Life With Lexapro – Or Without It?

I’m taking a risk on the blog today – this post, to me, is even more vulnerable than this one.

I was on Lexapro (a mild anti-depressant) for around three years. And now I’m off it. Which is the good news, and which is the bad? Most would say the latter is good – you’re off it! You’re better! I’m not so sure.

I have plenty of friends who are on antidepressants. A few of them are truly, clinically depressed. Others take it for anxiety or nerves. I’m not sure how anxiety or nerves look in real-time. Excessive worry? Daily fear? Either way, the term “anxiety” doesn’t have a bad connotation to me. People get anxious. People take medicine. People get less anxious. No judgement there.

I don’t use the word anxiety to describe me. The real, Lexapro-free me. I am angry. I am pissed off at the world. I am super irritable. It was eating me – and my family – alive. I could hold it together okay at work most of the time, which meant that when I came home I just let it all out. I yelled at my kids and my husband. I was mean. Then I felt guilty for being mean, and I said sorry. Then the cycle would start over. Almost like the abuser cycle, you know? I mean, I wasn’t physically abusing my family, but I noticed the pattern.

And I finally went to my doctor and, bawling and blubbering, told him I needed help. Strangely, he acted like he’d seen this before. “Do you feel like you’re just pissed off at the world?” he asked. I nodded. “Well, let’s try this medicine – think of it as your anti-pissed-off pill. Maybe it will help.”

So I tried it. It did help. It took the edge off my almost-out-of-control emotions. I also started going to therapy. It helped, too. Sometimes you just need somebody to talk to, somebody outside of your circle of family and friends, somebody who can say, “Why don’t you try doing it this way?” Somebody who doesn’t judge you.

There have always been a couple of things that bothered me about Lexapro, though. First, it does numb your feelings somewhat. My grandmother died, and I couldn’t cry. I felt so bad about that. Second, the old person that I used to be kept nagging at me. When I was a kid and a teenager, I was happy. I was perky. I was bubbly and outgoing. What happened to me? Sure, I’d have my down times. I’d have a good cry now and then. But overall, I was nothing like the bitter, impatient woman I’d become. I still don’t have an answer for that. Maybe it’s the stress of being a grown-up. Maybe it’s difficult events that my family has gone through in recent years. Maybe it’s hormones, or brain chemicals, or something else physiological that’s out of my control. I don’t know. But even though Lexapro was helping me, I always knew that someday I’d want to get off of it.

So now I’m done with my weeks of taking half a pill a day, then half a pill every other day, and now nothing. No pill. I can tell a difference. I’ve cried a lot more lately. My emotions are much closer to the surface now. The numbing effect is gone. There have been a few days where I’ve felt sad and useless (acedia is a good word for it). Other days, I’ve felt happy and thankful. The irritability has come back a bit, but not as strong as it used to be. In some moments, I have to remind myself to be calm and kind. (I keep thinking of that verse in – oh, Philippians, maybe? – “Let your gentleness be evident to all.”)

Yesterday I met with my doctor, and I’m going to continue without Lexapro for a couple of months and then check back. He actually suggested exercise. He told me that it will probably be as effective or even more effective than anti-depressants in my case. We talked about how neither of us have ever been great at exercising consistently – but he told me to aim for 30 minutes a day, and that’s it.

I want to lose weight, anyway, so I guess I’ll try to kill two birds with one stone. It will be a bit of an experiment, I suppose. On days when I’m down – or irritated – will exercise help?

In the end, I may have to get back on the meds. If I do, that’s okay. But for now, I’m on my own, emotions raw and real.

24 comments

  1. Nepsis says:

    Thank you for your courage in this post. It lets others know they are not alone! I also read your other “vulnerable” post and you are not alone with those feelings either. Medicine has had a role in your life; hopefully you’ll find exercise will release some of the good endorphins to help take the medicine’s place, it does for many. How prayer during this time of transition? How about spiritual direction? How about practicing the famous ‘random acts of kindness’? I know you’ve heard in liturgy that Christ is the ‘physician of our souls and bodies.’ Orthodoxy exists to be a spiritual hospital. I know that healing and health is not found without struggle. Remember that that you yourself are not alone in your struggle and take heart!

    • kksorrell says:

      Thank you for your kind words. Actually, I almost said something about prayer in the post, but it was getting too long already, and I don’t want to seem like a “You don’t need medicine, you just need to pray harder” type. However, prayer is part of the equation, too. I’ve gotten out of doing my own personal prayer time, and would like to develop that again, just a few minutes a day, but in hopes that it will help create more of a sense of peace overall.

