Advice

Ask Ada: Will I Ever Feel Normal Again, Post Illness?

Plus: how to recover from addiction while maintaining your privacy.

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I Just Discontinued My Meds. What Now?

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at askada@pillpack.com or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

Dear Ada,

I have recently tapered off of the medication Zoloft which I was prescribed for anxiety. There were so many side effects to this medication, at the end of the day I felt like it was better to deal with my anxiety than take the medication. It has been a little over a month since I have stopped taking it. How long will it be before I feel like I am back to normal?

Regards,

Nervous Nellie

Hi Nellie,

Before I address your question, let me start with a disclaimer. I am assuming that you have gone off your meds in consultation with your physician, but if not, your first step should be to give them a call. No one should take themselves off a prescribed medication without consulting their doctor first.

With that out of the way, let me answer your question about when you will start feeling ‘normal’ again.

There is no normal. I wish I could tell you that you’ll feel better in three weeks, and that is that, but I can’t. What feels normal to me may feel like euphoria or hell to you.

I’m guessing that what you mean by “normal” is that you simply want to feel like yourself again. Many depression and anxiety medications are known to cause either insomnia or vivid dreams, decrease sexual desire, or just generally make you feel “different”. If these issues were a concern for you while taking the medication, then know that most people return to their baseline after being off the medicine for a short time.

Many depression and anxiety medications are known to cause either insomnia or vivid dreams, decrease sexual desire, or just generally make you feel “different”.

But there’s something else I want to talk about — antidepressant discontinuation syndrome.

I’m so happy to hear that you took the time to taper off of the medication, instead of stopping cold turkey, which could be dangerous to your mental and physical health. However, even with a physician-monitored tapering schedule, some people experience discontinuation symptoms, which can mimic the feelings of anxiety and depression (among other physical symptoms, such as dizziness, digestive problems, sleep issues, and restless legs).

If you’re feeling any of these symptoms, know that they will pass. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re experiencing a relapse, even if it may feel like it.

Harvard Health Publishing reports that “Discontinuation symptoms emerge within days to weeks of stopping the medication or lowering the dose, whereas relapse symptoms develop later and more gradually.”

To determine if it’s a relapse of discontinuation symptoms, your doctor may suggest taking a low dose of the medication again. If symptoms disappear quickly, it’s a side effect from stopping the medication.

Either way, it’s important you stay in communication with your physician and report these symptoms to them, so they can help you get back to a place in which you feel comfortable without medication again.

And I don’t want you to feel like you have no control in this transition, either. There’s a lot you can do to help yourself get back to that normal. At this point, it’s important to stay in therapy and reach out to your support system. Getting physical might make you feel better quicker. Exercise

The same Harvard article says, “Exercise makes serotonin more available for binding to receptor sites on nerve cells, so it can compensate for changes in serotonin levels as you taper off SRIs and other medications that target the serotonin system.”

So take care of yourself, Nellie. Be patient with the changes in your body, move your body to help heal your mind, and trust that you’ll find your new “normal” soon.

P.S. Fellow readers — remember that no med changes should ever be done outside the care and supervision of your physician.

How Do I Stay Sober While Maintaining My Privacy?

Dear Ada,

It’s the “warm” celebration season, meaning wedding and baby showers, graduation and pool parties, and weddings will be taking over my weekends. I actually love happy life moments, and spending time with friends and family is exactly what I want to be doing. Here’s the problem. I’m newly sober. How do I explain why I’m not drinking to my family, friends, and colleagues during this celebration season in a way that is direct enough to get them to stop badgering me to drink with them, while still keeping a bit of privacy so I don’t have to wear a shirt that says “Alcoholic in Recovery” to the event. I mean, you’d think everyone already knows that I’m in recovery, right. Well, not true. I’m someone who’d be called a (recovering) “functional alcoholic.” I woke up every morning, went to work, came home, and drank in an unhealthy way, but no one was here to see that. I’m working so hard at this, and I’d love to keep my recovery private. Please help.

Dear Lady in Recovery

Hi Lady,

Congratulations on your recovery! Every single day is a victory, and I’m so happy to hear you’re thinking ahead to plan for how you’ll handle future stressful situations. However, you’re going to need to figure out how you’ll handle this situation in both the short- and long-term.

In the short term, there are many ways to deflect a drink. One of the easiest is to tell the person asking that you can’t drink because you’re driving. Everyone wants a sober driver, right? Another good excuse is to blame the abstinence on a future event, such as going to church after the event, babysitting your niece that evening, or having a busy work day in the morning. Or, combine them all! “Sorry, I can’t drink today. I’m babysitting my niece after church and tomorrow I have a super busy day at work!”

Those are the most honest ways to deflect a drink, but keep in mind that you can fudge the truth a little if someone is really persisting. For example, tell them you just finished a drink. You don’t need to specify that the drink you just finished was just soda.

Remember how I mentioned that you’ll need a long-term strategy? Well, that’s because small excuses won’t work your entire life. Eventually, people are going to catch on that you’ve stopped drinking, and might ask why directly. Or, you might just get sick and tired of repeating these same deflections, and you’ll want them to stop asking for good.

Taking responsibility for your abstinence is a huge step forward in your recovery.

Plus, and maybe the most important part, taking responsibility for your abstinence is a huge step forward in your recovery.

Respond to drink requests by saying, “No, thank you. I don’t drink.”

The sentence is simple, direct, and doesn’t leave room for additional conversation. You most likely won’t get any more questions from acquaintances, but your closest friends and family members may persist. If they ask why, remember that you have every right to protect your personal information while still answering truthfully. You can say, “Yeah, I stopped drinking. I didn’t like how it made me feel.” Period. End of story. If anyone asks, “Are you an alcoholic?” you decide how you want to respond. Some people will feel comfortable saying yes. If that’s not you, know this is fine too. Just reiterate that you were tired of not feeling healthy while drinking, and your decision is final.

But it’s not just how you handle these conversations that are important, it’s how you process the events yourself. Being newly in recovery, these parties will be difficult for you to process. Champagne toasts, open bars, and celebratory shots are all triggers. Now is a great time to build a support system and lean on them if necessary. If you’re in AA attend additional meetings.

If not, schedule more therapy sessions. If it’s too soon to attend, don’t hesitate to RSVP that you won’t be attending. Finally, if you choose to attend, stay clear of the bar, keep yourself busy, and lean on friends who know about your sobriety.


Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email askada@pillpack.com and tell us your problem.

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