Dangers of Antidepressants: My Personal Struggle with Conventional Medicine

Melody Ullah
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I never even needed to be on that pill is all I could keep telling myself, feeling weak and ashamed. There are so many other coping mechanisms I could have used for my anxiety. Why didn’t I do my own research? What was I thinking?! Why did I trust the doctors? These thoughts went over and over in my head after I had finally cracked the code and figured out what was causing my horrific and bizarre symptoms. Why will the medical doctors not admit it? Why does the psychiatrist just want me to take more drugs and doesn’t believe a word I say? It’s all over the internet and so many have told their horror stories on countless forums. I thought I was going to die or go insane. For a while, I even thought that I could have quite possibly been under spiritual attack.

I knew if I lived through it, I was going to tell my story. I was going to try to support others going through this, those whose voices go ignored by psychiatry and conventional medicine. I knew I wanted to be an advocate for holistic living and to spread warnings to others about the dangers of these evil psychiatric drugs and some of the big pharmaceutical companies who back them.

It all started after my gastro doctor put me on a drug called amitriptyline. This is an older antidepressant drug of the tricyclics class. I had read on the internet from various sources that this class of drugs was usually not the preferred choice of antidepressant medications these days as there are newer and safer ones on the market now. Of course, I had no idea about any of this the day the doctor prescribed it for me. I just trusted him. I found out everything about its dangers on my own, later.

I believed my doctor knew best about my health. I trusted that he knew it would be safe to switch me from an anti-anxiety drug that I had been taking for several years consecutively and put me on this new drug. It was only during the horror I went through afterward that I found out everything about this evil drug all on my own.

Many say it can be a bad thing to keep reading on the internet. In my case though, it served as a beacon of truth and support — truth and support that I did not receive from the medical or psychiatric community.

The symptoms all started in my sleep. Soon sleep turned from comfortable and relaxing into the biggest fear and anxiety of my life. The first thing were the noises — not external sounds, but a strange array of bizarre sounds in my head. At first, I ignored them, but they only got worse in frequency and intensity. Being that all of this started happening shortly after my doctor increased the dosage of the amitriptyline, my gut told me that drug was the culprit here. I called the doctor’s office immediately and told them I would like to stop taking the drug and asked if they could please tell me the best way to get off it. They told me just stop taking it altogether.

My intuition told me that did not sound right, but I trusted them and did as they said. Again, I believed my doctor. I was expecting some relief. Boy was I wrong. This was only the beginning of the horror.

Shortly after taking my last dose of amitriptyline, things got a whole lot worse. A bizarre cluster of symptoms started. Many were foreign to me, that I had never in my life experienced before. The symptoms were mainly in my sleep, although I did have some occur in my awake state also. Adding to the sounds in my head while I was sleeping, I felt a jolt-like sensation to my head. This scared me half to death. I was baffled as to what it was and what to even call it. Some of these electrical shock sensations were more intense than others. These sensations only occurred right when I was falling asleep. They woke me up each time, sometimes all night long, robbing me of precious sleep. Soon more symptoms were added such as involuntary movements that woke me up out of deep sleep, and other bizarre sensory sensations that I still find hard to describe in words.

Panic attacks were frequent. I felt detached from myself. I felt a sense of impending doom and intense fear, a fear of what might happen to me next. I was scared half to death to go to sleep. I went around in a zombie-like state trying to fight sleep. It felt like the Freddie Krueger movies where victims were afraid to sleep because that was when all the scary things happened. I had crying spells. Some nights I slept for one hour only or not at all. This led me to realize how badly I had taken sleep for granted before. I started thinking about many things I had never thought about before, like how vital sleep is to our lives and how it provides equilibrium. My equilibrium was all out of whack, and I felt like I was caught up in a real-life nightmare. Just writing about it gives me the same fearful feelings that I felt when it was happening.

