This is the original publication of this story.
March 31, 2016
This is our own story. It is about the devastating effect that a prescription drug had on my husband and ultimately our entire life. It is a very commonly prescribed medication and from the stories I found online, it sounds like we are not alone. It really bothers me to think about how many lives have been torn apart due to uninformed doctors and trusting patients who are unaware of the magnitude of it’s mind altering and physical side effects.
In fall of 2009 we tragically lost my mother-in-law. My husband, Shawn, struggled with physical anxiety due to losing her. He made many trips to the doctor fearing there was something terribly wrong with him. He was experiencing symptoms of heart attacks and near fainting spells. In early 2010 his family practice Doctor treated him for his anxiety by putting him on Citalopram also known as Celexa. This is an SSRI antidepressant. Shawn was not suffering from depression but his doctor explained to him that this medicine would help him deal with his anxiety and he even said, “it will not be life changing”. That statement could not have been more wrong.
After the first year on his Citalopram, Shawn was very impressed with its ability to calm his anxiety. He was also finally able to believe, since a mental drug made him feel better that he was dealing with a mental issue and not actually a life threatening physical problem. This encouraged him to decide he wanted to get off of his medicine. Shawn just wanted to try to control his anxiety without it. There was also something about it he just didn’t like and he never wanted to be dependent on a drug. However, his doctor informed him the withdrawal symptoms would be awful and he told Shawn he didn’t see any need to stop taking something that was working. I was very disappointed in his doctor’s advice but I had no idea just how much we would both one day wish we had asked for a second opinion.
That year things began to get very bad. I had noticed Shawn was restless, he began picking up more hobbies, spending a lot more money and just focusing on finding fun things to do. I had noticed some of this the previous year as well but I still assumed he was going through this phase because he was struggling with losing his mom and trying to distract himself. However, things were progressively getting worse. He stopped paying bills on time. He didn’t seem to want to ever be home with the kids and me. He stopped caring about my opinion on anything and basically didn’t seem to care at all about anything of importance anymore. He was also destroying our financial future, buying cars, kayaks, dogs and anything he thought sounded fun.
Then he completely shocked me in fall of 2012 when he confessed to me he was thinking about leaving me. We had been married for 14 yrs at that time and we had never threatened divorce, we had never even called each other a bad name. In fact, We did not have any marital problems, until he began acting foolish enough to have a real impact on us that past year. We had two little girls, 9 and 7 years old, who were just as shocked as I was that their daddy wanted to move out. His feelings made absolutely no sense to me. He did not have any real reasons to leave me either, he just kept repeating that I had done nothing wrong, “we just don’t have passion, desire or romance anymore”. He also said, “I feel like our marriage is stuck in a rut and my life is stuck in a rut”. At this point I began to finally question his medicine. I asked him to please talk to his doctor again because I at least knew that lack of desire was a potential side effect. I went with him to his appointment and explained to the doctor the things my husband had been saying to me and told him how shocked I was about Shawn’s feelings. I asked the doctor if he felt his Citalopram could be causing any of this. His doctor then flat out replied, “no”. He didn’t believe Shawn’s 10 mg dose was strong enough to have this sort of impact. He proceeded to give us some lame marriage advice that did not even apply then asked Shawn about his anxiety and how he felt on his medicine.
Shawn perked up and said, “I’ve never felt better!” My mouth dropped open, he wants to leave me, tear apart our family, destroy our lives together, yet he has never felt better?!?! How can this doctor not see a problem with this? Instead of recognizing these red flags, his doctor was satisfied with Shawn’s response, smiled and encouraged him once again to stay on this drug that he felt had been working so well for him over the past two and a half years. He then ushered us out the door. I felt completely defeated, I knew Shawn needed to hear from a professional that his medicine might be the culprit because he didn’t believe anything I had to say. Every time I tried to convince him something must be wrong, his argument was always the same, “I just know how I feel Sarah!”
He was simply relying on his own feelings but unfortunately we did not realize at the time that his feelings were being manipulated by a drug. After all, why would someone not trust their own feelings?
Citalopram, as well as other SSRIs are known for “numbing” people. It has been reported that those on this drug can have trouble experiencing any type of emotion, good or bad. They can even feel like they have fallen out of love and experience sexual side effects with loss of desire. It can cause people to just not care about anything. They begin to feel like something is wrong in their life and they make changes searching for the joy and excitement they feel they have lost.
Shawn did not realize it, but he was taking the fun things in his life to an extreme just to attempt to feel anything. Then something came along that was extreme enough to make him “feel” again. This was when he felt he needed to make a major change in his life and leave me. About 3 weeks after he initially informed me he was thinking of leaving he then dropped another bomb and confessed he had been seeing another woman for the past two months.
My world turned upside down. I never would have imagined that this could happen to us. I had so much trust and respect for my husband and this was so completely out of his character. Just shocking and devastating. He immediately moved out so he could be with her. She was a stranger he met at a bowling ally who was barely out of college and we were married, best friends nearing forty with a family. To me all of this seemed absolutely insane. I was positive something was wrong with him yet he was convinced I must be the reason he was so unhappy since this young girl made him feel so alive.
