Michael Murchie writes articles about his own experiences with withdrawals from anti-depressants.
What Is Citalopram (Celexa)?
Citalopram is a drug in the group of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These are commonly used to treat depression and anxiety (perhaps the most common drug currently used).
They are thought to cause few side effects and work by blocking the re-absorption of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. By changing the balance of serotonin, the drug helps your brain cells send and receive chemical messages, thus improving mood.
I took Citalopram for two years, one year at the highest dose of 40mg for anxiety and depression. My depression started after I injured myself, damaging a ligament in my knee. Shortly after this, a good friend died, and my spiral down was almost complete.
Side Effects Whilst Taking Citalopram
In addition to the desired effects, as with any medicine, Citalopram can have some unwanted side effects. These depend entirely on the individual.
When I started taking the drug, I felt lightheaded for weeks. I also suffered from "restless leg syndrome" when sitting or trying to get to sleep. My weight went up (and has stayed up so far), but by far, the biggest issue for me was a numbing of the "downstairs" equipment and a total lack of sex drive. Seriously, it was like my tackle wasn't even there for a while, and it only got slightly better. It was a problem the whole time I was on the medication.
Other people have reported a whole mass of side effects, ranging from sleepiness and joint pain to increased sweating and grinding of teeth.
There are, unfortunately, too many by far side effects to go into here; I would recommend looking at http://www.drugs.com/sfx/citalopram-side-effects.html for more information.
Does Citalopram Work?
In my case, the depression was severe enough to require the use of both medication and counselling. Did it work? Well, it certainly seemed to get me through the tougher times as long as having a head full of cotton wool is your thing.
That's the problem with taking meds sometimes. To dull the depression feels like dulling the rest of your emotions. Life experiences aren't as exciting without their highs and lows. Bad choices are easier to make without the thought of anxiety to steer your thought processes. Worst of all is when you decide to quit. Perhaps if my doctor had been honest with me initially and talked about some of the devastating side effects you can get from the drug, I would never have started it in the first place.
Citalopram and Brain Zaps!
I started getting some pretty awful side effects on the high dose I was taking, including self-harm, anxiety, and worryingly manic episodes. This seemed really strange to me, seeing as I was on the highest dose of an antidepressant drug!
So, I talked with a great doctor who thought that it might actually be the Citalopram making me like this. Her suggestion was to stop taking it, but we must tread carefully to avoid further side effects. I agreed, feeling that the depression was truly gone. I was ready to stop taking the pills.
We agreed to reduce the medication in stages. 40 mg to 30 mg, week two 30 to 20, week three down to 10, week four 5 mg, and then stop on week 5. All was going well; we spoke on the phone in week four and decided to stop the pills, seeing as the withdrawal effects had not shown up.
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My first brain zap hit me like a lightning bolt in the brain. I immediately felt dizzy and extremely nauseous, lost my balance and nearly fell to the floor. This continued every few seconds until I had no choice but to lie down. Word of advice: lying down does not help!
What Are Brain Zaps?
Where to begin? Well, it appears that brain zaps affect many people coming off Citalopram. From my research, at least 65% have zaps in varying degrees of severity and longevity.
Imagine a lightning storm in your brain; add vertigo and feeling as sick as you have ever felt, and you might have the beginning of an understanding. It is as close to a living hell as I would ever want to get. That feeling you get at the top of a roller coaster as it suddenly plummets from its apex. One hundred plus times a day.
As you can imagine, this can be extremely frightening and debilitating. I missed quite a few days from my job. For me, the zaps were influenced by eye or head movement and increased anxiety levels, which, of course, stays high when you are waiting for the next zap to occur.
Finally, No More Side Effects
For me the brain zaps lasted about 6 weeks. This seems to be about average given the dose I was on. I am happy to say that I have only one or two a day now, much better than before where I saw no end in sight.
The one or two I get are in no way as severe either. Now, it is manageable and I know that it will only get better with time. This is the thing people suffering need to know. It will get better, but it will take time.
I can also recommend taking Omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin B12. In fact, a healthy diet and good supplements really can help reduce the effects.
Remember, before stopping your anti depressants talk to your doctor and NEVER go cold turkey. To do so invites side effects even more severe.
If you have been affected by anything in this article, please consult your doctor.
I would love to hear from people who have had similar problems with withdrawal from Citalopram, or have suffered brain zaps. Let me know how it went for you and how you coped!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
MS on September 17, 2019:
Thank ya for putting your story on here. I am going through what I now know is brain Zaps because of ya. I’ve been on Celexa since 2011. My dr died a year ago and no one will help me cause I don’t have health insurance. So I tried by slowing taking myself of this med. Last one end of last week. I’ve been dizzy since Sunday. It really had me freaked out. Thought I had a brain tumor. I stride to replace it with St. John’s Wort. That's when I became dizzy. So you have helped me do much by sharing your story. Thank ya.
