From Hot Flashes to Withdrawal — How Did This Happen?

Desvenlafaxine succinate 50mg Tablets (Pristiq...

It feels like poison in the end.

I debated with myself whether to write about this here or in my journal. But my blog is about the view from the middle of life, and for a woman, what is more indicative of mid-life than hot flashes and mood swings? That is the beginning of this tale.

In August 2009, my dad had been gone for a year-and-a-half, a long time, but not so long that I did not still cry once in a while. My son, my first baby, had graduated high school in May and we were getting ready to drop him off at college. And my body was Hot Flash Central. I had had hot flashes periodically for a few years, but nothing like I did that summer — every half hour or so. If you’ve experienced them, you know how unpleasant they can be. Granted, summer in Phoenix might have contributed, but I knew menopause was the likely culprit. So, I made an appointment with my doctor.

I did not expect her nurse to call and tell me that my blood work indicated I was already on the tail end of menopause. I was only 46! I expected this to be the beginning. But, I had had a hysterectomy at 38 and the doctor said it was not unexpected. Ha! For who? When I hung up the phone, I burst into tears. I felt old, and used up, on the downward slide of life. It really was not fair to my younger son — he still needed me. I think now, the crazy hormones made me feel that way. My poor husband was understanding and supportive of his wife, the emotional wreck. My doctor put me on Lexapro for the hot flashes and menopausal mood swings. It worked, and I stayed on it for a little over a year. I tapered off it myself in December 2010.

During that Christmas break, at my kids’ doctor (the psychiatrist who prescribes their ADD medication), I mentioned that I had gone off Lexapro and had started having hot flashes again, plus mood swings. It had only been about three weeks since my taper.  He suggested a mood stabilizer, Lamictal.  Okay. I knew that was a seizure medication, but I also knew doctors often prescribe medication for off-label uses. I guess he thought it didn’t help enough, so a couple months later, he prescribed Pristiq. I discovered later that this is a medication for Major Depressive Disorder. I knew I didn’t have that, but the drug did help my hot flashes and mood swings. So, I stayed on.

But I started to feel trapped. How did I become so medication dependent? How would I ever get back to normal? I didn’t know. But last Friday, after about a year on Pristiq, I had no choice. Due to an insurance snafu (January again–insurance always changes), I ran out. I panicked at first, but then I thought — here’s my chance.

Today is my fifth day without Pristiq. Withdrawal sucks. The first day was fine, but then: horrible insomnia, sadness, crying, diarrhea, brain zaps, body zaps, weird sounds no one else can hear and, ironically, hot flashes that have nothing to do with menopause. (So far, not too much irritability, thank goodness.)

I am still in the middle of this mess but determined to break through it. I don’t need this medication anymore, if I did at all. I am four years out from my father’s death, two-and-a half years out from my son going off to college. I am through the rough patch. Except the withdrawal is a rough patch of its own. And, to tell the truth, I am scared. I am still taking the Lamictal, but I want off that too. Everything I read, though, tells me that it will be hell, and I am scared to do it.

I am also way pissed off. Why didn’t the psychiatrist tell me, before he put me on Lamictal, that what I was feeling was probably still withdrawal from Lexapro? I wasn’t there to ask for medicine. It just came up at my kids’ appointment. And, why didn’t he go through risks and benefits with me? Why didn’t he warn me how hard it would be to go off of these kinds of medications?

Also, I suspect, the pharmaceutical representative had recently visited his office before he put me on Pristiq. I saw the calendars and the mousepads and the displays. I should have known. I had also noticed all the displays a couple years before, with my younger son’s ADD medication (which was eventually changed). Why didn’t I realize what was going on?

In the end, it’s really me that I am angry with. I should have done my due diligence. I should have researched. I should have known better.

And that is how I went from hot flashes to withdrawal. It was gradual, insidious. I feel like an addict. But, it’s partly my fault, and I am paying for it now.

Ugh. Enough of this whining! If you are still reading this longer-than-usual post, thanks for bearing with me. Writing has always been my outlet for working things out, and I feel better now; though…I might regret posting this later on.

Next week’s post will be more upbeat. Promise. 🙂


About Jeannette Monahan

A writer sidetracked by life, with a husband and two boys who shine brighter than Arizona sunshine. Visit me at my blogs: or You are always welcome.
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10 Responses to From Hot Flashes to Withdrawal — How Did This Happen?

