I look back on the last post I wrote in this series, and boy…am I thankful that God does not let us know what is coming ahead. He just gives us one day at a time, and gives us what we need to get through it.
My pastor, Bryan Clark, ended a sermon a few weeks ago with the words “You choose to cultivate the relationship (with God.) You do that today because you never know—tomorrow may be the most difficult day of your life.” When I heard those words, they seemed amplified and spoken especially for me despite the large congregation. I thought “UH-OH. What is coming my way Lord?” How is that for optimism? My Pastor’s reminder caused me to lean in, cling to, and abide with God the last few weeks.
What has come my way is a variety of things that honestly has swept me off my feet, landing me hard on the bottom, made me feel like I was drowning & reminded me what it means to suffer. I am at a place now where I am coming up for air and boy, it is so refreshing & life-giving!
I don’t quite know where to start, and I will try not to get too detailed, but it started with a med change.
Like I told you in this post, I have been on an antidepressant for years. Wellbutrin was the med that changed my life years ago and allowed me to be the real me. 4 years ago I had to go off that med because it clashed with the cancer medication called Tamoxifen, which I needed to start on right away. They switched me to Effexor, and honestly it was even better for me than Wellbutrin. I was very thankful.
The last 7 months I switched from the cancer med, Tamoxifen, which was making me sleep my life away among other not-so-fun side effects, and started on what is called an aromatase inhibitor. There are only a few options of medication for treating my hormone type cancer. In order to go on an aromatase inhibitor, we would need to completely shut my ovaries down and put me into menopause. I am not ready to permanently remove my ovaries, so we decided to shut them down chemically. I have been doing this the last 7 months with Lupron injections, (talked about here) & started taking the aromatase inhibitor, Arimedex.
Honestly, it has been a rough 7 months. Especially physically. The side effects of this medication are numerous, the ones that affect me the most are joint pain, stiffness, extreme & consistent hot flashes, & quite a few that are personal and I will spare you from. I was having these symptoms already even on Tamoxifen, but this new hormone suppressor medication + injections just amplified all of it.
Here is the deal. The antidepressant that they switched me to 4 years ago also have side effects very similar to my cancer meds, especially the more personal side effects. Doc decided now that I’m off Tamoxifen (cancer med) that I could go back on the Wellbutrin (mood med I was on 4 years ago). So we started the process of weaning off Effexor.
Still with me?
I had no idea that Effexor is one of the very hardest drugs to detox from. Well, I had read that it was a rough one, and the nurse told me we needed to go slow, but man, I did not know what I was in for.
It was a 3 week process, and it got worse and worse as we weaned down the dose. There was a period of 3-4 days when I finally went from a low dose to nothing, that I would describe as pure mental and physical suffering. I have been through a lot, and I am tough, but that about did me in. There was one evening where I had decided that if things were no better in the morning that I would need to admit myself for monitoring and medical help while de-toxing, at least a few days, until the process was over. I couldn’t fathom putting my kids through that or my Todd, but having me there was no better…at all.
How to describe those days? I knew I was not myself. I knew it could not be helped. I knew I had to just get through it.
Physically, the symptoms really scared me. There is no explaining it really. There was a feeling in my head of ‘zapping’ that happened all throughout the day for at least a week. When I would move my eyes even a bit from one side to the other I would ‘hear’ ….actually feel, a whooshing. I told you– it is hard to explain! It sounds crazy even typing it. It scared me. It happened all throughout the day. I was incredibly foggy. I could not read a book. I would read one sentence 4 times and still not comprehend it. There was constant pressure in my head. Light hurt. I had nausea and felt like I had the flu. I had even more intense hot flashes than normal but then would get super cold and shiver. It took me back to my chemo days, those days that the chemo just knocked me down and took over my body. I hated every minute of it.
In the middle of that, I was due for my every 3 month anti-hormone injection. Here is the thing with those. The week before I have it, I have breakthrough symptoms where it feels like PMS. Full blown. Then I get the injection, and the symptoms get worse for 2 days then get better. I have to stay on course to the day, every three months. I was very scared to get it in the middle of what already was happening with me. I had reason to be, and when I talk about being admitted above it was 2 days after my injection. The de-toxing plus this ‘jarring -to-my-system’ shot was just too much.
