My Terrifying Second Day on Citalopram (Celexa)

I was feelin’ great before bed and fell asleep pretty easily with help of melatonin and likely because I was exhausted from only 6 hours of sleep the night before. I had taken the Citalopram at 10pm Saturday night. Here are the events of early Sunday morning:

* I wake up at 3am immediately feeling slightly panicky.
* thinking it will pass I lie awake in bed and concentrate on my breathing, trying to calm myself.
* get up to use the restroom thinking I’m just feeling restless. This helps a little, but I’m still afraid I’m going to start hallucinating (even though it’s never happened before) and I’m afraid of things that might jump out at me from the dark.
* I lie back down and the panic intensifies. My limbs are numb, especially my arms. I feel a cool sweat beginning to form, my heart is racing, and I can’t slow my breathing.
* getting up to move to the living room, I start to shake which leads me to wiggle my fingers quickly, wring my hands, rock back and forth, and talk to myself in an attempt to release the nervous energy
* I check the door to the apartment to make sure it’s locked.
* I’m imagining friends around me so I can talk to them. So they can help me calm down.
* I keep talking fervently only it’s more like a whisper because it’s late, I don’t want to wake up Dave, and I still have enough control to want to avoid embarrassing myself. I can’t go more than a few seconds without talking. The thoughts in my head are mostly coherent, but it might not sound like that if anyone were listening to my whispers. Mostly I’m saying, “ok, ok, ok” and “I can do this”.
* I can’t help but feel that I’ve become the crazy person on the bus.
* I’m shocked and terrified by how much drugs can affect my demeanor, thoughts, and personality.
* I’m afraid this will never work. I’m afraid I’ll be too afraid to try something different.
* I think about opening my laptop to look up how long I can expect this to last, but I can’t get myself to do it. I’m too distracted. I don’t feel capable.
* I’m extremely worried about having an attack at work. I can’t stop imagining it. Where would I go, how would I explain it?
* I completely understand what they mean when they ask if I ever feel like doing something “outrageous”. I have so little control over myself right now I’m afraid I’ve lost my filters that stop me from saying or doing things that are supposed to stay in my head. I’m thinking of things I might do. What if I have a panic attack at work and I get too hot and start to take off my clothes?
* if this gets any worse will I have to go to the emergency room? What can I do to stop it? I need to go online and research techniques.
* is this because I forgot to tell my dr. that I take ibuprofren a lot and I took some tonight? Maybe it’s from the drug interaction?
* I keep thinking this is not worth it. I never want to take these drugs again. What if my dr. tells me to keep taking them. What if I can’t get ahold of her and I have to take another dose tomorrow night because I’m not supposed to stop without checking with her first. I’m afraid I won’t be able to sleep Sunday night before I have to work the next day.
* Feeling very hungry. I know I have to eat because the adrenaline rush I’m having will make me sick if I run out of energy to burn. My stomach is feeling slightly naseous like when I get hypo-glycemic. Finally I get up for some cereal thinking that if I throw it up I’ll never want to eat Cheerios again.
* Terrified it will make me sick, I have to force myself to eat the cereal, but soon I’m able to finish it and surprisingly it seems to calm me down. Cheerios? A cure for a panic attack? Maybe it was just coincidence.
* This one lasted about 40 minutes from start to finish. It’s good to know they have an end, but that’s a long time. I wonder, can one get stuck in a panic attack that won’t go away on its own?
* Even after it’s over I check the door a couple more times to make sure it’s locked.
* 4:40am besides feeling a little sick to my stomach, I’m back to normal. Time to try sleeping again.

Feeling pretty good right now. I guess I can’t be sure that it’s completely over, but in the same way that it is a downward spiral, it feels right now as though it’s spiraling up. As a frame of reference, the spiral went like this: I panicked, realized I was panicking, started to panic about panicking, and then panicked that I was going to panic more about panicking. On the flip side, I’m pretty confident that it’s over because I just realized that I’m currently feeling pretty good and that makes me feel good about feeling good.

This has allowed me to remember those nights when I’d wake up feeling restless and wasn’t able to keep lying down. I’d sit up in bed or if they were really bad I’d have to get up and walk around. I didn’t think they were ever very severe, It’d usually pass in five minutes and then I’d fall right back to sleep. It didn’t occur to me that it might be yet another symptom and I should mention it to my dr.

Sunday morning, after another mere six hours of sleep, I call the resident psychiatrist on call at Stanford to ask if I can go off the Citalopram. She reassures me that the side-effects usually go away within a week and that it’s one of the best drugs out there for anxiety. I tell her I’m terrified of having a panic attack at work and I don’t know what I’d do. She says my dr. could prescribe me something to take if I feel one coming on, but I won’t be able to get ahold of my dr. until at least Monday. She talks me into taking it again, says I can take it in the morning instead so I can hopefully get some sleep, and tells me I can halve my dose until I talk to my dr., but she doesn’t recommend it as I wouldn’t be “on track”. I call my dr. to leave a voicemail explaining the previous conversation and ask her to touch base with me on Monday.

