Since around the summer of 2016, I have been taking escitalopram (Lexapro) to manage my PMDD and anxiety. I’ve always been an open book about it; after all, it has definitely helped me tremendously and improved my quality of life overall. I know anxiety medication isn’t the best option for everyone, but for me, I tried everything else the “natural” way and this was the only thing that worked. So here I am, almost four years later, still taking 10mg of Lexapro per day. Sometimes people ask me if I ever plan on getting off it, or if I would recommend this medication to others struggling with anxiety. Today, I’m going to answer all those questions and tell you a little bit about my personal journey with this SSRI.
Before I was put on Lexapro, I was previously taking Zoloft for about two weeks. I had to stop taking Zoloft because it essentially turned me into a zombie: numb, exhausted, unable to focus, basically just walking around as a shell of myself. I remember at one point, I was taking a walk with my friend and I had to call my mom to come get me, because I was so fatigued and dizzy, I couldn’t walk anymore. So the Zoloft didn’t last long, and I switched to Lexapro shortly after that. This time, the drug was a great match for me and I didn’t have any intense side effects. I don’t remember very much about that time, because it was almost four years ago, but I know my anxiety started to greatly improve from there. I would still have anxiety from time to time, but it was nothing like the intense panic and irritability I was experiencing before.
Last summer, in 2019, I decided to try weaning off of Lexapro because I felt like I was getting too used to it. My anxiety was still very low, but I was almost too numbed out, if that makes sense. I was starting to have a difficult time feeling anything at all, so I assumed that I had simply been taking Lexapro for too long. I talked it over with my doctor, and told her about the other side effects that I was experiencing. She told me that I could either slowly wean off of the drug, or we could switch to something else. I decided to wean off the drug to see if it was possible that my brain had adjusted to making more serotonin without the aid of the drug (that would obviously be the best case scenario). She also switched me to a new combination-hormone birth control pill, which she said would further help me with my PMDD.
Weaning off of Lexapro, or any other SSRI, can be an extremely difficult experience. Many people go through critical periods of irritability, anger, depression, suicidal thoughts, and upsetting physical effects as a result of being taken off the drug. In extreme situations, some people even have to be hospitalized until their bodies can adjust- even if you wean off slowly. I weaned off as slowly as I could over the course of 21 days, cutting my pills into smaller and smaller pieces. I didn’t experience depression or suicidal thoughts, thankfully, but I did have some really atrocious physical symptoms. One of the most common side effects of withdrawal is experiencing “brain zaps”, which are tiny, localized seizures that feel a bit like your brain is being zapped by electricity. For a few weeks, I was having up to hundreds of these brain zaps throughout the day, and I was so dizzy at some points, I would have to crawl around on the floor to get places. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through, and it was at that time I had a clear understanding of why people have such a hard time getting off Lexapro. Alas, my symptoms finally subdued and I decided that I had finally successfully weaned off Lexapro, and that would hopefully be the end of things.
But of course, it wasn’t. Around November or so, about three months after getting off Lexapro, I had an extremely severe spell of insomnia and anxiety, possibly caused by my PMDD. Regardless, my anxiety skyrocketed over the course of just a few days, and I couldn’t figure out why. It almost felt like somebody had flicked a panic switch in my body, and no matter what I did, my heart wouldn’t stop beating uncontrollably. I was constantly filled with a sense of edging dread and panic, and it severely took a toll on me during the last few weeks of my fall semester. Somehow, I managed to turn in all of my assignments and finish on the Dean’s List, but during that time I was only sleeping 1-2 hours per night and I was sobbing constantly. The only thing that could get me through the night without vomiting from anxiety was to constantly take Ativan (an oral sedative also prescribed by my doctor). My mom, obviously concerned about this downward spiral of anxiety, brought me a leftover bottle of Lexapro that I had kept from the summer. She assured me that my anxiety would probably improve, and if I ended up feeling better on the drug, we could talk to my doctor about getting back on it.
Per usual, my mom was right, and my anxiety and edge gradually started to melt away over the course of the next two weeks. I also started to regain my normal sleeping pattern again, which was incredibly wonderful, and now I can average about 8-10 hours of sleep. I’m also constantly in a state of serene calmness, which I have a huge sense of gratitude for. I definitely needed to get back on the Lexapro, at least for the time being. I’m not sure what caused that bizarre spell last November, but I’m extremely grateful that it’s over and I feel “back to normal.” It’s so nice not to feel my heart pounding all the time. I feel more centered, alert, and of course, much more happy.
There’s still a chance I’ll try to wean off Lexapro again in the future, but honestly, that last experience was so traumatizing, it’s not even a possibility in my mind right now. At least, it’s not a possibility for 2020. It would be nice to feel perfectly happy and healthy without the aid of medication, but it’s also my responsibility to take care of my body and my mind. For now, I’m so happy with where I am, and I’m so grateful for having less anxiety. I’m also extremely proud of myself for getting through that difficult period. I don’t like writing about it and reliving that time in my life, but I think it’s important to share with other people. If I can aid or comfort even one person with my writing, that’s good enough for me.
Anyway, that pretty much wraps up my overview of Lexapro. As you can see, I’ve had a predominantly positive experience being on this medication, but it’s not the best choice for everyone, just as Zoloft happened to not be the best choice for me. Nonetheless, I hope you find this article helpful, and I’m happy to answer any more questions about my experience on Lexapro!