I was first prescribed antidepressants 25 years ago, at the age of 15. Shortly after this I took my first ever overdose using the antidepressants I had been given. I was rushed to hospital and had had my stomach pumped.
Unfortunately, this overdose was the first of many…
I remember originally being prescribed the antidepressants due to some anger issues (which I have now dealt with). However, I have still spent the last 25 years on antidepressants and later on in life, was prescribed antipsychotic drugs to take alongside these.
I do believe that I have experienced some life changing side affects as a result of the amount of chemicals I have been taking as a result of the medication. I feel that the majority of my life has been impacted upon and that the real me (Jo) has been masked with some sort of chemical/sedative.
As I have been prescribed heavy sedatives I believe that it has led me to not understand or cope with the emotions that I had been feeling. For example, if I felt anger, sadness or even happiness I did not feel my normal self and found these emotions difficult to understand and even found it difficult sitting with them. This resulted in me fixating on the emotions, it also led me to not understand or cope with any emotions and so I would take medication such as diazepam, zopiclone and or zolpidem. I would also drink alcohol to get rid of these emotions.
Finally, the more I tried to push my emotions away the worse my drinking became and I started to self medicate with alcohol and sedatives. I was then admitted to rehab where I detoxed from alcohol. During my time in rehab, I was not prescribed diazepam or zopiclone, and was prescribed a very low dose of antidepressant. It was at this point I began to feel again. I found it overwhelming but as I had 24 hour care, support and monitoring it was a safe environment to come off this medication. I wouldn’t have been able to cope in a non-therapeutic environment, as my emotions were extremely magnified and my my moods were described as very up and down. They were so rapidly up and down that I was diagnosed with a personality disorder based upon the report that the rehab sent my psychiatrist regarding my mood changes.
I attended rehab a second time a few years later and was slowly tapered off the antipsychotics. Again, this was 24 hour care and support and was done over a period of months. In this time I was experiencing (and still experience) a lot of detachment from reality. This is the feeling where you have to pinch yourself to see if you are actually there. I was very low in mood, and didn’t attend much therapy even though it was compulsory. This was because I couldn’t get of bed, I was very angry with everything; mostly myself. I still detach to this day to the point I struggle to remember most of my day. I have severe memory problems which I was told was probably long term diazepam use damage.
I have taken 10+ overdoses with prescribed medication over the years and today I am only on a small dose of sertraline which I have been trying to taper off but am finding it extremely difficult but I will get there.
There are so many amazing drug and alcohol services out there which I have used myself but there is nothing for prescription drugs. Prescription drugs can be as dangerous as illegal drugs and alcohol.
If I hadn’t had had support from the rehabs with coming off my prescription drugs I wouldn’t have been able to do it, and this is why myself and Helena started PST!
From the age of 18, I suffered with my physical health, which led to me having thirteen surgical operations on my back, the recovery time for each operation I had was at least 8 months, but before I could heal from the surgery, I would find myself needing yet another operation, and back to square one….
I was taking pain medication everyday, and I would take the highest reccommended daily dose prescribed as I had severe pain everyday,
I was mainly prescribed oramorph and codeine, which did relieve my pain, I dont know how I would have handled the pain without them. I did notice right away that I got a “high” or “zoned out feeling” when I would take my medicine, I started to get a feeling that I can only describe as, a warm, feel good feeling in my belly, I felt some sort of reassurance with this feeling, like everything was going to be ok. I carried on like this with surgeries and medication for over ten years.
A few years ago (2012) I had another operation on my back which resulted in me having to stay in hospital for 2 weeks, some of that was spent in the high dependancy unit, where I had a button which I could press when i felt pain, and morphine would be given to me through a drip, the button was set so I could only press it once in half an hour, I found myself fixated on waiting for the time I could medicate myself again, I was actually starting to enjoy being “high”. I also remember catching myself having a full conversation….with nobody! I was talking to myself, although I cant remember what I was saying.
After being discharged I still had a long road to my physical recovery, so I was still taking painkillers daily for at least a year after surgery, and when my wound site was healed, I tried to get on with life and do “normal” things again…..
I arranged a weekend away to go see my friend in another city, I didn’t take any medication with me as I just couldn’t be bothered taking it and I wanted to see if my body had recovered and if I had pain anymore without painkillers, little did I know about what I had just got myself into.
I started feeling cold, it was the middle of November so I put the cold feeling down to the season but no matter how many layers of clothes I put on, I just couldn’t get myself warm, my weekend away was completely ruined because I stayed in bed for the entire weekend, I could not physically get myself out of bed, I wrapped up as warm as I could, pjs, dressing gown, bobble hat, and a thick duvet,,, and I was still freezing cold and sweating. When I tried to go to sleep and relax, I couldn’t because the restless feeling in my legs was so extreme I couldn’t even relax, never mind fall asleep, the cold feeling was so bad, I had to quench my thirst with warm water as drinking cold water was almost painful for me, cold and pain were almost the same thing to me, I couldn’t wait to get home and medicate myself, I felt absolutely awful. I don’t know how I got through that weekend.
The first thing I did when I got back home was take some morphine, soon after, a huge wave of warmth ran through my body and the pain from being cold was gone, I felt massive relief. I was chatting to a friend the next day about my ruined weeked, he suggested to me that perhaps I was addicted and maybe thats why I felt so bad and couldnt get out of bed. I thought about it and it made complete sense, the possibility of addiction had never entered my mind, the only thing I was concerned about was being out of pain.
So now I realised I had a problem, a big problem.
The next day I popped into my GPs surgery, I didn’t have an appointment, so I asked the receptionist if there was some type of program I can be referred to, to help me to come off my pain medication, “there’s no such thing, they cut the funding last year so we don’t run the program anymore” was the reply I got.
I knew then, I had no choice but to do this on my own. I didn’t want to speak to the GP about this because I didn’t want to risk losing my script, I wasn’t sure if the GP would understand how bad I felt when I didn’t take my painkillers. So I carried on taking them, I didn’t want to go through the withdrawals again, the thought of that terrified me, but I didn’t want to take painkillers anymore, I was stuck in a trap going in one giant circle.
I had got to the point of being so fed up of waking up in the morning with my first priority being painkillers, I hated the sick feeling i would get throughout the day, and eventually I hated the “high” I got from them.
So I decided to try to slowly lower my dose, I started by changing the amount of painkillers I took, I would try to miss a dose once every few days, and then go on to miss a dose every two days, then missing out a dose everyday and then would repeat the process, until finally I didn’t need the painkillers anymore. I still suffered with those withdrawals though! I couldn’t bring myself to go out in any such bad weather, cold meant pain to me, (which is still the case to this day sadly) I still had trouble sleeping most nights, I had restless legs most nights, I would wake up from sleep, soaking wet, my hair, clothes and bed would be drenched in sweat, the palms of my hands and fingertips were crinkled like I had been swimming for hours.
Right now (2018) I don’t take any painkillers, for anything and I never want to again, I would be worried about getting addicted again, because for me, it just crept up on me, I was totally unaware i had become addicted because easing my physical pain was my priority.
Jo & Helena –