The rest of the day I spend recovering, shaky, tired, but not able to nap until finally late in the afternoon when I curl up with Dante and listening to him purr calms me enough to doze off for a bit. We have a party in the evening that I force myself to attend. I’m more socially awkward than normal, but I make it through and have a great time. It serves as a reminder that I’ve just got to get right back on the horse.


15 thoughts on “My Terrifying Second Day on Citalopram (Celexa)

  1. From what I’ve experienced and heard, the unfortunate thing about antidepressant/anti-anxiety medications is that the side effects start immediately whereas the benefits take a while to kick in. Hang in there! It’s also possible that this is not the best medication for you, but it’s probably hard to tell until you get over the first week or two.

    I’m a free bird these days…call me if you’d like to hang out or just talk. I mean it 🙂

  2. Thank you for writting this. I’m having the exact same side effects from Citalopram after going off it for awhile. It’s 6am and i have been awake for hours. The same thing happened when I took prozac a few years ago so I know it’s the meds but right not that doesn’t really help.

  3. I’m so glad I came across your blog about Celexa. My doctor just prescribed it for me yesterday and, as I usually do, I research on the internet all I could find about it. I have a difficult time staying asleep anyway and seems many experience this side-effect when taking Celexa. I’ve never had a panic-attack that I can recall. My main reason for wanting an anti-depressant is to deal with grief I am experiencing after my Dad’s passing a month ago. Not sure I even need an AD just didn’t want to get stuck in the grief process for 4 years like I did when my Mom passed away in 2004. I’ve also read that some have weight gain with Celexa. I need to lose about 30 lbs, certainly not gain it. So, anyway, thanks for your blog. I think I’ll call my doctor back and reconsider.

  4. Wow after reading your blog I dont feel alone! I too am in the same position and have been up half the night although I have been sick after having th sickness feelin for about 6 hours.
    I hope you are now feeling better and you can rest and get some sleep.
    I can extend my full sympathy for you and hope you are feeling ok x

  5. Hi, i’d just like to also say thanks for posting this. My brother is currently going through his second day of citalopram and reading what you’d written gave him some solace. The salient issue for him, as with many, is the fear that this will never end and the downward spiral between thoughts and physical feelings (i.e. tightness in the chest, shallow breathing, feeling sick, resulting in constantly pacing) that you described occurs. If you have tried distraction technigues and burning off energy (i.e. walking, running, etc…) and still feel highly anxious, please call your doctor or out of hours service if closed (via dr’s answerphone). Thanks again.

  6. I just started taking Citalopram (generic) on Saturday in the mornings and this is my forth day. The first day I noticed some anxiety but that was it, the second day (Sunday) I felt awsome with some anxiety, and the third day (Monday), I felt ok during the day, but had a panic attack at night thinking I was going to die. My chest is still tight from Mondays dose, and my heart feels a bit achey and my hands are cold and clammy, and I am anxious. I called the first nurse through my hospital and my doc is gone today. She told me that this is just part of the side effects and will get better. I went ahead and just took 10 mg instead of 20mg to see if this helps. Hopefully I feel better soon. I am just so nervous and afraid of another attack. Any advice?

  7. Hi Mary,
    I’m about to leave for work so I can only give you a quick response, but I thought that would be better than nothing at this point. I will try to give you some more lengthy advice as soon as I get some more time to sit down and do some writing.

    Here’s my short response: What was most helpful for me was when my dr. reassured me that just because I had had one panic attack that did not mean that I would have more. She said it was very likely that it was the only time it would happen and that I had gotten it over with. Please keep that in mind. You are much more likely to feel calm and relaxed about taking new medication if you let yourself feel that way. For the record, I did not have any other panic attacks and I felt great from then on out.

    Also, my dr. knew up front that I was hesitant about taking drugs. She mentioned that it’s very possible the panic attack had come from my building fear that I was going to experience terrible side-effects. In fact, I did remember that right before my panic attack I had been dreaming about experiencing side-effects and I believe that awoke in a panic.

    My other very important advice is to talk to a counselor if you’re not already. The medication does help me to take the adrenaline down a bit, but it is nothing compared to the help I’ve received from therapy. My therapist was especially helpful in the beginning when I was starting the drugs because she gave me techniques to help me deal with the fear I had of taking psychotropic medications.

    Here are some things she taught me that could help:

    *Ensure that you are remaining calm in the way you talk to yourself. Listen to the things you tell yourself in your head. Remind yourself over and over that you will likely not experience any more side-effects, that you are taking these drugs to help you and that it’s all downhill from here. Generally, the side-effects only last for the first week so if you’re on your fourth day already, you’re almost done!

    *Breathe. I had a hard time with this one when my therapist first mentioned it because I felt like I was always trying to breath deep to calm down, but when we worked on it she helped me to realize I wasn’t always carefully focused on it. The specific technique that helped me was to breath in and out slowly (with eyes closed and in a comfortable position is best) until I could achieve a four beat in breath and four beats out. Then I would say the work “calm” to myself on the breath in and “relax” on the breath out. The important thing is to really concentrate on the words and what they mean and really concentrate on keeping your breath on a four beat rhythm. This will help distract you from any anxious negative thoughts.

    *visualize success. While you have your eyes closed and you have achieved a decent level of relaxation, it is a good time to add positive thoughts. 😉 Picture yourself taking your medication, and then picture yourself having a successful day full of calm and confidence. Don’t let those negative thoughts creep back in. Let yourself have fun imagining how great you can feel.

    I hope this helps. That was not quite as short of a response as I was expecting ;-), but I still hope to be able to elaborate further soon anyway. I still have a lot to write about that I’ve not yet gotten around to. I wrote a post recently about my successes, maybe reading that will give you some hope. Good luck!

  8. Hi, I was on citalopram for a number of years in the past (around 8 years ago). I’m now on my third day back on it, and the side effects are back with a vengence. My anxiety which was there before, is still present if a little more extreme (I was sent home from work today and told to take the day off). My breathing is shallow and my mouth is dry. I’m unsteady on my feet and feel like a rather ineffective zombie. It has me wanting to stop taking the pills, however I do from experience that they do work, and that I simply have to ride out this current spell. It’s obviously hard when I’m waking up in terror each morning, and spending 45 minutes convincing myself to get into my car and drive to work. I may take the next two days off (I haven’t had a day off in my current job in 6 years) in order to allow the pills more time to work. Good luck to anyone attempting this, but remember you will get better and combined with councilling you will back up on your feet quicker than if you go it alone.
    Best wishes

    1. Do you feel okay when driving? I tried driving Friday on my 3rd day of celexa and had to pull over 4 times before finally making it home. I felt worse than driving intoxicated. It was horrible. Then on Sunday I tried going to the store and had the worst panic attack I’ve ever had. I had to sit down on the floor in the middle of the store or I would’ve fainted. Are these normal side effects???

      1. It’s me again..
        Yesterday my doctor told me to stop Celexa ASAP. Night before I kept on having a really bad panic attack one after another and then got really emotional after. I was crying for no apparent reason at all. Couldn’t sleep and after I finally did get a little sleep I woke up sick to the stomach and more anxiety and super moody. I have an appt with my doctor this Tuesday to figure something else to do.

  9. I was on 40 mg of celexa and the side effects were so bad i visited the emergency ward six times, highly agitated, popping 3 sedatives a day to no avail. It took 36 days to go away and I felt good then. Here is the problem. 40 mg is a shock to the system. This time around I have been on 10 mg for 15 days and just upped it to 20 mg 5 days ago and have no issues. NONE. Basically these doctors are not sensitive to the side effects. They just say here take 40 mg but when you end up in the psych ward they tell you to drop that by half and give you sleeping pills and hardcore sedatives. Its a joke. A very bad bad joke. To those people suffering side effects after being on it for about 10 days i say stop it completely until the side effects go away which should only take 3-5 days……..then start over by cutting pill in half or whatever you have to do. Start on 10 mg and raise it every 10 days till you are at the recommended dose and you will save yourself a trip to the Emergency Room. Hope this helps. It is a lesson I will never repeat again. The trauma, I can’t even tell you what it was like other than I took 40 mg for ten days and then WHAM…….instant shock and panic. Like a sledge hammer across the face. Never ever ever will I take that much to start again.

  10. I started the generic brand Celexa 3 nights ago. A lil earlier I had one of the my most worse episodes..I almost went to the ER.. I honestly can say I thought I was about to die. Though I held on another 15-20 mins or so and it slowly got better. And fiance helped me breathe. And earlier I was having really bad stomach pain. I couldn’t breathe…it was shallow and deep and just hard for me, then dizzy, weak, then my legs and hands went from tingly to numb then back to tingling..shaking, clammy, hot then to cold and I started trembling and shivering..My head kinda felt lost honestly…
    I now feel back to normal pretty much.
    I’m calling my doctor in the morning though Kinda scared it’s gonna happen again and I work tomorrow. Kinda too scared to take my dose tonight..?? Maybe I should take half a dose? That way I aint completely stopping it but am comfortable and see how tomorrow goes…

  11. I am on just day 3 on citalopram and I am aaaaalllll excite with the happy and joy in my tummy, but think this cant be right because dr told me it would take 6 weeks to work, wtf, *shrug* citally-good make feel nice 😀 I was looking to see if anyone else could feel them so soon, but you feel bad time? that’s even more strange. Zinnnngggaaa.. heh 😀

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