This is my personal account of how I went from being a fit and healthy guy in my 30’s, in the best shape of my life and with a bright future, to having it completely destroyed by two different types of prescription medications. It all began a few years ago, in late 2009.
Antidepressants for Life Burdens: Not a Well-Considered Option
I never was a fan of taking prescription medications, but I was going through a serious bout of depression in late 2009 and the psychiatrist who was dealing with me talked me into taking antidepressants for the first time in my life. I was prescribed Lexapro (Escitalopram). I took it for a few months but I never did get any real benefits out of taking it. It seemed only to give me a lot of unwanted side effects. Then one day, out of nowhere it had some sort of opposite effect on me and I became suicidal for no reason. This was so scary at the time, feeling like the world was ending for me and not knowing why.
When I returned to see the psychiatrist who prescribed the Lexapro to me about this issue, they just ignored me and my cry for help at the time and gave me the “it’s all in your head” routine. This almost cost me my life. So that led me to see another psychiatrist for a second opinion who switched me over to another type of antidepressant called Effexor (Venlafaxine). After that, things balanced back out again, and I eventually got back to myself. But I never really was myself. I was constantly wired from Effexor but just continued to take it anyway. Along with the wired feeling, it also came with the same unwanted side effects as I had with Lexapro. After a while on Effexor, much longer than I should have been, I got sick of the side effects and wanted to come off it. I think I’d been taking it for around three and a half years at this stage and had enough. If I’d have known what was ahead of me, I’d have tried to come off it years earlier, or refused to even take it in the first place.
Withdrawal Syndrome Hell
The day came for me to come off it and my doctor at the time gave me a plan of 12 weeks to taper off it completely. I was assured that this was a normal thing to do and I shouldn’t experience many, if any, withdrawal symptoms during this time. I figured this would be okay, as I hadn’t been taking a high dose of Effexor and I trusted the doctor at the time too. I couldn’t have been more wrong. From the first day that I began to taper off Effexor, I had the worst withdrawal symptoms imaginable. I began to experience:
- Mood swings
- Stomach pain
- Trouble sleeping
- Brain zaps
It was the worst hell that I have ever experienced. I can’t put into words how excruciating these symptoms were and how I nearly lost my mind over the 12 weeks I was tapering off Effexor. And during all this I had no help at all from the doctor. Any time I spoke to him and told him what I was going through, I was just told “it’s all in my head” and I shouldn’t be experiencing any of these symptoms.
A couple of weeks after I’d stopped taking Effexor completely, I finally started to balance out again. My mood seemed to return back to normal and I was back doing what I loved again, keeping fit and working out. This was my natural antidepressant. I didn’t need any chemicals in my body messing me up to make me feel normal. It didn’t stay like this for long though. I’d only stopped Effexor for a few weeks when I started to experience stomach issues. I found this strange, as I’d never had anything like this happen before. I assumed it was all connected to Effexor, seeing as I went through similar stomach issues when I’d been tapering off it. It was way too much of a coincidence for it not to be caused by Effexor. I was back at the doctor countless times over the following months, getting test after test, but no one was seeing anything wrong with me. No one would say the stomach issues were caused by Effexor either.
Over the next 11 months from when the stomach issues began, they gradually worsened as the weeks went on. I went from being able to go about my daily routine and live my normal healthy life, to being able to work out less and less and give up my social life due to not feeling well. And then around the 11 month mark, when the stomach issues were as bad as ever, along came another unexplained issue out of nowhere, I started to experience constant dizziness. This was something completely new to me. It was like I was drunk and lightheaded constantly from the time I woke up, to when I went to bed at night.
When the dizziness started, no doctor could figure out the cause of this either. This would be a common occurrence for me. Again, I was repeatedly being told that Effexor withdrawals are a myth and don’t happen and therefore Effexor can’t be behind any of these issues. So I arranged to get an MRI of my brain to see if anything serious was going on, that could possibly be linked to my current dizziness. The MRI was clear, apart from some blocked sinuses that showed up on the scan. This was nothing, just a regular head cold I had at the time I went for the scan. It had already cleared up by the time I went back for the results a few days later.
Enter the Antibiotics
Due to this sinus issue, that wasn’t even an issue to begin with, my doctor prescribed me an antibiotic to get rid of me out of his office. This is a common thing in my country, doctors handing out unnecessary prescriptions for antibiotics left and right.
