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Effexor Discontinuation Syndrome: brain whack

Remember about a year and a half ago I got depressed and started taking the anti-depressant Effexor? Well, after a little while I didn’t feel depressed anymore, but I couldn’t tell whether the depression was really and truly gone or Effexor was just masking it. I kept taking it, even though I felt it made me a little duller, mentally, than I wanted to be, and a little less creative, and it was costing me money I’d rather be spending on other things.

A few months ago I decided to give them up.

Effexor is notoriously difficult to give up. It has a whole thing called Discontinuation Syndrome, so you need to taper off. With my doctor’s guidance, I went from 150mg a day down to 75, and then down to 37.5, before finally quitting. I took my last one on Thursday.

Friday wasn’t too bad. I had moments of weird feelings. Not depression. Just weird fuzzy-headedness, lurching elevator sensations, and stuff like that – several times each minute.

Saturday was much worse. We went to a 3-hour quilting course, and by the end of it I was feeling pretty yucky. You know how sometimes you see a movie where the audio and visual are slightly out of sync? The lips are moving a fraction of a second sooner than the words are being said? It was like that, only it was my brain and my head that were out of sync. My brain was lagging slightly behind my head, and my vision’s timing was a bit out of whack, too. It wasn’t bad as long as I wasn’t moving my head or eyes. But you move your head and eyes a lot more than you probably think, as I realized yesterday.

The result of brain lag, among other things, is motion sickness. I felt dizzy and queasy, and it only got worse as the day went on. The drive home from Kanata didn’t help.

We were planning to go to The Oaks Christmas party immediately after quilting class. The Oaks is where we’re volunteer winemakers. I couldn’t. I just lay down on the couch and slept for two hours.

When I woke up I made red Jello. That’s how sick I felt. Red Jello sick. (GC came over later and suppemented the red jello with Hella Stella’s Chana Punjabi, which is the best curried chick peas ever.)

I slept for nine hours last night and had a bad dream about a world war and snakes and shrinking shoes. I woke up a few times but kept returning to the same bad dream. Vladimir Putin was a good guy. Pakistan and Italy were bad guys. There was a lot of chaos and destruction and fear. My son was four years old in the dream and I was trying to keep him safe from the bombing.

So far today I feel not so bad, as long as I don’t move my head. Head moving triggers all kinds of uncomfortable feelings – the lurching elevator sensation, the brain fog, the cotton-skull feeling.

My doctor, Eleanor, says these symptoms typically last for three or four days, but Dr. Google says it can last for months or even years. (Fortunately, experience tells me that Eleanor’s batting average is better than Dr. G’s.)

25 comments to Effexor Discontinuation Syndrome: brain whack

  • Wow, what a crazy reaction! Makes you wonder about what’s in some of these pills. Very glad the Chana Punjabi offered some solace.

  • It has to do with how it works – it’s a shocky feeling because it’s all about nerve endings in your brain. Kinda like effexor intentional floods the engine because the spark plugs were not fully charged and the flood provides enough gas to let the spark plugs still work. When you remove the extra gas suddenly the lazy spark plugs need to spark more and they need time to adjust and figure out how much.

    To me that’s exactly how to describe the feeling – like my brain is a big exposed nerve.

    • How long have you been off it now? How long did/do the symptoms last? Raw and shocky, yes, that’s how it feels. Like I’m getting zapped. Got any suggestions for managing the symptoms, other than waiting them out?I find naps help, for a little while at least.

  • I went cold turkey on Effexor right when I had my wisdom teeth taken out, partly because I was out of refills and was in no position to go back to the doctor for a script, and partly to take advantage of the fact that I’d be feeling like crap for a few days anyway post surgery.

    I noticed afterward that my thoughts seemed to flow a lot better. Puzzles, for example, were a lot easier and a lot more fun. Along with this feeling of a weight being lifted, my mood lightened also. This is all long before I started blogging.

    I’ve had some low lows since then mood-wise, but also plenty of high highs. So long as you’re overall okay, you gotta take the good with the bad.

    – RG>

    • How long did your symptoms last, RG? I’m looking forward to the better-flowing thoughts. I did notice when I started taking effexor that thinking was harder. Often I couldn’t think of the word I wanted. Writing wasn’t as much fun without a full set of words. Word puzzles weren’t as much fun either.

