This week we interview Stevie who describes her experiences taking antidepressant drugs and her severe and protracted reaction to trying to withdraw. She also tells us about the help and support she received and what approaches she took to support herself during the most difficult times.
In this episode we discuss:
- How Stevie started to find that work stresses and strains were affecting her and leading to anxiety and intermittent insomnia, particularly when travelling with work.
- That Stevie also struggled at times with PMS.
- How, when consulting with a Doctor in December 1996, Stevie unexpectedly received a diagnosis of clinical depression and a prescription for Seroxat, an SSRI antidepressant.
- That Stevie was shocked as she had just wanted something to help with intermittent insomnia but was told that she had a brain chemical imbalance.
- That the Doctor said that if there was nothing wrong, the drug would have no effect and that it wasn’t addictive.
- Stevie was careful to ask about the drugs because was aware of issues with Benzodiazepines but was reassured by the doctor that the new classes of antidepressants did not have the same problems.
- That Stevie was careful to read the Patient Information Leaflet and it clearly stated in two places that the drug did not lead to addiction.
- That Stevie trusted her Doctor and started to take the drug, feeling numb for the initial period but finding that it did help with her sleep and that was welcome.
- That, looking back, Stevie found that the sleep really was the only thing that Seroxat helped with.
- That Stevie was clear in her own mind that the antidepressant was only going to be a short term thing.
- That when Stevie stopped the Seroxat 6 months later she felt very unwell with nausea and extreme dizziness, leading to a diagnosis of labyrinthitis with no recognition by the doctor that it was antidepressant withdrawal.
- That Stevie at that time lost her Mother and had been through three miscarriages leading to more anxiety and insomnia and on to a second round of treatment with Seroxat.
- That each time Stevie then tried to stop the drug, she suffered unbearable withdrawal effects.
- That in 2002, by researching online, Stevie discovered other people suffering similar things and realised that she was physically dependent on the drugs.
- That Stevie managed to reduce to a very small dose but then found reducing below that impossible due to the extensive and pervasive nature of the withdrawal effects.
- That multiple attempts to withdraw made Stevie feel like a failure and that she wished she had never become involved with the drugs.
- The unbearable clash of the desire to be free of drugs compared to the immediate relief of reinstating the previous dose.
- The frustration of the lack of acceptance of dependence and withdrawal by the medical profession.
- That in 2009, out of the blue, Stevie developed a distressing movement disorder.
- That Stevie kept notes at this time that lay bare the true nature of withdrawal experiences.
- That Stevie consulted Dr. David Healy who diagnosed an adverse reaction caused because of an interaction between the Seroxat and other medications for unrelated conditions.
- That because of the movement disorder Stevie felt compelled to stop the Seroxat ‘cold turkey’ but she went on to experience much worse withdrawal effects both physically and psychologically.
- Stevie’s experiences of strong fear reactions to many everyday situations including eating and drinking.
- That after tests showed there was no obvious physical damage, Stevie recognised she was experiencing constant daily phobic-style reactions which led her to research trauma and its effects on the body.
- That the book, Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine was helpful in making sense of Stevie’s experiences.
- The stages of a post traumatic condition of hyper arousal then disassociation then freezing or constriction and helplessness which are part of the body and mind coming to terms with a traumatic experience.
- That we cannot escape the mind reacting to our withdrawal experiences because the source is our own bodies, so we are constantly triggered.
- That, four years after stopping Seroxat, Stevie is recovering and that she feels the trauma process is part of her recovery too.
- That the movement disorder is still present but less intrusive than it was in the early stages after withdrawal.
- That Stevie found her training in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) was useful to help put the experiences in to context.
- That learning to ‘self soothe’ is an important skill to use when withdrawal effects feel unbearable.
- Other practical things were helpful, like Epsom salts baths and guided meditations, and journaling or writing to capture experiences.
- That music making was also a big part of recovery and that creative pursuits really help particularly with a sense of self worth.
- To take time, every single day, to recognise the things that you are grateful for because it really helps reduce the power of the negative experiences.
- That people should look at every non-pharmaceutical option available for their mental health before committing to drugs.
- Also that people should consider that changes in mood are often temporary and will pass rather than assuming that low mood is a permanent state.
Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma