Discontinue Syndrome

Aka withdrawal.

I have to admit, I made an unwise decision. Two actually.

I decided to discontinue my psych-medications without first consulting my doctor.

The next unwise decision I did was stopping abruptly without following a tapering schedule.

My lack of impulse control made me do it.

If only I could actually blame it on something or someone else. The truth is, I was desperate. I had done my research about the long term negative effects of antidepressants and antipsychotics, and decided it was time to come off of them. But I felt like I had to do it NOW! In reality, there was no rush. But I justified it with, just wanting it to be “over and done with”.

I do not regret my decision of discontinuing those medications but I do regret the “cold turkey” approach I took to stopping them.

Before I get into how I currently feel, first I want to talk about why I decided to do it.

The why’s

[Why I decide to stop my medication.]

  • Obesity

Antidepressants cause weight gain, which can lead to obesity and its accompanying health problems (such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, some cancers and stroke). I was on antidepressants for 10 months and gained 15 pounds. Despite my healthy diet and moderate activity, I was unsuccessful at losing weight. I can say, however, with a strict reduced calorie intake of 1200 to 1300, I have been able to maintain my weight and stop myself from further weight gain. Generally people lose weight with such a deficit, unfortunately not me.

  • Sexual dysfunction

In other words, I was hardly ever, never, in the mood. This made me like I was “broken”. Like I couldn’t fulfil the needs and desires of my significant other. Too much info? Sorry. But for me, it was a real concern, and I know there are many people that can relate. Beside weight gain, this is the second most reason decide to stop their psych-meds.

  • Diabetes type 2

There is a link between antidepressant use and problems with blood-sugar regulation. Antidepressants may worsen blood-sugar control because they can cause significant weight gain. For me, this was a significant reason why I wanted to stop. I do not want diabetes, or any chance of getting it.

  • Irregular heart rhythms

Taking high doses of antidepressants over an extended period of time can lead to heart rhythm abnormalities. I only have one heart and I’d like to keep it healthy and happy until the day I die as an old lady. I want to be able to walk miles, even in my older age, and I don’t want a broken heart to impede my chances of that.

  • Harm to the unborn child

I am of childbearing years, and still without a child. I suspect sometime in my distance yet near future (within the next 5 years), I will want to bring a child of my own into this world. But not while taking medications that can harm my, one-day, fetus or newborn. Studies have found a higher than average risk for low birth weight and premature delivery when antidepressants are taken during pregnancy, especially in the last three months. At birth, infants may suffer withdrawal symptoms, including jitters, crying, irritability, shivering, and, rarely, seizures.

The most important factor(s) to my final decision were:

  1. I knew I was ready
  2. I knew my mind could handle it without the extra help
  3. I knew I could do it on my own, with the addition to natural remedies

I went on to the medications for anxiety and depression. I knew I was only going to be on them for a short duration because I have always had the mindset that I can do anything on my own, as long as I set my mind to it. While I was on the medication, I made sure I was implementing techniques that could help me function on my own once off of them. I continue those lifestyle changes, skills and techniques now, such as eating healthy, exercising, meditation, mindfulness, music therapy, art, and herbal remedies. I will talk about the herbal remedies in a bit.

All of these reasons ultimately lead to my final decision of stopping my medications. For me, the risks outweighed the benefit at this point in my life.

The withdrawal symptoms I have experienced, so far:

  1. Dizziness
  2. Imbalanced
  3. Nausea
  4. Brain Flickers
  5. Anxiety (mild)
  6. Irritability
  7. Insomnia
  8. Dream-like state
  9. Hyperawareness to sounds

I stopped 4 days ago, and overall I am feeling okay. I can manage and function normally, and I know these feelings and sensations will not kill me. If anything, they are only uncomfortable and will only last for a short while. I read that only roughly 20% of people experience withdrawal symptoms, how did I become so lucky to end up in that 20%? I also read, that symptoms usually peak within a week then decrease pretty quickly, although there are some unlucky people that experience the symptoms for weeks to months.

A more comprehensive list of withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Return of depression or anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Vertigo
  • Lightheadedness
  • Difficulty walking
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle pain
  • Chills
  • Shock-like sensations
  • Paresthesia (burning, prickly, or skin crawling sensations)
  • Visual disturbances
  • Impaired concentration
  • Vivid dreams
  • Depersonalization (a detached, out-of-body experience)
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Psychosis
  • Catatonia (a state of unresponsiveness)

Sounds pretty scary right? The longer you are on a medication, the worse the withdrawals. This is why it is so important to talk to your doctor before deciding to stop your medication.

