Citalopram And The Doctor From Hell

When I first became unwell it was the anxiety that sent me to see my GP. At this point I wasn’t truly psychotic or manic, but it had started to creep in (if only I knew the warning signs back then!). I hadn’t been sleeping because I was so afraid that if I slept, my husband and I would be murdered in our bed by the neighbours. On top of the paranoia I was also ‘running fast’; I wasn’t able to slow down enough to shut off. I was having anxiety attacks every night over this fear and have experienced them before so thankfully I was able to at least identify; ‘yes this is anxiety’.

I booked an appointment to see the doctor to see if I could get some help dealing with the fear. My regular doctor wasn’t available, so I took the first free appointment with a locum. In I went, my heart beating in my chest with the anxiety of having to talk to someone about what was going on. When she asked why I had come in to see her I broke down. I spilled my heart out and told her everything – that I wasn’t sleeping, couldn’t calm down and was having anxiety attacks. I probably only talked for a minute but it felt like forever. She listened and made reassuring mhmm noises as I spoke; but when I was done she came out with the least helpful statement a doctor has ever made:

“I don’t know what you want me to do about it. You’ll have to sleep sometime.”

I was shocked. Worse still, I didn’t have an answer. I didn’t know about asking for referrals to talk therapy (in this area of the UK there is a very good telephone counselling service, as well as the opportunity to take up six face-to-face sessions), and I didn’t know about anti-anxiety or sleep medications. She had knocked the wind out of my resolve to get this sorted and I had no idea how to respond.

After a moment of silence she started to talk about the link between depression and anxiety. She suggested that I was in fact depressed and it was manifesting itself as anxiety. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen; that’s just not what was happening with me. She wrote me a prescription for citalopram (which is an SSRI anti-depressant) and sent me on my way.

What a disaster that was. I felt rotten, but relieved that I could at least try these pills and maybe get a break. I didn’t know then about certain anti-depressants exacerbating mania. Pretty quickly, I found out though.

For the first few days I felt no change. A quick search online told me to be patient – 2 to 4 weeks is typical for SSRIs to take effect. My mood was still elevated and I was still terrified to sleep. Gradually, however, the mania took hold. I hadn’t been sleeping more than a few hours a night anyway, but this amount dropped away until I was catching around three or four hours every third night. I was restless, agitated; every night I fantasised about going out for a long walk just to take the edge off. I was raging angry at my husband for every tiny transgression, and I couldn’t focus on my work.

The thing that made me drop the citalopram in the end wasn’t this manic experience though. I am notorious now with my psychiatrist for getting the weird, rare side effects on every medication we’ve tried. In the case of this particular anti-depressant, it was making my food taste rotten. I couldn’t eat a thing unless it was highly flavoured or highly spiced to cover up the taste of the meat. Fatty foods were out; whenever I tried even so much as a sausage it felt as though my tongue was coated in the oil from the meat. It was disgusting, and I was hungry, so I stopped the medication.

From there on in the mania settled a little. Probably back to ‘simply’ being hypomanic rather than full-blown raging mania. It was another month or so before it came back in full and my husband got me to see a different doctor, this time armed with mood charts and trackers.

Even now I’m on a different anti-depressant we are careful of my mood. Sertraline is nowhere near in the same league as citalopram was for triggering mania, but it’s not perfect either. Unfortunately without it I get severely depressed, so it is a case of balancing the pros and cons.

So to wrap up, I suppose the moral of my story is to do your research and never be afraid to challenge your doctor if you’re not sure they are right.

Citalopram And The Doctor From Hell

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