Antidepressants are a touchy topic, and despite tentative steps to decrease taboo in recent years – as portrayed in The CW’s hit series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, for instance – the subject continues to make me shuffle my feet and glance for the nearest fire exit, even two full years into my own daily dose. Not that taking antidepressants was forced upon me, or begun with any sort of overwhelming reservation, of course – the reasons behind starting to take pills were nothing but my own.
At their forefront stood the gnawing curiosity of whether a tiny 10mg pill might somehow transform me into a new person. I had the vague yet fanciful notion of a glittering, toothy smile; a spring in my step and the general (and incredibly realistic) picture of myself going about public parks hugging random strangers and actually enjoying the company of anyone under fourteen.
The result, of course, was disappointing. There were no fireworks, no personality transplants, not even any of the many blissful, laugh-out-loud summer dogwalk-in-the-park scenes I was promised by all those antidepressant advertisements on YouTube. There were, however, certain changes – most of them subtle and creeping: I could sit still, my desire to scrub down the general world around me with a bottle of undiluted bleach seemed tempered slightly, and I only ventured to measure for fever a handful of times a week. My libido, unfortunately, rolled its eyes at the first sign of escitalopram, gave a derisive snort and began packing its bags to take the first possible plane abroad. In its place, however, soon settled an until then unfamiliar sense of rational normality. It was not an ideal exchange, but not an entirely unwelcome one either.
Fast forward two whole years of therapy, and I can now hardly remember a life pre-SSRI (short for: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, a grouping term for a collection of antidepressants). My cerebral functions, for better or worse, have plateaued into a daily grind, my libido makes occasional visits and – while still disconcerting – the nightmares aren’t nearly as vivid as they were when I started. Both highs and lows have lost their edge, and life flows past a little quieter. Not to say I don’t still give my apartment the occasional compulsive deep cleanse, or that I’ve at any point stopped carrying a first-aid kit with me wherever I go – I’m still me, after all. There’s just a certain stable familiarity about my daily dose of escitalopram that was not a given two years ago. Until last week, that is, when I took the last step in my doctor-approved waning off of antidepressants, and my brain went on strike.
Ten days into withdrawal my body still feels like a wreck, barely keeping itself together as it struggles to heave itself through day-to-day life. My brain throbs like a slumbering giant, odd jolts of electricity run through my limbs every other step and I’ve gone from impromptu-dancing to crying over the span of twenty minutes several times a day now. Smells are almost tangible; my ears pop as if I were on an ascending plane, and my concentration span stretches all of 2 minutes – trust me, this entire article is a miracle.
The question I’m asking myself now is whether quitting was worth it. A week ago, I had a pretty good reasoning set up to justify the hassle: my therapist advised me to give it a shot, biweekly nightmares were still going strong two years into the medication, and I had the sexual interest of a teaspoon in what was supposed to my decade of unbridled carnality. Also, and more strongly than I was willing to admit, there was the voice of my inner homeopath (see image below), eyes bulging as she hissed the words ‘unnatural’, ‘impure’ and ‘cowardly’ in endless sequence every time I popped my morning tablet. The idea of living an ‘all-natural’ life was growing an ever more tempting ideal. In short, I was ready to shake things up.
The reality of actual SSRI-free life has more than sobered up my fantasies of the ‘pure, down-to-earth lifestyle’ that is my inner homeopath’s goal. And, while I’m determined to sit these first few weeks of withdrawal out in their entirety, if only to make sure I give a fair assessment of whether the pros of living antidepressant-free outweigh the cons (not to mention taking some time to enjoy having a functional sex drive, for a change), I most certainly learned one thing from this experience – namely to give the idealisation of the organic homeopathic lifestyle a thorough reevaluation. After all, as Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Rebecca Bunch says herself mid-song: “Why should I feel crappy about something that makes me happy?”