Life Without Lexapro

Like I’ve mentioned before this is by far the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

When I was in college, I lived like an idiot.
I’ve withdrawn from (in order of easiest to hardest) sleeping pills, cocaine, nicotine, alcohol, opiates, sugar, and Lexapro.

I did a completely sugar-free diet for a month and a half. Meaning zero sugars and no carbs. I lost thirty pounds in thirty days (no exercise) and was completely miserable. No fruit either. I’m talking meat and vegetables for forty-five days. After all the crap, I have put my body through sugar was the hardest until Lexapro. If you think you are not addicted to sugar, I dare you to try this diet! I recommend watching the documentary Fed Up. I saw it on net flix.

All of that to say tapering off of an anti-depressant after twelve years was incredibly difficult.

BUT, the good news is that it is not impossible!

After two weeks of 0mg, I’m starting to feel much better.

I no longer hit that wall at night like I used to.
I don’t have stomach problems or nausea anymore.
I’m still learning to deal with anger, but it is getting much easier.
I might get one brain zap a day but it will stop.
I’m still a little absent minded, but I’m getting better.
I’m no longer paranoid or restless.
After 120 days, I finally don’t feel like complete crap all of the time.

Many times I didn’t think I would make it, but I did, and so can you!
I hope that what I have shared will help you to have hope, motivation and find some relief from the crazy withdrawals from SSRIs.

There are a lot of very sad and difficult stories to read of people trying and not being able to finish tapering off of their medication. I hope that most people post their horror stories and then actually do make it but just forget to go back and tell others what they accomplished.

I made this simple blog to add a story of success to the sea of chaos I found when researching Lexapro and other SSRI withdrawals.

I sincerely hope that something you read here has helped. If only one person finds comfort in these words, then I am happy.

I plan to post periodic updates on how I am doing and how long I have been off of Lexapro. I will also be sure to address any issues that might come up or post any other resources I find.

I want to finish this post with something amazing I have experienced in the last 21 days.

I’ve been married for almost three years, and my wife did not know I had a dimple in my left cheek because I did not smile! I’ve always been known to have a smirk when I’m amused or happy but never a full on smile. After my wife had noticed it, then, several friends started commenting on it as well.

I had lunch with a friend last week who said I look a hundred times less depressed now that I’m not taking an antidepressant.

Later I called my mom and mentioned the dimple, and she also had no idea I had one. I realized my mother must not have seen me smile in the whole twelve years I had been taking Lexapro!

I know I have made the right decision in getting off of this terrible drug. I can’t wait for you to discover similar things when you are off too!

-Jon

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The Final Thirty Days

I would say that the final thirty days were rough, but the whole process was rough.

I went from 5mg to 2.5mg for three weeks. The last week I took 2.5 every other day and then stopped completely.

The main thing I noticed at this stage is what people refer to as “brain-zaps.” Before I knew what others called it, I would try to describe these to my wife. To me, it felt like randomly serotonin would drip into my brain and for a second I could feel my entire brain. It does feel sort of like electricity. Like you can feel all of your nerves firing for a second.

They aren’t painful they are just terribly annoying. They would start around 3-5pm just before I felt like I hit that wall I described earlier.

I also noticed that my appetite increased a great deal. I started eating close to double what I had in the past. I’ve gained about seven pounds since. I also started craving alcohol and pasta.

My relationship with alcohol has been long and complicated. I will probably write a whole post on it since I have become convinced that there is a link between alcohol abuse and SSRI’s.

So why alcohol and pasta? Well, alcohol and carbs both release serotonin. During this time, I would drink a couple beers after I hit that wall in the evening, and I was eating tons of pasta. I’m not happy to say I resorted to alcohol as a crutch, but I did. Alcohol is kind of like sugar or caffeine, it makes you feel better for a little while and then worse later.

Alcohol did not affect me the same way anymore. I would never feel intoxicated from drinking it. In fact after drinking beer, I would feel “normal” and the withdrawals would seem to subside.

I do not recommend drinking alcohol. I have seen alcohol destroy many people’s lives, and I have had a long battle with abusing it in my past. That being said I also want to be completely honest with you about everything I experienced during this difficult time. After one week completely off Lexapro, I stopped drinking it entirely once more.

When I went to 2.5mg every other day, the brain zaps increased greatly. I would have them about every thirty minutes during the day and after 5 pm it was more like every five minutes until I went to sleep. The next day the cycle would start again.

The absolute worst was the first seven days completely off. It was like all of the withdrawals I had mentioned came back with a vengeance. I felt like canceling plans with friends and family after 5 pm but I just forced myself to go.

I also started to get paranoid after coming completely off. I would have a conversation with someone and then later be convinced that they were mad at me even though it was untrue. Also, later I would look back on conversations and be convinced that everything I said made no sense.

The good news is that seven days later I started to feel better. That seventh day is when I decided to write briefly about my experience online. And every day after I have felt a little bit better.

Day 65-90

After taking an extra five days at 10mg, I finally felt good enough to decrease again. I started to take 5mg.

While tapering, I simply cut my Lexapro using a pill cutter from CVS pharmacy. At times, it would not always be an exact cut so one day I might have had 4.5mg and the next day 5.5mg. Even though the cuts were not exact, it did not seem to effect me enough to resort to diluting it in liquid or trying to special order anything from the pharmacy.

I was giving advice to a friend of mine who was attempting to come off of 30mg of Cymbalta. Cymbalta is not a solid pill that you can cut. It is a capsule that contains small pellets of medication.

While doing some research, another friend recommended this website. I wanted to post the link because it looks very helpful even though I did not contact them to use their services. I definitely would have if I had not been half way through tapering.

http://www.pointofreturn.com

My friend ended up ordering a mg scale from Amazon and using that to measure the tiny pellets to taper off of her Cymbalta. She is still tapering as I write this, but she seems to be doing good.

After tapering to 5mg, I notice a few new things.

Finally, the song that had been stuck in my head switched to another song. That was a relief, but the new one stayed again for about the next twenty-one days before I no longer had a song stuck on repeat in my mind.

During this time, it became very hard to concentrate on things. I would walk around the house and do chores like this:

Rinse three dishes.
Then pay a bill.
Then clean part of my bathroom.
Then finish the dishes.
Then go to the store.
Clean the rest of my bathroom.
Go back to the store for things I forgot earlier.

I don’t know what ADD feels like, but maybe this is it. I was very scatter-brained and incredibly forgetful. My wife even noticed how forgetful I was becoming and extended a lot of support and understanding.

One time I sat through an entire green light and no one was around to honk.

I started to become very emotional instead of just agitated and angry. My wife and I went to see a movie and almost every preview made me cry. Songs from my mp3 player would do the same thing. One day I just listened to music and cried for about an hour.

But the agitation and anger did not completely go away. One afternoon I started to trim a tree in our front yard. I became obsessed with the job and for the life of me could not stop cutting the branches. The tree ended up looking terrible, and I became very angry when my wife confirmed that it looked like it might die (it didn’t). The rest of the night all I could think about was the stupid tree in the front yard, and it made me angry for hours. While I knew I was being ridiculous, the exaggerated emotions would not stop.

During this phase, I remember days where I felt drained and unhappy for no reason. No matter what I would do, I just had wave after wave of unhappiness flow over me. I would focus on all the good things in my life and count my blessings, but it didn’t seem to help (normally it would). There were several days I just had to power through feeling bad. I would read or play video games for hours to take my mind off of the way I felt.

I didn’t discover any new supplements to help me cope, but I did stop consuming some things. First was caffeine. Although caffeine released serotonin and made me feel better for a while after a couple of hours, I would feel much worse. I also drastically reduced my intake of sugar. I realized that eating sugar would make me feel very bad very quickly. I cut all coke like products with 20+ grams of sugar, and I stopped eating any sweets/desserts. After going to zero caffeine and as little sugar as possible I realized I felt better even though I still felt bad.

