2008-11-28

Brain Zaps. A tutorial for the rest of you.

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So, I'm totally off the Zoloft. It's been a looooooong process.

I started stopping in June, and I just finished stopping last week. I was only on 50 mg daily (which is the starter dose. It worked for me, so I never upped it; the max is 200 mg daily).

My weaning wasn't scientific, but it was gradual. I began every three days or so taking a half pill, or 25 mg. After a few weeks, I upped it to 25 mg every other day. Eventually I was at 50 mg every third day. After a while on that, I went to 25 daily.

Then the process started all over, with me halving the 25's (I asked the pharmacy to give me sixty 25 mg tablets, rather than thirty 50 mg). Once I was on 12.5mg per day, I gradually introduced days that I didn't take anything at all. That's the part that took the longest.

So here I am, five months later. I haven't had a single milligram in about ten days, and so far pretty good.  I'm more emotional than I've been in years...I was never one to cry, and right now I can choke up at the drop of a hat.  Frankly, I am thinking this is a good thing.  More on that another time.

Right now I want to focus on the bizarrest of bizarre withdrawal symptoms.  If you've been on an SSRI, you likely know what I'm talking about.

Yup.  Brain Zaps.

Before I went on Zoloft, nearly three and a half years ago, I read about this phenomenon and thought, "That sounds awful!"  Ironically, the anecdotal accounts I'd ready about it pretty uniformly said something akin to, "They sound awful, but they aren't.  In fact, they are oddly pleasant."

They are tough to describe.  Essentially, for me, a Brain Zap feels like an electrical current briefly runs through my head, starting at the back of my skull.  Not unlike a friction shock, but totally NOT like a friction shock in that it doesn't hurt at all.  Just the fun part of the jolt.  And yes, if you've had a Brain Zap you'd know there IS a fun part.

Brain Zaps were always my cue that I was behind on my Zoloft.  If I missed a day, and went too long the next day, sure enough...zzzzzzzzzzztttttt.  Oh, right, gotta take my Zoly.

The strangest thing about this (and yes, the strangest part is  yet to come), is the physical action that would proceed the BZ.  It seems BZ's require, again, at least for me, a quick eye movement. Not a simple annoyed eye roll (if that were the case, I'd pretty much have them constantly when running low on Zoly).  

No, it requires a faster motion than that.  

A quick over the shoulder glance.

Eyes darting to the other side of the room because I think one of my kids is trying to sneak some cookies.

A sudden look upwards after opening our hall closet because something is about to fall on my head from our overstuffed hall closet that I keep nagging my husband to sort through because I am not tall enough to reach the upper shelf otherwise I'd do it myself.

(oh, sorry for that tangent.)

Anyway, that's the Brain Zaps.  

Here's what I didn't expect.  I am still getting them.

They are, however, far less intense than anything I'd experienced while actually on Zoloft.  There is just this faint little zzzztt.  Kinda like Zoloft is saying Hi!  Remember me?  We used to hang out?  Ummm...thought I'd check in.  

I do remember, Zoloft.  You were good to me.  Thanks for all you did.  You helped me at a time when I really needed help.  I'll always remember you fondly.  

Now, Zoly, go work your magic on the next person.  And don't let those Brain Zaps freak them out.



32 comments:

  1. That's an, um, interesting result! What happens if you've never taken zoloft and you get body jolts???
    Glad my breakfast suggestions helped, we've missed you 'round here!

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  2. Glad to see you back! I will remember the Zap effect. It might come in handy at work.

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  3. I feel cheated. I've never had a brain zap. Of course, the synapses would probably need to fire first, and I'm sadly lacking in that department. Glad you're feeling good!

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  4. I get those zaps, but I thought it was just me. I also thought it might be a sign of, you know, genius or sainthood. Shoot.

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  5. That's interesting.. I'd never heard of it before.

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  6. I never knew there was a name for it. I HATE brain zaps; feels like I'm gonna die for a second. Ew. But, to each her own. Kudos to you for weaning...I'm too chicken because I don't want those darn zaps!

    Here from AM. Happy End of Thanksgiving!

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  7. I've never heard of this before and now I am flipping out. I may need to double my dose. Just kidding. I think.

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  8. Diane4:19 PM

    That's funny. I had a brain zap yesterday...but I don't get them often. Even when I go off my SSRI now and then (Cymbalta), I get other more unpleasant symptoms.

    The brain zap I had yesterday occurred during a rather painful sinus headache, just as the pressure was releasing and stuff was starting to drain. The last really bad BZ I had was also during a sinus event that made me throw up. So, I guess there are other things that can cause them...but it is rather weird to feel that tingle go up the back of your head. I thought maybe I was having an aneurysm or something. LOL

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  9. I'm so glad you've been weaned and are standing firm and strong without the Z. As for the emotional thing, I've been like that ever since I became a mother -- 16 years ago. Before that I NEVER cried or teared up over anything. Now, as you said, I get weepy at the drop of a hat...poor hat. So, I'm just saying, it may be a pretty ordinary thing. (If you accept that I'm ordinary, of course)

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  10. I too experienced brain zaps. I used to think they were this mythical thing that only "really messed up people" experienced. Until I had them. I (stupidly, of course, in retrospect) went cold turkey off of Effexor and had many, many brain zaps. They're real. They happen.

