Common Questions About SSRI Anti-depressants such as Prozac and Lexapro

Common Questions About SSRI Anti-depressants such as Prozac and Lexapro

Being a long-time user of a number of different anti-depressants, I thought I’d list some of the most common questions here regarding them that I know I can answer with confidence. Keep in mind that everyone reacts to anti-depressants completely differently, and relying on someone else’s experience on them is almost useless.

However, there are some general questions I feel I can answer that would help people.

Just a reminder that I’m not a medical practitioner and always consult with your doctor on all of your questions as well. These answer are not intended to be medical advice. I do feel my first-hand experience being on these medications and getting feedback from multiple doctors along the way myself may be able to help people feel more at ease.

Q: How long does Prozac (fluoxetine) take to work?

A: It takes a while (at least a month) to get the full therapeutic effects. I found that many people who have used Prozac, including myself, notice something on the first day or two of taking it, and I feel this is not likely due to a placebo effect, as none of us were expecting it to work in any way immediately.  This isn’t to say its full effects are taking place right away, but that it may begin to start helping in some way.

Q: Does Prozac treat anxiety?

A: In general, SSRIs tend to be helpful for anxiety. This is because anxiety and depression are said to be two sides of the same coin, so to speak. They both stem from a combination of either chemical issues in the brain and/or consistent negative thought loops, and involve distorted ways of thinking. They also often exist together.

When you treat anxiety with an anti-depressant, it often takes the edge off of the anxiety and it makes it easier to deal with. Prozac in particular really almost entirely muted my brain’s tendency towards obsessive thinking, which in turn made it that much easier to get out of any thought loops that were perpetuating an anxious (or depressive) response.

Lexapro or Zoloft did not affect my obsessive thoughts quite in this way. You can feel when you take different anti-depressants that they tend to all work a little differently.
SSRIs can also give you a buffer on your emotions, so your tendency to overreact is lesser as well.

Lexapro (escitalopram) is said to be an SSRI that targets anxiety really well, which for me was a plus since my main problem tends to be my anxiety.

Q: How long does Prozac take to leave your body?

A: I don’t actually know the answer to this, except I do know that Prozac has a longer half life than many other SSRIs, so it stays in your system longer. If you happen to miss a dose, you likely may not feel anything. I used to accidentally miss my Prozac doses all the time and not feel any different, but if I miss a Lexapro dose, I do feel a difference.

For this reason I think that Prozac can be easier to get off of than other SSRIs, as it will leave your system more slowly than others.

Q: Was it hard for you to get off of Prozac?

A: It wasn’t. Even though I was on it for 9 years, I tapered off slowly like you should do. Everyone’s experience in getting of the drug may be different, primarily because the nature of their problem(s) may likely differ from others’.

I did notice some things as my brain was getting used to not being on the drug anymore (primarily a bit more aggression in my personality — not to a bothersome degree). It may depend on how long you’re on Prozac, but I did notice that it took a few months for my system to feel completely back to normal after being on it for so long.

Also, since I’m someone who has a chronic problem with anxiety, things that would normally induce anxiety in me when being off of medication did start to do so again, which resulted in me going back on medication eventually. This likely might not be the case for someone going through something more temporary.

Q: Can you take anti-depressants for life?

A: The simple answer is yes. If you really need them, then the pros of being on the medication long-term will likely outweigh the cons. I know many people in my family who have been on them most of their lives with very little issues.

On the other hand, if you feel you aren’t someone with a truly chronic problem, it would be worth trying to get off them at some point and work on exercising regularly, paying attention to your nutrition, meeting with a therapist, and so on. You cannot underestimate the power of that. There are a great deal of variables that can affect why you feel anxiety and depression, and it takes a lot of trial and error before you can really determine whether it’s something that your brain has a tendency towards naturally, versus something situational or circumstantial that can be worked out over time.

Q: Should I be on an anti-anxiety drug for my anxiety, or stick with an anti-depressant?

A: This is also a difficult question for me to answer as it likely depends on the nature of your anxiety disorder. If you are someone having panic attacks every once in a great while and this is a relatively recent occurrence, you may benefit more from taking an anti-anxiety drug only upon the onset of a panic attack, and not daily. Many anti-anxiety medications such as Ativan or Xanax are very strong drugs and very addictive (along with unpleasant long-term side effects), so it is something you’d ideally only want to take only occasionally and not daily.

