After the disappointment of September 2020, I started October on two types of antidepressants: Sertraline and Mirtazapine. Admittedly, I was tapering myself off the Sertraline, because of the massive amount of anxiety it caused as a side effect. And the Mirtazapine, which was also acting as a sedative to help with my sleeping issues, had yet to properly enter my system. Still, knocking back two antidepressants, each day, was how I started October 2020…

It was, in of itself, a depressing thought.

Something that was not helped by the amount of weight I had gained. My penchant for slobbing around the house in tracksuit trousers and a hoody, meant that I was able to ignore how my body shape was changing. But October 2020 saw the start of something that would bring my weight gain into sharp relief: the hockey season.

The last time my team mates has seen me had been at the end of the COVID-shortened previous season. At which point I was around 15 stone… Now, in October, at the start of the 2020-1 season, I was 20 stone. I think it’s fair to say that this change was noticed by my team mates. And, to a man, they avoided laying into my porcine appearance.

Bunch of wimps!

There were, however, a couple of sincere comments along the lines of: we preferred the way you looked at the end of last season…

Which I completely agreed with. I preferred the way I looked at the end of the previous season as well. In March 2020, and despite knowing I had started my fourth recurrence, I was fitter than I had been for decades. In October 2020, however, I was as unfit as I had been the last time I finished a course of chemotherapy.

I was in such bad shape that, in training, a number of people actually came up and asked whether I was okay. Individually, this was; not as any sort of intervention… And they each had real concern in their voice. I presume I looked a wreck. I certainly wasn’t able to exert myself without very quickly grinding to a complete halt. And the only time I’d felt like that, before, was in early 2014, prior to my original diagnosis… A time when I had liver tumours seriously hampering my metabolism.

I’d swear, some of these people were worried I was having a heart attack. Maybe it looked like I was…
Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

All of which naturally led me to fear that the current tumour in my liver was getting busy!

But it wasn’t the tumour. Or, at least, not just the tumour. Because, as I got deeper into October 2020, my fitness increased, and the feelings of extreme fatigue decreased. I really was just that unfit!

Something else that was genuinely disheartening.

But, let’s just take a moment to fully appreciate the amount of weight that I’d put on in the seven months up to October 2020… In October, I weighed 25% more than in March 2020.

And it’s even worse, when you look at it the other way. In March I was 15 stone. By October 2020, I’d gained a third of that original weight to become 20 stone. I’d increased my weight by 33% in seven months!

That’s truly horrifying…

And it means that I’ll have to spend the majority of 2021 getting it all off again. Just like I did in 2019. I guess there’s a reason why the term ‘Yo-yo Dieting‘ exists. And it’s really not good for you…!

Anyway, back to the start of October…

Given my weight, and the intense pain I got in my left knee every time I played or trained, my fear was that I wouldn’t be able to play hockey this season. Something else that had the potential to drive me deep into depression.

But, on the 7th, I spoke to the physiotherapist attached to my local GP’s surgery. He said that I should just get out there and play. He’d had a look at the last X-Ray that had been taken of the knee, so knew there was no historic damage. His thought was that the knee joint was weak and that I should do daily exercises to strengthen it. But, alongside the exercises, I should get the knee used to doing what I wanted it to. I wonder: had this consultation been in person, instead of over the phone, would his advice have been different…?!

He also put me forward for another X-Ray of the knee, which I appreciated.

So, I got on with playing hockey. And my knee got on with being really sore!

But, you know: doctor’s orders… It was all the excuse I needed to play through the pain.

It was during one of those post-hockey match recovery periods, sitting there with an ice pack on my knee, when I found myself contemplating a seemingly simple question: “How do you know if you’re still depressed?”

And I fully appreciated that I had plenty of reasons why I might be depressed:

  • Weight gain
  • Wait for the surgery
  • Lack of fitness
  • Potential inability to play hockey
  • Dodgy knee
  • Being on two types of depressants
My poor, abused knee…!
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

But the whole thing about antidepressants, is that they stop you feeling depressed. So how could you possibly know if you still were depressed, if you were taking the antidepressants?! Well, I’d just finished the taking the Sertraline, and I figured that I was already half way to answering my question…

So I stopped taking the Mirtazapine as well. I just went cold turkey and stopped taking everything.

