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Ellen81: Healing from 20+ years of Venlafaxin (Effexor)


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Hi everyone, after reading so many stories on this great forum it is time to share mine. It would be very helpful to feel a little less lonely on this journey and to hear from other people who have been on antidepressants most of their lives just like I was.  

 

English is not my first language, thank you for ignoring any grammar mistakes 😉  

 

First of all, I am not against antidepressants if used short term and for severe cases of anxiety and depression. However, when starting with them back in 1997, I wish I had known more about the complexity and alternative options for treating depression and anxiety. At that time, I was told that I simply have a serotonin deficiency in my brain and that it runs in my family. I was 16 and got prescribed clomipramine (anafranil) by a child psychiatrist because of heavy panic attacks, hyperventilation, and emotional numbness. The medication felt like heaven: within a couple of weeks, I discovered how it felt to live a normal life with zero anxiety like most people. It was literally a lifesaver. There was no psychotherapy or any other treatment, just medication.  

 

After turning 18 (in 1999) I came off meds without any issues, I cannot remember any withdrawal issues. I got busy with the final exams for secondary school and getting ready for university. Right after passing the exams (I was 19), the panic attacks kicked in again. This time I went to the general practitioner, and they put me back on clomipramine which I used during the first year of university. Came off after a year and, again, I cannot remember any withdrawal issues.  

 

Age 20 (2001): here we go again, the panic attacks and emotional numbness. For the first time I started with psychotherapy which helped me a lot in understanding myself and my background. This time my general practitioner (another one, different city) prescribed venlafaxine (Effexor) because it was their first choice for all patients with these symptoms. It didn’t feel as good as clomipramine but it did the job and the anxiety went away. I liked it because it had fewer side effects than clomipramine.  

 

Now I will jump to my 30th year of life (2011). Over a period of 10 years I had tried to get off from Effexor 4 or 5 times (I lost count). Each time very slowly and under medical supervision. And each time, after a year or so, I fell back into that terrible state of anxiety and numbness. Around that time, the GP advised me to keep using Effexor for the rest of my life because it seems that I was born with this condition just like some people are born with diabetes or any other chronic disease. From that moment I stayed on Effexor although I never really accepted that medication is the true solution for this. Thank goodness it was always a low dosage, 75mg (I am very sensitive).  

 

In my 30s, lots of interesting things happened (mixed bag): I got married, went through a burnout, learnt to set healthy boundaries, lost connection with my creativity, found more confidence, moved around as an expat, did lots of courses in mindfulness and meditation. I am a late bloomer and learnt most social skills in the past 10 years of my life. I am definitely in a new stage of my life, practicing more patience and self-acceptance.  

 

Last year, I started playing again with the idea of a new withdrawal attempt. Main reason is that I want to feel my emotions again, including the negative ones. Over the years I was not unhappy, but I started feeling a little numb (not depressed) like life is happening as if I am watching a movie. This is not how I want to live my life (anymore); I need to feel alive and 100% present again with all its ups and downs.

This time would be different because everything in my life is pretty stable now: my marriage, my job, my social life. I also have much more awareness and knowledge of the importance of exercise, daylight, and a good diet which I didn’t really care about during previous attempts.  

 

I got new insights which I will list here: 

  1. What if my relapses in the past were actually withdrawal issues? I never gave myself time to heal or tried alternative treatments, but went straight to the doctor for meds once I thought that it all started again.  
  2. What if my anxiety in the past was caused by an unhealthy way of dealing with (negative) emotions and relationships? I was not an anxious or depressed child, just more sensitive than the other family members. I learnt from an early age that being sensitive is a bad thing. I cannot blame my parents for this, they have their own background. I used to walk away from anything that felt bad, including other people and my own demons. I had to learn from my husband how to speak up and how to resolve issues. I used to fear negative feelings and pushed them away. Now I acknowledge them and let them be (without dwelling, I just don’t make them bigger than they need to be). Most small conflicts with people can easily be resolved with the right communication. I learnt to accept my own sensitivity. I also stopped believing that I am an alien and that there is something wrong with me.  
    I believe that any unresolved issue or unlived emotion piles up in our bodies and minds. It all needs an outlet. That is what happened with me I believe.  

 

I am with a good and understanding psychiatrist now and he supports me to get off meds. I made a plan 

In Februari 2024 I started tapering down from 75mg and on 5 May 2024, I took the last dosage. Four months is still pretty short for the tapering process but I felt fine. The last step was the hardest with headache and brain zaps but those went away after 4 weeks.  

Before joining the SA forum I always believed that it would be a linear process, but now I understand (and feel!) that it’s rather a rollercoaster with waves and windows.  

