(or Thank You and Farewell, Dear Friend)
Note: I am not a medical professional. This should be taken as my personal experience, rather than medical advice. Always consult your prescribing physician before making any decisions about your medication and/or mental health plan.
A couple weeks ago, I made a big decision: I was going to start tapering off of my Prozac.
This wasn’t a decision that I made lightly or impulsively, and it certainly wasn’t borne out of any distrust or dislike of pharmaceuticals. In fact, I’ve often credited my little white and green friends with helping to save my life.
Nearly three years ago, I was diagnosed with PTSD and prescribed antidepressants to help alleviate my symptoms enough that I could handle exposure therapy and, well, life in general. (For brevity’s sake, I won’t get into my full mental health story here–that’s a whole other post for another day–but I will say that visiting CAMH was the best decision I’ve ever made.)
A few months after I was first prescribed Prozac, I remember asking the psychologist I was referred to if I’d have to be on it for the rest of my life. In true therapist fashion, she turned the question back to me and asked what I thought.
“I think if I could get two years being stable, I’d think about getting off of it.”
We agreed that the two year mark would be a reasonable time to reassess and then got back to the super-fun work of exposure therapy (despite my sarcasm here, it actually worked wonders).
This summer, I hit that two year mark. It’s still hard to believe that I reached that milestone, especially given the state I was in when I first went to CAMH. But it’s real; I’m feeling pretty great (I mean, most days… I’m still human!), and I was getting a little (ok, really) tired of the side effects, particularly the sluggishness and a weird combination of constant hunger and acid reflux.
So (and this part is SUPER IMPORTANT), after talking to both my family doctor and my therapist, we decided to start (safely!) reducing my dosage, provided that I made sure to practice good self care (more on that in a second). It’s been two weeks now, and other than some initial headaches, I’m doing really well.
I suspect that my success thus far has a lot to do with the precautions I took and have continued taking. Again, I’m not a doctor or a mental health professional, so I’m definitely not qualified to give actual advice on, well, anything, other than maybe adopting a cat (do it) or cutting bangs (probably don’t do it). (And definitely don’t give your cat bangs.)
But, here’s what’s been working for me…
1. Talking to professionals
As I’ve taken great pains to mention (yes, repeatedly! but it really is important), I started off by talking to my family doctor about wanting to go off of my medication. She was able to give me some guidance on how and at what intervals to reduce my dosage, as well as reminding me that I need to make sure to take care of myself in other ways, like exercising. I’ve also kept biweekly appointments with my therapist so that I can check in and process anything that’s going on.
2. Remembering the (real) goal
You might think that “the goal” I’m referring to is getting off of medication, but it’s not: the goal is to find the best solution for me. That could mean staying on the medication at a different dosage or even going back up to my old one. I can’t (and don’t) think of being on medication as a failure, but simply as one of the possible tools I might need.
3. Staying active
I’m a naturally lazy person. I don’t inherently love exercise and I really hate sweating. But even I have to admit that I do feel better when I make time for it.
For me, yoga is the best form of exercise because it combines physical activity with things that soothe me, like stretching and meditation. In particular, I’m digging Yoga With Adriene‘s channel; she explains all of the poses really well and provides great alternatives for those of us who–like me!–maybe aren’t as far along in their practice. It’s an added bonus that she seems like the kindest person in the world. I can’t believe I’m about to type these words, given my aforementioned hatred for exercise and my noted aversion to mornings: I actually look forward to getting up early to start my day (virtually, at least) with her.
I also had the good fortune to get a standing desk through a month-long rotation program at work (seriously, the timing could not have been better). I love being able to switch it up between sitting and standing throughout the day, and I find that I have a lot more energy when I’m not spending 8+ hours of my day on my ass.
4. Practicing gratitude
As I mentioned in my latest bullet journal post, all of my weekly spreads now include a column where I can record three things I’m grateful for each day. It’s a small habit, but it keeps me mindful of the good things in my life (my family, my friends, my cat, the existence of coffee, etc), regardless of what else is going on.
5. Treating myself
As the great Dale Cooper once said:
…I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it. Don’t wait for it. Just let it happen. It could be a new shirt at the men’s store, a catnap in your office chair, or two cups of good, hot black coffee.
Some days that present is a catching up with a colleague over coffee (I feel like Dale would be proud), and others it’s spending a cozy Sunday morning watching a movie with the cat. These things are small, simple pleasures, but they fill my heart with joy.
6. Remembering that we all have shit days
Something I really struggled with early in my therapy was worrying that I was relapsing every time I felt sad or had a stressful day. Everyone, whether they’ve suffered mental illness or not, has good days and bad. I can’t let every blip in my mood send me spiraling, thinking that I’m on the verge of a breakdown.
Instead, I remind myself that while it’s good to keep an eye on my moods, I don’t need to be concerned unless I see a pattern. And, even then–even if I do spot the signs of an oncoming breakdown… I got through this before.
I can do it again.
If you’re struggling with your mental health, please reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or medical professional. It’s not easy to talk about, but I promise you that it’s worth it–you’re worth it.