Thursday, April 15, 2010

Part 5: Feeling it in the jaw: Side Effects of Medication and OCD

It takes courage to start medication if you have health anxiety. At the time I didn't feel brave, but I had the good fortune of a husband who told me I was brave. There was some relief in making the decision to start an SSRI, rather than going back and forth indecisively, but in OCD fashion, a whole new area of opened up for obsessing. The first week or two on half a pill was anti-climactic, and oddly disappointing since the flip side of fearing instant bad changes is the hope for instant good changes.

My psychiatrist moved my dose up to a whole pill, and one morning I noticed my jaw felt tight. I'd had jaw pain in the past, and this was a "health anxiety hot spot" for me. I became intensely vigilant of every sensation in my jaw, and kept checking it, asking myself if it still hurt, which escalated my panic, because yes, it still hurt. I did a search in a medical database, and found a handful of case reports of jaw pain as a side effect of ssri's. My OCD was all over this--"How do I know for sure this is a side effect? Am I being oversensitive? How do I figure this out?" Finally I took the plunge and called my psychiatrist, no small feat since phone calls were hard for me.

She was at a conference, but returned my call that evening. Her compassion and thoughtful response was incredibly helpful. She asked me about the information I'd found, and said to send her the abstracts, because she'd like to read them. Although she couldn't say for certain if it was a result of the medication, she advised going back down to half a pill for a week or so. Her ability to respond with a middle path was a great model for me.

The medication was helping, so I was willing to stay with it and see if the symptoms abated. It's extremely challenging to practice trial and error and keep an open mind when you are suffering. The human desire is to find a solution NOW. Backing down the the dose before trying again with a whole pill worked. The jaw pain eased, especially after I took basic self-care actions. I got so stuck in checking the pain at first, and being afraid I was "crazy" that I didn't even think of laying off crunchy stuff, or avoiding biting into things.

Related Posts:
Part 1: OCD and Medication Decisions
Part 2: Starting Medication while Struggling
Part 3: The Limits of Research in Medication Decisions
Part 4: My First Prescription for SSRI's
Part 6: Being on Medication & OCD Weeping
Part 7: Wanting to Get off my Medication
Part 7.5: Built on Sinking Sand: OCD and Health Anxiety


  1. I....can't wait to hear more from you.

    You sound like my identical twin. I'm currently going through the obsessive stage of trying to figure out whether or not an SSRI should be used for my crushing anxiety (it has reduced my life to nothingness) and I still have no idea what to do. Are the withdrawal effects worth it? Is it going to make my anxiety worse? All of these questions are swirling around in my mind. I spend day and night researching, seemingly getting nowhere with my decision. Your story is one that I relate to 100 percent and am anxious (literally) to hear more. :D

  2. I just feel the need to come back to this page. I took a bunch of different meds and while on them would look to ease my worry about the side effects. But what ended up happening was far different than any jaw clenching. I was having adverse reactions to a bunch of meds and did not even know. When i would talk to the doctor all i was told was " i have never heard that before" every time. And when asked to come off of a med i was told to cold turkey leaving me to try and come off slow. I feel they have done me more harm than good. So