He claimed that the sinuses might have been causing my dizziness for the last few weeks. I still had a bit of trust left in him, so I took his word for it and agreed to take them. I didn’t have the need to take any antibiotics in a very long time. I never really liked taking any prescription medications, but I remember taking antibiotics as a kid and being okay afterwards, so I thought no harm in giving them a try. I was given a prescription for an antibiotic called Minatev LA, also known as Biaxin. These are the brand names for it, but its actual name is Clarithromycin. It was a 10 day course, to be taken twice a day. I never had a second thought about taking this medication and had no idea of the dangers, but how wrong I was. My life changed that day I took the first pill, back in September 2015, and has never been the same ever since. From the moment I swallowed the first pill I immediately started to feel sick along with numerous side effects. This is what I experienced:
- Stomach pain
- Body rash
- Severe chest pain
- Difficulty sleeping
- Stabbing pains in my side
- Numbness down one side of my body
- Muscle pain
It was awful, this antibiotic had me as sick as a dog. I went back to see the doctor about it. He had a look at the rash all over my abdomen and said I’d be fine and not to worry. I should have trusted my own instincts back then and stopped taking it, but I didn’t. It wouldn’t be until later on down the line that I found out how dangerous antibiotics would be. So back then, I listened to the doctor and thought to myself to just finish the course and I should get back to normal again when I’m done with them. That was over three and a half years ago and I’ve not been right since.
Things just got worse and my health really declined over the following weeks after taking the clarithromycin. My stomach issues got a thousand times worse, and so did my dizziness. Along with those two main issues, I also got a whole new set of symptoms. I literally felt like I was going to drop dead at any minute. I ended up having to go to the emergency department at the hospital a few times because I felt that bad. I started to have severe chest pains and didn’t know what was happening to me. But each time I went, I was just sent home after they ran some basic tests and told it would be highly unlikely that I had a bad reaction to the clarithromycin. It was a short time after that I found out that this class of antibiotic can cause heart problems and death.
- Common antibiotic linked to sudden heart deaths
- FDA Alert: Clarithromycin Risky in Patients With Heart Disease
I wasn’t imagining these symptoms, it wasn’t all in my head. This is what I was experiencing and it was hell. No one would believe me or try and help me, I was just looked upon as some crazy person. It was like I was the first person in the entire universe that had a bad reaction to medication. There are people out there with serious peanut allergies and shellfish allergies, simple things that we all eat every day, but they can die from them and the doctors are finding it hard to believe that I got sick from these laboratory made drugs? This would be something I had to get used to. No one would take me seriously and this made my whole situation a thousand times worse. I just had to stay determined to find answers myself and get back to full health as quick as I could. In the following weeks and months after the bad reaction, I was left with most of the same symptoms that started when I first took the clarithromycin, which were:
- Stomach issues
- Back pain
- Constant fatigue
- Muscle pain
The severe chest pain and stabbing pains in my side passed after a few months, but the other symptoms have continued until this day, a few years now after it happened. And as I write this, the stabbing pains in my side have started to come back again, seems to be my liver causing this.
Whatever the clarithromycin did to me, one of the worst symptoms to come out of it was the constant back pain. Like I said at the start, I was a fit and health guy, in the best shape of my life and used to train at least 4 times a week doing a combination of weights, running and various other cardio routines. I was never injured, apart from the occasional pulled muscle, but never anything major. Now I’m nearly always in constant agony with my back because of whatever the antibiotic did to me. I have no history of back pain or bad injury that would have caused this. The other constant symptoms are awful, but this back pain is probably the worst of them.
Searching for Answers
I’ve tried to go to see a couple of different physio’s to see if the can provide some relief from the back pain, but I just end up feeling sicker. Whatever is wrong with my body since the antibiotic reaction, whenever I try and get some treatment, say from a physio or try some acupuncture, my body will react to it and I get really sick as if I had a really bad flu, I feel like I’ve been run over by a bus. My body doesn’t like to be touched in any way now. The same thing happens if I try to take most vitamin supplements too, I’ll get the same reaction and it’s like all my symptoms intensify. I’ve been told this problem sounds like a nervous system condition called “Central Sensitization”, where my nervous system is in constant fight mode. This is something I need to look into further, but again, finding someone to listen to me and properly diagnose this is another thing.
The physio treatments never worked, and they even made me worse off. The last physio I went to see back in August 2017 did something to my neck and has left me with loud tinnitus in one of my ears. That is another problem I didn’t need. I did have tinnitus from the clarithromycin in both ears and I was learning to live with it, but whatever the physio did to me triggered it off again with a vengeance and it is worse than ever and just isolated to my left ear now. I discovered later on that clarithromycin is known as an “Ototoxic” drug, meaning it can cause tinnitus and permanent hearing loss in some people. Another thing I wish I’d found out before I’d taken it.
Another problem that the antibiotic created was it totally destroyed my gut microbiome, making my original stomach issues far worse than when they originally started. Not only did it make them worse, I discovered through tests that I developed something called SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) too. This is usually caused by antibiotics wiping out your healthy gut bacteria when you take them, which can then cause the bad bacteria to take over and overgrow. This is an issue I’ve been trying to treat for the last couple of years, but it’s a tricky thing to properly get rid of. I’ve spent a lot of time and money trying to fix this issue and I still don’t think my gut microbiome is in good shape. The clarithromycin was like a nuclear bomb going off in my stomach with all the damage it caused.
So with my stomach issues, my dizziness that appeared after I stopped taking Effexor and then all the other issues that started after I took the clarithromycin, I have been to countless doctors and had tons of scans and tests to see what is going on. All my tests are coming back normal and they deny that these symptoms were caused by the medications. According to them, it’s highly unlikely that I had a bad reaction to the antibiotic, and Effexor doesn’t cause withdrawal symptoms.
Finding Others Like Me
There is tons of information out there about others who had awful experiences with these antidepressants and it’s the same with antibiotics too. From my own research, I found two websites full of stories from people around the world of all ages that have had the same terrible experiences as I did from antidepressants and antibiotics: Floxie Hope and Surviving Antidepressants.
As bad as my experience is, a living nightmare, reading what other people went through because of these medications was such an eye opener for me. I realized I wasn’t alone in this, that I’m not some lunatic who’s making this all up. I know what happened, my body knows what happened, this is real. It’s just a constant struggle to have to deal with being constantly sick every single day from the time you wake up, till the time you go to sleep at night, and then trying to get people to believe you about what’s been going on, why you’re sick. That’s the worst part in all this.
There’s over 1200 reviews of clarithromycin on askapatient.com, and a lot of them are negative. There are some good ones too, of course, not everyone has a bad reaction to these antibiotics. I just wish that people weren’t so ignorant to what can actually happen when you take these antibiotics, that they can be so dangerous. Here is the link to the reviews.
The Laundry List of Specialists, Tests, and Failed Treatments
Thinking back as I finish writing this, I’ve spent many years trying to get myself better, but the reality is, I’m not anywhere near to getting better. I’ve tried almost everything under the sun to see if it’d help me get back on track, but I’ve had no luck in all the years of trying. To sum it all up, I’ve seen and tried:
- Massage therapist
- Nutritional therapists
- Balance physiotherapist
- Somatic training
And then all the various tests and scans consisting of:
- CT scan
- Urea Breath Test
- Food Intolerance Test
- SIBO Breath Test
- Stool Tests
- Organic Acids Test
I could list all the supplements I’ve tried over the last four years, but I’d be here all day. None have really worked. I’ve spent thousands of euro on them since this mess began and the majority of them are at home collecting dust. No treatment has worked for me so far, they all just made me feel sicker. No test has really been able to pinpoint what is going on with me either. It probably would be easier trying to find a needle in a haystack. It has really just been a wild goose chase since all this started. The health system in my country is a joke, you’ve to wait anywhere between 6 – 18 months to see a specialist and if you don’t have a glaring issue or limb hanging off, you’re told there’s nothing they can do for you. If I’d just found a doctor from the beginning that would admit I was taken off Effexor too quickly and treated me for the withdrawals my body was going through, none of this mess would have happened. As I finish writing this now, my current symptoms include:
- Digestive issues
- Constant fatigue
- Brain fog
- Back pain
- Joint pain
- Low mood
I wanted to get my story out there and see if there are other people around the world going through the same thing as I am. It has been over four years since I became ill after coming off the antidepressant and over three years since I had the bad reaction to the antibiotic. My life hasn’t been the same since then. I really can’t see myself ever getting back to good health, this has been going on for way too long now with no improvements.
I didn’t ask for this mess, and agreeing to take these medications was the worst decision I’ve ever made during my whole life. I wish I’d stood my ground back in 2009 and never agreed to take those antidepressants. They destroyed my life rather than benefiting it. And who knows, if I had not taken the antidepressants, chances are I likely would not have taken the clarithromycin further down the road either. I only took it because of the symptoms that started when I stopped taking Effexor.
Where I Stand Now
What I do know now, I will stand my ground and never take any more of these horrible prescription drugs ever again. I’m possibly left like this for the rest of my life now because of doctor ignorance and stupidity. I’m also left in this weird limbo now, not knowing what drug did the most damage and what one is causing my current symptoms? Would I still be sick now from Effexor withdrawals if I hadn’t taken the antibiotic? Am I over Effexor withdrawals and just left damaged because of the antibiotic? I’ll never know and it will be such a challenge to figure this out. Any of the other accounts I’ve read over the years from people who’ve had similar bad experiences with antidepressants and antibiotics have just been affected by either one, they’ve not taken both like I did. All I do know is I was sick before I took the antibiotic and then got a thousand times worse after I took it. I’m still searching for that specialist who can properly treat me and get my life back on track.
This is my story, but it doesn’t end here, it will be continued. I will try to continue on my own road to recovery. This has been over four years of my journey that really began nine years ago. I’ll hopefully be able to come back and share some positive updates in the future. Thanks for taking the time to read this.
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This story was published originally on April 1o, 2019.