Personal: My Month with Prozac
You all hopefully know by now that I have diagnosed Major Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Since 2015, when I attempted suicide, I have been working extra hard to find a solution that helps me cope and live with these issues. Four psychiatrists, three counselors, one in-patient program, and six different medications later I am still searching. My latest venture: Prozac. As you may know, I tried Cymbalta for the third time this year and had a huge problem with the side effects and the way it heightened my anxiety. After a month I had to stop taking it. My psychiatrist suggested Prozac.
Why I tried Prozac:
- It is said to help with both anxiety and depression
- It comes in a once a week dosage that could be used during my time on the trail so I don't have to carry as many pills, worry about refills, or take a pill every morning.
- People have complained less about its side effects than any other SSRI on the market.
- It also can be used to treat Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which my psychiatrist is concerned I may have in a mild form.
- This medication can help with mood swings and bring some stability
Side effects I experienced:
- Loss of appetite
- Uncontrollable excitement, activity, and restlessness
- Dehydration, increased thirst, and dry mouth
- Weight loss
- Difficulty concentrating
Why I stopped taking Prozac:
The side effects began mildly with those listed above. Eventually the dehydration, despite drinking more than 80fl/oz of water per day made my appetite loss even worse. Combine that with a huge lack of sleep and fevers, I couldn't cope with the side effects and my daily life. This lead to a quick downward spiral and by week three on the medication I ended up fainting when I was trying to clock out for a lunch break at work. I immediately called my psychiatrist, but he did not answer. I found out he would be out of the office for the week so I sent him an email. I left work early.
After discussing with my parents we decided I needed to see a doctor, with my Primary Care Physicican (PCP) being all the way in Newton, MA and no response from my psychiatrist we decided the urgent care clinic at our local hospital was the best plan. By now it was 2:00pm I drove myself to the hospital (probably should not have done that...) and my mother met me there a few hours later. I was triaged after two hours of waiting, now 4:15pm and told that I needed to be seen in the Emergency Department (ED), not the Urgent Care Clinic and that it was a bit of a longer wait but I would be called when they were ready.
I got a call after three hours of waiting, now 5:15pm from my PCP who I had called earlier, his recommendation was to go to the ED and stop taking Prozac immediately. I finally received a reply email from a psychiatrist who was a colleague of the psychiatrist I usually see about half an hour later. After replying to him quickly, he gave me a call. He also told me to go to the ED and stop taking the medication.
At this point I hadn't been able to ingest any water or food without vomiting. All I had consumed in the past 72 hours was three Ensure shakes and some diluted apple juice. I had no energy left, my stomach was in knots, my lips were chapped, I was running a fever, and all I wanted was to be in a warm bed with my cats. Unfortunately, I was stuck in a waiting room with ten other people who were also miserable in the most uncomfortable wooden chair I had ever sat on.
After five hours of waiting, now 7:15pm, I couldn't take it anymore. It felt my lips were about to peel off and I didn't want to sit in that awful chair any longer. I got up and asked a nurse if she had any idea when I would be seen. She told me all of the emergency department's rooms were full and there were five people int he hallway on gurneys waiting to be seen. The first week of ski season brought in many injuries.
They wanted me to wait three more hours. In total, ten hours. For an IV of fluids and some anti-nausea medication, all of which I would have to pay hundreds of dollars for anyway. I called the next nearest ED, about 45 minutes away. Also full. The next closest after that was over an hour away. I gave up. My mother and I went home. She made me some matzo-ball soup, diluted apple juice, and got me unsalted saltines to chew on.
After 3 days in bed, 3 boxes of matzo-ball soup, 4 sleeves of unsalted saltines, and an entire bottle of Mott's Apple Juice later I felt a bit better. I went back to work and resumed life as a functioning human. I also began the two week cycle of withdrawals from Prozac.
In summary, I absolutely hate America's healthcare system, especially in rural parts of the country like this. I got charged for being triaged in the ED, even though I was never seen by a doctor. I wasn't told that it would be a ten hour wait, and if I had been told that I would not have wasted an entire day sitting there waiting and being charged for someone reading my vitals. I was absolutely outraged and, to be honest, I feel like fighting our healthcare system has been a complete waste of energy. I've been trying to fight this system since I started college 6 years ago. I'm so sick of paying an arm and a leg for less than adequate health care and insurance. I'm tired of waiting months to see a psychiatrist and then waiting another month just to see them, even after I've been in the hospital in an emergency situation.
I'm still looking for ways to fight this system and I won't give up. But I won't lie, I'm feeling extremely defeated.
