What Happened When I Ran Out of Antidepressants
It’s confession time, I ran out of my anti-depressant medication this week. It may sound like I’m making excuses, but I didn’t have any money to get my prescription. I knew we would have some money in the bank on Tuesday so I assumed I would be ok to go without them for 2 days (I have stupidly done this before on a rare occasion, but I wouldn’t recommend it).
Fast forward to Tuesday and I went to pick up my prescription to be told that they were out of stock. I was a bit surprised because Prozac tends to be a medication that is kept in stock most of the time. Feeling a bit exasperated as time was running on and I had a family to get home to and cook tea for, I resigned myself to going to another pharmacy. When I tried again to get my prescription the same thing happened. It was only then that I realised why there was an issue. I take 2 x 20mg tablets of Prozac (Fluoxetine) daily. Last time my doctor did a prescription she suggested I moved to 1 x 40mg tablet. It made sense at the time. What I didn’t know was that people rarely take 40mg, so pharmacies don’t keep it in stock. I asked the pharmacist how long it would take and she said up to 5 days. I asked if I could have 2 x 20mg (which is actually the same dose of course) and she said no and that I would have to go back to my doctors and get a new prescription. It was 5.45pm by this time so I knew I would have to wait until the next day.
The following day I waited until the morning rush had died down (when every man and his dog seems to want appointments from my doctor) and called. Naively I assumed that having shared my issue, it would be relatively straightforward for me to get my prescription and get back on my medication (bearing in mind I was now entering day 4 of being Prozac-less). The manager told me that she would sort out a new prescription, but it wouldn’t be ready that day. She explained that there were lots of more important prescriptions which took precedence over mine and that my drugs weren’t seen as life-saving. I totally understand that, but I explained that I was worried about withdrawal symptoms (if you have ever had rapid withdrawal from antidepressants, you will know it is not fun!) She wouldn’t budge and agreed that in fact, I wasn’t a priority. She said that they would phone when the prescription was ready, but reiterated that it probably wouldn’t be that day. I got off the phone and cried.
Reading this you might think that I am selfish for wanting my tablets when there are others with more life-threatening conditions and I totally agree with you. The last thing I would want is to endanger someone else’s life, I have a sister who is battling terminal cancer so I have a strong awareness of what constitutes life-saving medicine. However, could my anti-depressants also be considered to be life-saving? I think they could.
Back in 1996 when I first started taking anti-depressants, I can hand on heart say that they saved my life. Having returned from a year abroad with pretty severe agoraphobia (It took a large dose of Valium and lots of hand holding to get me on the plane home, having failed to leave my Spanish flat for three whole weeks), I sat down and told my mum that I didn’t want to live anymore if my life was going to be like this. At 24 I had spent the last 10 years battling against panic attacks, anxiety and all kinds of odd thoughts that crowded my brain. There were times when anxious thoughts consumed me to the point of thinking that life was too much of a struggle. Even the thought of walking out of the house to the local shop had me paralysed with fear. Mum did what all fab mums do, she listened and she took me to the doctor.
I still remember that day so clearly, it changed my life. For the first time, a medical professional listened to me and didn’t say my panics were due to my hormones, my age, or that they would pass. He suggested that I try a course of antidepressants called Seroxat and explained that he suspected I was suffering from a condition called GAD or Generalised Anxiety Disorder. His feeling was that my body wasn’t producing enough serotonin hence my issues with anxiety etc.
My doctor advised me to complement the medication with an additional therapy. Having always been a fan of meditation and relaxation therapies, I made sure I listened to a relaxation tape every day (yes, this was the 90s when a phone was still a phone!) Gradually my panics reduced and I remember thinking ‘Wow is this what other people feel like.’ I finished my degree, met my husband and the rest is history as they say. I have had my blips as my husband will testify and I have been told that I will most likely take the tablets forever, but I’m ok with that.
So yes, to me they are lifesaving medication. Medication which I have now been without for 5 days. I spoke to the Prescriptions Manager this morning and she said they may be ready today, but she can’t guarantee it. Now being forced to go ‘cold turkey’ on my meds wasn’t something I had planned this week, but I am coping (feeling a bit groggy and dizzy today and my head is banging). What if I wasn’t coping though? What if I were in a vulnerable position, as many people with mental health issues find themselves in? How does anyone know the effect of missing consecutive doses will have on a person without a full knowledge of their medical history? For all my surgery knew, I could have been really struggling with my mental health issues.
For many of us, it’s hard to say ‘I need help’ or ‘I’m struggling’ and those who are at serious risk are more likely to shy away and become more isolated. Who is to decide what makes a medication life-saving or not? Clearly, an assessment was made about my particular case (unless there is a blanket rule about categorising anti-depressant medication as non-urgent), that I could cope and all would be well. In fact I am ok, I’m in a fairly stable position with regards to my mental health, my anxiety and stress are up but I have a great network around me and countless years of experience of dealing with my own mental health issues. My worry is for those that aren’t in that position. What if I’d been suffering acutely with my anxiety and missing a few doses had put me into an even more vulnerable position. What if the very fact of the Prescriptions Manager implying that I am not a priority sent me into a spiral of self-loathing and despair?
That is where I still worry that mental health just doesn’t get the support it should do (tell me something I don’t know!) I’m not saying that it should take precedence over other illness and disease, but it is a real life situation for many of us. 1 in 4 of us will experience mental health issues in one year alone. Chances are we might be the ones on the end of that phone asking for emergency medication, for someone to then decide whether it is lifesaving or not. If it wasn’t for my medication, I’m not sure that I would be here today. That sounds pretty life-saving to me!
Everyone’s situation is different and I am not advocating the use of anti-depressants as the only way to treat anxiety and depression. I think that combining a few therapies that may or may not include anti-depressants is the way to go. Other therapies such as exercise, talking therapies, CBT, EFT, relaxation and meditation can be really helpful too.
There are lots of brilliant organisations out there to support mental health, they include: