I’m tapering off antidepressants and steroids with no regrets

There have been bumps in the road, but there's no looking back, says a columnist

Shalom Lim avatar

by Shalom Lim |

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On Feb. 19, I went to see my psychiatrist for the first time in 2024, after enduring a rocky start to the new year. When I last saw him in November, we’d decided that I’d consult him again as needed, but I wouldn’t have fixed appointments.

The year started for me where 2023 had left off, with allergies and sleep and mood issues. Three months ago, I fully tapered off my prescribed antidepressants, which I’d been taking for more than three years after being diagnosed with depression in May 2020, five months after the death of my late brother, Isaac.

A week after I stopped taking the medication, I started on the final leg of tapering off Emflaza (deflazacort), a corticosteroid used to treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), a process I began last May after consulting with my neurologist. This has been the most problematic phase yet, as the anti-inflammatory benefits of the drug finally wore off in December, when I went from taking it once every two days to once every three days.

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My Emflaza journey

As a child, I struggled with allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever, along with sensitive skin, which caused heat rashes and an unbearable itch. When I started taking Emflaza at age 17, following the recommendation of my doctors after I’d had two near-death battles with pneumonia, my childhood allergies subsided as the steroids kicked in.

My next dozen years with Emflaza have brought mixed results. While it improved my appetite, which was very low at the time, and may have kept my heart and lungs from growing weaker, I also struggled with the loss of bone density, heavy mood swings, and weight gain, which are common side effects.

When Isaac died, my preexisting hormonal imbalances stemming from the long-term use of steroids and aggravated by the comorbid emotional dysregulation of my then undiagnosed attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, made my mood spiral and led to episodes of depression.

Shortly after that, my dad brought me to see his former medical classmate, the psychiatrist I mentioned earlier in the column, who diagnosed me with a mood disorder and obsessive-compulsive issues. He prescribed me Lexapro (escitalopram), which immediately boosted my mood and alleviated my major depressive disorder. But it inadvertently resulted in episodes of intense hyperactivity and mania a few months later, followed by severe depression not long after that. That culminated in my darkest mental health crisis to date.

After that unexpected turn of events, he put me on a much milder and more well-rounded antidepressant, Brintellix (vortioxetine), which helped me for the next two years as I moved on. My life settled down, leading to a new job, a new relationship, and best of all, new hope.

No turning back

While I didn’t make my decision to stop taking antidepressants and steroids lightly, as I acknowledge what they’ve given me, this year, I’m looking forward to beginning a new chapter without them. The road to a brighter future is never easy or smooth. Those old allergies recently resurfaced, disrupting my sleep and affecting my mental well-being. But it’s been nothing like those sleepless nights and the anxiety I experienced when I was taking the highest dosage of steroids a few years ago.

During my appointment with the psychiatrist a few days ago, we agreed that my current mood issues had been triggered by external factors like domestic stress. So we decided that I wouldn’t go back to taking Brintellix.

As I look ahead, I’m uncertain about what life will look like without the support of antidepressants and steroids. But one thing is certain: There’s no looking back now.

Note: Muscular Dystrophy News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Muscular Dystrophy News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to muscular dystrophy.


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