I imagine the answer is different for everyone. Actually, I know the answer is different for everyone because I am in a variety of different support groups for chronic pain, invisible illnesses – general and specific, as well as ones for different pain related medications I currently take and have taken within in last couple of years.
Why did I start taking antidepressants when I have chronic back pain and permanent nerve damage?
The main reason I agreed to trialing antidepressants was for my nerve pain. I had started first with Lyrica (an anti seizure med that also happens to help nerve pain) after my second back surgery when my nerve was damaged and the pain became debilitating. I started off low on a dosage and had increased to the maximum dosage within 6 months. That was around the same time that I first met with my pain specialist and she wanted me to consider antidepressants, specifically Cymbalta, to work alongside the Lyrica. I was unsure and didn’t want to make a decision at that stage. I decided to wait until I saw her again. Fast forward 6 months later and the pain was still limiting my walking, standing, sitting, and most importantly parenting my girls who were only 3 & 4 by then that I agreed to try it.
The antidepressants worked for my nerve pain!
I started at 30mg, with the plan to work up to 60mg. I ended up taking 90mg a day for the better part of the next 5+ years. It helped brilliantly for my nerve pain. And as a bonus it helped with my very high high and my very low lows that I didn’t even realise were an issue until they weren’t so as bad anymore. They served their purpose well over the years and helped with the depression that comes with chronic illness/pain.
What happens when the side effects outweigh the usefulness?
I had been living with side effects like rapid weight gain to start then slow, continuous weight gain, excessive sweating, cold sweats during sleep, brain fog/memory loss/forgetting words, crazy dry mouth, trouble constructing simple sentences, tired/drowsy (could literally sleep sitting up at a restaurant), random blurred vision, swelling of hands and feet like water retention (but unable to rid) dizziness/faintness/lightheadedness. During the past 5+ years when I would discuss new or irritating side effects with my GP he would ask if the side effects outweighed the nerve pain. No they didn’t. Nerve pain is horrible. It can be so unbearable that I am scared of it returning. I thought it was just the Lyrica that was causing all of these.
But then back in May, 2017, I tried a variety of injections for my nerve pain. They have been successful so far since. I was very happy to reduce and then stop taking Lyrica early in 2018. Some side effects have almost gone, some reduced. But a lot still there. Add on the ones I have been told are caused from Cymbalta, like basically being unable to cry, hours or days at a time spent in bed not wanting to be involved in, well, anything at all, just doing what I had to do to get through each day, urinary retention, frequent urine, decreased libido, drowsiness and more. And after more than 5 years – I was over it. All of it. Like I said though – the fact that my nerve pain is mostly under control made the decision to reduce and then stop Lyrica and now Cymbalta, a lot easier. On top of that, I am in a much better place mentally with my chronic pain and adapted life thanI ever have been. Not fully accepted yet – but much better than I was back then.
When it is time to come off them
After being Lyrica free for so many months, I was annoyed I still had so many side effects that I had thought came with Lyrica only. I looked again at side effects of Cymbalta and was suddenly very aware that so many of them made it to both lists. These side effects, added to the realisation that I was managing better mentally than I had been in years, got me considering the idea of not just reducing, but coming off my antidepressants all together.
A lot had happened outside of just my nerve pain over the past 2 years. In 2017 we received our eldest daughter’s ASD diagnosis, which was actually a weight lifted from my shoulders. And then as well as starting successful injections for my nerve pain, I had gastric bypass (weight loss) surgery which helped in many other ways – including my own self esteem. By early 2019 we had started homeschooling, which turned out to be a blessing for our whole family.
Life hasn’t ‘easy’ by all means, especially reducing and changing my main pain medications and such, but it just felt like the right time to try and come off them.
How hard is it?
Well it wasn’t as easy as, ok, i’ll stop taking them tomorrow and bang all done. I had heard of some very real horror and dangerous stories of people trying to stop cold turkey. the warnings are therefor a reason. Always consult and follow your Doctors advice.
I, however, after reading many stories of withdrawals and side effects decided to come down slower and longer than recommended. It wasn’t easy, but I managed. I have a very supportive husband and children, and that made a world of difference.
It has been a couple of months now since my last tablet. During the time of weaning, I experienced the following side effects:
- Brain zaps
- Restless leg syndrome
- night sweats
- poor quality sleep
- rage outbursts – and not just anger – but rage like I had never felt or experienced before
Everyone’s experience is different. Some people can taper off without many issues and some people can still be suffering with side effects months or longer after taking their last tablet. There are really great support groups out there if needed, please feel free to contact me here if you would like the names/links.
Would go on antidepressants again?
Honestly, I hopeI don’t ever need to. But mental health is just as important as physical health, so if I needed to, then I probably would. Knowing what I know now about the side effects whilst being on them, and weaning off, I would be trying everything else I could first.
Do you have experience with antidepressants? Share below if your comfortable, or email me here if you would like to connect and chat.
Disclaimer: This is just my own personal experience with Cymbalta, Depression and permanent nerve pain. Please see you own Doctor In regards to medications and treatments.