  1. emjayandthem says:

    that is one heck of a curveball!! Geez. I feel your pain; it’s hard enough to navigate the medical system and insurances and co-pays and such but then there’s a situation like you’ve described where you find yourself caught in “limbo” and all you can do is stumble through and still feel like crap. I’m sorry. The doctors didn’t do their job on this one; don’t be so hard on yourself. I hope it gets better .. and soon,

  2. Thanks MJ. I am back to feeling like myself now. Which feels pretty good. 🙂 I am looking at this as a blessing in disguise. I have a love-hate relationship with insurance.

  3. mj monaghan says:

    Jeanette, with the namesake Monahan (g-less), I empathize with you. I’ll be candid. I was on lexapro. then celexa (because there are generics), and just recently went to effexor for side-effect reasons. I just have mild general anxiety without having had depression. Unfortunately for me, there are 13 other people on my mom’s side of the family who had serotonin chemical imbalance, unknown to me, until I was about 40. That’s when I started having issues with flying, elevators, bridges till I found out it was hereditary.

    Sorry so long-winded. I should probably post about this as well! 🙂 Anyway, I’ve found out that the withdrawals are hell for most of this class of drug. But I will probably not come off anyway. However, check out 5-HTP. It’s a natural product that acts very similar to that class of meds and can greatly aid the withdrawals. It’s also non-addictive. Check it out. Best to you, my friend. I’m following you now, as well!

    • Hey! Thanks for reading! And following. And for the advice. 🙂 I think I am through the Pristiq wilderness, thank goodness, but I will research the 5-HTP for when I get ready to stop the Lamictal. I will be sooo happy to be off this merry-go-round!

      Holy smokes – 13 people! You’d think someone woulda said somethin’. I hope the medication is helping you with the flying, elevators and bridges. My dad was on Lexapro for a couple years before he died — it worked wonders for him.

  4. Kerry Dwyer says:

    What a nightmare. I have just started with the hot flushes. I mainly have them in bed at night and I get so hot I could replace the whole house’s heating system single handedly. My doctor prescribed a natural soya based product but it doesn’t help very much. He told me that HRT was the thing that worked the best but the risk of breast cancer was just too high. I don’t have any other symptoms thank goodness so I will just live with it.

    It is good that you recognised that the drugs were a problem and that you were able to come off them. It was very brave of you to do that alone. I wish you the best of luck with the future and look forward to reading more of your posts.

    I will remember 5-HTP for if my symptoms become unsupportable.

    • Those nighttime hot flashes — ugh! I’m glad it’s your only symptom. It was my only one too, so thank goodness for small favors. I’m almost afraid to say the hot flashes have eased up. I hope I’m done with them. But, when I was going through a bunch of old medicine, I found some information my primary care physician had written down for me. For hot flashes: Estroven (soy), Black Kohosh, or Evening Primrose oil. I sure wish I would have tried those first. Good luck, I hope it’s not too bad for you.

      And thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  5. It is a crazy merry-go-round . . . prescription medication. It’s hard to know when the meds are really necessary and when it’s time to get off them. There are few doctors that advocate for and support patients wishing to eliminate their legal chemical dependency. After all, if you aren’t on meds, you don’t need med checks and drugs are the treatment of choice for most emotional and physical discomfort these days.

    Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in ’89, I’ve been on and offf the merry-go-round more times than I can count. I’m happy to say I’m coping without that particular crutch right now; though, I must admit it is tempting when I know all I have to do is make a phone call to get something to “take the edge off.” In the end, I know the side effects and withdrawal later are likely as bad or worse than toughing it out now.

    Don’t get me wrong, there are times when the right medication can make the intolerable bearable and maintain some semblance of sanity in your life. I have learned it doesn’t necessarily need to be a life sentence. I applaud your efforts to free yourself of the Rx monkey. Personal experience and observation leads me to believe if you think you can get by without, you probably can. Good luck and know . . . this to shall pass.

    BTW, thank you for your words of support recently and hope to have reciprocated a bit here.

    • You are very welcome. And thank you, too, for the idea that if you think you can get by without it, you probably can. That really struck me, and I will remember that as I go down on the Lamictal. I agree with what you said — that the right med can make the intolerable tolerable. Even though it wasn’t why I went on the med, it really did help me through a very difficult time. I’m happy you are doing fine without the meds. And hang in there through this trying time in your life — I am sending you strength. ((hugs))

  6. Dear Jeanette,
    I am so sorry for your predicament. You want to be able to trust your doctor, but so many of them are in the service and pocket of the drug companies. I wish you all the very best–you will get through this, and you will be so glad that you did.

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