    Congrats on weaning yourself smartly. I have learned my lesson in a much harder way. ;)

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  11. i am here to say that the brain zaps are the worst. i am on effexor and have been for almost three years. i am not yet strong enough to go through the brain zaps which i have felt even after a 10 hour withdrawal. frankly the scare the shit out of me.

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  12. Congratulations on being freeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!

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  13. Anonymous11:41 AM

    I have brain zaps and am not on any antidepressants. Anyone else had this experience. I do get a bit of a tingling in the center of my forehead then a zap that is split seconds and ends with a tingling in my temples.

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  14. Anonymous1:03 PM

    I call them "brain zingers" and they are like fire going through my brain from ear to ear and from the brain stem to my eyes. I've been on Celexa for four years and it was just increased. I was off of it for about two months because I didn't have the money and I ended up in the ER twice because I thought I was having seizures. They gave me Ativan, and sent me home with an Rx for the stuff - but they couldn't figure out what was going on. I HAD TO TELL MY SHRINK what was happening - he said he had never heard of 'brain zingers (saps)'. I guess I'll never be able to come off the Celexa - at least it keeps me stable and not crying or wanting to die.

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  15. Anonymous8:28 AM

    I'm flabbergasted that there are apparently still SSRI prescribers--- psychiatrists, no less--- who are completely unfamiliar with this phenomenon. My shrink back in 1993 had no idea what I was talking about and probably just eyed me with suspicion: electric shocks through your skull whenever you move your eyes laterally, you say? Hmm, yes, nothing about that in the product literature. I fear your disorder may be worse than we initially thought...

    But that was 15+ years ago. The symptoms have been widely reported; there's a Wikipedia page about it, and even the drug manufacturers have grudgingly acknowledged the potential "discontinuation syndrome." And yet I still see people saying that their doc was totally clueless about "brain zaps," and that they were left to assume they were unique/insane/severely brain damaged until they chanced upon a website like this one.

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  16. Anonymous3:38 PM

    i have them and they're not pleasant. I want them to go away....

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  17. Brain zaps? Fun? Are you being facetious?

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  18. Anonymous8:59 AM

    So, what does it mean if you are experiencing them, yet have not missed a dose of your meds? I take Paxil CR FAITHFULLY to avoid the guaranteed unpleasant effects, yet for the past few days/week I've been experiencing mild dizziness and zaps. It's nerve racking! And obviously those of us on SSRIs for anxiety need no further nerve racking! HELP!!

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  19. Anonymous10:39 AM

    I am so happy to be reading this. I first heard of a brain zap while reading about Lexapro. I have had these tingling sensations that are very centralized either on one side of my brain or the other. Not always in the same spot, sort of the sensation of having my hair pulled. Not a painful thing though. I have been to numerous doctors and had ct scan and mri. None of which mentioned these BZ. They drive me insane and I do experience dizziness and vertigo. All of the nuerologists I have been to told me to take Lexapro, an anti-anxiety medication because these "pings" as I would call them really were giving me anxiety. Note: I had these "pings" without ever taking any SSRI. Im just glad to know I am not alone. Although mine don't seem as severe as some these others. BTW.... tried the Lexapro, wouldn't reccommend it. I was on half a dose (5mg) for a week and thought my eyeballs were going to pop out, not to mention the lack of sexdrive...... But I do have friends that rave about their Lexapro "happy pill". For now, I m sticking to my therapist and an occasion xanax:). I guess the Brain zaps are here to stay!

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  20. Anonymous8:38 PM

    I went off zoloft as a result of deciding to try Meridia for weight loss, and weaned myself off for a few weeks. I wondered what these Pzzzzzft shocks were and decided to google it tonight. Like others I had experienced it when I forgot to take the Big Z, or ran out and missed a coulple of days. I was hoping the barin zaps would diminish day by day but they seem about the same. Fotunately going off Z has increased my aggressiveness and so my attitude is a bit "F you Z" so I'm hangin in there. Less appetite, more energy, very weird and intense dreams. . . hoping the libido will return, as the Big Z took that away big time. Hang in there

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  21. R Mitch9:17 PM

    Amazing post! I really thought I was the only one who had experience these "brain zaps". I am dying to know what they're caused from? I used to get them when I was a teenager and on bi-polar/ssri's. i'm now on zoloft (25 years old now) for anxiety.

    Maybe I'll be welcomed by this wonderful sensation again! lol. Wish me luck.