I could not figure out what was wrong with me. I had been off amitriptyline for several weeks now, and it would have been out of my system because it has a short half-life, plus the doctors told me so. Of course, I checked other sources, such as on the internet, and most sources mentioned the 20-hour half-life. I later found out from other internet sources that just because amitriptyline may have been eliminated from my plasma, this did not mean that its metabolites were also cleared. My medical doctors told me there was no way amitriptyline was causing my symptoms. I started to take guesses as to what could be wrong with me and became very paranoid. I started to request every medical test I could think of from my health care providers. They looked at me like I was nuts and some told me it was my anxiety.

My primary care doctor ordered me a brain MRI. I was scared that maybe I had a brain tumor. Was I having seizures? These electrical shocks were horrifying. Did I suddenly develop a neurological disease? I started to dig deeper into my research and do more precise keyword searches on the internet. This was when I started to find out all the startling information that conventional and psychiatric medicine ignores. Countless people on different forums telling their horror tales of withdrawal symptoms from anti-depressants. Many subcategories within these forums with even more precise symptomatic information. A whole category on amitriptyline with people telling their experiences that were like mine. This is where I also finally found the proper term for one of my most frightening symptoms: brain zaps. These were the electrical shock-like jolts I was feeling in my head. Finally, I had a term for it. I started a folder with printouts of all the things I found and started collecting them. I would spend all day long researching, trying desperately to find someone who could help me. It was always a dead end with conventional medicine practitioners and the psychiatrists I had turned to. How could they not know the term “brain zaps” when they were prescribing these drugs?! I then turned to a rehabilitation group who said they could help me for $60,000 at their far-off inpatient location.

Was this a scam? I was so desperate for help I tried to figure out how to come up with $60,000 until I realized I could not do that, and how did I even know if their claims were true? The only true support I had that kept me going were the other people on the forums who would talk with me and/or answer my questions. I was presented with one option from the online community: reinstate the same drug or a different antidepressant to try to help severe withdrawal symptoms. I was terrified to reinstate amitriptyline and put that evil drug back in my body. Yet I was so desperate to try to lessen these horrific symptoms that kept me from sleeping. I asked my primary care doctor about this option. She said she would do it if that was what I wanted. It seemed they had no idea if it would work or not. It was either reinstate the amitriptyline or go back on Zoloft, the drug I had been on for several years with no problems before amitriptyline. I chose the Zoloft, praying it would help my withdrawal symptoms.

I was in and out of the emergency room four different times at different locations. The ER doctors all told me similar information. They looked at me like I was crazy, telling me again that amitriptyline would be out of my system by now, so that could not be the cause of my symptoms. None of them knew what “brain zaps” were. The first doctor told me to see my psychiatrist as he was just an ER doctor and didn’t see any need to keep me there. The other ER doctor told me I should get tested for sleep apnea. Still another ER doctor just looked at me baffled and never gave an exact answer. Every time I tried to explain to them about discontinuation syndrome, they looked at me as if I was speaking a foreign language.

After seeing these doctors all say similar things and show no acknowledgment of discontinuation syndrome, I realized I was never going to get anywhere let alone get help from anyone in conventional medicine. I realized that either they don’t acknowledge discontinuation syndrome due to their limited education from the pharmaceutical companies that provide them with the drugs they profit from, or they do not want to admit that antidepressant drugs are addictive to your body’s neurochemistry. Throughout my research I repeatedly saw the same message: that one of the worst things you can do to increase your risk for more serious side effects from stopping antidepressants is to quit cold turkey. I was outraged to think that my doctor who prescribed me this drug not only never warned me of the potential side effects, but also did not even inform me of the proper way to taper off this drug.

I made so many trips and phone calls to my primary care doctor. It seemed my interactions with them were of a role reversal — I was the one always providing them with information, and they would basically take note of it. It felt as if they just mirrored back to me what I was telling them. It seemed no matter how much evidence I presented to them, they still did not want to acknowledge discontinuation syndrome. Like other health care practitioners I had been to, my primary care doctor told me she thought it was anxiety. She even went so far as to suggest maybe I was under some sort of spiritual attack! I began to lose all hope in the medical doctors.

I didn’t have much hope in the psychiatric world either, as the first psychiatrist I went to practiced the conventional medical model of psychiatry. I felt no validation from him and he basically just labeled me. He rushed me along and said I had anxiety, and that some stressful event had just “triggered” these electrical shocks in my head! I was shocked by his lack of acknowledgment for what I had to say and for his ignorant manner. He said there was no way amitriptyline caused my symptoms. I knew my body, and I knew that there was no stressful event in my life that would cause these bizarre physical symptoms — it had to be a chemical! His solution was to prescribe me two more antidepressants drugs and get me out the door.

I tried another psychiatric office. There I saw a nurse practitioner. She said she had at times seen doctors prescribing antidepressants when they should not be as it was not their area of expertise. She agreed with me that I should never have been instructed to stop the drug cold turkey, and should have been put on a taper process (a gradual reduction of the drug) that would have taken months. She told me there was no guarantee my symptoms would ever go away! However, she said she had seen the symptoms go away for some and that everyone is different. I had to keep asking questions and probing to get her to answer. She prescribed me another nervous system drug (gabapentin) to try to help calm down my brain zaps. She said if that drug did not work then maybe she would try some other type of reinstatement of a drug with a similar composition as amitriptyline. However, it seemed she was basically guessing at how to treat my symptoms. There was no exact remedy due to the damage that had been done already by not tapering off the drug the proper way! I was outraged that this was happening to me.

I came to the realization that I was experiencing a cluster of symptoms that were all mentioned by Dr. Flavio Guzman, MD in an article and PowerPoint presentation for the Psychopharmacology Institute. These symptoms were sleep disturbances, disequilibrium, sensory symptoms, affective symptoms, gastrointestinal symptoms, and general somatic symptoms. His research also mentions how discontinuation syndrome is often misdiagnosed by clinicians and treated as other developing diseases or symptoms within the patient.

The more I read on the internet, the more horrified I became. The doctors had told me not to read so much on the internet or I would just scare myself. The doctors also insinuated that people on the internet were not telling valid stories, or were leaving out vital information. However, in my case, the internet was one of the only sources of truth that I came across. Hearing others’ recovery stories and knowing there was light at the end of the tunnel helped me get by when I almost felt ready to give up.

To this day, I still get brain zaps at times in my sleep. I still feel these “dark times” where I feel fearful and hopeless that the symptoms may never go away. My hope is that my nervous system is slowly healing every day. I decided to start my own blog and forum called zappingantidepressants.com as my contribution to help support others going through dark times in their lives from antidepressant drugs. I invite readers to join my forum, engage within the community and tell about your experiences with antidepressant drugs and/or conventional and psychiatric medicine.

35 COMMENTS

  1. Yes, the doctors knew nothing about brain zaps until 2005. The arrogance in the Conclusion of this article is pretty disgusting.

    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/247806326_'Brain_shivers'_From_chat_room_to_clinic

    I don’t know when you started getting the brain zaps, but knowing when the medical community started to be educated about them will give you a frame of reference for whether your doctors were disingenuous or just plain misinformed.

    I had a similar story, only my doctors ended up misdiagnosing the common symptoms of antidepressant discontinuation syndrome as “bipolar.” Despite that being blatant malpractice, according the DSM-IV-TR at the time. Be grateful that didn’t happen to you!

    My brain zaps still haven’t gone away, it’s been 19 years and counting now, but I’ve learned to live with them. And they do have one possible benefit. If I do get a headache, I can usually brain zap it away in a second.

    The only ethical doctor that I found, the one who finally took the “bipolar” misdiagnosis off my medical records (because I medically explained all the prior malpractice), was thrilled with that potential benefit of the “brain zaps,” he called it “neuroprotective.” He even had me intimidate one of his students at my second physical with him, with the potential vast medical research skills of her potential new clients. Now that we all live in the information age, and can all research medicine online.