I had another appointment with my psychiatrist around this time, and I told him how horrible this whole process was. He acted surprised and made it sound like I was some rare case and that most people never go through this. All the accounts I have read so far would beg to differ. But he is a doctor and is probably too busy writing prescriptions to do any research on the internet. Or maybe he didn’t feel like people posting their stories online was credible.

He did suggest that instead of decreasing from 5mg to 0mg I go to 2.5mg instead for two weeks then 2.5mg every other day for one week. I decided that sounded like a good idea.

Day 31-65

15-10mg

While the withdrawal symptoms did not hit me for 21 days after first decreasing my dose, this was not the case for the following decreases. I seemed to balance out after seven days and was ready to decrease again. After going from 15 to 10mg, I immediately felt the return of withdrawals.

I would hit a wall around 5-7pm. It felt like my body just ran out of serotonin in the evening. When this would happen, I would feel very agitated, and any little thing would seem to cause me to become angry. It was a lot of work to calm myself down and realize that my negative emotions were caused by withdrawals and to not act on them.

I also seemed to fixate on random things, and I had a hard time not thinking about them. I had the same song stuck in my head for an entire month, and nothing I could do would get it to change.

A few times I felt like I had a fever even though I checked it, and the thermometer read normally. I would try to lay down while I felt bad, but I would get restless.

Even when I did not feel like I had a fever, I caught myself pacing around the house and I would try to sit down but was too restless to do it. After pacing for about half an hour, I would finally calm down.

The worst thing I noticed during this decrease was that my nausea doubled. The ginger candy did not settle my stomach anymore. Several times I ended up vomiting.

I started to search for something better to calm my stomach issues. On the recommendation from a friend I tried drinking three drops of Young Living peppermint essential oil in water. Young Living produces incredibly high-quality essential oils and from what I have heard nothing comes close to what they produce.

Peppermintoil

The problem you may run into is that this company operates on a multilevel marketing structure similar to Advocare. So if you don’t want to become a distributor and pay a monthly fee, you will have to find someone who is to purchase from. The company has grown to be quite large and a simple internet search should find a distributor nearby.

I think I paid around twenty dollars for my bottle. Just know that this oil is very effective, and you will only need a couple of drops at a time. I used it every day for two months and wasn’t even half way through my bottle. Now I no longer need to use it every day, and I still have plenty left.

This decrease from 15-10 was I believe the most difficult. I stayed at 10mg for five extra days before decreasing again to 5mg.

The first thirty days.

My doctor told me to taper off of my medication. I knew this would be necessary because of my previous experiences of going without Lexapro for a few days and how it made me feel.

He told me that I could just cut my dose in half from 20mg to 10mg for thirty days and then go from 10mg to 0 in another thirty days.

I’m not sure what he was thinking in giving this advice. Maybe it would work for someone who had only taken Lexapro for a few months or maybe just a year. But I had been taking it for almost half of my life, so I knew that this wasn’t going to work for me.

So I ignored that advice and decided to cut 5mg and to wait an entire thirty days before tapering down again. 5mg was still a 25% reduction in my medication.

From what I have read everyone has different experiences as far as withdrawals go.

The first three weeks flew by, and I felt no difference at all. It took my body three weeks to start withdrawing, and I mean exactly twenty-one days. I woke up that day and felt like I had been run over by a truck.

My body was aching, and my mind was clouded by a kind of fog that made concentrating on things incredibly hard. I felt like I couldn’t think at all. The next thing I experienced was an inability to sleep well at night. I would only be able to sleep for a couple of hours at a time. The next thing I experienced was some severe anxiety bordering on what I guess people describe as a panic attack. I had only had problems with anxiety once before in a stressful work-related instance. I also developed some severe stomach cramping and pain. I would also get very nauseous and felt like I was on the verge of throwing up all day long.

I told my wife, and I believed that there was no way in hell I was going to make it. Five days into withdrawals and I was ready to throw in the towel. But it also made me think about this pill I had been taking for years. How could something make me feel so sick when I stopped taking it? I started to doubt the trust I had put in doctors and medications. Feeling this bad also made me angry because I felt powerless over a medication, and that anger turned into further motivation to be free of it.

Through a combination of research and conversations with a friend that had stopped taking Lexapro, my wife and I uncovered some things that made a world of difference for me.

Without the help of the following I have no doubt that I would have given up.

1. Omega-3. I started taking a tablespoon of flaxseed oil in the morning and at night. I also started eating fish as often as possible especially salmon. Also, I kept a constant supply of guacamole. Taking large amounts of Omega-3 into my body helped to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms I was experiencing.

Flaxseedoil

2. Gin-Gins chewy ginger candy. My constant nausea and stomach pain was unbearable until my wife started to give me these wonderful Ginger candies. We got them from Whole Foods.

Gingins

3. Deseret Biologicals Homeopathic Serotonin. This homeopathic supplement made the greatest difference for me in my withdrawals. Unfortunately, this might be difficult to get for some people. There is a machine that creates a circuit with your nerves and can detect things in your body. It is called Electro dermal screening. If you search for this on the internet, you will run into a lot of people talking about how it is all an elaborate hoax and quack medicine. All I can tell you is my experience having this done. The place I went to has a policy where you don’t tell them anything about yourself before hand. The technician reads the machine and then tells you about yourself. They do it that way to prove that it works and to silence and skepticism you might have. Honestly, I went into it thinking it was a load of B.S. The technician scanned my neurotransmitters and found that I had about 30% of the normal amount of serotonin. I was also short on my Tryptophan, which is the precursor for the body to create serotonin. As a bonus, the technician was also able to tell me accurately all the things I am allergic to. I’m not a doctor, and I’m not a scientist so I can’t weigh in on any debate about legitimacy. All I can tell you is that this changed everything for me. I started taking homeopathic tryptophan and serotonin. I felt an immediate night and day difference! I started to sleep again and I was able to function close to normally.

The FDA has shut down several offices of people using this type of equipment, so I don’t want to say where I got this done. If you are interested, you will have to find someone in your area. Some websites also offer free consultations with a naturopathic doctor so that you can order the Tryptophan and Serotonin for yourself, but you cannot just order it from any website (That I have found).

Again I cannot recommend this supplement enough. I do not believe I would have made it off of my medication without it!

desbioserotonin2-112x300

These three things were vital to my success during the first month of tapering off of Lexapro.

I also recommend trying to time it so that the withdrawals hit you when you are off of work and as responsibility free as you can be. Since I was teaching, I was fortunate to have summers off. I realize not everyone will have this luxury and will have to plan according to their lives but again if at all possible take some time off of work!

Why I started taking Lexapro and why I decided to quit.

Let me explain where I’m coming from:

I was born and raised in the suburbs north of Dallas Texas. I enjoyed a comfortable middle-class life. When I was sixteen years old, I remember battling some intense anger and frustration at some of the aspects of my life. I remember telling my parents one day that I was so angry, I didn’t know why, and nothing was helping me to get rid of my anger. Looking back maybe this was a normal thing for a teenage male to experience while my body transitioned to adulthood. I’m the oldest child so my parents had never experienced raising a teenager before so they sought professional help. I talked to a counsellor for a couple hours and she thought I might be depressed and sent me over to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with major depression disorder.

So at sixteen I started taking 10mg of Lexapro daily. The doctor, my parents and I never thought that there could be long-term consequences from taking a drug that altered my brain chemistry. But it seemed to work and my anger disappeared. With my anger went all of my other emotions too but I never noticed to what extent they had gone until I stopped taking Lexapro.

