"That's right, you can get withdrawals coming off anti-depressants"

For the past 12 months I have been weening off my anti-depressant medication, with the supervision of my medical professionals. A very common misconception and judgement that people seem to believe, is the idea that someone cannot get withdrawal symptoms from anti-depressant medication. This is completely incorrect and although people experience the process differently, withdrawals is very much apart of becoming medication free (especially from a high dose and being on medication for many years). 

This discrimination is something I had to face often daily. Needing to call in sick for work, cancelling social commitments, not being able to move off the couch, or not being able to go to the gym because I was experiencing physical withdrawals (cold sweats, headache, nauseous, temperature, sore bones) became a huge source of anxiety for me, as people would just assume I was making it up. Trust me I'd rather be doing all of the above than going through withdrawal.

I came to the decision that for me to make the process easier I would be honest with family, friends and my work. This allowed me to be true to myself and stick to my core values, as I did not want to lie about what was going on. Through being honest I actually was able to take less sick leave from work, go to most social engagements and stay somewhat active. Why? Well I lost my self-stigma and judgement through honesty. In my mind if I let society's misconception and stigma influence my decision to come off my medication and staying true to myself, that would be a greater injustice over people not believing me.Being on high doses of medication for most of my adult life, the withdrawal symptoms were quite severe and the closer I came to being free of them the worse it seemed to get.

One of the worse symptoms I experienced was visual hallucinations. What this looked like for me was seeing myself running away from this horrifying presence. When this "presence" did catch me, it formed into a hand of a demon. This would cause me such anxiety that I began having panic attacks again because I was constantly running away from the hand. My dad's advice was to picture the hand being Audrey Hepburn's pretty hand or visualise shooting the hand away. This put a smile on my face but didn't seem to work. Why? Well, ironically after trying to unpack this hallucination I figured out what it really was. It was me. I was scared of my depression and anxiety "coming back" so it manifested into me running away (story of my life when it comes to my depression and anxiety until the last 3 years). Once I stopped running and I could see that the presence wasn't a demon and was actually me, I wasn't scared anymore because the hand was my own and by acknowledging this, I was truly accepting myself and my illness. So I started slowing down and holding my hand and eventually the hallucination stopped coming.

The point of this story is getting rid of the self-stigma we place on ourselves. Once we free ourselves from the judgment it becomes easier to accept our illness. Self belief, trusting my gut instinct and allowing my inner ninja to fight, got me through the withdrawals and focusing on the end goal of being medication free.

Being medication free doesn't work for everyone and needs to be completed with the help of your medical professionals. Just because I am medication free, doesn't mean I am against medications, it means that for me right now at this particular point in my life I am managing without them.

Live, breathe, embrace.


Tenille Westerhout