I, however, have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and my anxiety, when it hits, tends to be nearly constant for sometimes months. I also have recurring anxiety and depression without necessarily having a trigger. In other words, it’s not the trigger itself that really sets me off — it’s how my brain handles these triggers in the first place (a trigger for me could be something like big life changes of any sort, or anything that my brain is perceiving as a threat at the moment). For me, it makes more sense to have something that regulates my brain chemistry on a daily basis. I believe that people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder can do really well on SSRIs.

Q: Does being on a low dose of Prozac (10mg) or Lexapro (10mg) do anything?

A: This will depend on you and the nature of your issue (and your own body’s reaction to things) — but for me, it certainly does. I’ve been on 10mg and 20mg doses of both Prozac and Lexapro. I found 20mg Lexapro to work better for me. I feel that Prozac is a stronger drug and a 10mg dose of Prozac affected me more than a 10mg dose of Lexapro.

Q: How is Lexapro different than Prozac?

A: I wrote an article on my experience with both here. In a nutshell, Lexapro can be more effective for anxiety than Prozac is, for some people. Prozac seems to be a stronger drug, and can also treat OCD. If your primary problem is generalized anxiety and/or mild depression, maybe you can start with Lexapro and see how it works for you.

It really is a matter of trial and error to see what works best for you. A couple doctors have told me that Lexapro tends to be better tolerated, and I would agree that I have had less side effects on Lexapro than on Prozac. However, I also know a few people who have been on both and preferred the Prozac.

Q: Can Prozac or Lexapro make you anxious?

A: If you find yourself MORE anxious on Prozac or Lexapro, it could be a few things. Either:

1) you just started taking one of the medications and your system is getting used to it, and the anxiety will go away after a week or two.

2) You are nervous about what the medications are going to do to you, and it’s creating anxiety while being on it, or

3) your system isn’t reacting to the medication well. You’ll have to determine what is causing the anxiety and switch to another med if needed.

Q: What’s the best time to take Prozac?

A: Prozac tends to be an energizing drug for some, so for those it is best taken in the morning. I did not get any energizing effects from Prozac and took it in the early evening with no issues. You can start by taking it first thing in the morning and see how that works.

Q: What’s the best time to take Lexapro?

A: Lexapro (as it states right on the bottle) may actually make you drowsy, but I didn’t feel this from Lexapro myself. But for that reason, many medical practitioners will advise to try taking it in the evening first.

Q: I’m having really insane dreams on Prozac. Is this normal?

A: Yes! This is a very common side effect of Prozac. Doctors have suggested taking it first in the morning to potentially help with this as well. I did not have this side effect myself, but I have heard that the crazy dreams can subside after a while of being on the medication.

There you have it — some of the most common questions I see about taking anti-depressants. If you have any other questions or comments, feel free to reach out to me (liz@mylifeinbalance.co). I may add more questions and answers to this article over time to make it even more complete. Best of luck and hang in there!

The Pros and Cons of Being on Prozac

The Pros and Cons of Being on Prozac

Thinking of Going on Prozac?

I was on anti-depressants for about ten years for generalized anxiety disorder and only went off once for about a 6-8 month period of time. Now I’ve been off of them for about one year. My experiences being on Prozac and now being off of it have shown me some very visible pros and cons about being on this drug.

First of all, I think Prozac is a good drug.

Everyone might react to it a bit differently, but overall, this was one of the anti-depressants that I had the least amount of side effects with and it really did its job: it reduced my anxiety by making it more manageable and definitely reduced depression that I had. My anxiety did not disappear, but I didn’t expect it to. I did have a few mild side effects that got better after a few weeks of taking it.

However, one of the reasons many people quit anti-depressants is because it’s hard to tell exactly how it might be affecting you – how it works in the brain, exactly – and it’s generally not fun or beneficial to be on a drug long-term unless the benefits truly outweigh the negatives. But overall, I’ve had both friends and family members go on Prozac with good results.

