she will likely tell you it’s your own personal psychological problems without even thinking about it too much or doing any research into the matter.  After all, you’ve already taken up ten minutes of their time and they have other patients to get to.

I’ve come to realize as I research these medications that the so called chemical imbalances that the drug companies claim as reality  is a lie.  There is no such thing as a chemical imbalance.  We teach our brain how to balance our chemicals through our behavior and interaction with our environment.  If we’ve had a difficult life with a lot of let downs we may trigger more fear responses in our brain and thus put ourselves into fight or flight mode even when it’s not warranted.  We recognize danger everywhere as a safety precaution which we taught our brains.  These responses are nothing more than chemicals passing through synapses.  Everything out brain does is a chemical reaction, even our most basic thoughts (which is why these drugs can slow our cognition).

This is why cognitive behavioral therapy is far more effective than drugs.  You can reteach your brain how to work the way you want it.  You can reteach it when to recognize danger, when to have fear, when to feel sad.  The only time you will have an actual chemical imbalance is when you take these drugs.  What these drugs do to us are far worse than anything that led you to them in the first place.

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Over Seven Months Off: Emotions Are Returning

I’m over seven months off of all drugs now.  It’s only now that I am realizing the extent to which Zoloft and Klonopin was affecting me.  I am feeling emotions now, mostly in the first 5-6 hours after being awake.  It makes me feel like my old self despite the pressure I still have in my head and ears, my vision problems, and my cognitive deficits.  Everything else seems to be getting better very slowly, but in a recognizable way.  Mornings and afternoons are always better than evenings.

I’m still pretty spaced out.  I can’t concentrate and my memory is terrible but I think it might have improved.  I seem to be able to take on little projects.  I still have derealization.  My eyes are still tense and can’t focus but I notice every once in a while they loosen up.  My tinnitus still sucks.  There is still pressure in my forehead and ears but they loosen up sometimes too.

It feels so good to feel emotions.  I can be happy, sad, and angry in a rational sort of way.  Emotions make you feel alive.  And I’m not just recovering from the Klonopin withdrawal; I haven’t felt sharp emotions like these for years.  Zoloft had been deadening my mind and emotions for years before I got on Klonopin.  I realize that these drugs rob you of normal emotions so slowly that you don’t realize it is happening.  You feel approximations of emotions but they are flat compared to the real thing.  I feel that I’ve lost out on years of enjoying life.  Everything is more beautiful now, music, friendship, the world.

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Benzo Withdrawal and Physical Appearance

Benzo withdrawal has taken its toll on my physical appearance.  Since the nervous system controls pretty much every function in your body, it makes sense that your outward appearance would suffer.  The less dire my situation becomes, the more I care about such things.  To put it succinctly, after seven months of hell, I’m ugly now.  Some of it is directly related to my dysfunctional nervous system, while other aspects of the decline of my appearance probably has to do with the severe stress I’ve been under.

First, I’ve lost about twenty pounds.  I have no muscle mass and I’m very thin.  None of my clothes fit me.  I have gone from a size 34 waist to a size 30 which doesn’t look healthy on a 6′ 2″ frame.  The fact that I’m very sensitive to carbs right now (they amplify my symptoms) may have something to do with this.  I’m basically on a protein only diet, but I do eat about 3000 calories per day.

I look as though I’ve aged several years.  I’ve noticed some wrinkles I didn’t have before.  My baby face is going away.  I have bad skin. I’m pale.  My eyes are sunken into their sockets and I have dark circles under them.  My hair is thinning more and more, and it’s very dry and unhealthy.

As I said, I care about this stuff more now than I did early on when I was in complete terror.  I can’t wait to be well, gain some weight, and get in shape.

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Bad Reactions to Zoloft

Before going through benzo withdrawal I had some practice with very similar symptoms caused by taking the SSRI antidepressant Zoloft.  I’ve had two very bad reactions to Zoloft which took months of my life away from me.  Here’s the story.

I had taken Zoloft from 1999-2004.  I started on it because of some childhood issues and adolescent depression.  In retrospect Zoloft caused me more problems than it was worth.  I finally got off of it and went through a withdrawal.  I was completely unaware of the withdrawal however.  For several months I was irritable, had social anxiety, and was emotional.  I had no physical symptoms however.  I never connected any of this with the Zoloft.  After that I felt great.  I consider 2005 and 2006 great years in my life.  I was creative, outgoing, and very happy.