I can’t even describe the torture it was to have my husband, who I loved so deeply, simply trade me in for something new and exciting. He did not even seem to notice or care about what he was putting me through. In fact he seemed confused when I expressed my anger and heartbreak, he actually said to me, “but don’t you want me to be happy?” He was shattering my heart, tearing our family apart and destroying our lives yet he still thought my concern should be about his happiness. All I could think was he has completely lost his mind. This cruel man was not my husband. Something was definitely wrong.
After the shock began to wear off I dedicated every free moment to researching all I could in order to figure out what happened to him. I discovered many of the side effects and the stories of others who lost their spouses to this drug. I read about affairs and their chemical effect in the body. I found the new experience and forbidden excitement of an affair causes a surge of dopamine, which is responsible for the pleasure center of the brain. In fact the pleasure effects of dopamine during an affair are said to be so strong that it can feel just as addicting as cocaine. This is what makes the need for the secret lover so intense.
I’m sure his drug intensified these feelings because the increase of serotonin an SSRI causes actually reduces the dopamine levels, it’s like a teeter totter effect. I can only imagine how easy it was for my husband to be fooled by these feelings that were caused by this imbalance. It obviously made more sense to him to blame me for his lack of feelings than to blame his medicine. Before “she” came along he was feeling numb, loss of desire and joy. He just felt stuck in his dull life all because of this drug. Then the flirtation from a young girl and the excitement of an affair was enough to make him feel alive again. She was making him feel great about himself while I was beginning to look at him with disappointment and confusion due to the selfish and destructive ways he had started acting. Looking back now, I can understand why he initially felt everything was better around her.
He moved out to begin his new found happy life with her. At first he seemed extremely happy and positive about his choice then over the following four months he went through such drastic highs and lows. He had panic attacks and severe enough bouts of depression that he actually thought about committing suicide. I kept trying to talk to him about his medicine but at this point he convinced himself that if he felt this bad while on an antidepressant he couldn’t imagine how bad it would be if he were off this drug. He never even considered his medicine was causing all of this. There was nothing I could do but wait, pray and hold onto hope that he would come to his senses. At about the four month mark I had begun to give up, I didn’t think I could handle the torture of him being with someone else much longer. Then thankfully he began to question his decision, it seemed the new excitement had worn off and he realized the girl was not the answer.
I invited him to return home since he was willing to look into getting off his medication. When he first returned he was trying to point out flaws to fix me and our “failing marriage” because he could not allow himself to believed he would have done this without a reason. His inability to understand something was wrong within himself made his return a horrible experience. Weaning from his medicine was also very difficult and painful for him to get through. However, it did get better. It took a couple months to slowly wean from it then after about 6 months from his return he began to see everything so differently. He couldn’t believe he did the things he had done or said the things he had said. He was so confused as to how he could even feel the way he did. He was so full of remorse, regret and anger. He finally believed we never originally had a problem in our marriage and understood that the problem really was within himself. He researched the effects of Citalopram with me and the more we learned and talked about it, the more we could both understand how this happened. Even with this information, getting over the affair and repairing our marriage was heart wrenchingly difficult. We both struggled with forgiveness, he even seemed to have more trouble forgiving himself than I did. Eventually his sincerity and willingness to help me through every bad moment paid off. It has been about three years since he returned home and we are finally feeling like we are in a very good place with one another. Things will never be the same and we will always have this dark chapter as part of our story, but we have overcome this together. We are also still digging our way out of debt and I have some struggles with insecurities but everything is so much better.
I feel very driven to get this message heard. I really do not want this to keep happening to others, it is just senseless destruction of lives. I doubt this drug will just disappear, even though I wish it never existed, so I at least want all doctors who are able to prescribe an SSRI antidepressants to be aware of these destructive side effects and have an overall better understanding of these drugs. Every patient should know exactly what signs to look for and they should have a loved one who is also aware of the dangerous side effects. The patient should be told to trust their loved ones when they see changes in them. They should also be made aware of the lasting physical side effects, long after getting off the medication. There are many reports of sexual side effects that do not seem to go away. Shawn still has a lot of gastrointestinal issues and for the first couple years he experienced consistent heart palpitations that are finally decreasing in frequency now. He has even experienced memory loss issues, not to mention the lasting effects this medication has had on our marriage and our life.
I do not even like to refer to this drug as a medication. I feel what my husband went through is every bit as bad as someone who gets addicted to a recreational drug, damages their body, destroys their life and the lives of the ones they love. The only difference is that he had a written prescription from a doctor and trusted that he was doing a good thing to better his life. It’s scary that these drugs are being prescribed so often for so many different reasons and that an uninformed doctor can potentially impact a person’s life in such a devastating way.
I am convinced these drugs do more harm than good but unfortunately those who are taking them might not even realize how their medicine is adversely impacting them. I worry that they end up on more medications to handle the symptoms that were actually just side effects to begin with. This seems like a very unhealthy and dangerous practice that has become the norm. Something needs to change.