    Thank God for the internet, let’s hope they don’t destroy it. I heard they “came for the vaccine truth” just today.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJA6aGLJv6M

    Thanks for sharing your story, Melody. Hope your brain zaps don’t last as long as mine, or at least if they do, they end up becoming “neuroprotective,” like mine are claimed to be. Trust me, I’d still rather not have them.

    • And, of course, Bad_Gateways_and_a_Silly_Rabbit is obviously justifiably angry that MiA is erasing all his work from the Internet. Are all the comments on MiA articles going to be erased some day also? If so, please give us more than a week’s notice. And please make sure it’s possible for all MiA commenters to be able to get a hard copy record of all their comments. I went to my comments, and couldn’t seem to see all of them. They stopped midway through a 2014 comment. I’m curious when I first posted on MiA.

  2. Melody,
    I also live in Western PA. Yes, it is big state so just saying “Western PA” could be anywhere from Erie to Greene County. I would like to meet you if possible or connect somehow. We need some activism around here! I can’t seem to find your website. Those brain zaps sound awful. I never had them and never knew much about them. Maybe they mainly come from antidepressants? I was coerced onto anti-p drugs and mood non-stabilizers for decades, and my kidneys and thyroid were harmed from lithium.

    Julie

  3. Thank you for telling the world of your ordeal.

    I was wondering about the anti-anxiety drug that was discontinued when you were prescribed the amitryptaline. If it was a benzodiazepine, withdrawal suffering can persist for a very long time. Would some of what you suffered have been attributable to that drug’s withdrawal syndrome?

  4. Hi Melody!

    I’m glad you got free!

    I went to your website (the link is in the article) – but I have to tell you – every 5 seconds a “sign up for newsletter” and “Like Us On Facebook” pop ups would appear (even though I *did* like it on Facebook, it kept coming up) – and it really interfered with my ability and desire to peruse the website further.

  5. WELCOME to MiA, Melody! And THANK-YOU for your story! I haven’t clicked on the link for your website yet, but I’ve read ALL the comments carefully here, so I’ll probably also email you. I’m an older-than-you man, and also a recovered alcoholic thanks to A.A. & the 12 Steps, so looked at one way, our stories are very different. But our experiences whit psych drugs are VERY similar. I never had “brain zaps”, as far as I can tell, but MOST of the other negative effects of the DRUGS are the same! (Note, **NOT** “side effects of the meds”!….) I’d say that for me, the panic attcks were the worst. I think amitriptyline was one of the so-called “tricyclic antidepressants” I had shoved down my throat. I know I was on “imiprimine” for years, along with “Triavil”, which combined Trilofon and elavil.
    But there’s hope for you! I’ve been 25 years psych drug free now, and I wish I’d done it sooner. In fact, I’d be MUCH BETTER off, if I had NEVER gone to psychiatry and psych drugs in the first place! They did me FAR MORE HARM than good.
    Psychiatry is a pseudoscience, a drug racket, and a means of social control. It’s 21st Century Phrenology, with potent neuro-toxins. Psychiatry and psych drugs have done, and continue to do, FAR MORE HARM than good…. Let me share what’s most helped me:
    First, I had to take 100% responsibility for my own medical care. The Docs & nurses could be my “helpers”, and “assistants”, but I could no longer allow them to be my “bosses” and “masters”. Daily exercise, whether walking, running, bicycling, yoga, tai chi, etc., all were VITAL. I had to watch my diet very carefully. No caffeine, alcohol, or drugs. (Cannabis and tobacco CAN help SOME people, SOMETIMES, if used carefully, and with fully informed consent and knowledge. Heck, maybe some people can carefully use small amounts of alcohol as “medicine”, but not ME!) Some type of “SPIRITUAL” work is also key. That can be whatever Church you were raised in, – or not!, – or study of Buddhism, or even “secular” “popular spirituality”. The point is to develop a healthy relationship with *something* or *someone* outside your self. A so-called “higher power”. Sleep is key, and so is some type of meditation practice. I’ve had excellent results with vipassana, or “mindfulness” meditation. The worst thing about it, is that I don’t do it enough! Also, seek out, and you WILL FIND other people on some sort of healing path. A journey, or a burden, is lighter and easier when it’s shared. Helping others will help you, and vice-versa. I’d say you’re in the right place, Melody. Welcome to MiA!…. Now, I gotta go see if that link works to your website….