Two weeks later:
It's been two weeks since my last day on Prozac. The withdrawal symptoms:
- Nausea and vomitting
- Mood swings
- Heightened Anxiety
- Obsessive thoughts
- Increased Appetite
- Metallic taste in the mouth
Have been just a joy to live with (<- serious sarcasm). And I know that it has been a struggle for my family and coworkers to deal with me. I'm either grumpy or overly energetic and elated. I'm either starving or vomiting. Fevers and tremors and sweating have made sleeping difficult as well as being awake. A constant headache has been just lovely... Word to the wise, don't quit SSRIs cold turkey if you don't have to.
Why I might try Prozac again in the future:
Prozac did have a lot of really great benefits. It helped with:
- My anxiety
- Although I was still anxious, it was surface anxiety. Nothing deep. No dark winding paths. No suicidal thoughts. A lot less worrying about other people's perceptions of me.
- Positivity and Mood
- I was so much more positive. To a point where I started seeing how negative some of the people around me were that I never noticed.
- I had a lot less mood swings. I felt more stable.
- I am pretty productive without medication, but it comes in spurts. I have intense focus but only sometimes.
- On Prozac I had intense focus, I consistently got things done. My To Do lists (I obsessively make) rarely had more than a couple of items left over at the end of the day.
- OCD control
- I was far less obsessive. I didn't think about what other people were thinking all the time. I didn't cling to people who gave me attention
- My lists dwindled. I still kept organized and made my spread sheets, but I went multiple days without making To Do lists, which is highly unusual.
- I didn't run out of energy until the very end when I stopped eating and drinking properly.
- It was honestly too much energy. But it was refreshing to not feel so deflated all the time.
There are probably even more things that it helped with. If my life were more stable right now and I didn't have to worry about the trail, I probably would have started taking it again after I recovered from my bout in the ED. I think maybe after the trail I'd like to give it a go again. Unfortunately, I can't worry about appetite loss and extreme thirst while I'm on the trail because that could be detrimental to my entire thru-hike.
My plan for the Trail:
I'm really disappointed. I sincerely thought that this was going to be my final solution. And maybe it will be in the future. Because we're getting down to the wire here (44 more days!), it is unlikely that I will be able to find a medication that is going to work for me right now. I will most likely be without medication for the duration of my time on the trail.
For now I am going to work on finding a counselor that is willing to telecounsel me while I am on the trail. I will be picking up my coping mechanisms that I learned while I was in the hospital (meditation, yoga, counting during mundane tasks, journaling, CBT, etc.) and trying to teach myself to deal with my mental issues.
All in all, I think not having medication will be a great mental exercise for me. It will force me to work on the mental things I have been avoiding for the past three years and really dig into self improvement. I know it will be hard but I also know that it will help me get better in the long run. Besides, endorphins should help, right?
My emergency plan:
- I have the Lifeline on speed dial: 1-800-273-8255
- I have a list of hospitals with psychiatric wards as well psychiatric recovery facilities along the trail in case I do need to check myself in.
- I have a SPOT Gen3 GPS with a non-deadly emergency button that will send a message to my parents so that they can help me if I can't help myself. It also has a serious emergency SOS button in case something more serious goes wrong, although I doubt anything will.
- I have a list of contacts who have vowed to give me support during my time on the trail. Trusted friends who know me, understand my situation, and are willing to talk to me.
- Lastly, I have a list of coping skills to run down if I do end up in a crisis situation (panic attack, suicidal thoughts, mental breakdown, existential crisis, etc.)
I can guarantee you tears will be shed and struggles will be had. But I am willing to work hard at this to improve myself, my mind, and my future. I'll try to keep you updated on my mental health throughout my journey.
I stopped taking Prozac. I will, most likely, not be taking any medication with me on the trail. I have an emergency plan (and you should too). I would like to try Prozac again after the trail.
(and thanks for keeping up with my struggles. I hope telling my story helps you feel okay to tell yours. You are not alone in this.)
-Rachel (trail name TBD)
- I am NOT a certified mental health professional of any kind, but I am here if you ever need a friend to talk to. You can contact me here.
- If you are experiencing mental health problems and need immediate help, please call the suicide prevention lifeline or visit your nearest emergency room.
- Just because this medication did not work out for me, does not mean it will not work out for you. Do not take this post as a definitive discouragement against this medication. Medication is not for everyone. Talk to your psychiatrist if you are considering this medication or even not taking medication. If you do not have a psychiatrist, talk to your PCP about finding one.
- As with all personal posts, this post is UNEDITED. If you find any spelling and/or grammatical mistakes they will most likely remain that way. This is to preserve the raw, emotional, and honest feeling of my personal articles. If you have a suggestion for an edit, please submit a contact form with your suggestion.
- Hike Your Own Hike (HYOH) | Fight Your Own Fight (FYOF)