I decided to take natural remedies to help my brain heal and function as best it can while it is rewiring itself.

  • Multivitamin
  • GABA
  • L-theanine
  • Omega 3 Fish Oil
  • Vitamin B Complex
  • Melatonin with Magnesium

These medications help with chemical and nutritional imbalances, improve mood, decrease anxiety, promote a calm and relaxed state, help with sleep or boost energy and have a ton of other benefits.

Moral of the story, have patience with yourself, things aren’t usually as urgent as they seem. If you want to get off your meds, talk to your doctor before you do it, they can come up with a plan (a tapering schedule) that offers minimal withdrawal effects. But before you do, have your own game plan… Make sure you’ve implemented measures to help you cope effectively when moments of depression or anxiety arise.

This article was dedicated to ME coming off medication, and I’m not saying that chemical synthetic medications are not okay. They just are not okay for ME. There are many people that require to be on them for life, and if that is what you need then that is what you have to do. You do what is right for you, and whatever allows you to live a high functioning and happy life.

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Ways to Get Through Failure

Failure doesn’t mean that you have been defeated. It just means that particle course of action wasn’t meant to happen for you. When something doesn’t go the way that you want, learn from it. Reflect. Reflecting on it allows you to grow in strength. It simply gives you the means to either try again, taking a different approach, or it shows you what you don’t, in fact, want. It means that there is another, and a better, opportunity out there waiting to be discovered by you. .
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When thoughts turn into actions

Dreams turn into reality…

My thoughts have turned into actions. I’ve taken the next step into my career journey and enrolled in becoming a Certified Wellness Coach.

The Plan: is to integrate my nursing with coaching, and start up my own business to offer services for mental wellness (with a focus on depression and anxiety). I will work with my clients to empower them to discover ways to effectively cope using positive (and proper) adaptive techniques.

I will continue to act as an advocate and help facilitate the allocation of supportive resources, making access to support easier and readily available to everyone. One of my goals is to create an App that allows peer to peer support in the form of one on one or group support.

I will also provide services on preventative health (focusing on living a healthier lifestyle to prevent chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, or diabetes) which will take a holistic approach and look at multiple areas of a person’s life.

If you don’t know already, I am very passionate about mental health. After suffering a relapse with Major Depression that required me to take a month and a half off of work, I found out first hand just our shitty access to support services are. It was so frustrating to know that I needed help but that help either came at a ridiculous cost or I had to wait months to be seen by what seemed like the only psychiatrist in all of Ontario, or group supports that I’ve been waiting on now for 6 months… although, I do not require the group support anymore. (I am very grateful of my family doctor throughout this entire process as she was always there when I needed her, even with minimal notice).

I ended up starting my own blog and website to share my story, and provide education and tips about depression and anxiety. I wanted people to know that they are not alone. But more importantly, I wanted to locate resources for people, so I went on a scavenger hunt to find resources that were available to people all over the world. My list continues to grow.

I have just over 1k of followers on my blog, 7.5k follows on instagram(which grows about 100 new followers a day now), 10k on Facebook, and 50k views per month on Pinterest.

It is increbible to know how many people I have been able to reach and potentially help in short period of time (only about 5 months).

I can’t thank each and everyone of you for making this possible. Together we are helping each other.

It has been such an incredible journey so far. ♡

Thinking Catastrophe

I just have to post this quote again.

I am in the process of embedding this into my brain.

The over analytical brain that always seems to conjour up the worse possible outcome.

It’s like the brain is attacking itself. Thinking up the most idiotic assumptions.

Why? Because it has nothing better to do than to antagonize you. It’s probably because we all suffer from an overactive imagination. We have hundreds of thousands of thoughts enter our conscious mind, and we allow the positive, pleasant thoughts to easily pass us by and then become hyperfocus on the negative. Ugh! So annoying.

Stop catastrophizing thinking and.. Challange them!

Seriously! Ask your negative thought… “But WHAT IF the opposite (positive) is true?” You managed to start assuming the worst, but WHAT IF we started to assume the best?

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Generalized Anxiety Disorder | A personal story

What do you worry about?

I used to make every thought that came into my mind something to worry about (or maybe I still do – laugh out loud – I just react less).

