Strategies for a Successful Taper off antidepressantsI had already navigated two misfires in my attempt to get off my antidepressants(read about the first here; about the second, here). When at long last I broached my third (and what I had determined would be my last) attempt, I had a very clear sense about what was required to succeed.

The first unshakeable reality of a successful taper is to understand it is going to take time and to settle into the idea that I’m in this for the long haul. I resolved that, until I am through it (or die trying), this singular purpose is my life’s mission.

The idea of a long haul can be a distressing prospect for anyone who is ready once and for all to be rid of these medications.  We picture the heroic junkie tossing the drugs into the toilet, flushing, and then bracing for a few days of sweats and writhing. This is the wrong picture to envision when one is ready to stop taking antidepressants. First, we are not junkies — we are people whose brains have been chemically altered — and righting that is going to take time and intention. Second, there can be no flushing of these meds down the toilet. Stopping has to happen incrementally and for a time, against our wills, we are compelled to keep taking the poison so as not to incur irreparable damage to our brains and possibly our own lives (or others’ lives). Reaching the place where we’ve reckoned that it is time to stop is only the first step in what is destined to be a long road.

Another way of looking at going forward into a successful taper is to think of it as if we were going into combat. You don’t simply lurch forward swords bandied and arms flailing. The preparation for combat, in order to meet the crisis that the moment demands and to secure victory, resides in the backdrop of what you’ve done to be ready. We cannot succeed without the proper orientation and associated preparation. But when we have established ourselves to begin the journey of discontinuation, with time and patience, we will succeed. Our bodies will begin to adjust, slowly — achingly. But bodies are made to heal.  Given the proper conditions, that’s what they do.

Once I made the decision to begin another taper and resolved to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes, I had to execute a plan for which I considered several factors, the first being the time of year.

The Season on the Calendar

I had been reinstated (against my will) in the month of December and allowed my body several months to make the necessary adjustments. As soon as I felt confident that I was physically stable, I made plans to start the taper based upon the calendar. I determined I would start again in early May because this meant that, for the majority of the effort, the weather would make it possible to be outside and active. I am a gardener and derive great pleasure from being outside, planting, digging, pruning, transplanting — basically, doing all those smalls things that healthy gardens require to flourish. So I plotted the roughest patches of my taper around those months when I would be undertaking an activity that brought me pleasure and also got me outside.

In addition, the warmer weather also made it possible to consistently exert myself physically, which is also an extremely valuable element of a successful taper. Physical activity keeps blood circulating and the more blood that rushes through the brain, the better you will feel. Plus, being physically expended makes for better sleep. Difficultly sleeping is a signature feature of tapering and everything we can do to overthrow insomnia will help over the long haul.

Season of Life

Another important element I considered before beginning another taper was the circumstance of my life at the time. During my first attempt, which failed, I was living in a place that was not working for me: I was far from my grown sons in a state and city where I knew very few people and was struggling to get work and to fit in. I was unhappy, in other words. I rectified this situation before beginning a second taper by moving back to the locale closer to my children — thus removing one of the key obstacles that had proven a significant factor in my struggles. This was a good decision. Even so, the circumstances of my life even at that point were still challenging and I discovered, this too, contributed to the sabotage of my second failed attempt to discontinue.

There were many difficult trials with this second attempt, which I’ve already noted. By the point I began the third taper I had moved into a more manageable living arrangement in a town where I already had a network of friends and colleagues. I made very clear calculations about the “season” of my life and whether or not the outer circumstances would support or sabotage my struggle. I had determined, after great pains and a few misfires, that this was the time and that this would be a do-or-die effort. I marked the day on the calendar to begin. Then did. Once again, I entered the world of cutting tablets and keeping a log of my dosage and also my symptoms.

(To be continued . . . )

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