Alyssa on May 14, 2019:
Hi . I’ve been taking Celexa 40mg for 6 years “this time” and I had been on it years prior but really wasn’t consistent with taking it and I was only taking
20mg. I started taking Celexa 6 years ago after a hysterectomy and my mother dying the year prior. I didn’t start grieving until a year after and I went into a deep depression and would have severe manic moments of thinking of suicide, even tried to but couldn’t because I also had a 7 year old precious little boy I stayed home with as my husband worked 2nd shift. If you’ve ever been with anyone that works those hours, it gets to be very lonely because they come in after you go to bed and don’t get up until time to go to work so it was just me and my son and the grieving I started to go through. It got so bad that I was seeing “shadows” or like someone walking by out of the corner of my eye constantly. I thought it was my mother just haunting me. I cried excessively, moods were drastically up one moment and severely down the next, then I might be crying a river over something so minor. I went to see my Dr at the time with my list of all the symptoms o had been having down to the shadows, i tried to tell the Dr every symptom o was having. She prescribed me Celexa, buspar and sent me on my way. I started taking the Celexa and within a week I started to notice a drastic change for even worse symptoms than before. Then throw in the extreme tiredness, sleepiness and leg cramps on top of it and I was a basket case. I wanted to stop taking the Celexa many times but the Dr kept telling me that these side effects would soon stop and I would notice the difference. I continued and exactly a month later, almost to the day it finally kicked in and I was better. I have continued to take 40mg everyday, with maybe a few missed here and there. There had been a couple of times where I had missed 2-3 days and like clockwork on that 3rd day I felt just scattered, foggy, and the inside of my head just felt very strange. I would always tell ppl that it feels like an “outer body experience” the way the inside of my head felt. My blood pressure would scoot up as well. I would always make sure I was able to get to my refill early when the symptoms had only been happening for maybe a few hours. So, I continued as the years passed and actually felt as though they weren’t working anymore because a lot of the drastic mood changes had come back, my anxiety and panic attacks I felt we’re back as they were before. I am always very easily agitated and get mad very easily. But, I feared the side effects of coming off the Celexa that I kept taking them everyday. Here I am 6 years later and found myself in a situation where the Dr won’t refill until I come in for a visit and the store won’t give but 1 emergency supply, which I’ve already had. I’m 4 1/2 days without and it took until this morning, the 4th day for the onset of the “outer body experience “ to kick in and very quickly literally one minute to the next is as quick as it comes on. Feeling normal one second and feeling so strange the next second. I was driving and it’s very scary because this feeling is very debilitating to say the least. Your thoughts and decisions are unclear. You feel very jumpy and nervous. Very out of it. My thoughts have been to just not go to the Dr and come off the Celexa but after reading some other ppls experiences of coming off, even under Drs supervision of being reduced every couple of weeks is very scary for me. I’m only in my first day and ppl are talking 6 weeks big this feeling, I’ll go insane! It is the most uncomfortable, uneasy, scariest feeling I have ever had. It frightens me to no end to think what these drugs do to our brains, our way of thinking, the chemicals and what it’s actually doing to us. I’m probably gonna go back to the Dr in the morning because I can’t stand this feeling. I’m afraid they’ll probably put me on another antidepressant like Ephexor or something else. Not sure what to do because I feel that I’d like to try life without antidepressants. I’m so scared that this zapping won’t go away so I’m in quite a dilemma. Just wanted to share my experience on Celexa just to verify that this drug is quite the powerful med and if you have the opportunity to try something else such as a natural remedy or even therapy , please try to make the antidepressants a last resort.
Kenna McHugh from Northern California on December 30, 2018:
Thank you for sharing your story. Anti-depressants were made by the pharm to make money and only to make money. The psychiatric industry kills people. It turns them into real zombies. I have helped several people free themselves from the tyranny of psychiatry. I am in awe that you were smart enough to get off this psychotropic drug. Please continue to share your story because other people are not educated in this field, trust their doctor, and fail to see that these drugs do more harm than good. Have you heard of "Green Mental Health"? Here is a website where you can share your story to help others www.cchr.org.
Pollyanna Jones from United Kingdom on December 29, 2018:
I was prescribed Citalopram during a period of depression and anxiety. When it was kicking in, I found it made my anxiety worse - but once settled down, the panics ceased - although I found that it numbed "me". I just felt swimmy, not myself, as if my personality was numbed. I decided to come off it after 6 months, and had a bit of a rough ride, but persisted. I still can be an anxious person, but now I have taught myself to recognise a situation or symptoms of an incoming attack. So avoid such situations when I can, and if a panic attack kicks in, am able to ride it through until the storm is over. Thankfully this tactic has worked and I rarely experience them now. Thank you for sharing your personal account.