In late 2006 I got back on zoloft.  Perhaps it was because of stress; I’m not sure.  I don’t remember why.  About a week after I started on it again I developed several frightening symptoms and I spent four months trying to figure out what was wrong with me.  I never realized it was the Zoloft.  The Doctors assumed it was all psychological and instructed me to keep taking it.

I had none of these symptoms before I got on Zoloft, but they hit me like a ton of bricks in a very short amount of time.  These were my symptoms:

Anxiety/Depression

Derealization

Flickering lights and visual snow

Light senstivity

Afterimages

Sluggish eye muscles

Pain behind my eyes

Vitreous Floaters

Brain Fog

After four months I felt better but I was still on the zoloft.  The next three years went by.  During this time I still had some small vision problems and though I was completely functional, I don’t think my brain was operating at full capacity.  During this time I finished my B.A. and started graduate school.

In late 2009, I stopped taking the zoloft on a regular basis and started going through a minor withdrawal.  So I started taking it regularly again and started having some of the symptoms like 2006.  I asked my doctor what to do.  I still didn’t connect the dots.  My doctor told me to increase my dose and so I did and I got hit hard with very bad symptoms.  It was 2006 all over again.  I had all of the same symptoms with the addition of tinnitus.  Lightbulb!  Zoloft was doing it to me the whole time.  I learned that some people have bad reactions to SSRIs from the first moment they take it, while others will have bad reactions if they get back on it after being off of it.  I was the latter apparently.  You cannot get back on the same medication twice.  You’re body will reject it.  It took another three months to recover from this bad reaction and I decided to get off of Zoloft for good.

This is an informative website which helped me to understand what was happening to me.

http://www.antidepressantsfacts.com/reaction.htm

Also, there is a good support forum for people going through problems because of an antidepressant or suffering withdrawal.

http://www.paxilprogress.org/forums/

It was during this time that I got on klonopin.  It was prescribed to me in order to deal with the symptoms Zoloft was causing me.  Though these bad reactions were nowhere near as bad as benzo withdrawal, at the time they were hell.  If only I had known something worse was on the horizon when it came time to get off the klonopin.  I also strongly believe that because I already sensitized my nervous system with the Zoloft, my benzo withdrawal is much worse than it could have been.

There are many other people in my life on SSRIs.  From them, and my research online I’ve learned that these drugs are very, very bad for you.  They slow down your mind, take away your memory and creativity, and mess with your vision and hearing.  Long term use will eventually hit everyone.

I learned my lesson.  Stay away from all psych drugs and live life naturally, problems and all.  It’s just sad that I’ve had to lose so much of my life to learn this lesson.

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The Ignorance of the Average Doctor

General Practitioners and Psychiatrists are usually the doctors who prescribe someone a benzo for everyday use.  Their ignorance of benzo withdrawal, and predictable denial that our symptoms are from the drugs is why so many people have to go through this hell.  Doctors are people like you and me and aren’t particularly brilliant compared to anyone else.  Don’t get me wrong, there are brilliant, responsible doctors out there, but brilliance and responsibility are not prerequisites to being a doctor.  The majority of the information these doctors receive about drugs including benzos and antidepressants are from the pharmaceutical companies themselves.  They go to medical school, memorize tons of information, learn to plug certain symptoms into certain textbook diagnoses and prescribe the medications.  And many of them son’t keep up on the latest research and information in their field.

The point being, they are not neuro-scientists and many of them don’t understand the nervous system in any substantial way nor have they have never done their own research or written a paper regarding the long term effects of these drugs.  The average General Practioners are more suited for diagnosing colds, ear infections, and the flu, and psychiatrists should stick to cognitive behavioral therapy before medicating their patients with drugs they don’t fully comprehend.

The sad thing is, because of this trend of ignorance, doctors are likely to dismiss any and all suffering caused by nervous system altering medications.  They are quick to blame these severe psychological and physical symptoms on anxiety, depression, etc.  Their answer: more drugs or higher doses, which compounds the problem.

