It’s been a long and turbulent 10 month ride, but I am finally off Abilify.
During past attempts to quit the med, which consisted of everything from cold-turkey at 5mg to a rapid taper down method, I was thrown into a mild psychosis. Although I’d never presented any psychotic features in the 25 years since being diagnosed as bipolar. It appears that I’m one of the lucky few in who antipsychotic withdrawal can actually cause psychosis. In the end, it took a lot of strategizing with my Dr to develop a safe way to rid my cocktail of this drug. What finally worked was the ridiculously slow and steady decrease of medication over an equally ridiculous long period. But – it worked. For anyone out there who is struggling to also get off of this med, it is possible to quit Abilify. And, having a good support network is essential.
This round of withdrawal wasn’t as bad as the last, but it wasn’t without its issues, either. Day six was when things became interesting. My vision went through a period of not being very sharp – it was as if a grey film was over the world. My depth-of-field-o-meter was faulty, too. Then, the obsessive thoughts began. Last time my battle with obsessive thoughts got very bad (thoughts about a character from a silly TV show I don’t even care for). This time, they were about the US Presidential election (analyses of the debates, latest polls, etc.). At least this time I was thinking about something much of the rest of the world was. I’m not sure if what I went through this round would even be classified as a mild psychosis – I never believed I was a candidate for the presidency, but my thinking was extremely jumbled. Once in a while a random thought would streak through my mind and push me into a mild anxiety attack. One thing I’ve always hated about Abilify is that whether the occasion was happy or sad, tears were always just below the surface. It was annoying. Going through Abilify withdrawal only made it harder to hold the tears back. At least this time the vertigo and disorientation were bearable, though. Throughout it all, I stayed in touch with my Dr every few days and kept her informed about what was happening; a go/no go decision was made every 48-72 hours as to whether to continue with the stoppage. Ultimately, we were able to declare victory.
Fast forward five weeks, and here I am, with confirmation from my doctors that I’m doing well.
At the risk of becoming overly philosophical about the changes that have taken place since going off the med, there are a few things that bear mentioning.
‘Dullness’ is a side effect of just about every psychiatric medication out there. But, as time without Abilify addling my brain increases, I’m finding life to be more full…and filled with nuances I was unable to recognize or appreciate while med-ed up. Greater cognition also means I can now begin to tune into the major life changes I have undergone in the last two years and start to digest what’s happened. While on the Abilify I wasn’t processing what was going on and finding healthy ways to deal with things, I was skating around right on top of the whole mess. My therapist is cheering a bit. She’s happy I’m finally capable of feeling a kind of grief over the losses that have occurred. Abilify-free self-reflection also has me examining ideas about my self-worth – something that hasn’t happened in a very long time. I realize it may be premature, but beginning to take stock of my readiness to get back into the work force is actually a positive sign.
This has been a learning experience for everyone – family, doctors and me. It’s a relief it’s finally over and that everyone is now aware that giving me antipsychotics for a prophylactic purpose is a bad idea. I need to continue to be my own advocate when it comes to educating everyone who needs to know about me, my med and my wacky reactions to some of it. I need to get back into serious talk therapy and work through what I’ve skated over the last two years. And, I need to do everything in my power to stay well. Because going back on an antipsychotic medication is something I do not ever want to do if it’s within my power. I’ve finally broken free from Abilify and am very motivated to do what it takes to reduce the chances I will ever have to use this class of drug again. Is it realistic for someone with bipolar I to expect walking-the-walk means they will never have to take an antipsychotic again? Maybe not. But if I do ever have to begin taking this type of drug again, I want to be able to say I did everything in my power to stay well before I raise the white flag – if I ever have to.