Are Antidepressants Worth Taking?

Since being diagnosed with clinical depression a few years ago, I’ve been on and off (mostly on) the anti-depressant Fluoxetine.

I’ve taken varying doses between the minimum and, most recently, the maximum.

What beneficial effects did Fluoxetine have for me? What were its side-effects?

Rather than writing about how anti-depressants are supposed to work, in this post I’ll share my subjective experiences, which may be typical, or they may be anomalous.

[Nerdy science warning: Care should be taken before drawing conclusions from a sample size of one with no experimental controls in place.]

Fluoxetine seems to take the edge off the more difficult aspects of life. And by “difficult” I really mean “intensely emotional.”

I experienced less emotion while on the medication. This felt a bit like having a force field, enabling me to more easily endure uncomfortable situations (whether they occurred in the external world, or purely in my internal world of thoughts and feelings).

Fortunately my emotions weren’t numbed completely. I think that would have felt unpleasant for me, though I can understand why someone who’s been through a lot of trauma might want to numb everything and feel nothing.

Often it’s really beneficial to have a force field which prevents you feeling so much emotion. For example, in stressful work environments, it’s easier to keep your cool.

Dull

Along with dulled emotions, I believe my thinking wasn’t as sharp. It’s hard to quantify exactly how dulled my cognition seemed to be. At a rough guess, maybe 10%?

I’m finding it easier to get out of bed now I’m off the antidepressants. And the morning’s mental grogginess fades faster. I concede this is partly because I’m simply enjoying life more, so I have more willingness to engage with the morning rather than trying to hide from it.

Sometimes life is fucking brutal. Our loved ones will die one day, many of them before we die ourselves. That kind of loss can cause immense suffering and pain.

Dr Jordan Peterson rather bleakly proclaims, “Life is tragedy tainted by malevolence.” I have some sympathy with that outlook.

So it’s no wonder people turn to antidepressants to get some temporary relief from the bleakest parts of life.

Was my life ready that bad?

I wasn’t taking Fluoxetine short-term. I’ve been on it for years. So what unbearable trauma happened to me? Why was my life so bad that I didn’t want to live any more?

In short, I simply didn’t like life. I wanted to escape from it. I spent large chunks of my time wishing I wasn’t around.

At the time, my understanding was that if life’s making you depressed, then it’s perfectly natural to take anti-depressants so you can cope with it.

I liked my Fluoxetine-powered force field. I didn’t want to give it up. It didn’t miraculously make me happier, but at least it reduced the intensity of negative emotions.

And that’s the key point: I had decided I didn’t want to deal with everyday life any more. I constantly wanted to escape, through anti-depressants, through videogames and eventually by taking drugs.

And that lead me to addiction and Narcotics Anonymous.

It might seem strange, but I’m incredibly grateful I hit that low point.

Because it was there, as my life teetered on the edge of total destruction, that I learned the last little secret to curing myself of depression.


The root problem wasn’t that I was depressed. My core problem was that I couldn’t cope with everyday life.

And the solution wasn’t to mask or escape from reality (via games, drugs etc). The solution was to learn how to accept life on life’s terms.


I needed to stop running away. I needed to take responsibility for my life.

It’s thanks to Dr Jordan Peterson and to Narcotics Anonymous that I’ve made these astonishing realisations.

It’s taken me literally years to get to this point. Change is often really hard.


It’s been almost 8 weeks since I cold-turkeyed Fluoxetine. I don’t recommend that anyone else does this – it can be very risky to suddenly stop taking antidepressants, in some cases fatal.

Two months ago I couldn’t fully articulate why I wanted to stop taking my medication. But I knew it felt like the right thing to do for me personally.

It’s only now that all of this is becoming increasingly clear to me, almost 5 months clean from drugs and 2 months free from anti-depressants.

Ultimately, I needed to learn how to cope with everyday life again.

I needed to start taking responsibility for myself. And I needed to learn a better way to relate to so-called “negative” emotions.

Without Jordan Peterson and NA, I expect I’d still be on anti-depressants… possibly for the rest of my life.

So, it’s difficult for me to understate how grateful I am to both NA and Dr Peterson (via his YouTube videos).

Who knows where I’d be without their help.


[Caveat: depression is a complex disease. It has many different causes and seems to affect different people in different ways. In this post I talk only about my own experiences. I’m not a doctor or a medical professional. I am not recommending what I did for anyone else.]