Worried about being late; worried about getting into an accident; worried to death if a cop is riding behind me; worried about getting lost; worried about having to parallel park; worried about relationships; worried about death or the potential of death; worried about health; worried about work; worried about my future; worried about family; worried about my parents being late by 30 minutes; worried about social events; worried about something awful happening; worried about what I am going to wear; worried about my weight; worried about my complexion; worried about work related stress; worried about love; worried about running out of gas; worried about driving at night, in the snow or rain; worried about not being about to fall asleep; worried about worrying.

These worrying thoughts would ruminate in my mind in a cyclic fashion.

Sometimes my constant worrying would be about a make-believe situations or hypothetical conclusion. I’d worry so much about something that hadn’t even happened (yet) that it would end up causing the very thing I feared to happen or create unnecessary conflict over it. It would basically create an issue out of nothing, for absolutely no reason; an issue that had no reason to even exist.

It was exhausting to say the least.

It was an ex of mine that pointed out my compulsive worrying, and kindly suggested I talk to my doctor about it. I hesitantly took his advice after many months. I had nothing to lose.

It was the best decision.

I was also diagnosed with Depression at the same time I was diagnosed with GAD. Being diagnosed with depression came as a shock to me. I knew I had suffered with Major Depression in the past, but at this particular moment I didn’t feel sad, so thought nothing of it. However, I did lose interest in things, I didn’t want to spend time with my friends or go out anywhere, I felt hopeless about my future (at times), I was irritable, had difficulties sleeping and concentrating, and felt tired a lot of time. I assumed all this feelings were related to anxiety.

It isn’t uncommon for the both to be diagnosed together. Which one came first is still up for debate.

A few months later my depression slipped into a Major Depressive Episode and required me to take some time off work. My treatment plan changed a bit, but I will leave this story for another day when I talk about Major Depression.

My treatment plan consisted of medication, exercise, diet, self-help books (CBT), a sleep routine, mindfulness practice, meditation, CBT and talk therapy by a psychologist, and referral to a psychiatrist for evaluation.

To get into details about specific approaches I took would require another publication, or maybe two or three. If you have specific questions, please never hesitate to email me.

-Rachel Page

Social Anxiety Disorder | A personal story

Social Anxiety, another disorder I am familiar with.

It began in my earlier years, right around the time when the bullying began.

It instilled such fear that I refused to present in front of the class. My assignments would be presented in front of only the teacher at the end of the day. I become isolated, and alone. I was probably thought of as a ‘loner’ at one point. Eating lunch alone, even then I would sit there and worry about what the other kids were thinking about me. If they didn’t speak ignorant words, I knew they were thinking it; rolling their eyes as they walked by.

This fear has followed me throughout my life, and had affected multiple areas of my life.

My greatest challenge was in nursing school, and having to work in groups and present in front of the class, later it was working with ‘actual’ patients. Come to think about it, this is probably when the panic attacks started. Having to face my fears was terrifying, but I knew if I ever wanted to have a career in nursing, and practice safely, then I would just have to ‘suck it up’ and do it. I remember the first time I had to call a doctor. I wrote out everything, according to SBAR, quickly rehearsed it in my mind, then called the doctor. I maybe got 4 or 5 stuttered words out, panicked and hung up.
I made my preceptor call back.

With practice, it has got easier. I still get anxious when having to discuss a patients care with a doctor, but I manage (what choice do I really have?). I usually get anxious with anyone with higher ‘authority’. Probably because I am afraid of saying something incorrect, or not making sense, or afraid of what I ‘look like’. When I get anxious in social situations, I become flushed, I blush, and my body temperature rises. At work, I know I can’t avoid those situations, or else I could compromise the patient, and could lose my job.

The repeated exposure has helped drastically at work, but I still have avoidant behaviours in my personal life with family and friends. I have been known to avoid gatherings with large groups, including family functions. A “large” for me is any gathering consisting of more than 3 people. Usually when I gone out with friends, at most, it has only been with 2 other people. I have missed weddings, parties, birthdays, and random gatherings out of fear. It has affected my relationships with friends and boyfriend’s along the way, and made it difficult to make new friends.

A million thoughts will occupied my mind, and repeat over and over again.

“What if I say something silly? What if I look uncomfortable and awkward? Will they notice how nervous I am? What if my face goes red? What if my voice trembles? What if I don’t make sense or ramble? Will people ask me questions I don’t know the answer to? Will people think I am stupid? Will I have to initiate the conversations? What if I can’t relate to the conversation? What if people wonder why I am being so quiet? What if people think I’m wierd? What if?” Literally the thoughts never end, it’s exhausting.

And simply telling me, “I’ll be fine, suck it up, who cares what they think, or have a drink” or get angry or upset at me, only makes me more anxious. And it’s totally screwed up to think anyone could get upset at you over something you have no control over.