 

I am in my 8th week without medication. Today is a good day. I try not to think about how tomorrow will be, because I simply don’t know. The past weeks have been tough: there were days that I only wanted to sleep. It’s a strange, mental tiredness that starts very suddenly and can be gone in 15 minutes. Some days I am wondering if this was really a good idea but as long as I still have good days, I think it’s worth it.  

I stopped drinking coffee because it made me anxious. I am also more careful now with alcohol which makes me tired. I started taking fish oil, magnesium, l-theanine, and taurine. Especially the latter two seem to help a lot! Most days no heavy anxiety, just a brain fog.  

One beautiful thing that’s happening right now is that I feel lots of grief about losing the emotional connection with myself. This sounds negative but it feels amazing to cry again, such a relief. The emotions are strong, both the negative and positive ones, and that is exactly what I wanted. There was something blocked for years and I think that it is coming out now and flowing again. I let it happen and trust that my brain knows what needs to be done for healing. It takes time, patience, and self-care.  

 

I started reading about tantra and tapping into that creative energy. I was a very creative child and I am longing for those activities again. Getting out of my head, just playing a bit with paint and clay (although I still don’t know where to start).  

My story might be completely different tomorrow but as long as I still have good days, then I want to continue this new journey and find back myself. I am sad, angry scared, excited, wondering, all at the same time. It is sometimes overwhelming. I want to accept and process all those feelings without making them bigger than needed.  

What really helps me is not worrying about what I feel. It is what it is. I am in a very privileged position of working from home and I do short meditations and naps in between these weeks. My colleagues haven’t noticed any difference, and I am proud that I still manage to do my work (even though I only do the necessary and urgent tasks).  

 

Maybe in future I might go back to AD again if nothing else helps and then I will consider this period as a detoxing stage in my life to remember how life is without medication. For now, I am hoping that this is the start of a new life, finding back who I truly am. And once healed, I hope that I can help others in the same journey because life can and should be beautiful for all of us.  

 

Thank you for reading all of this!  

1997-1999: Clomipramine

2000-2024 (on and off): Venlafaxine 75mg

6th May 2024: last dosage after tapering down for 4 months

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  • Ellen81 changed the title to Ellen81: Healing from 20+ years of Venlafaxin (Effexor)
  • Moderator

Hello @Ellen81, and welcome to SA!  We are a community of volunteers providing peer support in the tapering of psychiatric medications and their associated withdrawal syndromes. 

 

Thank you for completing your drug signature!

 

My goodness, I could have written so much of this myself- the revolving door of symptoms, on again off again with meds, being told that my depression and anxiety was just like diabetes and needing to be on drugs for life, your lack of creativity on the meds, the realization that past relapses were actually withdrawal... we have had a very similar journey!

 

Your taper was quite fast!  Here at SA, we recommend what is known as a hyperbolic taper- decreasing by 10% of the current month's dose no more quickly than every four weeks.  This is designed to help minimize withdrawal symptoms as you go.  Some people need to taper slower.  I seem to be one of them- currently doing 5% per month here!  Read more here about this method of tapering:

 

Why taper by 10% of my dosage?

 

It sounds like you have developed some wonderful coping mechanisms to deal with your withdrawal symptoms!  Mindfulness, accepting the symptoms as they come, not fighting against them is the cornerstone of my coping as well.  This will absolutely help you through the rough days.  Speaking of this- it is totally normal to have good days and bad days while in withdrawal.  This is known as the windows and waves pattern of stabilization.  It's a good idea to keep a journal of symptoms (you can use this site that way as well, if you like!) to help you identify patterns in your symptoms, and triggers as well.  Caffeine is a massive trigger for me, too.  I miss my coffee, but have discovered some wonderful herbal teas that agree with me much more!  Read more about windows and waves here:

 

Windows and waves pattern of stabilization

 

You seem to be doing quite well, being 8 weeks out.  Some people have an uptick in symptoms around the 6 month mark- just something to be aware of.  If you keep up the amazing coping strategies that you have developed, you will likely be able to get through it just fine.  Complete healing can take many months, even years- so be very patient with yourself!  Symptoms may change over time as well.  With my last rapid taper, I started out with all physical symptoms, but at about the six month mark, all the emotional symptoms came rushing back.  So be prepared for changes in how you feel over time- but the overall trajectory will be one of improvement!  Our bodies and brains are always healing!

