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.