I am one of the many that suffer from anxiety. Society today breeds worry – this is a sad truth of the world we live in. I have ‘dealt with’ excessive and utterly useless anxiety for over ten years. During this time, I have taken steps to better cope and improve my life. I have educated myself, gotten a degree in psychology and a diploma in community service work. I regularly partake in ‘self care’ – I get massage therapy, exercise and try to take time for myself whenever possible. A recent series of events sent me into a state of worry worse than ever before. I was in a place of utter despair and was so desperate that I made a decision that I firmly believed I would never make: I decided to get a referral to a psychiatrist. I was exhausted from feeling overwhelmed and was filled with hope that somehow my life could be better with the help of a professional.
I endured a painfully awkward interaction with my GP, in which I attempted to explain the unbearable worry I have been experiencing without crying uncontrollably. Before he could jump to the perfect prescription for my problem (which, may I add, he prescribed in the past and it was an epic failure), I requested to see a psychiatrist. He informed me that the minimum wait time would be one year (what the fuck?!?!), because I “only have anxiety.” I would be put at the bottom of the waiting list after those with acute depression and psychosis. Logically, this makes sense. I was not a threat to myself at that time and those who were should definitely have been prioritized. Regardless, this was a massive slap in the face. Talk about discrediting my experiences and the courage it took to disclose such personal information! I also found it interesting that he almost implied that I simply say that I have depression, although that was not the underlying problem.
Naturally, he then took the perfect opportunity to suggest that I try a drug, without a psychiatric assessment. I agreed, simply because it seemed to be my only option. Because I have taken benzos previously without any success of anxiety reduction, I proposed trying an SSRI. These are typically used to treat depression, but I have read that they often help to reduce anxiety as well. When I began explaining this reasoning to my doctor and discussing the research I had done, it became very apparent that he had no idea how SSRI’s work. He had no background knowledge of the drug whatsoever. In fact, he made the bold statement that “no one knows how they work.” SSRI’s are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. The name itself states how the drug works. It prevents Serotonin from being reabsorbed, so that it stays in your synapse longer, making you feel happier. Pretty simple, right? My mind was torn after I heard this statement. A part of me wanted to laugh hysterically, a part of me was sad and a part of me was terrified that this man can prescribe drugs that he knows nothing about. AND I have wait a year to see someone who has some comprehension of what they are prescribing and risk that comes with it. So, impulsively, I say “Sure, I’ll try one.” How much harm could it do?
I left the office with a bottle of 40mg Celexa pills. I later learn that this dosage is, simply put, stupid. Individuals who have never taken this drug should never be given 40mg pills. I was sad because I felt like I had failed at coping on my own, nervous because I had no idea how the drug would affect me and hopeful that my life would make a turn in the right direction. The following day was a Wednesday, my work from home day. I decided that this was a good opportunity to try the drug and see if I got side effects. At 10AM, I cut the pill in half and took the larger piece. Within an hour, I began to feel strange. It is very difficult to describe how I felt – just not like myself. I thought that I was just nervous and psyching myself out. As the day went on, things went from weird to insane.
Celexa’s effect on me was severe and debilitating. I was having mood swings like never before; I would go from completely fine to crying hysterically within a matter of seconds. I had severe dizziness, nausea, inability to focus, extreme anxiety (ironic), shaking, muscle tremors, insomnia, sweating, vision disturbances, abnormal and suicidal thoughts. I have my issues, but I have never felt ‘crazy’ until I took this drug. I felt like I had no control over myself physically or mentally. It was terrifying, to say the least. Possibly the scariest part of the experience was how long it lasted. I went to bed thinking and hoping I would feel better the next day. Unfortunately, this was not the case at all, as I couldn’t sleep. I got up the following morning with worsened symptoms, possibly due to the lack of sleep. Everything I read and everyone I asked stated that symptoms should subside within 24 hours, but they didn’t for me.
I called my mom, who was a nurse, and she decided to come pick me up and take me to the doctors. I definitely could not drive in the state I was in. The reaction I got from my GP was very neutral – it seemed almost careless. One would think that a doctor would have a reaction when a patient almost kills herself. He spent about 15 seconds listening to me before prescribing me a different SSRI. I felt like he would have gone through trial and error with these drugs until I did attempt suicide. I, on the other hand, went along with it knowing damn well that I would not be trying another one of those drugs, at least not without very careful supervision. It took about three days and chiropractic treatment until I felt somewhat myself again.
I researched the percentages of people who have side effects on Celexa and other similar drugs. What I found was horrifying. The percentages are much higher than for other drugs. Yet, SSRI’s are given out so easily without even an assessment or explanation of necessary precautions. 26% experienced headache, 20% dry mouth, 11% excess sweating, 8% tremors, 21% nausea; and the list goes on. More than one in ten Americans take anti-depressants. I do believe that SSRI’s are effective and beneficial for many people and am not bashing the drug entirely. I see a huge issue with the manner in which these drugs are prescribed and utilized. It is fantastic that people are able to cope and have great lives because of these medications, but scary that such potentially dangerous substances are prescribed without any analysis, even when analysis is requested by the patient.
Taking Celexa was definitely one of the worst and scariest experiences of my life. The medical system needs to change to properly assess individuals before putting them at such high risk. It is clear that these drugs make a lot of profit, but that does not justify the risk that the drug poses. Should GP’s be permitted to prescribe anti-depressants to people that have never taken such drugs? Do all GP’s have enough knowledge on these drugs to be entirely aware of the effects and risks? Doubtful, in my mind. Is it possible that these drugs can induce further psychiatric issues, thus causing a need for more prescriptions? From my personal experiences, it seems that this may well be the case.
I am now feeling better than I ever have. I am exercising 3-5 days per week, monitoring and improving what I eat and drink, realizing and assuring myself that I am thriving in my life. I have a great job and plenty of opportunity, a car, a loving family and spouse, a dog and a home. Anxiety will always be a struggle in my life. I will continue to do all I can to make my life manageable and enjoyable and remind myself that I am lucky and capable. I will have more dark moments. I hope that I can get through them without medications. If I do decide that trying medication is the best option, I will be aware of the risk and ensure that I have people who care about me around.
People need to take charge of their health, do their research and take precautions when taking these drugs. Doctors will not do this for us. I have read that the side effects of Celexa dissipate in two weeks. This is great, if the patient lives to see this. It is a sad truth that so many individuals die in an attempt to want to live. I believe that patients should be monitored if they are prescribed these drugs. At the very least, they should be given advice on what to do if extreme side effects occur and where to go for help. Anxiety and other mental disorders are scary and difficult to deal with, but the medications used to treat these problems can generate a bigger and scarier issue.