The Perfect Cocktail: SSRIs, Gin, and Regret

After almost two years of taking a generic brand of a popular antidepressant daily, I decided to call it quits. The ceaseless intake of sele...

After almost two years of taking a generic brand of a popular antidepressant daily, I decided to call it quits. The ceaseless intake of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) tablets lost its appeal during my first discontinuation syndrome experience. I had gone three days without taking my 20mg drug and didn't notice until waves of dizziness and mental fog consumed me. Even minor movements were followed by intense bouts of vertigo and hopelessness.

discovery lake, san marcos, california

I was incapacitated for the entire day as I scrambled to book an appointment to get a prescription refill from my psychiatrist. I left a voicemail to the low-income mental health clinic I attend asking for the earliest appointment available due to my intense feelings of medication abstinence. Even in the worst moments of my anxiety and depression, I had never felt anything similar to these wretched physical symptoms after discontinuing my Citalopram.

I was thankful to get a prescription refill (and many more after that), if only to reduce the extreme physical discomforts I had experienced. During that time, I also began to travel a lot more with my girlfriend and found that bringing antidepressants on trips was more of a hindrance than a therapeutic tool. A cursory glance at the countless amount of articles on weaning yourself off SSRI's detail harsh, and sometimes fatal, consequences associated with getting off medication too soon.

My psychiatrist and I developed a rudimentary plan on how I was to reduce my dosage to, eventually, stop taking antidepressants altogether. I would start by reducing my dosage by half (down to 10mg) and see how that felt. A few days later, I received a letter letting me know that I needed to find a new psychiatrist due to some health insurance changes. I should've done more research before starting Citalopram, but hindsight is 20/20.

My internet sleuthing led me to a wealth of sources, including one from the Medical Board of California. In the records, I found my psychiatrist had grossly and negligently overprescribed medication to multiple patients. Some of these patients had a history of alcohol and drug abuse. The Medical Board disciplined him with six years of probation and left me feeling let down by the mental health care system. Looking back, I would've asked more questions about my treatment.

Before continuing with my dosage tapering process, I was having doubts about getting off SSRI's. Once I knew I needed to look for another psychiatrist, I decided that I wouldn't be seeking further treatment with pharmaceutical pills. I had learned so much about taking care of myself without the use of antidepressants including eating a mainly plant-based diet. I, essentially, freed myself from the tight reigns of antidepressant tolerance and dependance with a personalized mental health strategy.

My prescription bottle felt lighter and lighter until I took my final 5mg tablet (broken down from a single 20mg tablet) and hoped for the best. My first week off the medication was characterized by emotional whiplash, insomnia, dizziness, irritability, and agitation. I was able to keep it together because I knew the discomfort was temporary and I had a strong support system. Only after visiting rock bottom (and paying a few more visits after that) did I make sense of mental health maintenance.

I've learned, through a tumultuous trial and error phase known as life, that lifestyle choices have an enormous impact on our well-being. What seems like common sense now was out of the purview of my reality filtered by my self-defeating thoughts. I've taken an indefinite break from pharmaceuticals for serotonin and replaced my mental health regimen with a healthy diet, regular exercise, and accepting that failure is an everyday struggle.

After a month of being off SSRI medication, only minor and fleeting discontinuation effects persist, but the future doesn't seem to be so bleak anymore. While life, in general, is still pretty fucking bleak, now I can come back from the other side with a better mental health maintenance strategy.

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