Later after I turned twenty-one, I was in a serious relationship with a girl. We were planning on getting married and had been looking at engagement rings etc. She was older and graduated from college before I did and she moved back home and we tried the long distance thing. One night she called and told me she was going to sleep with someone but couldn’t cheat on me so she wanted to break up. Looking back it was a good thing we didn’t get married but at the time it caused a lot of pain and distress for me. These negative emotions were totally normal for someone who had just had their heart broken. I just so happened to have an appointment with my psychiatrist in the following weeks and I told him what happened and how depressed I had become. So he offered to up my prescription to 20mg a day. I thought, hey why not? Well, it worked wonders and I immediately stopped feeling all of those normal negative emotions. I went from depressed to couldn’t care less about what had happened. Sounds healthy doesn’t it?

So I took 10mg for five years and then 20mg for the next seven years.

Now I want to share why I decided to stop taking Lexapro.

First I went on a family vacation to Wyoming one summer and forgot to pack my Lexapro. I ended up having to drive two and a half hours to Jackson Hole to find a pharmacy. It took them a few hours to fill the prescription because they had to contact my doctor, insurance and whoever else. I realized that day that I was a complete slave to my medication and that it had cost me an entire day of vacation with my family.

Second, I was traveling for work and was on a weekend trip, and I forgot it again. You would think I would have learned my lesson, but it happened again. I didn’t have time to get it filled so I decided I would wait until I got home. By the third day, I felt terrible. I felt like I was going insane. I barely made it back to my house to take my pill and towards the end I kept thinking I was going to end up in a hospital somewhere.

Third, I got married in 2013 and after two years of marriage my wife had noticed that I lacked appropriate emotional responses to situations. She asked me to consider trying to come off of the medication.

Finally, the last straw came a few months after she had asked me to consider trying to come off of the drug. I was teaching juniors and seniors at a school in Dallas ISD. I started to get very angry at my students and coworkers and even my wife. I snapped a couple of times and let a few students have it which is not something I would normally do. My wife and I started to try and figure out what was going on, and she noticed a tiny sticker on my Lexapro. It was a note from the pharmacy saying that the manufacturer of my Lexapro had changed but that it was the same drug. I called my psychiatrist, and he said that even a change in manufacturer can cause adverse side effects. So he called in a new prescription from the old manufacturer.

The culmination of these events led me to decide I no longer wanted to take Lexapro, and I decided that as soon as school was out I would try to come off. It was the beginning of the most difficult thing I have ever done.

The Seventh Day

Call me Jon.

Today marks the seventh day of my life without taking the prescription drug Lexapro. It is a huge accomplishment for me, and if you have taken Lexapro and tried to stop you understand why.

One-Hundred and twenty-two days ago I sat in front of my psychiatrist and told him that I wanted to come off of my medication. He was supportive and acted like it would be no big deal at all. He gave me some advice on how to handle tapering and said that most people “do not experience any withdrawal” from this anti-depressant. So I paid the man one-hundred dollars for our ten-minute conversation and went home.

The following weeks turned into a living hell for me. I started searching the internet for people who were going through the same struggle of getting off of their antidepressant. The stories I read from others started to scare me, and I started to see terrible patterns emerging. I read countless stories but only found one or two where people claimed to have successfully come off and stay off of their pills.

I want to add a story of success to the many narratives of pain and frustration that I poured through.

I want to tell you that it is possible to live life again after antidepressants. I want to spread hope to others who might feel hopeless and stuck in withdrawal symptoms.

I can honestly tell you this is the hardest thing I have ever been through but along the way I have picked up several tools that have helped make it easier.

If I can do this then so can you!

I want to help as many people as I can. I already have seen a huge change in my life for the better.

I plan on being as transparent about my life as is beneficial to anyone that may find themselves here looking for help and answers in their journey to kick antidepressants goodbye.

I’m glad your here, and I hope that I can help!