The Difference Between Life on Prozac and Life off of it

It wasn’t until I went off of it long enough that I really started to feel the difference between life off of Prozac and life on it. Mind you, I wasn’t even on a high dose. In fact I alternated between the lowest dose (10mg) and 20mg, but even a low dose has a very noticeable effect on the brain. Especially when you learn to recognize the differences of not having it in your system.

Oddly, they say it takes a few weeks or maybe a few months for Prozac to fully get out of your system (in particular after being on it for so many years), but each time I’ve gone off of Prozac, I actually felt exactly the same until at least around six months past that point. Then, suddenly something would be triggered that caused anxiety that maybe normally wouldn’t have, or I started to feel my thoughts becoming more obsessive. This same thing would happen to a best friend of mine that had also been on it long-term and would go off for a number of months at a time.

Stabilizing My Brain

Upon going off of Prozac for good, I thought to myself, “I’m really going to need something to stabilize my brain in this process, as it re-adapts to regulating its own serotonin.” I took a number of natural remedies and vitamins, but it’s difficult to say which helped, if any. The main help was that I was at a truly happy place in my life when I stopped, and had come a long way in developing my own mental tools in dealing with my anxiety after all these years.

Once I had been off the Prozac for a few months, I noticed that the world just seemed so colorful to me. This sounds positive, but it was really not a positive nor a negative thing. I just noticed that everything was more pronounced – my perceptions as well as my emotions. I also temporarily became a lot more aggressive and assertive in my personality. Aggression can be a sign of a lack of serotonin in the brain, which I don’t doubt was the cause after being on a drug that regulated my serotonin for so long.

To top it off, I also have petit mal seizure disorder, and researchers have found that those with a seizure disorder very often also have mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression due to abnormal brain activity. So in general, a tendency towards anxiety and obsessive thoughts was in my nature and not usually circumstantial.

My Brain’s Obsessiveness Kicks Back In

Prozac is approved for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which can overlap with anxiety disorders. So, Prozac is particularly good if you have a tendency towards obsessive or intrusive thoughts.

Many months later after going off of Prozac and after the aggression subsided, I felt myself balancing out a bit more chemically. But here is when I noticed a definite difference in my thought patterns. I would now easily obsess over things, and this was something that being on Prozac I didn’t really notice myself doing. I was picking and prying things apart, not letting things go as easily, and investigating things thoroughly anytime I thought something was wrong with ANYthing. I was sometimes blowing certain situations out of proportion that I viewed as threatening, out of fear. I still do this, as I think it’s the natural way of my brain. However luckily I’m much more cognizant of it now and have tools for defusing it.

My memory is also sharper now. I FEEL much sharper. I felt so fuzzy while on Prozac in comparison. My brain was just dulled somehow and I wouldn’t have realized this simply while being on it because it was so subtle. I had to see the comparison after going off for a significant amount of time.

On the upside, I felt a general stability while having the Prozac in my system. It was like I was living within invisible walls and I had a buffer for my emotions and thoughts. However, this turned out to be a double-edged sword.

Prozac Dulled My Creativity

I realized that this very buffer that was keeping my emotions and thoughts stabilized, also stifled my imagination (which is overactive by nature, I might add). I’ve always been a creative person, and this dulled my creativity. It muted what I consider the part of me that I really feel at times makes me different, that comes up with unique ideas; the part of me where a little bit of genius might be able to shine through. It makes sense, though, right? The genius in me can also be my madness if put to use in a way that isn’t productive but rather goes after itself incessantly.

The crazy thing is that all of this was so subtle that it was nearly impossible to see while being on it. That’s why I’m writing this post. It took years of experience of being both on and off of it to really be able to feel and see the difference, and some people may not ever detect the difference if they aren’t listening or watching themselves closely enough.

So…Should You Go on Prozac Despite the Downsides?

If you have been prescribed Prozac or even another anti-depressant and are still unsure about taking it, my short answer would be yes, try the Prozac, IF the following conditions are true for you:

  • You have a chronic, recurring issue with anxiety or depression. You can tell that it’s something that is more of a product of how your brain works, how it’s “wired,” rather than one life event that triggered your only bout of anxiety/depression to date. Chemical versus situational.
  • If you are barely functioning at the moment, OR
  • If you have been steadily miserable for a long time despite trying other things.