  6. Melody, your website looks pretty good. But there’s a point I need to make about a drug’s “half life”. It’s true that some drugs have a shorter half-life, and some drugs have a longer half-life. But from recent advances in the very recent science of “pharmaco-genetics”, we know that many persons are either “fast metabolizers”, or “slow metabolizers”. That just makes the half-life calculations more complicated. Also, the drugs have different effects on different persons over the long term. These effects can be interlocking, and involve various bodily systems in various ways. So even for a person who is a “fast metabolizer”, and given a short half-life drug, the harmful effects can be much longer lasting than might be otherwise expected…. A persons age, weight, exercise level, overall health, other drugs used, all can affect half-life and negative effects. It can get very complicated. And the average psych worker or psychiatrist is a very poor psycho-pharmacologist…. America has a pathetically BAD health care system….

  7. Melody, So very sorry to hear all you have gone through & continue to endure at the hands of “psychiatric medicine. & practice”. I was wondering if you ever considered Alternative Medicine approaches to your symptoms, specifically Chiropractic and Nutrition? I go to a ‘gentle touch’ chiropractic practitioner who uses NSA (NeuroSpinal Analysis). NSA works better as it teaches the body to “heal itself” & works with the neurological system as well as spine and muscular systems. There are NSA Practitioners throughout the USA, but there are not a lot of them as schooling/training is extensive & beyond chiropractic school study. But you might want to check to see if there’s a practitioner near you. I had a friend who suffered mini strokes who I sent to my NSA chiropractor and he was helped tremendously. What I also wanted to say is that I had a similar horrible experience as yours about 10 years ago when I attempted to wean off my antidepressant & mood stabilizer meds. I tapered gradually & was under the care of a Nutritionist but that didn’t help me from becoming extremely unstable, paranoid & suicidal. My diagnosis is only Major Depression, Recurrent since age 17. I was almost 50 yrs. old at the time. Eventually, my family had me re-hospitalized much to my objections. I wanted to get past the bad part & be free of the meds, the system, the side effects, etc., etc. Later on, like you, I found out the withdrawal symptoms I experienced had an actual name! Serotonergic reaction. But you will NEVER hear a psychiatrist or medical doctor utter those words. If you are a psych patient, OF COURSE, you’re just GETTING SICK AGAIN & NEED TO GET BACK ON YOUR MEDS! And I, too, found lots of info on-line, in books and just talking to people. Again, NONE of those people included any doctors or professionals. The fact that these “professionals” are allowed to get away with giving these “medications” out that do so much harm is disgraceful. Anyway, this writing is long enough so I won’t go into detail but several years later I again attempted to get off my meds, this time under the supervision of a psychiatrist and again failed miserably. Ruined long time relationships, jobs, school & ran through an entire IRA of savings. This was the 3rd & last time and since then I’ve given up trying. Some people can come off their meds; some just can’t. I am resigned to just taking them for the rest of my life. Do I like it? Of course not. But I don’t like being suicidally depressed & screwing up my life either. There was another time in my life where I sat in a hospital in a horrible depression for 4 months until they found the right antidepressant that brought me out of it. For that I am grateful. So I believe that these medicines can sometimes help, but I do believe, overall, we’ve all been terribly lied to and for the most part, and that Psychiatry is basically “a crapshoot”. The research is unreliable as most of it is done by the Big Pharma companies themselves and the doctors are brainwashed in medical school to believe in DSM IV. Labels & Psychiatric Medications. I don’t believe the doctors and other professionals actually intend to inflict harm. I believe until the education & training of our physicians & mental health professionals are radically changed, things will not change for the better. And being that there is a great deal of money to be made by keeping things the same (mainly by Big Pharma) it is unlikely to change. A sad state of affairs.