      • Nepsis says:

        Consistency in my own prayer life is a struggle too, but comparing my life in the past without daily prayer to my life now with it, it has made so much difference. Starting small is OK, I hope you carve out some time daily as you said.
        There’s a daily series of short (5 minutes +/-) podcasts on Ancient Faith Radio by Abbot Tryphon. If you like them, maybe they could help in anchoring your daily routine. Here’s a selection about the Church as hospital “The ER for the Soul” http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/morningoffering/the_er_for_the_soul
        My mother and father both have struggled with depression/anxiety and the back-and-forth decisions about medication; my heart goes out to you.

  2. Ashley says:

    Congrats on having the courage to try life without the meds. I was on Zoloft for about 6 months after giving birth. My son is now 18 months, but I still have ups and downs, but exercise does help. Best wishes to you!

  3. Mary Evelyn says:

    Thank you for posting this. I was on lexapro for about 5 years and my experience of life on the meds was pretty similar to yours. The med (and talking to a counselor) helped me get a handle on my anxiety and panic but now that I’m off there are days I wonder if it’s time to start again, especially when life hands me something overwhelming. Right or wrong, there is something so difficult about coming right out and talking about being on these types of medications. I appreciate your willingness to share.

    • kksorrell says:

      I had no idea Mary Evelyn. Thanks for sharing that. I’m sure life is full of emotions right now especially! I love reading your posts about Simeon!

  4. Jean says:

    I am on a medication that I have taken now for nine years. I will always need to take this medication. I do not feel that it makes me less of a person or indicates that I have a weakness. There are times when I can’t cry, but there are also times when the tears still flow. This medication helped save my life when I was going through grief, hard times and more hard times. Depression runs in my family. I think I should have been on this medication even earlier. By accepting that this medication helps me, I am now able to function and enjoy life. I look at taking this medication as a blessing that enables me to choose to live my life with grace and joy. My advice is to be gentle with yourself. If you love who you are and how your act when taking the medication, then stay on it. If you feel better about yourself and how you treat your family without the medication, then stay off of it. Listen to your heart and talk with your family about their perceptions of you when you take it and don’t take it. Your personal joy and your family’s joy is more important than whether or not you take a pill. Don’t be afraid to take good care of yourself – whichever way you decide.

  5. Your mom took the words out of my mouth except for some of the details. I was on Lexapro for a year eight or nine years ago. I got off of it because it “flattened me” just as you described. The mistake was not getting on something else. Because I had tried two or three things I thought medication in general didn’t work. Depression runs in our family although I’m the only one in this generation to get it. I’ve been on Welbutrin for coming on four years now and it has made me feel “normal”. My husband is the person who notices the most because, God bless him, he’s the one who put up with me for the many years before I was on it. I probably could have used something in addition to the Welbutrin last year when I had the miscarriages. Actually, I tried to get off it a few months ago because I didn’t know if it was responsible (because all of my other children were born before I was on it). I failed miserably. The truth is I need it. It’s not like an addiction, it’s just that it evens out whatever is imbalanced such that I have normal highs and lows instead of pits and lows (because I never got above a low). I would love to get off of it but I’ve had to humble myself and accept that I will be on it (or something similar) for the rest of my life. I do have a daily prayer rule and my spiritual father is very aware of the depression (and the details will stop there). I know exercise will help but I just need to do it!! However much it helps I’ll still need the medication and that’s just how I’m made. I hope that the exercise and prayer life help you to the point that you don’t need to be on anything. ((hugs))

    • kksorrell says:

      Matushka Anna, I do think that some people are clinically depressed and must be on medication. My husband’s mother has struggled with severe depression most of her life and will never be able to get of meds. (Fortunately the meds work – she is typically a content, happy, outgoing person.) I’m not sure if my mom has been diagnosed, but depression runs in her family, and she has had a lot of crises in her life that you don’t just bounce back from. I think that exercise alone may not be enough for some people who have a long-term chemical imbalance. Have you read Acedia and Me by Kathleen Norris? It’s a great book – it talks a lot about monk fighting acedia, and Kathleen fighting it and depression, especially when her husband got very sick. It’s a pretty good read. (She is actually the nonfiction editor for St. Katherine Review, the literary mag of St. Katherine (Orthodox) College although she is not Orthodox, but she is very in tune with liturgy and monastics.