On the other hand, if you feel your anxiety or depression is mild, it might be OK to go on it short-term and see how it helps you, but it’s kind of a pain in the butt going on and off meds. My first suggestion would be to try other things. Not just one – a combination. Look into cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which has proven to be very effective. Or, if you can’t afford therapy (which many can’t), look for some CBT workbooks you can do yourself on Amazon. Make your attitude about learning to master anxiety. Become a student of it. A proactive attitude will win the battle. Fearing it and trying to escape it will never allow you to fully develop the tools that are so essential in keeping it under control.

And if You’re Already on Prozac…Should You Stay on It?

  • If your side effects get to the point where they are changing your personality (even if maybe you can’t tell that they are, but other people are noticing) or consistently hindering your quality of life, then it’ll likely be time to make a change. For example, Prozac muting my emotions to the degree it did became unacceptable because it led to other things, such as reduced ability to feel compassion and empathy, which then led to having a shorter fuse with people and less ability to relate to the world. That’s a big deal.
  • If you barely have any side effects and are just tired of being on an anti-depressant, then I’d talk to your doc. You’re VERY lucky if you take an anti-depressant and it not only works but doesn’t give you many or any side effects. However, it can be impossible to gauge how you will feel off of them and it will depend partly on your personal history with anxiety and depression.

I can’t stress this enough: the downsides/side-effects really will be different for everybody. There are certain listed side-effects of Prozac that will be more likely to happen than others, just based on how the drug works. But there won’t be any solid answer that will tell you what is or isn’t going to happen. It’s such a trial an error process – a jumping into the mystery of the unknown, and having to deal with that in regards to medication pretty much sucks.

Also, many people still do not truly understand anxiety disorders, depression, or anti-depressants. So do not let what other people think of you being on meds sway your decision. It’s not weak, and yes, some people really do need them. Do what you feel is best for you. I at one time in my life was barely functional due to my debilitating anxiety. I could barely sleep or eat for a long time, and I had school and work to plow through. That level of anxiety or depression is where these drugs can be honestly life-saving and totally worth it.

Work on Developing Your Mental Tools!

If you don’t feel you have great mental tools in dealing with the anxiety or depression just yet and tend to on external sources to ease it, you can maybe stay on the Prozac to take the edge off, but work on developing those mental tools. For example when anxiety comes, work on keeping yourself and your mind busy. Exercise more (this is a HUGE one!). Work on eating a healthier diet, and being mindful of your thoughts – it is a constant practice. But these are the things you are going to be able to rely on (and will NEED to rely on) if you don’t want to be on medication forever and if you want to dramatically reduce your anxiety and depression. There is no shortcut or easy way out.

It’s pure hard work and dedication to working on being observant and rising above your thoughts when they do not serve you well.

If you have been on it for a while and aren’t sure if you should go off, you can still try to go off for a period of time and see how you feel. A couple of things to note here though, it’s best to do this when you don’t have a lot of stress or general instability in your life.

If you’re experiencing anxiety, depression, or have any questions for me regarding my journey on and off anti-depressants, shoot me an email at liz@mylifeinbalance.co or leave a comment below. I am here to help and support you!

 

Lexapro or Prozac? Which Anti-Depressant is Right For Me?

Lexapro or Prozac? Which Anti-Depressant is Right For Me?

Scouring the world of anti-depressants is difficult and daunting, because you never know how you’re going to react to these medicines, and most of us might be a little disappointed that we even need anything at all.

You might be in one of the most trying times of your life and just want something to help already, yet we all know that finding the right medicine can be an exhausting process of trial and error.

That’s why I write these blog posts. I want to do my best to help others since I am now on my third antidepressant after battling generalized anxiety disorder and mild depression basically my entire life.

That being said, everybody reacts to medications differently, so I can only document my own experiences and what I’ve read based on research, as well as what doctors have told me. You can take that for what it’s worth.

Also as a side note, think about why you’re going on the medication. Do you suppose it’ll be short-term or long-term? All of that depends on whether your problem has been chronic and more based on your brain chemistry or genetics, versus a set of circumstances that has caused your anxiety and/or depression. I think anti-depressants are great for the former; if it’s something you’ve battled with time and time again. Otherwise, I think other measures should be pursued first (exercise, healthy eating, etc).