This was just the physical. Then there was the mental.
I couldn’t handle anything. I was a mess. I couldn’t handle the least bit of stress, I was unreasonable in my thinking, I cried easily…a mess. I wish I could say I rallied and shut myself down and away from my family so they would not have to deal with me…but life did not allow that. I tried to hide it from my girls as much as possible, but the new school year had started, life was moving fast and bringing big changes for our family. I did my best to keep up.
~My sweet Freshman girl now needed rides to school and all her extra curricular activities. I was used to her walking to school. She now attends a school across town, and I found myself driving there 2 – 3 times a day.
~My Todd entered into the busiest season of his job, and was very overwhelmed with life already. He was teaching and training a large number of volunteers for those 2 weeks. This not only kept him at work from early morning to 6:30/7:00 at night, but he needed me to bring one of our daughters to him to be the ‘student’ as he taught volunteers what they needed to do. More driving for me.
~This also meant he was not around in the evening to help get our youngest to soccer practice as he usually is, which meant more driving for me.
I honestly don’t mind driving my kids around, and actually love it now that I’ve come up for air, but while I was struggling there were days where I really don’t think I should have been driving.
I was utterly physically and emotionally spent.
The biggest life change that came about just as I was coming up for air but still not myself, was the decision to homeschool our Colsie. I’ve always said I don’t have the patience or the skill set needed to homeschool my children, and said I never would. I’m learning to never say never! It is what our sweet girl desperetly needed, and I have seen so very clearly that God is in this decision. She is thriving so far as a homeschooler and God has given us every resource and help we could possibly need to make this successful for the both of us. Time with her has been precious, and I find myself on days like today when I am away to work, missing her. She is with her Grandma – someone who she loves to be with, who is a teacher and is taking a couple of days a week to help out with schooling. Huge blessing! We are finally getting on a good routine and finding we both thrive on the forced routine that her homeschooling has brought.
Yes. I am breathing easier.
I share all this hoping someone will benefit from my experience or let someone who is in the midst of switching medication or de-toxing from medication know that they are not alone, and they will get through it.
You might wonder why would someone take a medication that would be so incredibly hard to detox from and cause such scary symptoms. My answer is because for me, the medication works and is needed. You all know I am all for nutrition, a balanced lifestyle, and finding strength in God. Yes, these things are so very necessary too, but please hear me when I say all of those things would be so out of reach for me if not for medication. I would not be able to focus on the thought process that a nutritious and balanced life demands. As for God? He would be and always has been there for me, but my ability to reach out to Him, think on His truth, read and focus on His words, and accept who I am in Him would not be what it is today if not for medication.
Again, I write this for anyone out there that feels alone. Someone who thinks they should be able to solve their mental health problems in various ways, but can’t seem to do it no matter how much they want to. I’ve been there.
Just as you can’t think positively enough, eat nutritious enough, and pray enough to mend a broken leg…so it is with a broken brain. My life journey is one where I begged God for wisdom and direction in healing my brain, and medication is the main avenue that He led me to.
There are other ways that are as important. I am having a great time exploring how nutrition is connected to brain health, and I recently have started meeting with a most beautiful and wise woman who has agreed to mentor me and disciple me.
I’m SUPER excited about the coming months & all that God is leading me towards. How sweet He is to continue to grow me, guide me, and be so very close to me. He is continuing to show me what #LivingNew looks like, even in the midst of the hard, even in the moments where I find I can barely breathe. He is life. He is air. He restores & redeems. He makes new.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning;
Great is your faithfulness.
What about you? Can you relate to any of this?
Have you ever had to detox from a medication? What was your experience?
More in this series from New Nostalgia:
Going There — Mental Illness: PMDD & Getting Health
Let’s Talk — Mental Illness + A Health Update
New Nostalgia – Does He Care?October 11, 2014 at 12:17 am
[…] or so has been a doozy for me and honestly there were days that were pure suffering for me both physically and mentally. I hated every minute of it, but in the midst of it, I knew God still had me. I knew this […]
REK981September 15, 2014 at 12:41 pm
I did a really slow wean off Lexapro – tapered down over 3 months. I made it less than a year. But now I am on Viibryd. Interesting thing with this new med is that you taper up when you start it just like you would taper down to wean. I have heard of the mind zaps with Effexor so you are describing it correctly. Sounds scary. Glad you made it through that difficult time. Thank you for sharing your experience and allowing us to contribute with our own experiences as well.
kathy wSeptember 13, 2014 at 10:07 pm
I really appreciate you sharing this journey. I have been thinking about going off effexor due to some side effects. I am not able to take any other type, I have tried them all and I don;t think I can go without
medication. I really fear going through withdrawal and then finding out I need to go back on it. I really
feel like I am caught in a catch 22. Thanks for your great blog.
dianeSeptember 13, 2014 at 10:56 am
I can totally relate to the horrible process of going off antidepressants. I had the same symptoms when I tried to go off Paxil, just indescribable misery. I didn’t expect it, no one told me to expect it. I did end up going on another antidepressant that didn’t work. I was very prepared for going off of it – but I didn’t have any problems that time. I had done some research, have you ever heard of http://www.theroadback.org ? I did buy the supplements, but never ended up needing or using them, so not sure if it works. I found it very interesting that is is obviously a big problem that never gets talked about very much. Glad you “made it back”.
KathySeptember 13, 2014 at 7:54 am
Thank you for your honesty in sharing. As a homeschooling mom, I’m sure you have adjustments yet to make in that area, but you will be richly blessed in the process. I can’t imagine dealing with all you have and knowing it isn’t over. Praying for you and your family. You are a very strong lady to go through all this and then so eloquently share it with all of us.
AmyNewNostalgiaSeptember 13, 2014 at 9:26 am
It has been 2 weeks of homeschooling. The first week was a little rough as I had lots of doctor appointments and we were just figuring out a routine that works for the both of us. This last week was wonderful. It is going to be a great thing–I can tell already. God makes me smile. He always knows what is best.
I’m sitting here in a coffee shop early on a Saturday morning with my little ‘student’ –it was her idea to come and finish up some goals she wanted to accomplish this week. Precious time.
Kathy TannerSeptember 12, 2014 at 9:24 pm
I think you are so brave. Thank you for sharing. May God bless you and your sweet family and lighten your load.
AmyNewNostalgiaSeptember 13, 2014 at 9:28 am
Thank you Kathy. He is already. I am adjusting well to the new med, and I it will only get better in the next couple of weeks. I’m so thankful to be on the way up. No mountaintop without the valleys, and no day without night. Thankful for hope & God’s faithfulness.
Darlene Y.September 12, 2014 at 7:36 pm
Amy, I can relate to going off Effexor. I however was lucky enough to have a psychiatrist who was patient & knew it would be a slow process. She ordered specific tittrated doses so that the weaning process was as slow as I thought I needed. It took 3 months & I was off. We were in the process of moving from IN to MI, I felt like I was doing better & wanted to see how I would do off the med. Wrong move on my part, as is the case w/ many on antidepressants. Within 9 months months I was back on & still am. I was lucky enough my psychiatrist in IN gave me her cell phone number. For our move, she thought it would be my security blanket just knowing I could reach her if need be without having to go through her service. I was also fortunate enough that my new health care provider was willing to talk to my shrink & order the meds she recommended.
I have clinical depression, panic attacks/generalized anxiety w/ a dab of social anxiety just to add a little icing to the cake. Oh! Add agoraphobia to the mix.
I am a 63 year old RN, mom/grand mom /sister/cancer survivor. A strong person who saved lives, raised babies & took care of both my parents til they took their last breaths due to cancers & have taken care of my son also a cancer survivor. My maternal grandmother committed suicide @ age 76, by hanging herself. My own mom then went thru her own mental crisis after that. I was strong until one day, ZAPPO, I was seized by a panic attack & went downhill from there to agoraphobia. That’s when I knew I couldn’t help myself & needed to see a shrink, who explained to me that PTSD comes in many forms. Once life slowed down, it hit me.. My initial attempts @ antidepressants were one word. Horrid. Zoloft, Lexapro, Celexa, all had me virtually jumping out of my skin.. By that time I wanted nothing to do with meds, but my shrink started me out slowly on sub-therapeutic doses of Effexor Over a 3 month period of time , along with Xanax as needed to take the edge off & I became a new person. I’d be a liar if I told you I haven’t still had my moments or my weeks when I could barely function, but manage to go thru each day hanging on by a thread & still give my best academy award performance. I still do. I’m going thru a particularly difficult time right now. I know this will eventually pass. I am OVER people who tell me I’m missing something with my faith, & am fully aware that without Gods Grace I wouldn’t have made it this far.. Beating cancer was easier than this.
I am thankful for a husband who “gets it” & is supportive but that’s taken growth for him as I am not the same person I was. 42 years of marriage & we took our vows very seriously. I am also thankful for YOU….. to bring a blog about mental illness & your honest opinions to the forefront & that you don’t back down from your true opinion/insight.
Amy T.September 12, 2014 at 5:06 pm
oh Amy I know all about the antidepressant weaning and drug trials. I too have depression and anxiety and also a newly (as of 2 yrs ago) diagnosed condition called Benign Essential Tremor. I’m pretty sure the tremor is related to the anxiety b/c anx makes it worse but it’s a condition in and of itself and hereditary.
I can tell you that the zapping head feeling eventually subsides but in the middle of it, it’s super super annoying, miserable and stressful. If I were you, I’d have taken the driving time off and rested as much as possible but I know it’s not a polyanna world and you have to do things to care for the kids that are non options. Homeschooling on top of it is a lot of responsibility but I’m hoping this will teach C. to be independent when mom is not feeling well. I am proud of you for trying that. I have been thru NUMEROUS drug trials for my mental health and physical health probs and it’s so difficult. I think the hardest is the gut lonely pain of the detox and the depression being increased during that time almost like it’s magnified and then you get added dizzy feelings. I always say it’s like you turned and then your head came with you later. I actually had a panic attack while driving ON THE FREEWAY many years ago. AND there was no place to pull over. I had to go thru a tunnel that had zero shoulder to pull off, then I started freaking b/c I was dizzy like that, then I felt really out of control driving and had nowhere to stop the car and gather myself. I was getting more and more panicky (all of this in probably a two minute span) and my legs started feeling numb (I was hyperventilating i think). I finally got to my exit and got home and layed down and just bawled from the terror, the fear that I was unable to control it and then the fear of this happening again. It was the same with most of my anxiety for a long time.
Now I take clonazapam for anxiety which helps a lot and Lexapro as my antidep which has helped for years but now is seemingly not working as well as I enter into menopause. ugh. I had bad PMDD as well and used to cry and cry or freak out and be angry/sarcastic and “toxic” as my partner calls it. I didn’t know how to regulate it and still don’t other than to take a break and be by myself (though what I felt is that i wanted to be snuggled up, loved, babied and cared for like a sick person.
I don’t think people really get that this is being sick like any other illness and what to do to help a person with depression or anxiety. It’s really hard for the caregiver and hard on the patient. I pretty much see it as a very intense illness for both and it takes a lot of exploration and med trials, counseling and support to get thru it without ending up in the ER/psyche ward. I lost it when I first started this process and was a lot younger and didn’t have any support and did end up in the hospital. I can say that the hospital was good for that and helped me sort out meds but they do faster med trials there which makes being there a roller coaster of sorts.
Effexor for me was like taking speed and after a day or two of them putting me on it, I was feeling over stimulated and freaked out for the too much energy that it gave me. It was sorta scary but I was in the hospital at the time.
There’s a newish drug called Cymbalta which might be helpful or maybe you can try Lexapro if the current trial doesn’t work. For me the lexapro worked wonders and for someone i know, cymbalta worked great for pain issues and depression issues both. I’m not sure if you’re dealing with pain from all of the medical procedures and stuff that you went thru but cymbalta is supposed to be helpful for that.
Sounds really rough though and I hear you on needing support via the hospital and encourage you to get that support if you get to your wit’s end of handling this stuff. You might also let your girls take a break away from you while you sort things out and stay with a friend or other family member but visit with them on your good days. Depends on the kids’ personalities and your level of distress.