Imagine you are standing at the edge of a 100 foot cliff, and the only way back down is going over the edge, and climbing down a rope latter with some of the steps broken or missing. That is the same intensity of fear I get in some social situations. Sometimes it is easier to just sit down where you are (where you feel comfortable), and not move.

I definitely feel the most comfortable at home; I call it my safe haven. I do go out, maybe once every 2 weeks. Each time is always a struggle, my initial reaction is to cancel plans as the anxiety starts to build due to negative anticipations. It’s frustrating because I love my friends and family, and I should feel the most comfortable around them but my anxiety usually hinders over my trust.

I once had an ex friend get so angry at me because “I could go out with complete strangers (on dates), but I couldn’t hang out with my girl”. Anxiety is a weird thing, it is totally F’ed up. Meeting with strangers felt so much easier because they knew nothing about me, I had an opportunity to only allow what I wanted them to know, when I wanted them to know it. I could put an abrupt end to things if the relationship lacked a connection. I cared less about what they thought. I was in control of those situations.

With my friends, I am an open book. They knew every raw detail. I cared so much about what they thought. I valued their opinions, perhaps too much. I’m not sure why, but I felt like I always had something to prove. My mindset was very damaging to my relationships. Only the strongest relationships were able to survive.

I knew I wanted to change. I needed to changed. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Exposure Therapy has really helped me gain back control, and is helping to change my way of thinking. I’m still a ‘work in progress’ but things are changing for the better. I also had to make some difficult decisions with ending some friendships. The purpose was to eliminate the people in my life that held me back, or no longer supported me or served me, grew with me, shared the same values or interests, able to understand me (or took the time to understand) or ride the highs and lows with me. Hardest, but best decision I ever made. Took a very heavy weight off my shoulder.

My journey to self-improvement began with the formulation of specific goals.

1) Decrease social anxiety and gain control
2) Build and sustain meaningful relationships

Then I came up specific tasks to complete each goal.

An example could be, decrease social anxiety by challenging catastrophic or distored thoughts, or slowly integrating different levels of exposure. You really have to be your own cheerleader when it comes to purposely exposing yourself to anxious situations. I’ve had to force myself, but each time always got easier, and I always ended up having a great time. I use reflection to remind myself of the positive experiences I had.

Before you jump into CBT or Exposure Therapy, I would advise that you talk with your doctor to develop a plan together that would work best for you. If it is decided that you would benefit from this type of therapy, you can either purchase a self-help workbook, or you can complete a plan under the care and supervision of a psychologist or trained therapist. I would advise the latter for more severe types of social anxieties or phobias, especially if they are causing significant distress.

-Rachel Page

Panic Disorder | Coping Regime

 

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Going through the experience of a panic attack are some of the scariest moments I ever had to live through. Each time felt like the last time, and to think it was a ‘harmless’ event was impossible, at first.

I really believe it was my frame of mind that helped me to cope as well as I did, as best as I did. It was really mind over mood, so to speak.

The frequency of the panic attacks seemed to diminish once I graduated from Nursing School and eventually came to a point of being almost non-existent. It look accepting what needed to change, dedication, and a change in mindset to adequately manage, and mostly prevent the return of the attacks.

Nursing School created a high level of stress in my life, not only was I dealing with the usual and expected stress related to the volume of weekly readings, essays, exams and presentations, but I was also trying to manage the symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder, Depression and Social Anxiety. Furthermore, I was dealing with the psychological devastation of a cheating partner, relationship conflicts with friends, and the death of family members.  I believe it was a combination of these factors, fighting against each other, that led to the development of the panic attacks. I wasn’t diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety at this point, but I am sure my mental health history would have suggested it.

What coping mechanisms or techniques did I use to help manage the symptoms of, and prevent panic attacks?

I think the scariest part is the fact that you think you are about to die. The symptoms are very similar to a heart attack, which is why a lot of people will Dial 911 or go to their nearest Emergency  because it can be difficult to decipher between the two if you have never experience either one of them before.

With both, you get chest discomfort, short of breath, dizziness, apprehension, and/or nausea. The difference is usually the intensity of the chest pain, and the duration. Please note that not everyone who suffers a heart attack or a panic attack will experience chest pain or discomfort. Working in Emergency, I have seen people come in with crushing chest pains to mild heart-burn like symptoms to vague complaints of  “I am just not feeling that well, I am just more tired”. Panic attacks come on abruptly and are short lived, lasting only a few moments, and the pain DOES NOT radiate to the neck, back or jaw. If you ever experience chest pain and cannot contribute it to an exact ‘non-emergent’ cause, or when in doubt, call 911. Never EVER drive yourself to emergency if you think there is ANY possibly it could be a heart attack.

