Several months ago I quit my final psychiatric medication after a long, slow reduction in my regimen. In the bad old days with the psychiatrist who treated my moods between 2000 and 2006, I was over-medicated. At several points I was taking six different medications for my mental health. The side effects were dreadful and humiliating, and my depression hardly lifted. The only benefit was a generalized emotional numbing. I was free of intense anguish, because I had no strong feelings at all. This seemed like a good idea at first, but I soon recognized that life was passing by while I lingered in a medicated haze. My wife hated the zombie-like affect I presented, and it was impossible to accomplish anything while so sedated.
Since 2006, I’ve been tapering off the medications. I feel more sadness, but also more happiness. I can laugh and cry and think once again. My former passion and creativity have been restored. Coming off the drugs has been very good for me, although I am by no means suggesting it would be right for everyone.
And in fact it wasn’t completely right for me. During the few months on no medications, I struggled with darkness. Life had become briefly challenging every time I stepped down in number or dose of pills, but when I discontinued the final drug, I slowly spiraled into an exceptionally unpleasant space. To my great relief, I did not contemplate suicide, which shows how much progress I’ve made in accepting low moods. However, joy and interest drained from my psyche. I continued all my normal activities, but I enjoyed few of them. Worse, I became hypersensitive, irritable, and withdrawn.
After three months with no improvement, I decided to go back on a low dose of that final drug. Within two weeks, my days became dramatically easier. The lesson, I suppose, is that extreme positions are always suspect. I had decided that since six drugs were disastrous, the answer was to take none at all. That turns out to have been too drastic. It looks like I am better off taking a modest dose of one antidepressant, rather than trying to …