I really do get it though and thought to some degree I was all alone in these struggles. I know there are many of us who go thru this and have the gut wrenching pain to walk thru to do the drug trials and hope your family, your doctors and your support lady is enough. Somettimes it feels bad too b/c you know you’re putting undue burden on family. What I’ve learned about that is to take that part to the professionals and keep the family stuff to family. You can still let them know when you’re feeling fragile, vulnerable or just having a bad detox day but you also need to let them have space from you when you are on edge and cannot process their needs. I’m sure it’s rough on your marriage also and I hope your hubby is very supportive as well.
I wish I lived closer to you b/c I’d love to meet with you and just do some crafts and chill out or just curl up with blankets and a good movie and hang out together while the bad days happen.
That hot/cold sensation happens to me too every time I miss a day or two’s worth of my Lexapro now. I have been having menopausal hot flashes on top of it so it’s Intense. I can say to just get thru this, drink tons of water, keep layered blankets and clothing around and consider at least one week of detox when it’s really bad as an illness that needs you to slow down, take time to lay around and be still and ride the wave. I’ve learned to yield to the drug trial side effects in order to not fight so hard thru them. It’s really hard for YOU to do this b/c of kids etc but they might need to hear from you that mom needs a week off to work thru her medication change and they are going to have to pick up where you left off and take their own stuff on for a week.
If you are perpetually feeling distress even after this, I’d suggest looking into Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Cognitive Behavioural therapy that you can receive via trained counselors. The DBT has a lot of “distress tolerance” good helpful info and the Cog therapy is useful for helping you rethink what your negative repetitive thoughts and feelings are.
All of this takes WORK though and time so make sure to give yourself time to reflect on how it’s going and what you can improve upon and bring the problems to the counselor to help out. That’s what they’re there for. Having a church based guide is great but you also need a licensed psychologist and licensed psychiatrist, not just your family doc to help you more smoothly work thru these probs.
I’m going camping this weekend but will be back monday and happy to talk with you next week at length if you want to chat. I’m on Facebook if you want to private message me as fragilefleur and i’m pretty sure you have my email as well. If not, I’ll send it. I really think you should alert the fam that you need bigger help than the help you’ve had so far in case you need to check into the ER.
PLEASE though, don’t give up on yourself or your body and mind b/c you are an amazingly cool person and very talented with writing and creativity. I think sometimes your emotional lows seem to come from the malaise of boredom while you’re a very creative spirit. I’m wondering too, since you’re often trying to redo things and remake things if you might explore the idea of having a spin-off of anxiety disorder like OCD or similar.
Anyways, hang in and keep me posted. I am happy to talk to you more about what I’ve tried and what’s happened too for medications and all.
Try to get TONS of rest and if you’re not sleeping well, tell the dr. The sleep is one of the most quick helpers to get thru the drug detox. Water and sleep.
BIG hugs and peaceful minded days! Amy -off to camp while battling my own version of depression and anxiety. Hoping to NOT bring it with me too much. (btw I find distraction to help with a lot of types of pain both psychological and physiological. Take a drive even if you need to, just get out of the repetitive state of those bad thought. I know that’s easier said than done with house, kids, hubby but sometimes you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself to help the kids…
Here’s to hopes of better days for all of us and our families who are battling mental illness!!
CaraSeptember 12, 2014 at 2:20 pm
Hi Amy, I too dealt with some depression a few years back and it was SO frustrating to figure out what to do. I am very health conscious and hated the thought of going on a pill to help me feel better. I tried Effexor, but after being on it for a few days I read up on how hard it was to get off of, so I quit. I later found a different anti anxiety med that made a WORLD of difference for me! I was on it for a few years, and then weaned myself from it. I am not on anything now and feel wonderful, but I am so glad that we have the option to try different things to help us feel better!
Hugs to you, and I am thrilled you are feeling better!
Lori AlexanderSeptember 12, 2014 at 12:45 pm
Wow! What a difficult time you have had…I can relate with the physical pain. The Lord is our Rock and our strength. My mother-in-law took an anti-depressant years ago and is still suffering from withdrawals. I always encourage people to know the side effects of drugs before taking them and then decide if the risk is worth taking it. We must seek the Lord and His wisdom in our healing and often it doesn’t come easily but He teaches us many things in the meantime…like THIS is not our home. Blessings to you and may you find healing soon.