First and foremost, the biggest thing that helped me was when I finally decided to go see my doctor. It look me a few months to go, when the attacks were happening every other day, because I felt embarrassed over my lack of control over my own mind and body. Confiding and trusting my doctor provided me with a peace of mind that these signs and symptoms were being produced by my mind, and not something more serious. She sent me for a cardiac workup that included blood work, and diagnostic tests (ie. chest xray, ECG, and a cardiac holter monitor). All the reports came back normal, as suspected, and I was diagnosed with Panic Disorder. My doctor and I discussed my options for treatment, an developed a plan that best suited my life. I took a non-pharmacological approach.

Having a definite diagnosis, brought a sense of peace because I was able to know, without a doubt, that these physical feelings were harmless. The absolute worse that could happen is I could faint as a result of hyperventilation.

Which brings me to my next, very important, coping technique; the art of breathing.

Most often, people begin to feel lightheaded when they are breathing fast and heavily. When the panic attack comes on, you usually don’t realize that your breathing has increased, because you are scared stiff of what is lurking around the unknown corner of Doomsdale. That impending doom feeling, the feeling that something so horrible is about to happen. Your body is trying to figure out whether it wants to fight or take flight or play dead.

There are so many different ways to practice breathing techniques. Count to 4 or 5 or 6, or 10 (but don’t make yourself pass out), hold for x amount of time, breath out through your nose, or through pursed lips. Just pick what ever comes natural and easiest for you. The idea is you want to slow down your breathing and distract yourself by focusing on and counting your breaths. If you breath in through your nose the first time, but breath in through your mouth the second time, who cares…. just breathe – deep and slowly.

Just as important as breathing is relaxation. I know it seems impossible to be able to relax when you are in such a heightened state. An easy way to achieve this is to practice deep muscle relaxation. I often used this technique at night when my attacks were the worst. Get into a comfortable position. Start from one end of your body and work your way up (or down), tensing and releasing each muscle group. Tense as tight as you can, but without causing pain. The idea is to not only distract your mind, but it also helps you distinguish between what a tense body feels like, versus a relaxed one. I hadn’t known how tense my body really was until  I went for my first massage, and the massage therapist expressed concerns over how tense I was. My neck muscles were the worse, which often brought about agonizing, frequent tension headaches.

If  neither of those two did the trick, then I would depend on calm music and stretching, or endlessly pacing around the room until I tired myself out or forgot what I was pacing about. Keep in mind, although what seemed like forever, the panic attacks only lasted a few moments. Most of the time you spend is on psyching yourself out thinking about, instead think of something else, anything else (blue frogs, purple grass, pink sky, the smell of eggnog, a polka-dot pig;  the more random the better).

Sleeping was(is) exceptionally hard because my mind likes to wander and worry at night, so I started creating a routine for myself, and never went to lay down in my bed unless I was tired and on the verge of falling asleep. This meant, laying on the couch, watching TV, and waiting for that moment my eyes would start to droop. Some other remedies that would help me were a warm comforting bath with Epson Salts, Chamomile tea, and Melatonin, but eventually I had to upgrade to a prescribed temporary sleeping aid. Do what ever you need to to ensure you get an adequate nights sleep.

During the day if a panic attack would strike, I would use those same methods as mentioned above, but I would also incorporate other options such as going for a walk, calling a friend or family member, or wrote my thoughts and feelings down in my journal.

I also used reflection as a key competent to my management regime. Reflecting on previous attacks, helped me to see that I was always going to be okay, and it showed me what worked and what didn’t. Being more aware of my body and mind allowed me to feel and anticipate when an attack was likely to hit. It provided me with an opportunity to intervene before it turned into a full blown fit of terror.

Eventually I started to hit the gym, and I think that is actually what pushed me over to the happier, calmer side of life. Some other things that helped were decreasing or eliminating the factors that were causing unnecessary stress, and simplifying my life.

Really, it is a matter of finding out what works for you. A lot of the time (especially in the beginning)  you will spend your time trying to figure out different techniques that work for you. Don’t give up on this trial and error process. If you are having a hard time coping, and haven’t seen a doctor yet, I advise you to make an appointment. There is no reason anyone should have to suffer, and always know that you are never alone.

ℜachel ℘age ♥