  6. Ryan says:

    Thank you for this article. I am currently on lexapro myself. I have been for the past year and although it has helped me tremendously it has also been burdensome. I don’t quite feel like a zombie but I definitely don’t feel like my energetic old self. It’s almost as if I am wearing a white jacket mentally.
    I have always been a real anxious guy and like you I started seeing a therapist after I was put on meds. I was diagnosed with panic attack disorder by my doctor and the spacing and intensity of my attacks kept getting worse so I made the same decision to make a change in the doctors office. I have gained 25 pounds since starting due to the medicine. I use to really enjoy working out but I noticed one of the biggest differences is I don’t get the same high I use to when I worked out. Now it’s only 33% as strong. I would definitely recommend working out it makes such a huge difference. I’m planning to get off my meds next month once I’m approved for medi-cal. I turned 26 last November so was cut off my dads healthcare plan. Life’s just been real tough ever since my dads ongoing battle with cancer and my girlfriend left me but I need to stop feeling sorry for myself and start to live life again. The way God intended life to be lived – raw and real.

    • Raymond says:

      This is so similar to my situation… I would get panic attacks from time to time so I started taking 10mg of Lexapro. I gained 30 lbs in two years and grew this giant belly! While I liked that I wasn’t anxious at dinners, meetings, etc.. i felt a bit too numbed out overall and feel like I have lost a bit of self awareness. The old me would have said ” i am getting fat, I am going to do something about it” Ultimately, I think that I would rather battle a bit with anxiety than battle with weight, metabolism issues. I believe that with diet and exercise I can beat it.

      • Ryan says:

        I believed diet and exercise alone would beat it as well, however, there have been multiple studies that the drug does something to your metabolism that makes it never shut off and you always feel hungry. For me I felt like a pregnant lady, I didn’t want to eat Burger King, I NEEDED TO. And worse of all my libido was at an all time low and that is no way for a man to live. Furthermore, I lost all my drive. I have been off my meds for 5 months now going on 6 and let me tell you its the best decision I have made. Don’t be fooled though the first two weeks completely off after tapering down for months was extremely difficult. And still to this day I have had moments of severe anxiety or depression I theorize because my mind is still adapting from the year of antidepressants and because I realized it stunted my grown as a person.

        I would like to suggest a few books that really helped change my mindset and put me on the right track. Number one was “Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America by Robert Whitaker”, “Feeling Good – The New Mood Therapy” by David Burns, and “The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter – and how to make the most of them now” by Meg Jay (get the paper back version I have a comment in the opening pages that was published after I wrote the author about how moving the book was to me).
        Anyways, hope your doing good.

  7. Amy says:

    Thanks so much for posting about your experience. I’m going through the same thing – off Lexapro for a few months but now feel mean, irritable and somewhat apathetic. Considering going back on an SSRI. How are you doing now? Are you on an AD?

    Thanks

  8. Kia says:

    Hi,
    Thanks for your post. It was – raw and real – and it takes a lot of courage to be raw and real. :) How are you going now? I am in a similar situation and considering weaning off Lexapro. But I keep thinking is it worth the gamble (especially with a young family to look after)? How much of it is ‘this is just how I am chemically and hence will need it forever’ vs. I should learn how to cope with the tough times life throws our way.

  9. Griffin says:

    It is now 2016.-4 years after you went off Lexpro. How are you feeling and coping now?
    I’m trying to live without the medication as I write this comment.
    What is your experience now?

    • Ryan says:

      I know this question is not directed towards me but I’m to answer! I’ve been off for about two years now. What to expect is a fury of emotions after a couple of days off (even with tapering down). And be sure to know why you want to get off: list the pro’s and cons and be sure you want to do this because doctors are programmed to push this medication (I still keep my list hanging on my wall and one in my car during my weak days). Doctors take any sign of distress as a relapse and as evidence that you need antidepressants (because what normal human becomes sad when they experience loss or anxiety when they graduate college or move out for the first time or deal with a jerk boss). So be sure to be armed with knowledge and read books like Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker – this really helped for me because the data really encouraged me to stop medication and showed how much more harm it does to you in the long run and even during the short run the benefits are no better then going to therapy or reading a self help book. Keep in mind this medication didn’t exist even 50 years ago yet doctors already genuinely tell many patients they might have to be it on the rest of their life (how is that possible)? The best way I heard it described is using antidepressants to cure depression is like if your check engine light came on you decided to pour engine oil everywhere hoping it would resolve the issue. But of course common knowledge tells us this would cause more damage then good. Anyways, I digress, back to what I was saying: be sure of your reason because when I told my doctor it was time to wean off he fought me hard (don’t be a hero make sure you do this under doctors supervision) but my foundation was strong enough from the data I acquired and from my pro and con list – I stuck to my guns. Minus my doctor disagreeing with me, even at moments of stress today, I am so glad I gave up that crutch. It was very hard to get off and I even experienced an out of body experience at one point not to mention my libido was pumping full strength again: I was short of a caveman who discovered his primal instincts. They flood back in strong. You will deal with emotions that you avoided when you started. The weirdest moment for me was about one month completely off I started to break down and cry about the end of a serious relationship I never fully processed: a year and a half prior. Emotions are weird like that. I always had a bit of anxiety growing up but I found after graduation from college, stuck at a dead end job, and the eroding of my once strong relationship – to be too much. Instead of embracing my current circumstances and new chapter of my life where I was to write my book. Now you may be wondering, since I am off, did I deal with the perceived failures and have a breakout success? Absolutely not. But what I did achieve was so much more important and that was to accept that we are human and each one of us has hurts, habits and hang ups. And each of us has to deal with our share of suffering. What medication does is it dulls the suffering BUT it does not prevent it. It’s the equivalent of your hand hurting because it keeps being hit by a hammer, and instead of addressing the main issue, medication is prescribed to numb the pain. But do not be mistaken the hand is still in pain YOU JUST DON’T FEEL IT ANYMORE. Move your hand.
      I hope this helped.
      Resources I’ve found very helpful are two books by David Burns “When Panic Attacks” and “Feeling Good”. This books address the underlying issue instead of relying on medicine.

      • Griffin says:

        Thank you for sharing your experience. So far, I am coping well enough I guess. I don’t even know how long I’ve been off Lexapro completely. Some days are definitely better than others. Perhaps the fact that I’m not counting the days is a good sign? Fortunately, I’ve never experienced the more strange withdrawal symptoms that I’ve read about. I do very much want to regulate my mood on my own.
        It requires a lot of self discipline to do so. I find myself really questioning my perceptions about everything and carefully determining my response to what’s going on around me.

  10. Yvette says:

    Thank you for your post and others for all the comments. After 13 years off/on Lexapro , I am on my 4th time off. I think Lexapro is an elegant drug but the weight gain over the years combined with menopause , prompted me to get off (again). I am simply a better version of myself on Lexapro. My libido crashed a year ago and that was out of the question so I phased off 2 months ago . I am def a bit sharper and less filtered. I am very healthy and exercise daily . I startled meditating daily , which helps. I really wish I didn’t need this .

  11. Jessica says:

    Thank you so much for all the sharing. I am an American living overseas in a cross cultural marriage with a wonderful man and loving dad to our two sons age 9 and 4. I struggled with anxiety my whole life it seems (I’ll be 39 this year) and there is definitely a pattern of both anxiety (among the women) and alcoholism (with the men) in my family tree. About 5 yrs ago I had a breakdown in church and just started sobbing. It was a few months after my younger son was born. I had gone back to full time teaching and was feeling agitated tossing and turning all night upset about the littlest thing. I would just make myself sick! My mom wasn’t able to visit me after I gave birth and I really missed her as we are like sisters. I was very vulnerable and scared… I think I just lost it and didn’t care about keeping up appearances any more. I just wanted help. I feel safe and loved in my church so I had lots of support. I stopped work at my husband’s and friends insistance and started taking 10mg of lexapro. Right away I had hot flashes and I felt dizzy but I was able to sleep a little …. the nausea has always been bad!! I have gained almost 40 lbs in the last 5 years and I feel worse about that more than anything as it’s hard to keep up with my kids. I totally understand what it’s like to get mistaken for being pregnant!!! I also look back at photos when I was fit and healthy and just cry. I do meet with a counsellor, I write and share poetry which has helped me to deal with things emotionally buried and I try to eat well and exercise. Swimming and brisk walking have helped me alot. I want to try weights to build muscle too. I find I am closer to God as mental illness has made me aware of my own limitations and how much I need the grace of God every day of my life. I have more compassion for people and I notice if I miss a dose I can get really snappy which scares me a little. I hope that with the discipline to take care of myself through healthy lifestyle, enough rest, time alone, time with God, time with my husband and sons, and friends I can have the strength to get off lexapro and not have to deal with the fatigue and and nausea I have been battling on a daily basis the last five years. I wish everyone well! Big hugs from SingaporeXX

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