Yeah, that idea turned out to be just as stupid as you’d expect it to be!

Actually, and to be completely truthful, the first day was fine. Great, actually. I felt clear and awake and, if not entirely happy, then not actively unhappy either. At this stage, I was convinced that I’d done the right thing.

The truth of the matter, however, made itself very, very clear, the next day.

I was anxious and headachy and I was getting weird electric shock sensations across my brain. in addition, It generally felt like I had a cold. Or the flu. Either way, it was not something I wished to continue, so I went back on the Sertraline for a few days.

I followed the same protocol that I’d been given when I came off the Citalopram, the first time I’d been prescribed antidepressants. I took a half dose for five days, then a quarter dose for five days and then I stopped altogether.

And it sort of worked!

I mean, I didn’t feel like I had the flu any more. I didn’t have a headache and the anxiety was mostly gone. But the electric shocks certainly remained…

After a bit of research, I discovered that these electric shocks were known as ‘Brain Zaps’. This is an incredibly apt description for what they feel like. In my case, they were mainly associated with eye movement. When I looked to my full extent, in any given direction, I would get a Brain Zap.

If only because I haven’t posted anything gruesome for a while: the muscles of the eye.
By Patrick J. Lynch, medical illustrator, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1498176

I wonder if this is related to the muscles that control the eye… There are six extraocular muscles, which work in pairs, to allow the eye the movement it has. To me it seems that any time one of these muscles reaches its full contraction, or extension, you get a Brain Zap. Sometimes, if you’re particularly lucky, you get a series of them.

A Brain Zap consists of a flickering in my vision, and a buzzing in my ears. During this, it feels like electricity is passing from the top of my skull, down through my brain. It is what might best be described as: character building!

Typically, Brain Zaps get worse later in the day and, particularly, after it gets dark. This, of course, makes night driving a particularly interesting experience. And one that I tend to avoid, when possible. After all, it’s very difficult not to use your eyes to their fullest extent, when you’re driving a car…

Unless, of course, you’re a/an {insert your preferred race and/or gender based stereotype here} driver!

Oh, what fun making jokes is, in this overly-sensitive time!

Moving on…

A good place to read more about these Brain Zaps, is on the relevant page of this website: Medical News Today. And this is definitely worth doing, because other people experience Brain Zaps in different ways to me.

The good thing is, that as October 2020 wore on, the Brain Zaps decreased in frequency and intensity. I do, however, still experience them, and they can still be quite disconcerting at times. When I did my original research on this, I read that, ‘some people prefer to remain on antidepressants forever, rather than go through the withdrawals.’ Of course, now I’m re-researching Brain Zaps for this post, can I find that site again?

No, I cannot!

As such, we need to take that last comment with a pinch of salt (or, grain of salt, if you’re from the USA), in case I imagined it. Either way, I disagree with the sentiment. Sure, the Brain Zaps are still with me, but they are fading away. And I didn’t have any other withdrawal symptoms past a couple of days…

It feels like your brain is being lit up…!
Photo by Natasha Connell on Unsplash

So, over all, my thoughts on coming off the antidepressants?

Totally worth it…!

Because, you know what: it turns out that I’m not depressed any more.

I mean, sure, I’m neither jumping for joy, nor full of the joys of Spring. But I am able to function within acceptable parameters. I’m able to write blog posts again. And, full disclosure, this post is being written towards the end of November, rather than the end of October. But, still, I’ve been writing on this site, on my Chubby House Hubby site and Quora since the beginning of the October…

Therefore, I’m not depressed.

Yay, me!

And, speaking of November, I’ve got my next meeting with the oncologist on the 25th. And, before then, I’m due to have a PET/CT Scan. Which means, with a bit of luck, in the November update I’ll be able to report on when I’m having my surgery.

If this turns out not to be the case, and there isn’t good reason, I don’t think I’ll slip back into depression… I think I’ll be too angry for depression!

In October 2020, my physical and mental health are in tatters. And a large part of that is because I haven’t had surgery to remove the quite sizeable tumour, which we’ve all known about since February. I need that bastard gone. Or, at least, a sensible and understandable reason to explain why not.

Frankly, anything that can put my mind at ease, and let me sort my weight out.

After all, it’s the perfect time of year to start dealing with my weight. I mean, it’s not like there’s a season of feasts just around the corner! Oh, wait…