 

I think, given all of your insights, and your newly developed coping skills, you will likely never need to return to antidepressants again.  You clearly have developed an inner strength that you lacked with previous attempts.  I am very happy for you!  A word of warning about returning to antidepressants- it does not always go smoothly.  Many people, after repeated rapid tapers and cold turkey stops, develop hypersensitivity to these medications (along with other medications, supplements, and even foods!).  This can hit at any time, on any reinstatement or start of a new drug, so great caution is warranted.  I'm going to attach some reading on hypersensitivity here, just so you are aware.  Like I said, I don't think you will need these drugs again, but this info is really good to have when weighing that decision. 

 

Hypersensitivity and kindling

 

Overall, it sounds like you are doing wonderfully, and I really hope you choose to keep us updated on your journey!  We are always happy to answer questions, and assist in any way we can.  

 

Wishing you ongoing healing, and many more windows than waves! ❤️‍🩹

 

 

1995- 2007- On and off multiple antidepressants (Prozac, Paxil, Effexor, Wellbutrin, escitalopram). Memory poor- can’t remember dates. Always tapered fast or CT.  2007- tapered Wellbutrin, zopiclone and escitalopram over one month to get pregnant.  Withdrawal hell for many years.

2009- Daughter born 🥰 Post partum depression/psychosis- no meds taken.

2016- Back on escitalopram due to job change/anxiety

2022- Severe covid infection- Diagnosed with long covid 08/22.

2023- 01/23- Long term disability approved for long covid.  Started taper under MD advice from 20mg: 11/23- 15mg. 2024- March-10mg. Started low dose naltrexone for long covid-5mg- terrible reaction, reduced to 0.5mg.  April- 10mg escitalopram, 1.0mg LDN. May 1- 9.0mg escitalopram, 1.0mg LDN. May 15- 9.0mg escitalopram, 1.5mg LDN.  June 12- 8.5mg escitalopram, 1.5mg LDN.  July 8- Brassmonkey micro taper started.  8.4mg escitalopram, 1.5mg LDN.  July 15- 8.3mg esc, 1.5mg LDN.  July 18 8.3mg esc, 2.0mg LDN

 

Supplements/other meds: Vitamin D, B12, Claritin

 

I am not a doctor.  I don't even play one on TV.  This is not medical advice, but based on personal experience.  Please consult a medical professional.

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@Catwoman73 Thank you so much! This is all very helpful. I agree that 4 months is pretty fast. I guess that I was too much encouraged because the tapering was easier than expected (except for the last step) and I tend to be a bit impatient each time I want to change something in my life. If there will be a a next time, then I will definitely take it much easier and stick with the 10% rule. 

It's also very good to know about the 6 months mark which I didn't know. I never kept a log in the past and cannot remember exactly, but it wouldn't surprise me if this was exactly the moment when I went to the doctor immediately to get back on meds, each time. This time I want to give myself more time and complete at least one year without meds to see how it goes with plenty of self-care and trust. 

I like the idea of logging here and keeping track of my progress. Maybe I will do that each month and also around the 6 months mark. 

Thank you again and wishing you healing too ❤️ 

1997-1999: Clomipramine

2000-2024 (on and off): Venlafaxine 75mg

6th May 2024: last dosage after tapering down for 4 months

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  • Moderator

Well, keep up the good work, @Ellen81!  Anytime you need support, or have questions about anything, we're here for you! 

1995- 2007- On and off multiple antidepressants (Prozac, Paxil, Effexor, Wellbutrin, escitalopram). Memory poor- can’t remember dates. Always tapered fast or CT.  2007- tapered Wellbutrin, zopiclone and escitalopram over one month to get pregnant.  Withdrawal hell for many years.

2009- Daughter born 🥰 Post partum depression/psychosis- no meds taken.

2016- Back on escitalopram due to job change/anxiety

2022- Severe covid infection- Diagnosed with long covid 08/22.

2023- 01/23- Long term disability approved for long covid.  Started taper under MD advice from 20mg: 11/23- 15mg. 2024- March-10mg. Started low dose naltrexone for long covid-5mg- terrible reaction, reduced to 0.5mg.  April- 10mg escitalopram, 1.0mg LDN. May 1- 9.0mg escitalopram, 1.0mg LDN. May 15- 9.0mg escitalopram, 1.5mg LDN.  June 12- 8.5mg escitalopram, 1.5mg LDN.  July 8- Brassmonkey micro taper started.  8.4mg escitalopram, 1.5mg LDN.  July 15- 8.3mg esc, 1.5mg LDN.  July 18 8.3mg esc, 2.0mg LDN

 

Supplements/other meds: Vitamin D, B12, Claritin

 

I am not a doctor.  I don't even play one on TV.  This is not medical advice, but based on personal experience.  Please consult a medical professional.

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