      But I can’t imagine just going off these things cold turkey. I was at the pharmacy today picking up a couple of other prescriptions, and I asked the pharmacist about it. He said effexor also affects your blood pressure, so part of what I’m feeling could be sudden brief blood pressure drops. He said it’s far worse if you go cold turkey.

      • Honestly it’s too long ago for me to remember, and any symptoms would have been muddled with the wisdom teeth recovery (and whatever they gave me for that).

        Drugs or no, my physiological and psychological condition varies too widely, too frequently, and there are too many extraneous variables, for me to notice a change in the average.

        – RG>

  • I’m still on it but I’m horrible at remembering to take meds. So I’ve uninterntionally gone cold turkey a few times – and then remembered in withdrawal and needed to wait two days to get more!

    • I’m not good at remembering to take meds either. But with Effexor, I always remembered within a few hours of missing a dose, because of the physical symptoms (head shocks, elevator lurching, etc.). So I never ended up missing a whole day.

      • Oh yeah. One of the best things about getting off of Effexor (not to downplay its benefits when getting onto it) is that you don’t have to put up with that shit.

        – RG>

  • Ugh, that sounds awful! I once went on… crap, I can’t remember its name. It was an anti-depressant but I was taking it for anxiety and panic. Paxil! That’s what it was! Anyways… I took it for about two days and I felt so jittery and weird and couldn’t sleep and had bad headaches, and I got scared and stopped right then. The Telehealth person I spoke to advised against just stopping but I figured since I hadn’t even gotten over the weird side effects it couldn’t be that bad.

    I hope your withdrawal symptoms end soon. And that your depression is truly gone too. Take care.

    • Thanks Kate. I think that’s funny (in a stupid sort of way) that Telehealth advised against “just stopping” even though you’d only been on them for two days.

  • It’s painfully ironic that the side effects of antidepressants come on immediately, but the benefits don’t for 4-6 weeks. I have two unrelated theories about this:

    (1) They don’t actually have any benefits; the side effects are just to make you feel bad enough that when they subside you think you’re feeling better (which, I guess, is a psychological effect in itself)

    (2) I heard or read somewhere (possibly in Psych 101) that most depressive bouts only last a couple of weeks, and by the time the antidepressants “work”, it’s actually just the natural ebbing of the crappiness.

    (Note: these are both tongue-in-cheek. Please remove your tin-foil hat).

    – RG>

    • Actually, you may have intended it to be tongue-in-cheek, but I’ve often found myself wondering about your second theory. I took Effexor for a year and a half, but I had no way of knowing whether it was (still) necessary. The only way to find out is to stop taking it (subjecting yourself to the crazy discontinuation syndrome) and if it turns out you’re still depressed, then you have to go through the whole process of working yourself back up to a therapeutic dose, which takes weeks or months. And if it turns out you’re NOT depressed anymore, you have to wonder how long you’ve been taking the drugs unnecessarily, and did they fix you or would you have gotten better anyway? (Obviously some people have biological causes for depression, and they’re in a different league. I’m talking more about people whose depression is situational.)

  • Careful, when it comes to mental health Dr. Google is a closet Scientologist.

    Like all anti-depressants, Effexor fundamentally alters how your brain works. The longer you’ve been taking it, and the higher the dose, the more time it will take for your brain to get used to living without it. But that’s a guideline, not a rule.

    It’s rare for any residual effects to last more than a few months, and that’s a rarity as well. You’ll always be able to find people online who claim to be in “withdrawal” years after stopping the meds, without exaggeration I can give you the blog URL’s of a dozen of them.

    But mostly they’re confusing the “withdrawal” for other things going on in their lives. A lot of these websites and blogs are also kept by people who are either influenced by Scientology, or work directly for them.

    That said, coming off these drugs is not something to be taken lightly. It would make things a lot easier on yourself if you kept a daily mood diary, so you can keep track of the severity and length of the new side effects.

    Even if it’s just something simple like a star system to rate the severity of a side effect.

    Basically these drugs heal us by damaging our brain. At the moment your brain is trying to heal itself. It’ll take time, and it will be uncomfortable, and no one can tell you exactly how long it’ll take because we’re all unique.

