DISCLAIMER: I know that not everyone has radical behavior changes while taking antidepressants, antianxiety medications and/or sleeping pills … but some do. I was one of them.
This is my story …
In the summer of 1998, I went to the doctor for a sinus infection and casually mentioned that I was under a lot of stress. Our twins were nine months old, I was losing my bank job to a merger, and my parents were having health and other issues. The doctor asked if anyone in my family had depression. I told him my mother had taken Prozac for years. He gave me a prescription and a coupon for Paxil. He said I needed antidepressants for my stress and didn’t mention anything about side effects.
After being raised to believe that depression ran in our family and I was destined to have it and need meds for life, I saw it as a foregone conclusion. I stayed on the 20 mg per day dose for eight years never realizing what it was doing to me. I gained a lot of weight, wasn’t sleeping at night, was having hallucinations and very traumatic thoughts, was dizzy every single time I stood up, had no energy, was unable to cry or laugh at appropriate times, and was very on edge.
I was slowly developing SSRI Induced Bipolar Disorder, but had no idea what was really going on. I cycled between episodes of deep depression (having no interest in anything and not wanting to even get out of bed) and manic highs (grandiose ideas, feeling wired, extreme bursts of activity). I would have uncontrollable crying fits for no reason. I would go into episodes of extreme rage for the dumbest things. I yelled at people and threw things all the time. I said things to people that hurt them and I didn’t even care. Sometimes it even made me feel better about myself, happy that I had the power to upset them.
I also developed an intense craving for alcohol (especially vodka). I would drink pretty much every night, feeling like I had to be numb in order to make it through. It got so bad I would start planning to drink during the day, calling my husband to make sure we had liquor in the house, yelling at him if he didn’t want to go get it for me and making myself a strong drink as soon as I got home.
I acted like a crazy person. I WAS a crazy person. I was obsessed with things and people. I seriously thought I had to be friends with everybody. I felt like I had to be involved in everybody’s lives, everybody’s except for the people I should have been. I thought I knew how to solve everybody’s problems and when they didn’t listen to my advice, I attacked them. I saw my own family as a burden, but wanted to be everyone else’s best friend. I would constantly change things about my appearance; my clothes, my jewelry, my hair length and color, etc. I was always searching for the next grand idea that would make me happy, but none of it ever did.
In January of 2006, I decided I didn’t want to take Paxil anymore, mostly because of the weight gain, still oblivious to the negative personality and mental health changes it was causing. I called my doctor, but the nurse got on the phone and told me I could just take half of the dose for a while and then just stop taking it. She was ignorant as to how these meds really work. My brain was so messed up by then that cutting my dose in half only made things worse, much worse. I started taking 10 mg per day, not knowing what it would do to my body and mind.
The withdrawal was horrible and I went completely manic. I didn’t sleep for days at a time so my doctor put me on Ambien too. The combination of the Paxil, the Ambien, and the alcohol sent me over the edge. My blood pressure went up, so the doctor gave me a prescription for that. My hormones went crazy, so a prescription was written for that too. I had almost constant muscle and joint pain, so I took more pain meds than I should have. I had black outs where I couldn’t remember what happened. I lived in a numb fog, barely functioning.
The crying, anger, and obsessive behavior got worse. I always had to be the center of attention and would steer all conversations to me. My ideas were the best and I’d do anything to convince people they were wrong when they disagreed with me. I got some sick thrill out of making people cry, but then wondered why they didn’t want to be my friend or even be around me. I basically stalked people … and then went on crazy, curse filled rants when they told me to leave them alone.
In May of 2006, I decided that I couldn’t handle the withdrawal anymore and went back up to the 20 mg dose. I know now that going up and down in doses with SSRIs can be very dangerous, but at the time I just wanted the withdrawal (dizziness, nausea, brain zaps, headaches, body aches, etc.) to stop.
The higher dose didn’t really stop the withdrawal and I was sick (both physically and mentally) most of the summer. The really sad thing was that I couldn’t see that the meds were making me crazy. To me I was acting perfectly normal and it was everybody else who had the problem. It literally felt like I was living in a dream and it didn’t matter what I said or the way I acted, because I didn’t worry about the consequences. I was too crazy to see how crazy I really was.
One night that Fall, our life came crashing down.
I was arrested. I had no idea there was even an investigation going on. I was never questioned by the police.
I laid in that concrete cell wondering how the hell I got there … feeling like it wasn’t real. I was so out of it, I didn’t even comprehend what I’d been charged with or how serious it was.
Soon after I was released on bond I started questioning how my life had turned out this way. I researched Paxil and Ambien side effects and found all sorts of information online. What happened to me was happening to thousands of other people too. I found an online forum of fellow sufferers who helped me understand what was going on.
I slowly tapered off Paxil and took my last dose on August 25, 2007 (I call that my rebirthday). Click here for my post on tapering. I stopped taking Ambien every night and stopped drinking like I was. Withdrawal was absolute hell and there were times when I thought I wasn’t going to survive it, plus I was going through the horrible legal case at the same time. To be honest, if it had not been for D and the kids, I probably would have given up and ended it all. Antidepressants and antidepressant withdrawal can also make you have very intense anxiety and suicidal thoughts. It’s an absolute miracle that I’m alive.
We fought the case for a year and a half, positive that the truth about my drug induced behavior and altered mental health would come out eventually and everything would be okay. Four days before the trial was scheduled to start, my lawyer told my sister that at best we had a 50/50 chance of me walking out of the courtroom a free woman. He told her that if the jury believed what I was charged with then they would put hand cuffs on me and take me to prison. I wouldn’t have even had the chance to tell D or my children good-bye.
At that point, all I could think about was what would happen to my children if I were sent to prison. What kind of life would they have with a mother in prison? Who would end up raising my kids? I basically had a nervous breakdown and didn’t sleep or eat for days. Plus I was in horrific withdrawal. I know that a lot of people assume that I must be some kind of monster because I took the plea deal and plead “no contest”. That is the furthest thing from the truth. I did it because there wasn’t a guarantee I wasn’t going to go to prison and miss out on the most important years in my children’s lives.
I can see how it’s easy for people to assume the worst in a situation like mine and I try really hard to not have bad feelings towards people who say awful, untrue things about me (in person and online). They don’t really know me, they don’t really know what happened and they sure haven’t experienced the hell that Paxil and Ambien put me and others through.
If I hadn’t lived it myself, I probably wouldn’t believe it either.
I know this is going to sound really strange, but all of this saved me. It was the “slap in the face” I needed to see how out of my mind I really was. The more I research Paxil and what it makes some people do, the more grateful I am that I’m completely off all psychotropic medications and I made it out alive and healthy.
*** If you know someone on antidepressants, antianxiety medications, or sleeping pills please watch their behavior for personality changes and help them find a therapist who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). If their therapist believes they need antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, make sure it’s the lowest possible dose for the shortest amount of time needed and they combine it with CBT. Using CBT to change thoughts, attitudes, and actions can make a huge difference. ***
The sun will come up tomorrow and life will go on and I am so glad to be living it again – really living it.
It’s so good to be out of the emotionally numb cave and feel the sunshine again.
Surviving my journey through crazy and back taught me I never needed pills for depression. I needed to change how I was living. I wasn’t depressed. I was stressed. That’s why I help people simplify their lives … so they don’t take medications for the wrong reasons.