By Crystal Lindell, Columnist
To be fair, the first time I took myself off Cymbalta, it was less of a “took myself off” situation and more of a “I ran out of medication and money, and couldn’t get my refill for a few days so I just thought I’d skip a few doses” situation.
But it turns out that going off that stuff cold turkey is seriously hell. It made me dizzy and nauseous, and basically electrocuted my brain every few minutes with something called “brain zaps.” When I finally realized that all of this was because I didn’t refill my prescription, I went to the pharmacy, got another dose, and about a day later, got my brain back.
Except I didn’t really get my brain back, because Cymbalta essentially turns your brain off.
Being on Cymbalta, which is now available as a generic called duloxetine, made me so tired that 16 hours of sleep felt like I just pulled an all-nighter. It killed my sex drive. It canceled out all my creative thoughts. And it basically made me feel like I was living in a London fog every day. I could sort of see the world, but not really. Also, it made me gain 30 pounds.
So, to sum up, Cymbalta really sucks.
The worst part about this whole thing though isn’t the side effects. It’s that my doctor originally put me on Cymbalta to help with my chronic pain, but it actually did nothing at all to help that.
Although I will admit that it did curb all those suicidal thoughts that I was having because I wasn’t on enough pain medication and I thought I was going to feel like a semi-truck was crushing my ribs all day, every day, for the rest of my life.
But eventually I did get on the right mix of pain meds, and I realized my future wasn’t quite as bleak as I had thought. And so, even after that horrible experience of kind-of, accidentally going off Cymbalta last winter, I decided that I really wanted to go off it completely. And I thought maybe I’d just try the cold turkey thing again.
And before you’re all, “OMG!! You are an idiot!! Why would you ever take yourself off a drug like that cold turkey?” There are three things you should know:
1. I’ve had doctors, including one at the freaking MAYO CLINIC, tell me before to go off all sorts of drugs cold turkey, including sleeping pills, antidepressants, and opioids. So I got the impression that all this business about not going off certain drugs cold turkey is more of a suggestion than a recommendation.
2. My doctor never told me NOT to go off Cymbalta cold turkey. Ever. Not one time. Not even in passing as he shook my hand at the end of the appointment. Not even when I told him I was thinking about going off the drug and he shut me down by saying, “Just stay on it. It’s probably doing more than you think.”
I also live in a really small town, with one small pharmacy, and they never gave me any sort of information when I picked up my prescription for this drug telling me about the side effects of going off it cold turkey.
3. (And probably most important) The dosing is such that going off Cymbalta cold turkey is kind of your only option. As far as I can tell, the lowest dose is 20 mg and it only comes in capsules, so you can’t just cut them into smaller and smaller pieces until you’ve weaned off it. After you're on the smallest dose, there’s no choice but to go cold turkey.
Also, honestly, I really did think the withdrawal symptoms would subside after maybe a day. I was wrong. After about a week, I couldn’t take it anymore and I went back on Cymbalta.
I really, really wanted off this drug though, so I decided to call Dr. Google. And I found out that some people were just opening the capsules and pouring a little more out each day until they got down to nothing. I decided to do the same thing. And, while it ended up taking me a few months of meticulously opening the capsules and eyeing it every day, I finally got completely off Cymbalta. And I was lucky enough to avoid most of the side effects that I experienced when I went off it cold turkey.
When I confessed all this to my doctor though, I’m pretty sure he A) Totally did not believe me about the brain zaps, and B) Was secretly judging me for my methods — especially since the makers of Cymbalta explicitly say you should not open the capsules.
I've written before about how horrible Cymbalta is though, and how people are actually suing Eli Lilly, the makers of the drug, because they’ve been kind of shady with how they portray the withdrawal symptoms.
“Studies show that between 50% and 78% of Cymbalta users experience antidepressant withdrawal symptoms after discontinuing the drug. Yet the drug label misleadingly states that Cymbalta withdrawal symptoms occur in only 1% to 2% of cases,” claims attorney Steven D. Gacovino, one of several lawyers suing Eli Lilly on behalf of patients.
That’s a pretty big difference. So maybe my doctor really didn’t know that it could be an issue for me to go off Cymbalta cold turkey and that’s why he never mentioned it. Or maybe he really did think it was helping me more than I realized. I don’t know.
I do know that I’m really glad I got off that drug. I also know that if any other chronic pain patient ever asks me my opinion about Cymbalta, I will definitely advise them against taking it for pain.
I just hope it’s not too late.
Crystal Lindell is a journalist who lives in Illinois. She loves Taco Bell, watching "Burn Notice" episodes on Netflix and Snicker's Bites. She has had intercostal neuralgia since February 2013.
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.