Lexapro vs. Prozac — What Are Some Differences?

So let me tell you first about my experience with Prozac. Overall, it worked for both my anxiety and depression. Especially for the depression. I still got anxiety sometimes (I didn’t expect any drug to completely eradicate that), but it “took the edge” off of it, so it was easier to manage. It also helped prevent anxiety because it prevented obsessive thoughts from occurring, which is why this drug works really well for those who also have OCD.

It did have a number of side effects that I didn’t like, and these were primarily mental side effects. I am an extraordinarily empathetic person, but Prozac literally muted my empathy. There were also the famous sexual side effects that people report on anti-depressants, but those went away after the first few weeks, and didn’t bother me anyway.

My concern with antidepressants was always a matter of how it’s affecting my brain in the long-term. How is it affecting my personality?

Prozac muting empathy or emotions in general, is an issue. Because that causes a snowball effect. Once my empathy was muted, I was of course less understanding of others which then shortened my temper. I became less patient as a result, less able to relate to others’ circumstances.

Also, being less in touch with your emotions gives you less “data” so-to-speak about how you feel regarding your surroundings. You don’t realize how important emotions can be, just basic emotions, in giving you information about your natural reactions to things. It gives you more insight into why you are the way you are. Muting this is not a good idea.

Enter Lexapro.

After nine long years, I went off of Prozac. That’s when you can really see the contrast of you on anti-depressants vs. you off of them. My life became more colorful, more pronounced, and I got my empathy back.

A few years later though, I entered in another really bad stint of depression and anxiety, with no obvious trigger. My brain just DOES this crap.

I fought it for months. Exercise and even marijuana products (since I had a medical marijuana card), bright light therapy, etc. Anything not to go back on an anti-depressant.

Then right in the middle of all of this, my dad became so ill that he was nearing death and eventually died. At that point, I gave in and decided to try Lexapro because nothing else was working well enough.

I was very nervous, because who knows what side effects I was going to be dealing with this time. Maybe I’d get some relief of my issues, but was I going to become fat and emotion-less in the process?

Lexapro — A Great Drug for Anxiety

I had heard multiple times from doctors that Lexapro was one of the anti-depressants that targets anxiety really well. It also seemed to me that it might be possibly a milder drug for me since it is approved to treat only depression and anxiety, whereas Prozac is used for a number of things like bulimia and OCD as well.

During the time I started Lexapro, I had had sleeping problems and a sickening mixture of depression and anxiety all at once.

Then a week or so after taking Lexapro (because it seems to kick in quicker than many other anti-depressants), I began to just feel normal. Like myself again. Instead of the drug muting my emotions, instead I literally felt like I was back to how I was supposed to feel. My normal self, with appropriate emotional reactions to things. It was incredible.

I hardly felt anxiety. Likely even less so than if I had gone back on Prozac.

I literally had no side-effects. No sexual issues, no weight gain thus far, no confused feeling about my emotions, no personality changes, etc. I felt that it completely targeted the issues I was having, with no big mental repercussions.

I found something that really works for me and I couldn’t be more relieved.

So Which Should You Try…Lexapro or Prozac?

Unfortunately, this still isn’t a question I can answer. There are so many variables involved, not to mention that the response to each drug is so individual. We all want answers…we all want to know how something is going to affect us. Unfortunately we really just cannot know unless we try it ourselves.

But what I can say is this: If something like generalized anxiety and mild depression is your primary issue, I would try the Lexapro first, solely based on the fact that it is known for being a better-tolerated drug among most people.

If your issues tend more heavily on the OCD-side and/or severe depression, you may want to try Prozac first.

If your issues are mild in general and do not recur often, then maybe think twice about going on anything! There are SEVERAL tools that can help you, and I still think that exercise is one of the best anti-depressants there is.

What keeps me mentally healthy? Exercise, social interaction, eating well, striving for optimism, and sometimes the extra aid of 10mg of Lexapro. 🙂

Good luck to you and as always, reach out to me at liz@mylifeinbalance.co with questions! 

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