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May 16, 2013 6:38 AM   Subscribe

A year after a run-in with some crazymeds, my emotions still feel numbed out. The meds are out of my system; what gives?

Of course, YANMD. But I'd appreciate input from anyone with a shared experience: a year ago, I was trialed on a few psych meds for a brief crisis. I was only on them for a month or two, but there were *several* trialed in pretty quick succession. One side effect, other than getting the crisis under control, was that my emotions completely flat-lined. The term "fried" seems appropriate. I've since tapered off, and am only on a tiny dose of one. My emotions (joy, surprise, sadness, love) remain numb.

Has anyone had this lingering numbness even *after* drugs were out of your system? How long did it last, and was there anything you did to expedite the process? Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This sounds awful for you. Could it be that it has nothing to do with the drugs and that the numbing-out is a trauma response to the crisis? Sometimes getting a crisis "under control" is figuring out how to get through life in spite of the crisis, without the benefit of getting to the root of the problem.

Definitely talk to whoever prescribed the medication and consider talking to someone with a background in treating trauma. I was really surprised to find out how insidiously trauma can affect lots of aspects of your life.
posted by corey flood at 6:58 AM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Unlikely, but: are you on any other (non-psych) pharmaceuticals? This is an uncommon (but known) side effect of Allegra.
posted by pie ninja at 7:00 AM on May 16, 2013

Has anyone had this lingering numbness even *after* drugs were out of your system?

I never had numbness or flat emotions on psych drugs. They just helped the extreme emotions get back under my control. I still felt every kind of feeling. Most people I know have had a similar experience.

I think if you had or have any kind of numbness or flat emotions you should discuss this with your doctor. As others have said it is more likely to be something else besides the psych drugs causing this.
posted by sweetkid at 7:50 AM on May 16, 2013

Anecdatally, yes. I had also been trialed on a half-dozen drugs in a rather alarmingly brief time frame (~120 days) in response to a very temporary (~48-hour) and extremely specific crisis situation, but it took me almost three years to gain back any sensation other than a rather creepy flat/exhausted affect after my last dose.
I've always been a very passionately emotional person, so it was more than a little scary to completely lose touch with an aspect of my personality that I had held so dear, something I had considered a defining characteristic of my most basic sense of self. But I ended up spending those years shrugging and gradually giving up on basically everything I had loved all my life because I just couldn't bring myself to care about it very much at all -- good, bad, or indifferent.

Getting off of hormonal birth control provided a HUGE assist in the process, but even after I completely cleared out all of the hormone/brain-altering chemicals I had been ingesting, it was almost like I had to re-learn how to feel. So I went back and read my pre-crisis journals to learn what my "normal" responses to specific emotion-inducing events had been, and started out by mimicking what I knew had been "normal" behavior for me in a 'fake it 'til you make it' kind of way. I'll never forget when a tiny piece of the back of my brain grasped a fleeting moment of pure joy and was like, "Wait, wait! Yes! I remember this! This is good! This is so good!" and after that, it was a bit like piecing together a puzzle, a fun challenge. It also helped to put myself into situations where other people were likely to be uplifted, stuff like marriage equality rallies or charity events -- being surrounded by open displays of human joy and love helped put me in touch with my own feelings re: same.
Five years later I've finally come to a point at which I can experience the full range of my emotions -- for better or worse, in darkness and light -- with genuine clarity. Even when it isn't, exactly, it is awesome.

The CrazyMeds forum might be a helpful place for you to ask about this -- the people there tend to be quite hilarious, self-deprecating, brutally honest yet gentle and kind, and they have a lot of experience with tapering, side effects, etc. Here's their wiki on medication discontinuation/tapering, and their wiki on side effects.

However, lingering, perpetual numbness like this might also be an aspect to something like dysthymia, and I would strongly recommend bringing it up with your therapist (if you have one) or primary care physician. While you should definitely consult with your doctor to discuss your options, you may just have to give it some more time. No one really knows/understands how a lot of common psychiatric drugs work (and many of them 'work' just as well as a placebo), so post-cessation side effects can be difficult to ascertain, especially if you're still in the process of tapering. Fair warning: If you see a psychiatrist, they may just try to give you another prescription, or convince you to re-up your dose.

Good luck, I hope you can start to feel (better) soon!
posted by divined by radio at 8:11 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Has anyone had this lingering numbness even *after* drugs were out of your system?

