November 11, 2013

Wicked antidepressant withdrawals bitter pill to swallow

By Jack Smith

So this is what the hiccup tastes like. The doctors warned me it would come.

Hiccups, setbacks and even relapse can all be part of mental health recovery, especially when you start some drugs and stop others.

I just didn’t know the hiccup would taste so bitter, hit so hard and cause so much angst.

Google “Effexor withdrawal” and you’ll see horror stories from patients on message boards and blogs.

On the more official websites, you’ll see the Who’s Who of side effects: Upset stomach. (More like stomach bug from hell). Dizziness. Brain shakes (this is real and hard to explain, except that it feels like your brain is rattling around in your noggin).

Migraines (four in five days). Nervousness. Fatigue. Loss of coordination (my wife revoked my driving privileges on a weekend getaway). Vomiting (does puking in your mouth count?). Tremor (good thing I’m not a brain surgeon or we’d be screwed). And an itch that feels like ants crawling under your skin.


Funny I don’t recall seeing any of those on the bottle or being told what a nightmare coming off it might be when I was put on the drug.

So where is the FDA and what are they doing?

Sometimes, I think they should make doctors like the ones at a major teaching hospital who prescribed me Effexor take the drugs before tossing them out like fish to clapping seals at the zoo.

This is not a doctor bashing blog, but big pharma gets no sympathy from me. None.

I didn’t quit Effexor cold turkey. I was weened off the drug over about a month. Maybe that wasn’t long enough.

So why get off the drug in the first place? My diagnosis changed from Major Depressive Disorder to Bipolar Disorder.

And the results of genetic testing changed everything. The test panel looks at 10 genetic biomarkers for mutations that help guide doctors in deciding what meds might work best.

I had a league leading five mutations, including a couple that essentially told the docs I didn’t need Effexor because it wouldn’t do any good anyway.

The head doctor told me after reading the test and diagnosing me with bipolar that Effexor might cause “rapid cycling,” meaning I could ping pong from depression to mania in rapid succession. So taking me off Effexor made sense.

I just wish the plan didn’t result in such wicked withdrawals.

P.S. If you’ve had similar experiences with Effexor or other antidepressants, please share them. My hope is this blog becomes a place for real talk about mental illness.