Posted by: Jack Hope | Thursday December 13, 2012

An Experiment in Depression

I’ve had a lot of time to think about my recent “drop-out” and to process what happened to me. This was a genuinely different type of drop-out than I had previously experienced and I have been wondering a lot about what may have been happening to me. I’ve also been conducting a bit of an experiment (on myself) as to what may have been causing this.

Although really the process of getting treatment for a mental health condition is, from start to finish, a process of experimentation on the person being treated.

In my case there were a couple of potentially competing theories, such as the come down from coming back from Europe or the onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder with the coming of autumn.

But now it has become plainly obvious to me that the new medication that I started in September to supplement my current regime was indeed the culprit in this episode.

The Effects of Effexor

It now seems quite clear to me that the medication I was taking, Effexor, was not having the desired effect. Whether this was due to it interacting badly with my own personal chemistry or the medications that I was already taking, it was having an effect that could only be described as draining.

I had noticed it before I departed on my trip to Germany and definitely during the trip, in which I experienced persistent tiredness and jet lag on a scale that I had never experienced previously.

The jet lag was particularly noticeable. At first, I dismissed it was stemming from this being my first overseas trip in some time and the fact that I am aging. But it became apparent that I was going through a persistent drowsiness after I came back and the effects lingered.

Even after they passed the feeling of being drained and emptied continued and persisted. My energy levels dropped off and before I knew it I was in a downward spiral.

How did I figure it out, how did I realize what was happening? Well, a big part of it was that I missed dosages for three days because I didn’t have the energy to go refill my prescriptions.

Now missing my prescriptions for that long would normally put me into a significant downward dip and in this case, I did indeed feel a major drop off in my already anemic energy levels.

But what was back, what suddenly jumped out at me was this sense of clarity, this mental awareness. I wanted to read again, I didn’t want to just sit in front of the television all day.

Trial and Error, But Mostly Error

Just as I had gradually increased my dosages as prescribed by Doctor Z, I also have been slowly reduced (and recently ended) my dosage of Effexor. As the dosage has come down I have slowly felt these effects wear off, which seems to confirm the theory.

It’s unfortunate that this therapy hasn’t worked out for me, but I have been through a similar experience previously. My first medication, Ciprolex, produced unexpected side-effects that were highly negative, although that was not a case of intensifying Depression symptoms.

Unfortunately no medication is ever 100% effective for each and every individual. Even extremely common medications such as aspirin can and do have adverse effects in small numbers of people and generally there is no way to know until you actually try said medication.

With psychiatric medication this is also true. This process of trial and error is one that is extremely frustrating for me and everyone else who goes through it.

And yet, there is no other way.

A Bump In The Road

Coming out of my apparently drug-induced “hermitting,” I have been slowly re-engaging in my life, involving myself with friends and family again and striving to be more involved and active again.

I’ve slowly begun running again although still not at my regular rate. I hope to change that, as I have had goals that I set and these goals are still entirely achievable.

My priority has been on re-establishing my corporeal community, although fortunately there this drop out period has been a relatively brief one. No damaged relationships to try to patch up this time fortunately, but the need for tangible human contact has been strongly evident.

Now I can also start work on patching things up with my virtual community and getting re-connected on all fronts. My writer’s voice has been one of the most difficult aspects to get back. Writing is a habit and a skill that requires constant practice, but it’s one that faces a rather unique challenge of overcoming that initial writer’s block.

I think also the fact that I am at a standstill when it comes to where I go next in managing my mental health issues is a major contributing factor in my writer’s block. I don’t know where to go next in overcoming my Depression or what my next move should be. Still, perhaps writing about it again will help me to figure out what this next step should be.

I’m finding my writer’s voice again though. Slowly but surely, I am writing a bit more. More blog posts will hopefully be coming, more participation in social media again.

At the end of the day, even though I don’t know what to do next, this is still just another bump in the road. A big bump in the road, a bump that has left me at a bit of a loss, but still just a bump. I will figure this out, one day.

I am beaten perhaps, but not yet defeated.



  1. I’m so glad you figured out it was the meds. Welcome back 🙂 You are right as far as being a guinea pig psychiatrically. If only there was a blood test or something that could identify whichever chemical is missing and the Dr could prescribe accordingly. I as I’m sure many fellow depressives have been victims of the wrong dose or script. I once had a script that put into a manic state. I was super hyper and thought I was invincible. By the time I realized how out of control I was I had made a real mess of my life with irrational, spur of the moment life changing decisions. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been another drug to make me feel that happy and energetic without the irrationalism since. I’ve come to terms with being a somewhat constant melancholy, pessimist that has trouble finishing what I start. I guess I’m not meant to be wonder

    • The really frustrating part is that all we have is a supposition about how these psychiatric medications work. Effexor (and Ciprolex) are thought to effect serotonin but they don’t actually know that for sure. It seems with me that messing with my serotonin levels is a bad idea.

      If only there was a blood test…. But that’s life unfortunately.

      For me the big question now, is do I keep looking for something else or do I start managing my condition using my current state as a baseline?

      • My sister uses exercise and diet to manage hers. She refuses to take meds. She says I am who I am and if I need to drop out every now and then, so be it. As long as she can maintain working she’s fine with it.

      • Sorry bout the split post. Phone had a stroke. Point being maybe the more you get back into exercising, ie running in your case, maybe you will need meds less because exercise tends to produce a lot of the mental chemicals we are short on.

    • I agree with you completely, good diet and exercise are and always have been part of the equation. So is continuing with my current medication regime as it does provide significant relief (varying between 65% to 85% I’d guess) from my symptoms.

      I think the bigger question for me now is what can I do to go above and beyond that in terms of management.

  2. trial and error is the name of the game. I have a friend who refers to it as medication roulette (a play on the “russian roulette” gun thing.) I am glad to hear you are feeling better. I have had several medication changes cause negative symptoms. The key for me is keeping a regular record of my moods and activities so that I notice any major changes right away, before things get too bad.

    • That’s a really good point about the monitoring and keeping a record of your moods and activities, something that I am making a greater effort to do.

      In a way, this blog has been a record although not a terribly formal one.

      Actually my psychiatrist in BC used to ask me to rate various aspects of my mood on a scale of 1 to 10 at each appointment. Given that my appointments were weekly or biweekly it seems to me that he was doing just that, but given that I don’t have regular appointments like that, I really need to make a more concerted effort to do a ‘mood check.’

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