Yes. I don't know how common it is, and I can't say what's typical, but this is my experience: I too was on trialled on several meds within a span of a month or two. I did stay on two or three of them for a year or two, though, and either the quantity or strength or something else about them was enough to make a pharmacist very surprised and uncomfortable that they were for a young teen.

My emotions went away. Everything in life was gray. I was never sad, but I also never felt happy or anything remotely close. So, I decided to stop taking them with hardly any tapering (which I so do not recommend). It was at least a couple years later before my emotions started to come back, and, a decade later, I still don't think that I feel they way that I used to. (But that just could be the depression/anxiety/whatever-it-is.)

That's just my experience. Yours may turn out better, and I hope that it does. I didn't talk to my doctor about this (for various reasons), but I strongly encourage you to, if you haven't already.
posted by Silly Ashles at 8:13 AM on May 16, 2013

You didn't mention what meds you were taking, but I did a lot of research after an ex partner went off of mega doses of dexedrine.
He basically went into flat-line sort of depressive state. Apparently the medication floods your dopamine receptors, which in turn essentially burns them out. The receptors then take some time to repair/re-balance. Until that begins to happen then your emotions can be off.
I could speculate that anytime you mess with brain chemistry, something similar can and will happen.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 8:29 AM on May 16, 2013

Yes, absolutely. I trialled several different meds during a short (>4 month) crisis, and had a horrible reaction to Abilify. The reaction was worse than the severe depression, and I tapered off the meds as soon as physically possible. It's been about 14 months now and I still feel as though I don't have any highs or lows. Just a flat, unemotional state that makes me miss being "me." I am still trying to get back the highs and lows but no success so far.
posted by notaninja at 10:47 AM on May 16, 2013

This happened to someone I'm very close to. This person trialed 4-5 meds (during a major crisis) in the course of 2-3 months with no tapering and still has lingering effects and damage 3 years later.
posted by quince at 3:33 PM on May 16, 2013

From an anonymous commenter:
I've never taken any kind of psychiatric medication, so please bear that in mind when reading this. I did have a major problem accessing my emotions, however. See here.

A few things really helped me get back to feeling again. The first is slightly woo-sounding, but I found it to be very very effective. Feel what your body is doing. Especially, feel how your chest, solar plexus, belly and sacrum area feel. I read this in an online article somewhere, and the first time I tried it, I couldn't feel anything. Literally nothing. I was aware of my chest rising and falling with my breath, but only from an observer's point of view, not from an internal view. Over time, though, as I became more and more aware of what my body was doing, I became more and more aware of what my emotions were doing. I think this makes sense - when you're stressed, you have a whole raft of physiological symptoms, such as quicker pulse, increased breathing, tensed muscles, etc. Emotions don't seem to be seated entirely in the brain. Meditation helped me focus on the physical aspects, with the "body scan" type being especially helpful. The female voice meditation linked here was especially helpful.

Another thing that helped is a kind of meditation called Metta Bhavana. You basically think nice thoughts about someone you like, someone you feel neutral about and then someone you dislike. I found it to be a very effective way of causing a specific emotional state, that of love and connection to another person. It causes the release of a single specific brain chemical. I think that this is better because most emotions are complex and require several mental aspects to work at the same time. This meditation just focuses on the release of a very fundamental, very specific chemical. I think it's less complicated for the brain to process.

The last thing that helped is something I call "flooding". It's similar to the last process, in that you think of something that is designed to stimulate the experience of a specific emotion. You get into a space where you are likely to feel something and then stay there as long as you can. For me, it's the poem Rainbow Bridge which is about animals and death and the afterlife. It's 100% guaranteed to have me crying pretty much instantly. Choose something that you know is likely to have a strong effect on you and then focus on it for as long as you can. The time you spend doing it is important - I found that my emotions were like bubbles in thick liquid. Sometimes, they took a while to reach the surface.

I hope this helps you. I got to a point where I thought I'd never feel anything ever again, but I think now that sometimes your brain shuts down just to protect itself and that it takes some nudging sometimes to bring it back out of its shell. If you'd like to chat, follow up with an email address that you can be contacted on. Good luck.
posted by taz at 4:18 AM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have had similar. I found therapy and thinking skills a great help. Good luck.
posted by BenPens at 6:33 AM on May 17, 2013

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