Why I’m Quitting Anti-Depressants

Given that I’ve had a rough time in the last week with depression, it probably seems strange for me to quit taking my anti-depressant medication. Let me explain…

[NOTE: It can be dangerous to suddenly stop taking any medication. There can be unpredictable and serious side-effects. Always consult your doctor before changing your medication.]

For several years now (on and off), I’ve been taking an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) called Fluoxetine. It’s also known by the brand name, Prozac.

Helpful

I feel that Fluoxetine has really helped me. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I may well have killed myself without it. It’s reduced some of the symptoms of depression.

I think of Fluoxetine as giving me a kind of force field against strong emotions. I’m often quite a sensitive person – little things can produce large emotional reactions in me. I put this down to difficulties in childhood stemming from having an alcoholic mother.

Fluoxetine basically makes everyday life easier. In essence, little things bother me less.

There are plenty of times where it can be really helpful to experience less emotion. Some people find it helps them deal with a stressful work environment, for example.

Dealing with life

However, I’m often left with a nagging feeling that Fluoxetine prevents me from experiencing the full spectrum of life. Positive emotions are numbed as well as negative ones.

With 12 Steps fellowships, there’s a focus on “life on life’s terms”. One of the reasons addicts might use drugs is a desire to escape reality… and I can definitely relate to that. I’ve realised that my SSRI medication is cushioning me from being able to deal with life on life’s terms.

I want to build my mental and emotional resilience and toughness. I believe I have the tools and support systems in place to do that now, so I don’t need to depend on SSRIs.

I’m much better at using mindfulness to counter unhelpful thoughts. And I’ve got more of a social support system, thanks to the 12 Steps fellowship.

I’m very familiar with CBT and REBT, which are both great tools for tackling depression.

I also know that if I maintain my physical health through the golden triangle of a good sleep routine, healthy food and exercise, that makes a huge difference to my mental health.

Less effective

Another reason for stopping Fluoxetine is that it often becomes less effective over several months and years, meaning patients need to increase their dose in order to obtain the same benefit. Our bodies are quite clever at achieving homeostasis – in other words, adjusting to changes we make. Sometimes this includes our long-term medications.

Until a few weeks ago, I was on the maximum possible dose for Fluoxetine in the UK. So, if my depression worsened, there was no way for me to increase my dose again.

But I know from past experience that if I have a few months off Fluoxetine, my brain seems to “reset”. That means if I get badly depressed again, I can start Fluoxetine on the minimum possible dose.

Not my first time

Generally speaking, it’s advised to “wean off” SSRIs, in other words: reduce the dose very gradually. This minimises any unpleasant withdrawal effects. Cold-turkeying like I’m doing can be quite risky.

However, I have cold-turkeyed Fluoxetine twice before, meaning I know what to expect. Fortunately it has one of the longest half-lives of any anti-depressant, meaning it takes weeks to fully leave your body. This means that even if you stop taking it suddenly, your body and brain still have a relatively long time to adjust.

Other anti-depressant medications have much shorter half-lives, meaning that withdrawal effects can be much more severe and potentially dangerous.

I’ve stopped taking Fluoxetine several times in the last few years, usually for the same reasons. But I’m fully prepared to start taking it again if I get seriously depressed.

There’s no point in being medication-free if I can’t handle day-to-day life, or if I constantly want to kill myself.

Withdrawal Effects

One slightly weird withdrawal effect I get is “brain zaps”. These are hard to describe unless you’ve had them yourself, but it feels like a very quick, mild electric shock. I wonder if this has something to do with varying levels of neurotransmitters in the brain as it adjusts. It’s not painful and it’s not entirely unpleasant… just a bit weird.

Another withdrawal effect is that I’ll experience emotions more strongly. That means I’m more likely to randomly burst into tears for no apparent reason. That’s fairly likely to happen at least once in the next few weeks.

This happened once before to me – during an interview! I think my tears were a big part of the reason why I didn’t get the position. Crying made me seem emotionally unstable, which was a big issue for this particular role.

So be warned if you’re thinking of reducing your own anti-depressant meds! Make sure you know what you’re letting yourself in for!


Hopefully this explains all the ins and outs of why I’ve stopped taking Fluoxetine. Again, I have no problems restarting it again at some point in the future (in consultation with my doctor), if it seems like depression is getting the better of me and my other tools aren’t sufficient.

However I’m cautiously optimistic that now I’ll be able to stop taking anti-depressants permanently. Wish me luck!