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“Should I Take More Meds So I’m Nicer to Be Around?”

A woman weaning herself from antidepressants wonders whether she's making the right move. Our advice guru weighs in.

How to Wean Off Antidepressants Without Being a Total Mess | NextTribeDear Answer Queen:

Recently, with my doctor’s permission, I lowered the dose of the antidepressant I’ve been on for decades. My kids had graduated college and my husband was doing well at work, so we didn’t have to worry as much about money—which meant I could work more selectively, was less stressed out, and finally had time to exercise. Maybe because of all that, I feel pretty good on this dose; I’m less sleepy and have more energy than before, and I’m mostly happy with my life. But I also realize that some of my pre-medication personality traits have returned: I’m more impatient, faster to anger, and more combative, to name three. I know I’m not imagining this, because both my daughter and my husband recently mentioned it to me. It’s similar to what happened to a friend of mine when she decided to stop drinking: She was healthier, for sure, but also snappier, more easily annoyed, and just less fun to be around.

I don’t want to go back to a higher dose of a drug I don’t feel I need, at least right now. But I also don’t want to turn into an angry, rude horror show who drives people nuts. What should I do?

Signed,

Low Dose Bitch

Dearest Bitch:

First, I admire you for thinking about what you put into your body and for making an effort to reduce your medication in these calmer years. Drugs can save lives, of course, but they also cost money, have side effects, and can make people dependent on them. So the less you can take of them, from Pepto-Bismol to Prozac, and still get the relief you need, the better off you are, in my opinion. Of course, you don’t see MD after my name, so take that opinion with a full shaker of salt. But I think we can all agree that if you’re moving toward swallowing fewer pills without losing your mojo, that’s a healthy direction to be traveling on the highway of life. Good for you.

No one wants to be that woman who makes people walk on eggshells because she’s seconds from blowing at all times.

Now for your dilemma—what to do when something that’s both healthier and makes you feel better also makes you more difficult to be around. Or, to put it another way, who should we care about more: ourselves, or everyone else? The answer is … the envelope, please … well, both. No one wants to be that woman who makes people walk on eggshells because she’s seconds from blowing at all times—and I don’t need to tell you that driving away those you love by acting like a psycho is hardly a recipe for happiness. That said, to alter your personality from its natural state to please others feels wrong to me, like wearing false eyelashes and stilettos purely because your new (creepy) boyfriend prefers them. Ew.

If you feel good on the new dose and your doctor okayed it, that’s the dose you should stay on. But you need to do two things. First, tell your family and (ideally) anyone else you’ll be regularly around that you might be a little moody for a while, and they shouldn’t take it personally. (If you don’t feel like explaining why, just say you’re on a medication or hormone regimen or whatever that could make you a teeny bit insane.) Then, if you do have a situation where you’re bitchy or short with someone, apologize afterwards and remind them it’s not them, it’s you.

Second, though: Look for other ways to get what the drugs provided before—serenity, more tolerance for life’s small annoyances, even confidence, which antidepressants do sometimes help with. If you’ve never been in therapy and can afford it, give it a try—especially since the standard recommended treatment for depression is a combination of drugs and therapy, not just drugs. Or, if you were once seeing a shrink regularly but then life got in the way, now might be just the time to go back. (FWIW, I was in therapy for years, and I can’t begin to tell you how much I learned about myself, my family, and just plain life.) You could also try meditation, a la Dan Harris, author of the helpful, hilarious, and expansively titled 10% Percent Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in my Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help that Actually Works—A True Story.

The Answer to Any Problem

And then there’s what I do when I have a problem, any problem: Go to a library or bookstore, gather a heap of helpful tomes and a good amount of high-quality, non-smearing chocolate (sneak it in, if necessary), and spend a few hours soaking up the wisdom between the covers. If it’s a store, don’t forget to buy your one or two faves, to compensate for your research, add to your home library and help support the ever struggling books industry and starving writers such as myself.

To alter your personality from its natural state to please others feels wrong to me.

I took a field trip this morning to help get you started, and I found full shelves of books about how to be “happier.” Some tips I stole for you: soak up sun, sing, sleep more, exercise outside, take a break from technology, spend time with a friend, foster a rescued animal (actually, it just said to get a pet, but I added a personal touch). My own latest happiness recipe features walking my dogs while listening to a really good novel or memoir; try Tara Westover’s plucky and gorgeous Educated, Kate Christensen’s riveting and terrifying The Last Cruise, or Trevor Noah’s funny and moving Born a Crime.

If you want to read more about going on or off antidepressants, I confess I have written about both here and here.  Either way, I wish you—literally—much happiness in your new lower-drug life.

Yours,

Answer Queen

***
Cathi Hanauer is the New York Times bestselling author of three novels—GoneSweet Ruin, and My Sister’s Bones—and two anthologies, The Bitch in the House and The Bitch is Back, which was an NPR “Best Book” of 2016. She’s contributed articles, essays, and criticism to The New York Times, Elle, O—the Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, and many other publications. 

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