    • camilleisreal – difficulty getting off of antidepressants can be aided by v-e-r-y slow tapering.

      http://www.survivingantidepressants.org has a number of protocols for a number of drugs.

      I saw discussion of “half life” here in another comment.

      Half life only determines how many doses per day you take while tapering. Shorter half life – like Paxil, Effexor IR (not the extended release, which comes in beads), and Xanax – means that you must dose several times a day in order to keep steady state. Half life does **not** have anything to do with tapering speed. Tapering speed is determined by your neurotransmitter repair – it takes about 3 weeks to adjust after any taper, then we wait a week to taper again. Tapering speed is the same – because it is brain based, not drug based.

      Tapering also does **not** have anything to do with fast or slow metabolism. Fast metabolism just means that the doctors add more and more drugs and raise the doses to try and get an effect. Hence, fast metabolisers are more likely to be polydrugged and on the highest doses available. This does not mean they can go faster getting off – because – how fast you metabolise a drug has nothing to do with how quickly your neurotransmitters adjust to a drug, it has to do with the organic rate of healing in the brain.

      On some people a broken leg *might* heal a little more quickly than on others. But for most, there is about a 6-10 week healing time. It is the same for neurotransmitters of the brain. They adjust at the rate we heal, which seems to be about 3 weeks in between tapering cuts.

      Getting off is the same for fast and slow metabolism. Better safe than sorry.

      • Regarding “fast metabolizer,” I have reason to believe this may have been why I ended up on gigantic cocktails. I have diabetes insipidus, which was from lithium. This means I metabolize water much faster than the average human. We used to talk about this way back when. People were saying they were “washing out their meds,” which was likely partially true. If the drug is metabolized in the kidneys and has certain other properties, you will literally wash it out of your body due to high water consumption.

        Diabetes insipidus can be treated with drugs. They usually use a potassium-sparing diuretic, which acts paradoxically and helps you retain water so you’re not so thirsty. This isn’t a good thing for your kidneys, as these diuretics will speed up kidney decay. I was never treated for DI because it took those idiot doctors nearly three decades to diagnose me. This is insane because it’s very easy to diagnose. I am realizing also that high water metabolism is likely keeping me alive right now. I do not need, or want, “help,” because they help will harm.

  8. Thank you so much for your story, Melody– I cannot tell you how valuable this is, because while I have learned a lot about brain zaps with SSRIs, I had never heard of them with amitryptiline, and TCAs may become more popular again as people learn how dangerous SSRIs are.

    A few well-known SSRI critics — damn, I can’t remember which ones, it might have been Healy or Whittaker or maybe Mickey Nardo– actually said that imipramine, another TCA, did work pretty well for severe Major Depressive Disorder– what Mickey Nardo called “big D depression,” (depression as described in the DSM III or DISM IV) which is actually quite rare. (Most people are prescribed antidepressants for problems in everyday living or adjustment disorders, IMHO.) I did try Elavil once– when I was about 16, and very, very stupid, I saw it in someone’s medicine cabinet and just took one for the hell of it, and man, that sh*t was gross! Yecch! In the 70s and 80s, they gave Elavil to older patients who were depressed or who had had strokes, I think– at least I knew a few older people who had it prescribed, occasionally someone in middle age, but you’re the first young person I’ve ever heard of who was on it.

    And when I hear brain zaps, I think mostly of Effexor. I had one client when I was in clinical training who said he would get brain zaps if he was ONE HOUR late with a dose, and that scared the crap out of me. I’d never heard of a drug besides high-dose opiates that had withdrawal that bad.

    Really great article about a lesser-known drug, raises all kinds of disturbing questions about brain zaps I had never considered before.

  9. JanCarol I did all the research prior to my antidepressant withdrawal (read books by prominent authors on very slow tapering, internet info, etc.) and even kept written records of my very gradual ‘tapering off’ schedule. Sad to say, as diligent as I was, none of this helped to change the horrific outcome I experienced. Looking back, this was actually further proof of how incredibly dangerous these medications are.