It was just few months ago when I was taking my antidepressant and anxiety medication – just as I did every morning before leaving the house for the past year and half. Prior to stopping I’ve had several conversation with my physician, and every time I was scared as shit by the idea of going completely off. A morning after another visit and discussion with my doctor I found myself analyzing my new thinking about all of this in the moment, as I swallowed it down, I wondered: had it become a habit, or even a crutch in my life, rather than a necessity for a serious depression. In my case, the answer was an absolute yes – yes this thing has become a crutch in my life.
While recognizing that some people might need a mood-deregulator or a SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) for chemical reasons, this was not the case for me. I needed the antidepressant for environmental reasons. The situation that I was in prior to taking the antidepressant has changed significantly. I was in a “happy place!” I was close to family, friends, had great friends, job, and doing my teacher training to become a yoga teacher. Things were being checked off the box, and falling in place, and for once the future seems promising. But despite all of that, I still felt that I needed the meds.
On the other hand, while I was feeling mentally great, and my external reality was reflecting my mental state, the side effects of the meds on my body wasn’t great. Physically I felt like shit every day. In just few months I went from 110-115 pounds to 138 pounds (the heaviest I’ve been in my adult life), stopped running, and working out completely. To make things worse, I developed some horrible digestive issues, which I later found out was related to milk intolerance and other food sensitivities.
In late October I finally got some confidence, and decided to go off my meds, number of factors contributed to this decision – I finished my teacher training and was teaching already, I submitted and scheduled a time for my thesis defense, and submitted my last paper. I felt in control of the big things in my life that seemed out of my control for a while now. This seemed like a logical transition to another stage in my life – living without the crutches called “antidepressants”.
A morning after another discussion with my physician, I knew that it was time to stop taking it. I took my supplements that morning, and spent the remainder of the day researching natural ways to deal with depression or post-depression naturally. That research led to me to three ways to heal with depression. While there were countless suggestions I narrowed down to three that I am currently using on a daily basis. It’s been over four months now since I last took my meds. So I thought I share my experience and journey with going off my meds and how I am dealing with not having thatcrutch in my life anymore.
But before I list them, there are few things to consider before you make the decision, the decision to go off should be considered thoughtfully and made with the support of your physician or therapist to avoid a risk of recurrence of depression. Once you decide to quit, you and your physician should take steps to minimize or avoid the withdrawal affects. Another thing to keep in mind is that this is my solution – meaning that it’s a solution that worked and is working for me. So, just because it worked for me, it doesn’t mean that it will work for you as well. Lastly, my decision wasn’t something that happen overnight, it’s a result of months of discussion with my physician and having REAL talk with myself, like asking myself whether the environment that I was in is likely to trigger me again. With that being said here are some of things that I had to incorporate into my daily routine:
Exercising Daily – Whether it is 30 minute or 3 hour, I always find a time to exercise. Research have found that regular exercise, and the increase in physical fitness alters serotonin levels in the brain and leads to improved mood and feelings of wellbeing. Also, several studies have shown that exercise promote mental health and reduces symptoms of depression. The ant-depressant effect of regular physical exercise is comparable to potent anti-depressants like Sertraline.
“Exercise has a powerful antidepressant effect. It's been shown that people are far less likely to relapse after recovering from depression if they exercise three times a week or more. Exercise makes serotonin more available for binding to receptor sites on nerve cells, so it can compensate for changes in serotonin levels as you taper off SRIs and other medications that target the serotonin system” Harvard Women's Health Watch
Yoga – Doing yoga every day – My lunch hour, evening (if not at the gym) and weekends are spent at the yoga studio. I do yoga everyday during my lunch hour and weekends. Yoga is not only a physical exercise, but it can be a relaxing and healing process. Practicing yoga can also alter your brain chemistry – some position are effective in stimulating the release of endorphins and reduces the level of stress hormone cortisol. Number of studies have been done and support this use of yoga for depression, and specific yoga posture that increase levels of the neurotransmitter GABA, which may alleviate depression.
Taking Supplements – Taking supplements that are known to help with mild to moderate depression. For example, S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe). SAMe is a synthetic form of an amino acid that occurs naturally in the body. It plays a role in many biological reactions by transferring its methyl group to DNA, proteins, phospholipids and biogenic amines. Several scientific studies indicate that SAMe may be useful in the treatment of depression. Another one is 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) and tryptophan, both are natural alternative to antidepressants. When the body sets about manufacturing serotonin, it first makes 5-HTP. Taking 5-HTP as a supplement may raise serotonin levels. The evidence suggests 5-HTP and tryptophan are better than a placebo at alleviating depression.
Full disclaimer, despite doing all of these things, and constantly keep myself busy, I still have my days - there are days where i feel completely hopeless, helpless , anxious, sad, and have terrible mood shift. Sometime it gets so bad, that I try to talk myself into going back on my meds. But I don’t want to develop that dependency again - so instead I’ve decided to take each day as it comes, and accept that not everyday will be perfect. But most importantly, remaining myself that I am doing the best that I can and I have to be gentle with myself.
“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.” – Elizabeth Wurtzel