Wicked antidepressant withdrawals bitter pill to swallow

By Jack Smith

So this is what the hiccup tastes like. The doctors warned me it would come.

Hiccups, setbacks and even relapse can all be part of mental health recovery, especially when you start some drugs and stop others.

I just didn’t know the hiccup would taste so bitter, hit so hard and cause so much angst.

Google “Effexor withdrawal” and you’ll see horror stories from patients on message boards and blogs.

On the more official websites, you’ll see the Who’s Who of side effects: Upset stomach. (More like stomach bug from hell). Dizziness. Brain shakes (this is real and hard to explain, except that it feels like your brain is rattling around in your noggin).

Migraines (four in five days). Nervousness. Fatigue. Loss of coordination (my wife revoked my driving privileges on a weekend getaway). Vomiting (does puking in your mouth count?). Tremor (good thing I’m not a brain surgeon or we’d be screwed). And an itch that feels like ants crawling under your skin. 

Funny I don’t recall seeing any of those on the bottle or being told what a nightmare coming off it might be when I was put on the drug.

So where is the FDA and what are they doing?

Sometimes, I think they should make doctors like the ones at a major teaching hospital who prescribed me Effexor take the drugs before tossing them out like fish to clapping seals at the zoo.

This is not a doctor bashing blog, but big pharma gets no sympathy from me. None.

I didn’t quit Effexor cold turkey. I was weened off the drug over about a month. Maybe that wasn’t long enough.

So why get off the drug in the first place? My diagnosis changed from Major Depressive Disorder to Bipolar Disorder.

And the results of genetic testing changed everything. The test panel looks at 10 genetic biomarkers for mutations that help guide doctors in deciding what meds might work best.

I had a league leading five mutations, including a couple that essentially told the docs I didn’t need Effexor because it wouldn’t do any good anyway.

The head doctor told me after reading the test and diagnosing me with bipolar that Effexor might cause “rapid cycling,” meaning I could ping pong from depression to mania in rapid succession. So taking me off Effexor made sense.

I just wish the plan didn’t result in such wicked withdrawals.

P.S. If you’ve had similar experiences with Effexor or other antidepressants, please share them. My hope is this blog becomes a place for real talk about mental illness.

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11 thoughts on “Wicked antidepressant withdrawals bitter pill to swallow

  1. I understand the frustration with side effects because I have had them too during my 18+ years battling depression. However, I am always searching for new treatments online and it is usually the pharmaceutical & medical device industry that provides the innovation. For me, I would rather have drugs with side effects vs. not having the drugs at all. Each drug can effect people differently. I have been on Effexor two times in my life. Both times it worked so well for a while then it stopped working. Treatment resistant depression & discussing other treatment methods available outside of pharmaceuticals might be something worth blogging about. Thanks for the frequency of your blogs. I read every one of them.

  2. Jack, I enjoy every entry you share here. Thank you. I pray for you (and the family) every time I think about you all. I have struggled with anxiety since I was in elementary school. And the way I see it, it’s how God made me. My siblings and parents don’t have it. It’s in my makeup.

    I was on Effexor for less than a year several years ago during a time when I was going through a TERRIBLE emotional pain and loneliness. I didn’t want to get out of bed. Couldn’t wait for it to be bedtime. Didn’t want morning to come. And Effexor got me through it. It did.

    When I stopped taking it, I had what I call “brain blips.” They never fully went away. I still have them occasionally even now. I compare them to my brain doing a momentary Kramer (Seinfeld) entrance type movement. I had withdrawal symptoms until I quit taking it. I was on the lowest dose and maybe even half of that for weeks. But the withdrawals stuck around until after I was off of it. I loved that I wasn’t hungry while I was on it. And it tremendously helped me get through a very difficult time. I am sorry you are going through such bad withdrawals.

    I am very happy that you found out how medicine works for you and doesn’t work for you and are getting everything adjusted and doing so well. I know it isn’t easy.

