Taking anti-depressants

“You need to press the reset button,” said the doctor. “I’m prescribing  Citalopram. On a low dose it acts as an anti-anxiety medication. On a high dose it is an anti-depressant. It takes about a month to start working.”

It has been over a year since I first wrote about my panic attacks and struggle with anxiety and exhaustion. There were lots of things that I did  to help myself get better and if I learned anything it is that there is not a simple, “one size fits all” solution for anyone. But something that did work, and people don’t really talk about, was using an anti depressant called Citalopram. 

At the time I saw it as a last resort. I had been offered it several times until I finally relented. I had already reduced my workload, taken up yoga, changed my diet, slept more and redistributed household responsibilities. Unfortunately I still couldn’t quite stop the panic attacks which began whenever I experienced anything mildly stressful including every day activities such as running late for school drop-off, watching the kids play sports, drinking caffeine or alcohol, making decisions,  interviewing people for articles, socialising. Despite months of trying I knew I wasn’t going to crack this nut on my own.

“How often is this happening?” said the doctor, the fourth in my regular surgery that I had seen about these issues since they had begun. “Anywhere from once a day to ten times I day,” I said, my voice wobbling, like it does when you don’t want it to.

“You need to press the reset button,” said the doctor. “I’m prescribing Citalopram. On a low dose it acts as an anti-anxiety medication. On a high dose it is an anti-depressant. It takes about a month to start working.”

“OK,” I said noting that the dose for anxiety issues is 10mg per day. It is higher for treating depression. She also gave me a referral to the charity “Healthy Minds” which offers support for panic disorders and depression.

Within a month of taking the Citalopram the panic attacks had stopped. The reset button had been pressed. It worked. It seemed to generally desensitise me to what I had perceived to be stressful situations. I was not overreacting like I used to. I also felt a bit sick and had headaches. But these passed after the first few weeks. I wondered what side effects other people had. The desensitisation aspect didn’t only apply to stress, EVERYTHING was a bit less intense. In some ways that was great. Goodbye panic. In other ways, like in the bedroom, it was really not great, but like the headaches things got back to normal after a couple of months.

The referral to the Healthy Minds service turned out to be a postcode lottery. Because of the location of my doctors surgery (Buckingham) the nearest support groups were an hour away (Aylesbury) and had a waiting list of two months. The waiting list for a therapist for one to one support was even longer and would be in the same location. So I chose the third option, an online cognitive behavioural therapy system called “Silver Cloud”. I worked through a module every week and at the end of it a trainee psychologist called me to read out the answers and provide no insight or counselling. It was rubbish. The only positive thing I took away from this was that it helped me to label my trigger for stress: “excessive responsibilities”

As time went by and I felt like my old self again I found that I was pregnant and I stopped taking the Citalopram. I did not seek medical advice, which was stupid, I just stopped taking it. This was a mistake. A black cloud hung over me and despite being delighted at the idea of another child, I was so miserable I couldn’t even laugh at Ron Swanson’s pyramid of greatness in Parks & Recreation.


If you don’t watch Parks & Recreation then I urge you to download it.


When the pregnancy failed I felt even worse. “It is normal to have suicidal thoughts if you stop taking Citalopram too quickly. You need to wean yourself off it,” said my brother who is a mental health nurse. Shit. I was miserable because I was no longer pregnant and because I had inadvertently plunged myself into a chemical depression. So I started taking it again.

The following summer I had been feeling better for months and decided that it was time to wean myself off the medicine.  I hoped that I had made enough changes for the symptoms of stress to no longer exist when I came off the medicine. This is something that people should really be given more advice about. Honestly I think it just depends on the doctor that you see. Some will insist on reviews every six months to monitor your progress. Others will see you as fixed as soon as the Citalopram starts to work and keep the repeat prescription going forever. But anyone taking this sort of medicine should definitely see their doctor if they feel they want to stop. Don’t plunge yourself into a pit of misery like I did the first time around!

But less of the misery – it is Friday. Happy weekend everyone! If you have experience of these medicines then it would be great to hear about it. No-one talks about these things. Let’s compare notes. You never know, it might help someone.

Update: These are a few of the things that I did that really helped me manage anxiety and prevent panic attacks.


Dette Vs Norm

In building my new blog I’ve been updating my old blogs. Here is the one where we nearly got divorced over swimming…….

Someone copy this in case I ever go missing.

For some time now I have been trying to get Norm to accompany me on the boring exercise routines that pregnant women are encouraged to carry out. So far he has accompanied me on one walk around the local park where he complained of being bored half way around and sat on a bench waiting for me to finish walking. This obviously led to a massive row and me crying in the street.  Norm then started walking a lot faster to try and get away from me (note from the future: what a tool. I hated him so much that day).

When the pregnancy was first discovered 3 months ago he promised to come swimming once a week. But so far he has not been. To be fair he has been away a lot and not really had much opportunity but he was off work on Monday and therefore able to swim with me. So as soon as he was awake I said “will you come swimming?” and he unenthusiastically said “all right then”

The next few hours passed quickly with me researching an article and Norm playing on his PSP (his new PSP as he punched his old one right in the face for not working properly and broke the screen – effectively killing it) (PSP? I’d forgotten that they even existed! How far technology has come in 7 years). By about midday Norm had graduated onto the Wii and was playing tennis and boxing. That is when the warning signs began.

Norm: “Pass me a towel Dette”

I.e. look how hard I am working on this game.

Then a bit later.

Norm: “My arms are sore now. I have done loads of exercise today.”

I.e There is no need for me to go swimming.

I was ready for him. “We are not swimming for you, we are swimming for the baby. So have a rest ‘cos we are going at 3. And we are walking there.” (have a rest? This concept is hilarious now that we have two children. Come to think of it so is the idea that Norm can have mid week time off where he plays computer games all day)

Norm: “I am not walking home with wet hair. I just had a cold.” (pussy)
Me: “Fine, I will walk up and meet you there.”

By 2.45 I was ready to go. Norm was still playing on the Wii, with no signs that he might leave the house. “I am going to measure the floorboards we need in the spare room now,” he said and put down the Wii controller as I picked up my swimming bag.

I saw red. The bastard was not going to come. He was going to pretend to meet me there and then not turn up. “Fine.” I shouted. “Dont come. I don’t need you. I don’t need you now and I don’t need you when the baby is born.” And I slammed the door so hard the windows shook. (I should have poured my half drunk cup of tea over his Wii)

By the time I got to the leisure centre I had my life as a single mother all planned out. I would live in my house up north. Pay my brother and Mum to babysit and earn lots of money and never be lonely and never miss Norm. And when people asked where the father was I would say “I had to leave him, he wouldn’t come swimming with me.”

Had I overreacted? Probably. But the point was quite serious. I just wanted a bit of support. Norm would hate it if I gained 5 stone and sat on the sofa eating cake.

I had calmed down by the time I got into the water and set off. Swimming is boring but it was nice to be weightless. And then 6 lengths in a miracle happened. Norm got into the pool. Hooray. He does love me after all I thought. He didn’t look very happy to be there, but he had come and after about 10 minutes I think he was enjoying it. It was much less boring and he tried to teach me to do handstands.

After we finished swimming I was very glad I didn’t have to walk home, it was freezing. Norm had redeemed himself and I didn’t have to leave him after all. (phew, the kids quite like him and he is pretty handy when the car breaks down)

Enough is enough

This post is a tribute to my friend Caroline who will give birth any day now, and to the thousands of other pregnant women who are being told to “get lots of sleep and enjoy the peace and quiet”.  Continue reading “Enough is enough”

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