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Effexor Withdrawal Chronicles

Posted by Seagull_25920 on April 18, 2004, at 11:17:01

This post has turned out to be monstrous-long. Just a warning. :)

I just thought I'd go ahead a post my experience with Effexor and the subsequent side-effects and withdrawal issues for several reasons. First, people currently stopping their Effexor regime need to hear from those of us who have "made it." It can be done, and having support stories can help others get through a similar situation. Second, people considering stopping the medication need to know what to expect, so they aren't too suprised, and so they can share those possibilities with loved ones around them. Remember, support from the people around us is as much a part of treatment as the prescription itself. Finally, I want to start a thread where people can post their own experiences, since my experience has certainly been neither unique nor "normal." We all have different experiences, let's share them with each other, and with the lurkers...

I have a history of on-again-off-again struggles with depression. I've been determined for the past eight years or so to try to conquer my depression using holistic treatments. I'm not talking about herbal supplements or new age medicine, just a whole-body/mind/spirit approach to treatment. I feel that it's very important to treat all aspects of the person in order to have a healthy life. (please note that I am not necessarily advocating this treatment style for anyone else. I'm not trying to make a statement about anyone else's life)

I thought I had my depression "licked," as I went through 6 years and several major life changes without experiencing any episodes of depression (obviously I had the occasional "down" day, as does everyone). Recently, however, I had a job change, marriage, first home purchase, move, and a return to my original job because the new one fell through, in the span of 5 months. Feeling trapped, I started the downward spiral.

After two or three episodes of suicidal impressions ("it would be so easy to just crash the car right now; wouldn't that make life easier?"), I decided it was time to seek professional help in the mind/body area of my life. I went to a PDoc, who immediately prescribed Effexor. At the time, I was desparate and read no literature on the drug. I started at 150 mg (after tapering on), with my doc telling me that side effects were rare and usually went away.

The side effects were pretty bad for me. I couldn't sleep at all, but would lie awake perseverating on a single phrase, usually from a song I'd heard that day. Over and over again in my head. I lost all appetite, libido, and most of my energy. The med was apparently a diuretic, as I found myself having to get out of bed four-five times per night to go to the bathroom, a problem I'd never had before. But I thought the medication was working because despite my lack of energy, I was still able to motivate myself to do things.

The doc prescribed Ambien for sleep and Viagra and Ginkgo for anorgasmia, as well as upping my dosage over the next few months to 300mg. He seemed to think that the side effects would go away with the increased dosage. As I continued to take this new barrage of medications, I began to experience occasional bouts of dizzyness (not brain shivers; run-of-the-mill room-spinning. Not fun while driving.)

During this experience, my wife was wonderful, despite having no experience with depression. We discussed it before we got married, so that she would know what to expect in case it ever happened. She showed compassion and understanding, but was also able to keep me accountable for my actions. A note to spouses / loved ones - some of the worst experiences I had with my wife were the times she didn't know exactly what to do or how to act, so she said nothing to me and went about the house doing chores. She wasn't particularly mad at me, but the silence intensified my own feelings that "I should be able to get off my arse and *do* something. Why can't I just *do* it?" and projected them onto her actions. Please, when you don't know how to act just show some love and support for the person and just "be there."

At some point I realized that for me, taking a plethora of medications every day was simply reinforcing the idea that I was "depressed," and the side effects were doing the same. I determined that if I was going to have a chance to get off the medication, spring was the time to do it. My doctor tried to convince me that it's not "bad" to be on medication. And while I understand that, I had identified my self-esteem for so long with being drug-free that I couldn't be swayed. We decided to try going off the meds, and keep the option of trying a different medication if the depression returned.

The doc told me to taper off, similar to the way I ramped up when getting on the medication. Once again, he said the risk of side effects were minimal. He really likes Effexor. Unfortunately, he had me ramp onto the medication at around three days per dose. So I dropped from 300mg to 0 in 9 days (I skipped the 37.5mg dose). By the third day of 0 meds, I was curled in a ball on the couch, unable to work or drive because of the sweats, shivers, crying fits, and brain shivers. I can imagine that people quitting drugs like crack and meth have almost identical experiences; it was that intense, except my mind didn't crave the drug, only my body did.

For me, the brain shivers were closely related to vision. rapid visual changes increased the frequency and intensity of the effect. I described it to family as a variation of "the feeling you have when you stand up just *before* a head rush, or a variation of the feeling you have when a really good stretch makes your ears "ring." Not to mention the feeling you have when your head becomes "loud." Not tinnitus, which is a sound in one ear, but a loud electric white noise. Most people could identify with these descriptions, though none really understood.

By the fifth day I was able to return to work, though I was not extremely productive. I found that keeping busy helped keep me from focusing on the withdrawal effects, and actually reduced their intensity.

On the sixth day I found the motivation to push through the withdrawals and mow the lawn. Amazingly, while I was breathing heavily and exercising outside, I completely lost track of the effects. They were gone. They came back, mind you, as soon as I relaxed. But it gave me hope.

I'm now on day ten, medication free. The Effexor side effects (sleeplessness, sexual issues, etc.) are completely gone. I look forward to my first good night's sleep in months, probably tonight. The withdrawal effects are still there, though less pronounced. I think I'm going to be okay.

So, as an experiment for all of you who are in Effexor withdrawals, you might try getting some exercise if you can possibly do it through the effects. I found that a brisk walk even helped temporarily (sunglasses helped keep the brain shivers manageable while walking, since like I said mine were vision-linked). And that short time of clarity / "normalcy" gave me the motivation I needed to push through.

Thanks for listening. I know this has been a very long post. And please, please note that I am not by any means saying that medications are bad, unnecessary, or a sign of weakness. I just wanted to relate my own experience in case there's someone else out there who needs to hear it. I do believe that the entire holistic being should be treated, including diet, exercise, spiritual practices, and medications when needed. I also think that being off medications is not a *bad* goal, as long as we have the support to help us work through problems and let us know if it's time to find medication again...

Please feel free to follow up with your own experiences. :)




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