    Here’s a little story unrelated to Effexor but related to that time in my life. One day while I was going through this period of severe emotional pain, I knelt down to pray (because I needed to kneel down. Praying wasn’t enough). And as I was praying, crying I felt the Lord say to me, “Pam, this is why I died on the cross.” It’s so basic but so profound. Wow. It’s true. Jesus didn’t die on the cross just to bridge our path to God and give us salvation. He died on the cross to be there for us in everything. And He experienced such unbearable pain himself on the cross that He KNOWS. He has been there. And He doesn’t want us to go through it on our own or feeling isolated. I already trusted Him. But in that moment, I saw it differently. He loved on me with words of TREMENDOUS encouragement. He didn’t fix everything. But He reminded me He cares, about all of it. And I think I had forgotten how real his dying on the cross was, for things even like this. I know you know. Just thought I would share. That experience never gets old for me.

  3. I remember the brain ‘fizz’. I was coming off my anti depressant prescribed in England and changing to cymbalta. Very odd feeling. Like an electrical current running through my brain without the electric shock feeling! I am now on cymbalta and it’s wonderful. It keeps me from getting too ‘down’ but also allows me to still get my happy silly highs which I enjoy and are my most creative times (I am an artist)

  4. I first want to say how awesome I think it is that you are speaking out about your battles. You are incredibly brave and helping so many people. Sometimes knowing there are others out there with struggles can make you feel better. I was on Effexor for about 2 years. I started it after Zoloft stopped working. I loved it for awhile but I felt it wasn’t working as well so decided to stop taking. I as well didn’t do it cold turkey. I slowly stopped as the Dr said to. I had headaches, and as somebody described the “brain fizz” makes perfect sense. Since then I have taken cymbalta,Prozac, and have just started lexapro. I have found that after about every 2 years or so I have to change. The prozac never seemed to not work and I thought maybe I didn’t need to take anything anymore. The first month was okay, but I soon realized I did. Not wanting to get out of bed, crying for no reason, my kids driving me crazy, ( when they weren’t doing anything to) and just all in all not myself. So far the lexapro has seemed to make me feel more like myself. I wish you the best of luck and please keep sharing your story.

  5. I applaud you for speaking out and sharing your story. I was on Effexor XR for a few years and with the doctor’s approval, I slowly started to ween off of it over the course of 2-3 months. We thought that by doing such a slow taper is have fewer problems. Wrong. I had all of the symptoms you described and more. I went from feeling fairly strong and at a good place in my life where I thought I could handle my depression and anxiety with therapy to feeling utterly sick every single day for months. I began missing so much work because I was just too sick to be there. I couldn’t go out or do anything that I normally could. It was brutal. No one warned me of these kinds of symptoms when I first started taking it and no one really said how bad it was going to be. There were days I just wanted to give up. I hope you start feeling better. It will pass and know that each day will get a little easier.

  6. Hi Jack,
    Thanks so much for your honesty. I too have had discontinuation symptoms. Effexor caused what I call brain zaps. They would come out of nowhere. Quite unnerving. Cymbalta has caused the same for me too. I am back on Cymbalta 60mg. and have had good results. As long as it works, I’ll stay on it. No real side effects except chronic dry mouth. Drinking tons of water and Biotene mouth rinse help a great deal as well as Hall’s sugar free Refresh.

    Keep writing!

  7. I recently switched from Celexa to Wellbutrin. The transition sent me through a serious bout of depression that I’m just glad I escaped from whole. I think I’m definitely better on the drugs, but they are totally creepy.

  8. Thanks for all you are doing with this blog. It lets people know they are not alone. I know what you mean about the brain shakes. I experienced it while tapering off Lexapro. It seems that it takes a pause in your brain then it jolts itself back into place. Good wishes and stay the course!

  9. It would take me the better part of a day to relate all of the side effects I experienced while taking the myriad different anti-depressants I was prescribed. Basically I was unable to tolerate any of them for one reason or another. I have taken Sinequan, Effexor, Celexa, Paxil, Zoloft and probably others I don’t remember during the past 15 years. The most persistent problem I had and arguably the one which caused the real problem was my inability to sleep, other than the Sinequan which pretty much knocked me out for days. During the night, I was restless – it felt like my skin was crawling and I had to urinate about every 15 minutes.

  10. I remember the migraines the most. I was on a 375 mg dosage of Effector combined with 4mg of Xanax and Abilify. The migraines made me throw up, and I remember the brain trembling. It was excruciatingly painful. I don’t even remember if I got taken off of it cold turkey or if I was weaned. It was such a blur coming off of it that I honestly cannot remember when I was taken off of it. I just remember not being able to function properly and thinking “if this is what it is going to take to feel ‘normal’, then I don’t want it.

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