Updated: Apr 2
Severe Anxiety, Depression and Suicidal Thoughts
Some antibiotics can cause suicide and I had no Idea until a few days ago. After taking my last ever fluoroquinolone, I realized that the severe anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and hallucinations I acutely suffered from was not because of my stomach flu, or because I was becoming insane on my own, or had experienced intense culture shock-- it was the antibiotic, ciprofloxacin, a member in the fluroquinolone group.
I fell ill last week, having caught a communal stomach bug at the school I work at. The nausea, diarrhea, migraines, and fatigue I experienced was dilapidating. I forced myself to go to work despite feeling dazed, faint, and having high fevers. After teaching a class, I would sit at my office's desk and try to grade papers but, while sitting, I'd experience hot flashes, diarrhea, and general malaise.
After a couple days passed and I hadn't got better, I informed my host that I planned on going to the emergency room. She decided to drive me there immediately. At the emergency room after my vitals were taken and I explained my symptoms, I was prescribed ciprofloxacin and anti-nausea medication. I agreed that I did not have a viral infection, and that it probably was a stomach bacterial infection. Many students and faculty/staff at my school were sick, some being rushed to the emergency room and others did not show up for work/school. Their symptoms were similar to mine and a cold/flu infection didn't seem likely.
The night I took the first cipro pill, when I went to sleep, I broke out in a night sweat, had a nightmare, and hallucinated. I dreamed that I was walking down a pathway between large buildings in Maun, entered in room and within the room, thousands of small and large spiders were everywhere. They were smart. Some of the spiders knew I was on my way to the room. Other spiders would creepily hide behind walls, doors, tables-- and they were extremely large. I woke up completely terrified and panicked.
Why spiders? The subject in the dream made sense to me. Earlier in the week a very large wall crab spider was in my room. When I woke up, it jumped off the wall and ran under my bed. Since then, I have been afraid of those spiders and try to catch and kill them whenever possible (sorry!). When they are born and are very tiny in size, they are cute. They grow much larger though, and they remind me of the alien spider in the movie Alien, and yeah--- can't do it. I had been feeling stressed about it that fact that I'd be living with them for 10 months.
Now that I was awake, I sat on my bed terrified because of the nightmare. I looked around my room and thought I saw tiny wall crab spiders spinning on the walls. They were not there though. I noticed that I was having a panic attack, my heart was pumping fast and I felt like I couldn't breathe. I felt clammy and I had a surge of unexplained extreme energy. I felt overly terrified of spiders, death, going home, taking care of Sunya, sticking with Fulbright and life in general. I was afraid of everything and wanted to end my Fulbright grant. As I began rereading the grant document and trying to learn how I would be able to get a flight for Sunya and I to head home, my brain felt like it was splitting into 8 pieces. The splitting feeling in my brais was excruciating to feel, and so I decided to take two Excedrin. Indeed, I was pumped up with medication.
I cried uncontrollably that night, and something in my mind told me to kill myself. It is difficult for me to put into words what happened within my mind, but my mind told me to kill myself, and it was trying to reason with me as to why it would be best to do so. I felt extremely depressed, alone, and lost. I decided to play Qur'an (Muslim holy book recitation) because I believed it would help ward away negative feelings and thoughts. At that point, another part of me told myself, "Why are you thinking that you need to die? Suicide is haram. Why are you feeling this way? Be patient. This will pass." I knew that suicide was wrong, but something uncontrollably in my mind told me to just kill myself. I wanted to die and one side of me tried to figure out the best way to do it. The other side of me knew something was off. My heart felt bad that my daughter would not have a mother if I killed myself, and I didn't want to leave her without one. The suicide mind made me feel as if suicide would be easy and I needed to die....that it was the right choice. I think there were many thoughts that stopped me from committing suicide, but the thoughts were there. Living felt unbearable with the amount of anxiety, panic, and depression I felt. I know it wasn't me speaking-- the suicide mind. It wasn't me! I know it wasn't really me, but I had uncontrollable feeling and and uncontrollable thoughts.
I reached out to my family members and friends to get my mind off the negative thoughts. Speaking to them helped the time pass, and I assume now, it allowed the antibiotics to work its way through my system... flush out I suppose. But it didn't save me.
After speaking with friends and family, I still had so much energy and anxiety in my body. I began running from wall to wall in my apartment. I began boxing and practicing yoga. I had too much energy, anxiety or panicky feelings, and needed a way to reduce it. I thought that if I exercised, I'd tired my body and feel better. It worked for a little bit.
I then decided to take a drowsy Benadryl to counter the effects I was feeling. I knew I needed to calm down and that the exercise was only helping to a minimal degree. After 30 minutes of ingesting the Benadryl, I began to feel much better. I felt that my anxiety and panic was reduced, and I was somewhat getting back to normal. Thoughts of suicide ceased, and the insomnia and restlessness I felt went away.
I finished taking the entire ciprofloxacin dosage except for one pill. After the suicidal, severe anxiety and panic attack experience I had, I decided to not take the last pill. Two days letter I felt good. I felt healed. I did not experience nausea or tooth pain or anything. I felt like me, although some people would see me and say I didn't look well. When I was taking ciprofloxacin I had a churning sense of fear about life, about everything. I began thinking about too many horrible what-ifs. Two days later I felt that I was nearly returned to normal and loved being a Fulbrighter, did not want to die, did not want to leave Africa...I felt that I could handle all situations and make the most of our time in Maun. I was me.
On the third day I was ill again. My host dropped Sunya and I off to the clinic. Sunya was feeling ill too. We were prescribed a different antibiotic that would work for both bacterial and viral infections. That day, I took my prescribed dosage and soon enough, I began feeling extreme anxiety and panic.... again. My heart was beating fast, and I was restless. I began running in my apartment to force myself to feel tired. Eventually, I took a Benadryl pill to counter the effects and it worked.... again. I began to relax and not feel extreme anxiety and panic.
As I was feeling more relaxed, I dhikred (spiritual prayer/recitation) for help- for sustenance, for protection, for help. I decided to search online about the antibiotics I was given and their side effects. I came across news reports a year+ ago published on YouTube and discovered that the same exact drug I was prescribed, is the same drug that caused several other suicides. The souls that killed themselves or suffered from intense psychological harm from the drug reported experiencing similar symptoms as I did. Insomnia, depression, anxiety, panic, suicidal thoughts.
The entirety of my story is not told in this short blog about a nearly two-week experience with a drug I never thought I'd encounter. But I hope I convey that the antibiotic drug nearly took my life. I consider myself a survivor.
I also consider fluroquinolone antibiotics education extremely important for health practitioners and for the people that will use them. I hope the Dr.'s of the world begin at the very least, informing patients about the side effects and what they can do to minimize or stop them. Maybe they don't need these particular antibiotics at all? Maybe some people will not suffer from the sideeffects I did? As others have, and to their detriment?
We can at least inform the public about the risk and harms of the antibiotic in a way that BLARINGLY tells them that they may suffer serious side effects, some that may make them commit suicide or suffer from long-term physical ailments.
**I am not a doctor or health practitioner. Please, please, please read the full label on all medications you receive, ask tough questions, and based on my experience, only use serious, hard-core antibiotics when you really and absolutely need them. The side effects I suffered from could have taken my life. Two things saved me: Benadryl and prayer. That's it.