Furthermore, these drugs are not thoroughly tested before being unleashed on society.  There is no way short-term testing can predict that 20 percent of people who use these drugs will suffer terrible long-term alterations to their nervous system and the human suffering that goes along with it.  So essentially, our entire society are guinea pigs for all prescription drugs on the market.

It is extremely hurtful for a doctor or anyone to dismiss or trivialize the terrible suffering caused be these drugs by claiming they are psychological or psychosomatic symptoms.  These people lack the understanding of what these drugs do.  The human mind simply cannot conjure up these disabling symptoms.  It can’t.  End of story.  It’s even less likely that the human mind can prevent the symptoms from going away for months or years because of post traumatic stress or anxiety.  Protracted benzo withdrawal is nothing more or less than long term damage to the nervous system which requires a long time to be repaired.

I’ve spoken with a brilliant doctor who is well aware of benzo withdrawal as well the work of Dr. Heather Ashton who ran a benzo withdrawal clinic in the UK for a number of years.  He explained to me that we know protracted benzo withdrawal is a genuine phenomenon because numerous studies in rats proved it to be true.  And this is in addition to the hundreds of thousands of people who have been going through it.

If you are reading this and have not gotten off of benzos yet and would like to find out how to do it safely, there is a list of benzo intelligent doctors on the internet.

http://www.benzodocs.com/

And for better general information you can view Dr. Heather Ashton’s manual concerning how to withdrawal from benzos.

http://www.benzo.org.uk/manual/

Fortunately, more and more doctors are becoming aware of this problem and are doing the responsible thing by refusing to prescribe benzos, or at the very least refusing to prescribe for every day use.  Benzos should be used once in a blue moon for surgery, the occasional panic attack, or seizure, but never as an everyday pill.  Dr. Ashton does a very good job of explaining how these drugs alter our nervous system when taken every day.

I’m almost certain there is a genetic component to this.  You can get tests done to reveal which medications you cannot take because of your genetic make up.  I’m fairly certain that everyone who goes through protracted benzo withdrawal would reveal an intolerance to these medications if they were tested.  There is something about us.  Perhaps we cannot metabolized it properly so it builds up in the body, or our nervous systems are more adaptable to the poison.

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My Benzo Withdrawal Timeline Thus Far

In June 2010 I stopped taking Klonopin everyday and started having weird sensations.  I took my absolute last .25 mg of Klonopin on July 7th.  Though I have had side effects since June I will count July 7th as my official withdrawal beginning.

THE FIRST 2 WEEKS

The first two weeks the symptoms slowly waxed in intensity until reaching a terrible spike.   This is when I first got anxiety, dysphoria, derealization, brain fog, akathisia, burning skin, vision issues, head and ear pressure, increased tinnitus, etc.

2 WEEKS – 3 MONTHS

This time period was pure hell.  I was desperate, scared, and couldn’t stay still.  I could barely talk.  During this period my akathisia and most of my physical symptoms peaked.  The burning sensation in my ears was intolerable.  My eyes exploded with floaters.  I couldn’t stay still.  I had to go on long walks.  I had terrible unrelenting fear and couldn’t be alone.  I was constantly calling my girlfriend at work.  My agoraphobia was disabling.  I fell apart at the slightest stress.  I thought I was going crazy.

MONTH 3 – 3 1/2

This period came with a comforting lull in pretty much all of my symptoms.  The head pressure was virtually gone.  My vision problems relaxed a little.  My anxiety seemed to have disappeared.  But this was the calm before the storm.

MONTHS 4 AND 5

These two months were the worst of it.  My brain fog turned into confusion.  My memory became severely impaired.  I felt so disconnected from reality, disoriented, and dizzy.  The anxiety and depression got bad again.  My ability to handle stress got very, very bad.  The akathisia didn’t return in full force though.  Neither did the pressure in my head.  So these months were the peak for my brain symptoms, and the first and second month was the peak for my physical symptoms.  I consider 4 and 5 the absolute worst months though.

MONTH 6

Improvement at long last.  I was a little more relaxed.  Anxiety and depression virtually disappeared.  I started feeling positive emotions and began to enjoy simple hobbies again despite the constant derealization, brain fog, and drunk, woozy feeling.

MONTH 7

Month 7 brought another symptom flare up unfortunately, but nothing as intense as what I have been through.  It mainly came in the form of buzzing and vibrating in my nerves, fatigue, and head and ear pressure.

Now I truly believe the worst of it is over.  My akathisia is consistently better.  Emotionally I feel almost normal.  I’m no longer afraid of being alone.  I’m still very miserable physically.  The pressure in my ears and head constantly fluctuate and every once in a while the vibrating flares up.  My cognitive impairment fluctuates but even when it’s a little better it is still disabling.  I can handle stress much better meaning that I don’t fall apart, but I’m still far from normal.  The only thing that hasn’t seen any improvement whatsoever is the tinnitus which still rages on just as bad as its peak.  The floaters haven’t gotten better either, but that isn’t so much a symptom as the end result of another symptom.

Very few things have actually gone away, but every symptom besides tinnitus has shown improvement to some degree.  Some of the things that have disappeared is: the fear and terror, depression, burning skin sensation, tremors, and probably a few other things that I don’t even remember.

I’ve shown enough improvement to realize recovery is possible, and yet I sit here wondering how much longer I have to stay at this level of suffering.  My nervous system is still very dysfunctional.  When will I be functional again?  When can I resume a normal life?

From my time spent in withdrawal forums it seems that people who get most of their side effects all at once in the beginning say that the first six months were the worst.  I guess this is true in my case.  These people often find relief around nine or ten months or perhaps a year.  For others, they get some symptoms in the first six months, and get hit with a different set of symptoms in the second six months, a second wave.  For these people their second six months were the worst.  In either case, 6-18 months is the most common healing time with just around one year being average.

I press forward.

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Physical Symptoms from Protracted Benzo Withdrawal in Detail

The physical symptoms from klonopin withdrawal are just misery.  They make it so it is impossible to relax or be comfortable.  Many have lessened thankfully, but many are still relentlessly making me suffer.

TIGHT PRESSURE IN HEAD:

There has been a tight band of pressure around my forehead and between my eyes since the beginning.  This symptom fluctuates often.  Sometimes it feels like there is a block of concrete inside my head and it hurts terribly, other times it is simply tight.  The front of my head feels very heavy, and my head feels larger than it is.  Heat seems to help it a little.  When it gets bad I sit in a hot shower and let the water hit my skull, or sometimes I will sit next to the fireplace and allow it to heat up my forehead.  From what I’ve read, this is a common symptom.  Some people claim it flares up after eating.

PRESSURE, PAIN, BURNING, AND, POPPING IN EARS:

Muscles deep in my ears, muscles one cannot usually feel or ever be aware of, are constantly being tugged and pulled.  The pressure can get so bad that it hurts.  There used to be a burning sensation in my ears as well as if my ears were on fire.   Additionally, my ears pop and crackle when I swallow or open my mouth wide.  There is something strange happening to these muscles.  This became more tolerable in my fifth month.

RESTLESSNESS AND PACING (AKATHISIA):

Akathisia is a severe restlessness caused by the withdrawal in which you constantly have to move.  This is pure torture.  You cannot relax.  In the first few months it was terrible.  I had to go on hours long walks.  I was constantly moving my legs and pacing.  I used to wake up in the middle of night and start walking around, or I would go outside.  All of the nerves throughout my body could not be mad comfortable.  Sitting down, lying down was out of the question.  Standing still or walking slowly was also impossible.  It was as if ants were crawling all over my nerves and muscles.  Fortunately, this symptom constantly improves albeit very slowly over many months.  I still can’t stay still for very long, but it is so much more tolerable now.

VIBRATION, BUZZING, TINGLING IN NERVES:

It is like there are bees or power lines in my head and limbs.  There is this rapid internal movement inside my body which buzzes and vibrates.  This is another torturous physical symptom which prevents you from being comfortable.  It was constant in the beginning and now it comes and goes as I fluctuate.

TINNITUS:

This is very distressing also.  I had some tinnitus in my left ear from zoloft, but both ears flared up during klonopin withdrawal.  It is still twice as bad in my left ear than in my right.  It is a loud high pitched hiss, or perpetually sustained cricket chirp deep inside my brain.  In complete silence or in very small rooms it is terrorizing and gives me terrible anxiety.  Going to sleep is very difficult too.  The simple act of staying still and not focusing on anything reduces the ambient noise going into your ear and makes you hear it even more.  Moreover, it is amplified by pressing my ear into the pillow.  Nothing seems to be able to mask it.  I have white noise playing and the television on and still it terrorizes me.  It doesn’t seem to have gotten better, or if it has, it’s been only minor improvement.

VISUAL DISTURBANCES:

There are so many problems with my vision right now.  My vision gets grainy like television static, especially in low light.  I can’t see in the dark or look up at the night sky.  It’s very noticeable against super dark and super bight colors.  My vision oscillates ever so slightly as if it were vibrating or I was underwater.  It’s not as though the objects in my vision are moving, but rather as if something transparent was moving in front of the image.  I think this is an eye muscle problem.  As I move my eyes it doesn’t seem fluid and the image seems to take a half a second longer to come into focus.  I can’t track moving objects or identify objects from their background very well.  I did have an optometrist tell me my eye muscles are very sluggish.  Reading is very strenuous.  I also occasionally get pressure behind my eyes and will feel little stabbing pricks against the back of my left eye.

VITREOUS FLOATERS:

In my second month my eyes exploded with floaters overnight preceded by some eye pain in the week prior.  There are at least 20 of them floating around and make being outside in the daylight very disturbing.  One day, when this is all over, I plan to check out laser surgery procedure that gets rid of them.

WOOZY, DRUNK FEELING:

I constantly feel off balance and woozy as if I am very drunk.  I guess you can call it dizziness, but I don’t get vertigo.

COLD, CLAMMY FACE AND HEAD:

This can be particularly strong in my forehead.  Behind it my brain feels like a block of ice.  My face can be cold to the touch and I will sweat.

GRINDING AND CLENCHING TEETH (BRUXISM):

In the first few months there was a great deal of tension in my jaw.  It felt uncomfortable and I didn’t know what to do with my jaw while I tried to go to sleep.  I would clench and grind them all night too.

PRESSURED BREATHING:

This was very scary in the first couple months and returns only occasionally now.  I felt like I could never get enough air, even though this wasn’t the case.  It was just a feeling.  And there was something strangely voluntary about my breathing as if I had to physically force myself to breath which also wasn’t reality, but I felt that way nonetheless.

BURNING SKIN:

In the first three months this symptom would come and go.  It was as if I had a very bad sunburn all over my body.  It hurt when I touched my skin or had hot water touch it just like a sunburn.

HAIR THINNING AND HAIR LOSS:

I started to notice my hair got thinner very quickly while on klonopin.  When I jumped off of the drug it started falling out and I could see my scalp.  When I wash my hair in the shower there will be a bunch of hair would come off in my hands.

DIGESTIVE PROBLEMS AND FREQUENT URINATION:

For the first for months I had diarrhea every day.  I also had urinate constantly.  I would wake up several times a night to go to the bathroom.  It seemed like every twenty minutes to a half an hour I would have to go.

DEHYDRATION:

I am always thirsty.  It’s probably related to the frequent urination.  I can drink four or five tall glasses of water in succession without getting sick of it.  I have been drinking a gallon and a half of water per day on average.

SENSORY SENSITIVITIES:

I’m sensitive to light. Sounds seem too loud and create vibrations in my ear.  And scents, particularly perfume, make me sick to my stomach.

RAPID HEART RATE:

Occasionally, my heart starts to pound for no reason.  It gets worse when I’m active.

WEAKNESS AND FATIGUE:

I’m incredibly weak.  I can’t lift as much as I used to.  I get tired so easily, and I mean exhausted.  Getting up and walking around the house can sometimes make me breathe hard and my heart race.

CLUMSY AND UNCOORDINATED:

I constantly bump into things and often I’ll reach for an object but knock it over instead.  I also drop stuff often.

JUMPY NERVES:

My nerves are very jittery.  Small, precise movements were very hard for me in the beginning.  This had improved a lot.

SLEEP ISSUES:

Through all of this I haven’t had anything I’d call insomnia, but I am easily awoken.  The slightest sound can wake me up, and my cortisol levels skyrocket and I can’t get back to sleep.

Click here for a list of my psychological symptoms.

Click here for a description of my cognitive dysfunction.

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