    In the future, if you ever take another anti-depressant, once you start feeling as though the drug is doing more damage than good, ask your doctor to change your dose, or change medications. IMO, feeling like you did when you missed a single dose, should have been a sign you were either taking the wrong dose, or the wrong pills.

    • Thanks Gabriel. I have a great deal of respect for your experience and wisdom in these matters. After reading your comment, I did start a symptom diary. I mentioned to my doctor at one point that I experienced withdrawal symptoms whenever I was late taking a dose, and she said that was unusual and that I might be very sensitive to effexor. She didn’t suggest that we change doses or medications, however. But having experienced what I’ve experienced over the past few days, I would never take effexor again.

  • grace

    Is there a link to the recipe 😉

    • I’ll ask Hella Stella if I can share it online. 😉
      Also…I’m going to post the world’s best vegetarian chili recipe, which is delicious, fast, easy, attractive, inexpensive, healthy comfort food. You really can’t ask more of a recipe than that!

      • grace

        Margaret Atwood commented that her mother’s favourite recipes titles all began with the words fast or easy. I’m with Mrs. Atwood!

  • […] Effexor Discontinuation Syndrome: brain whack […]

  • John

    After being on Effexor XR for nearly a decade (I can’t recall exactly when I started), I took my final does last Wednesday. It took four months to reduce my dose from 150 mg/day down to nothing. Each step down was pretty miserable; going from the smallest does (12.5 mg of Effexor 2x daily, since the smallest dosage of XR is 37.5 mg) to nothing has been the worst. Today is the sixth day of not taking anything and I still feel miserable. With the exception of brain zaps, I’ve experienced nearly all the potential side effects.

    Most of my symptoms have been similar to having the flu–nausea, headaches, hot flashes, sleepiness, anesthesia, vertigo, and chills. I’m having nightmares at night, tremors when I’m awake, and I find concentrating extremely difficult. One of the most difficult side effects of Effexor was amnesia, which thus far does not appear to be going away. I’m hopeful that my memory will improve over time as my brain changes. (I had written “… changes back to normal”, but it’s been so long since I haven’t been on an antidepressant, that I don’t know whether “normal” would be the correct word to use.) I also notice that my mood is less stable and I’m more anxious, which worries me because I don’t want to go back on an anti-depressant.

    My doctor says that there is no set timeline for the changes that one will see after discontinuing Effexor; some of the withdrawal symptoms are immediate and short lived, while others may linger for weeks or months, or possibly even years. Hopefully taking this pill for as long as I did hasn’t changed my brain so dramatically that there are side effects lasting years. But if it has, how will I know how to differentiate what is a lingering effect of the drug and what is just normal for me?

    With my experience over the past months, I can’t get a Caitlin Rose lyric out of my head–Trying to quit will make you wish you didn’t start.

  • Wow. Thanks for sharing your experience, John. That sounds even worse than what I’m going through. In my case, Day 4 was the worst. I very much hope that you will soon start to feel better too. Have you talked to your doctor about options for managing the symptoms? Nobody should have to live with the whole gamut of symptoms for more than a few days. (Also – maybe this is just a coincidence, but you never know – I found a single dose of a migraine pill – Relpax – really helped with almost all my symptoms. Maybe ask your doctor if it’s possible there might be an off-label benefit to Relpax in treating withdrawal.)

    Let me know how you’re doing. I hope you turn the corner soon.

  • Reading these comments, I’m really beginning to wonder about psychiatric drugs and the companies who make them. Maybe they really just try to make the most addictive drugs they can. And if they can cause side effects that require you to take other drugs they make, bonus. Maybe so many people are depressed because the world and our lifestyles really suck right now.

  • Glad the symptoms passed. red-jello sick. yeah. me too. I’ve never taken migraine medicine. maybe I should have them. I hate days of not feeling human. maybe it’s a silly ego thing to resist meds. but then sometimes they have effects like that. I’ve had brain-lag as part of a panic attack. good term for it. never heard of anyone else experiencing that.

  • […] committee for the Ottawa Parrot Club. Oboe narrowly escaped death by ceiling fan. I stopped taking Effexor. Mudmama named her sheep after me. GC and I took some more quilting […]