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  22. Anonymous2:58 PM

    It's a kind of positional vertigo, often reported by those suffering by B-12 deficiency. I am experiencing the symptom right this very moment, in the course of withdrawing from Zoloft after having taken it for the past six years. Unfortunately, at least for me, B-complex supplements aren't relieving the problem.

    Unbelievably, there are still some physicians out there who dismiss the "brain zaps" as a genuine symptom. I have actually had doctors tell me that the brain zaps are either simply "a result of stress" or something that "could not caused by the Zoloft."

    Brain-Shaken
    22 July, 2009

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  23. Anonymous3:45 PM

    NOT fun or pleasant at all.

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  24. that's a brilliant way of putting it! everything you say summarizes my experience with the drug.

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  25. I am so relieved to hear that Im not alone in this. I have been secretly afraid to ask my doc---for fear of something being really wrong in my head! That's right---the ol bury the head under sand syndrome. Im on Buproprion for depression and have been on various meds like this for 15 years. I AM forgetful though about taking my afternoon pill...so this makes sense!! I get ZAPS all the time, everyday! They HURT! One time it hurt so bad I though someone had shot a rubberband at my head!! I used to flinch and turn quickly to see who had slapped me in the head, or threw something at me!!! But lately I've just been thinking oh--its soemething really bad when I happend to ask a friend if she ever had them--I said, "you know, those electric zaps you get in your head!"--She was all, "no---I dont know what you are talking about!". I thought everyone had them! So---Im happy to see I'm not alone--and that the cause may very well be my inability to remember to take my pill! My zappers should now be my nudge---my reminder to take my chill-pill!! Thanks for the posts!!

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  26. Ugh, they are oddly pleasant, but unpleasant at the same time. I get vertigo with mine, and headaches. I hear a little *snap* in my head. It's really like being in a dark room, flipping on a light switch, but instead of the light coming on, the bulb FLASHES, then POPS out. That's happening in my head.

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  27. Been on Prozac for almost a year and went off it 3 months ago and did not experience any negative side effects. I did this cold turkey. No brain zaps at all. Except now I am realizing I'm very short with people and my anger is returning. Dr. Wants me to try zoloft. Haven't made up my mind yet but, thank you all for posting. Prozac helped keep the up & downs level. Just increased my anxiety too hi. SSRI'S do help. Maybe its just the matter of finding the right one.

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  28. As others have stated, I'm relieved to find I'm not alone in this phenomenon. The rapid eye movement that seems to trigger the zap makes sense for me since I only get zapped at night while drifting off to sleep. An unpleasant flash of light and rubberband popping on the top of a snare drum is the sensation I experience. The sound is so loud [in my head] that I'm certain it is heard by my husband, or dog, but neither budge from their perfect, uninterrupted slumber. Sometimes there isn't a flash of light, but an even louder sound, like cymbals crashing or someone shouting. The zapping sensation runs across my eyes, from ear to ear, as brief as lightening. Often more than once in the same night. The difference for me is that I'm not taking, nor have I ever taken a prescription SSRI, but I take (and often skip a day or more) SAMe and St. John's Wort! I hate BZs and wish they'd stop. They prevent me from a solid night's sleep, and the sound usually makes my heart race.

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  29. I began getting these nasty brain zingers ten years ago. I was coming off meth. Since then they have never went away. I probably really messed up my brain. They are just awful and I get them when I am sick, I get them when I am well, I get them all the time. I am now on various medications, including anti-depressants, and yes, when I forget to take meds, the zingers are in full force. I wish there was a cure.

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  30. I have these brain zaps and have gotten off my Zoloft over the past 2 weeks after being on them for almost 2 years. I was thinking the Zoloft might be causing them. My shrink started me at 100mg and when i told them they made me tired, he upped me to 150mg. Why i didn't say no i don't know. But then i was really tired and napping daily with no energy, i decided to slowly get off them myself by going down to 100mg and then to 50mg and now nothing. My brain zaps are from ear to ear and behind my eyes and some days they are all day long (like today). sometimes i even feel them through my fingertips and down to my toes. I lose vision temporarily and almost a vertigo type feeling when walking. i doubt a ct scan is going to show anything but am going to a neurologist to see if they can help. Of course, they are booked for 6 months. I have taken xanax 1mg 2x daily for years and want to get back to just that. will see that doctor next week. i obviously have an anxiety disorder and when i take nothig at all, i grit my teeth all day. i get migraines and wake up with sinus headaches almost daily. what a mess...sigh! i just want to feel good for a change. so glad i found others to talk to about this. doctors have looked at me like i was crazy when i mention these brain zaps. i don't understand why they don't know more about this. would appreciate any comments, ideas, etc.

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  31. i also have tinitus 24/7, the ringing almost drives me crazy. does anyone have that too?

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  32. My BZ are in my left jaw/neck area. It feels like someone snuck up behind me and tazered me in the freakin neck! I have to look around because it literally forces my neck that way! It scares the s#@t out of me every time.

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Brilliant observations: