but I googled it and became so afraid of the horror stories that I refused to take it.
Google just about any med and you will find horror stories. If you had serious heart disease would you refuse treatment because many of the meds used to treat it can have severe side-effects? Anxiety/stress/depression are very serious and cause the premature death of more people than heart disease in part by causing diseases of organs such as the heart.
I have to start this medication but I'm just so so scared. These 'brain zaps' I've heard about terrify me, the withdrawals from anxiety meds that I've heard about terrify me, the plethora of side effects scare me.
There is no getting away from the fact that antidepressants can produce unpleasant side-effects in the first few weeks, though citalopram is usually the best tolerated of the SSRIs. They may also produce withdrawal symptoms when discontinued. However, in both cases most people have none to only mild symptoms. Severe symptoms are the exception, not the rule. But if you convince yourself that you will suffer greatly then your mind may well make it so.
The best way of reducing the severity of any startup side-effects is to start on a lower than usual dose, for Citalopram, no more than 10mg, and 5mg may be even better and increase it by the same amount every 10-14 days. Also ask your doctor to prescribe small doses of one of the benzodiazepine to help ease you past any rough patched. If s/he's a benzophob then the antihistamine hydroxyzine (Atarax, Vistaril) which has anti anxiety properties is an alternative.
Citalopram is much less likely to produce severe withdrawal effects than venlafaxine (Effexor) because it has a much longer half-life and most people are able to discontinue it with minimal trauma. The best way of reducing symptoms is to taper off it the same way you tapered onto it, i.e. by 5-10mg steps every 10-14 days.
Many hundreds of millions of have been successfully treated with antidepressants. For most it has been a positive experience. When they work they can change lives. However, you need to take them to get the benefits.