This post is from my archives.
Nine years ago I decided to wean off all my meds and take natural supplements instead.
One evening I was fixing a magnesium concoction, chatting with a friend. We were talking about my depression, and this new holistic route I was taking.
“You have everything you need inside you to get better,” she said.
Yeah, I suppose I do, I thought. I mean, why would God create you with some missing pieces?
A few months later my husband found me in our bedroom closet, in a fetal position, unable to move.
I was horribly depressed and hiding from the kids.
He begged me to change courses, to go to Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Clinic for a consultation.
I was stubborn and wouldn’t budge.
I was positive that I had everything within me that I needed to get better.
Then his voice cracked and he started crying.
“Please,” he begged me. “Do this for me.”
So I started taking pills again.
It was like the scene in the movie, “As Good As It Gets,” when Melvin (Jack Nicholson) takes Carol (Helen Hunt) out to a nice restaurant. Melvin says to her:
I’ve got this…what?…ailment. My doctor, this shrink I used to go to all the time…he says in 50-60% of the cases a pill really helps. Now I hate pills. Very dangerous things, pills. I am using the word hate here with pills. Hate ’em. Anyway I never took them…then that night when you came over and said that you would never…well, you were there, you know what you said. And here’s the compliment. That next morning, I took the pills.
Like Melvin, I hate pills.
I hate them so much.
I prefer looking for jewelry in my dog’s crap than taking prescriptions.
However, the people I care about the most tell me that I’m easier to be around when I’m taking medication.
A few months ago, I was talking to my best friend from college. She has experienced 25 years of my mood swings, so her assessment of my mental health is extremely valuable to me. Our history allows her to place my meltdowns and freak-outs in a context that even my therapist can’t. Plus, her perspective is always interesting because she is no lover of medicine. She treats every ailment of hers and her kids holistically, with this kind of herb or that type of extract, which I’ve grown to respect.
I had just been to see a new functional doctor, who sent me home with a list of 26 supplements that would treat the underlying causes of my depression and anxiety. The plan was to start weaning myself off of my antidepressants and mood stabilizer over the course of the next six months, and rely solely on SAMe, Vitamin B-12, NatureThyroid, and some intestinal health support to treat my mood dips.
“But you seem good right now,” she said.
“I’m not that good. I still want to die,” I responded.
“But maybe you want to die less?” she laughed.
“I just need to get over my fear of not taking the meds,” I said. I was picturing the scene in the closet.
There was a pause, which I didn’t really understand, because I know her philosophy on pills.
“Maybe you need to get over the fear of taking the meds,” she said.
She went on to explain that, over the years, I have seemed more resilient when I was on the right medication combination, and that she thought my psychiatrist was very good, that I should trust her. (I thought my psychiatrist was excellent, too; it’s the field of psychiatry I was starting to doubt.)
I never thought of it that way: that I was afraid of taking the meds. I always presumed I was scared to NOT take the meds, to make that jump out of the plane—not knowing if my non-pharmaceutical parachute would work—that I was a wimp, inept at training my thoughts, and therefore had to take the synthetic stuff.
Obviously, the fear of taking medication is far more prevalent than the fear of not taking medication.
“I’d like to make the obvious point that I don’t think is made often enough,” said Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins 21st Annual Mood Disorders/Education Symposium, “which is that it doesn’t do any good to have effective medications for an illness if people don’t take them.”
She went on to say that a little less than half of bipolar patients do not take their medications as prescribed.
I was never crazy about taking meds, of course. I fought my college therapist for 18 months before I finally gave in taking Zoloft. But moving to an affluent town on the East Coast (Annapolis), where people have the disposable income to throw at holistic experiments, has made it even more challenging. Aside from my husband and my psychiatrist, I don’t have anyone around me who REALLY believes there is such a thing as a severe mood disorder that can be life-threatening if you don’t treat it effectively, ideally with medication and other supplements (plus other things like exercise, proper nutrition, and therapy). Most folks here adhere to a philosophy that medication only masks the symptoms, and a person can’t really heal or get to the underlying causes of depression or anxiety until she is off the toxins.
Zoloft and Lithium, in other words, are lame Band-Aids.
Just the other day, for example, a well-intentioned friend approached me about seeing a healer-chiropractor who apparently can only do reiki if a person is not on meds.
“Any sort of synthetic drug blocks the energy so she can’t get through,” my friend explained matter-of-factly.
She is a kind woman with a good heart.
I know she’s not trying to insult me.
But those types of remarks pour salt on a wound that is forever fresh.
Because part of me thinks she’s right.
There’s a voice inside of me that won’t believe bipolar disorder is legitimate and that drugs like Zoloft and Lithium aren’t cop-outs.
A child psychologist I met with yesterday was explaining the two voices inside of every kid (and I add adult), and how it can prove very difficult to move forward until we totally abolish the “You suck” voice from our heads.
“Believing it just a little is going to elicit almost as much anxiety as believing it a lot,” she said.
I think she’s right.
My real battle does not exist with people on the East Cost (or West Coast) who don’t get depression or bipolar disorder.
The war is within myself.
I must kick the little self-doubting turd out of mind and believe that I am on the right path, that all of the sweat and tears and research and hard work of the last 43 years have guided me there.
I must believe in my own wisdom: that even though I can’t always feel the benefits of medication, that they must remain a part of my treatment plan for now.
I must trust my truth, as difficult as that can be when you live in a place like Annapolis.
Originally posted on Sanity Break on EverydayHealth.com.
As always, a very well thought out and extremely helpful article.
A close loved one suffered from chronic treatment resistant depression and anxiety. We went to see Karen Swartz MD at the women’s mood disorder clinic in John Hopkins’s. She saved her life and made her enjoy life again. There is hope, medicine can make a HUGE difference! Good luck!
I would have advocated pills if the science behind it was sound. But pills for mental illnesses are developed by drug companies using a hit-or-miss approach (with only profits in mind). I also came across the following article that warns against the long-term use of psychiatric drugs:
We also need to remember that despite decades of research, scientists have not been able to find any structural or other brain differences between patients who present with mental problems and healthy individuals (this is why there are no objective tests to detect mental health issues – doctors simply use check-lists – so, we cannot compare mental illness with physical illnesses).
Personally I have found a great deal of comfort from mindfulness practices – I came across an article titled “How to Choose a Type of Mindfulness Meditation” (by Kira M. Newman) it says that different types of mindfulness/meditation practices work for different people – see:
With meditation practice, it is important to stick to a schedule and do it daily no matter what comes up – it is then one gets better at it, and can gradually find a lot of peace and contentment in one’s life.
I have been on an antidepressant and booster (Abilify) for 20+ years. I have tried going off meds, changing them around probably a dozen times, as well as trying to go off them in various ways- gradually, cold turkey etc.
I have taken classes in mindfulness, gone to therapy (which did have some long term benefits), tried acupuncture, supplements, and include regular exercise, and a vegan diet. All these things have played a role in healing, but are not enough.
I have just had to finally accept the fact that taking medications are a necessity for me. They keep me on track and I am not a stable, reliable, emotionally resilient person without taking them.
Thank you Therese for your frank and honest article. You are an important voice and it’s been a real help for me to hear your perspective.
Very interesting Therese . I have been on and off medication for many years as was unable to tolerate the side effects. Some have made me manic. So each time I start a new med there is some anxiety but this last time I thought I don’t have a choice any more as one of these days I won’t be able to tolerate the pain any more.
I tried Tms and before they do a EEG and they can see that my brain isn’t functioning like a normal brain – running on low and that my brain is overloaded. The TMS helped but th depression came back when under stress.
My doctor gave me escitralopram and she told me it was very unlikely to cause side effects. I didn’t sleep apart from one hour in the morning and when I woke up I felt like I wanted to fly out of the window.
I went to see a psychiatrist who said that in some people the regular dose is just too high and the side effects dramatic. So he has put me on a liquid form starting with one drop and some diazepam to help with the side effects short term. And I am to increase the drops until I feel a therapeutic dose has been achieved.
It was such a relief to me that finally someone understood. As one can easily be seen to be non compliant with meds.
I have anxiety and major depressive disorder and what dear if I am ” slightly bipolar” I use those words with tongue in cheeek as my mood swings effect my life totally.
If a pill made my life tolerable I would take it. Depression and the brain still isnt fully understood .
There is always new research like now the inflammatory effect on the brain.
One thing I do know. ONe size doesn’t fit all. The journey is individual.
I am hoping this med will work it is early days for me. Sometimes I think I can’t keep trying.
Especially when I can’t get off the couch or out of the door.
Daily tasks are impossible. I have done enough CBT to write an encyclopaedia about it. All I pray is that one day they find a cure for this horrid disability. Lizzie
I have also had to accept that I need medication to keep me out of that horrible hole of depression. I struggled for so many years with depression and anxiety before finally being convinced to try Prozac. It changed my life. I hated that I needed a pill in order to live a normal life. Eventually a doctor switched me to Effexor, which never worked as well for me. Maybe a higher dose would have worked better, but I didn’t want to increase it. Eventually I decided that i didn’t want to be on Effexor at all, so I got off of it. I got back on Prozac after about 5 years off of it, and it has once again saved me. I think I have finally realized that it is best not only for me, but for those around me that I take the medication. I am lucky that I have not had bad side effects from either drug.
A lot of my depression is due to my very low self-esteem, which I continue to work on.
What an AWESOME POST, Therese. Thank you so much for sharing your journey.
This article is almost completely reflective of my own current experience. I am currently off most of my psychiatric medications, except one for the “tough” times. As I haven’t wanted to take those “only the tough times” meds, I have had to seriously dial back my life in an extremely limited way…hence, I’m not really, “living”.
I am also one that loathes, hates, ABOMINATES meds for many reasons. Yes, there’s the cultural stigma part, but there’s also the part that deals with the horrific side effects that have not only almost cost me my life, but landed me in hospitals and such. This, along with the frustration of my wonderful Pdoc, has him often swirling his head around as to what medication isn’t going to almost send me off the planet. I’ve been on most of the meds out there over the past 20 or so years. And we’ve even done holistic periods of treatment, as he believes in it too and it has worked well for some of his clients. HOWEVER, he also knows that EVERYONE is different. Sometimes I think if it were up to him, he’d be treating everyone holistically as he DOES NOT HAVE A LOVE for The Big Pill Pusher Complex. BUT…he loves his patients SO MUCH that he will not just prescribe any ole med, but recommend healthy eating, good and safe supplementation along with prescription meds if, and as, necessary. He doesn’t see them as a band-aid. And he also doesn’t really like keeping his patients on them indefinitely IF they don’t need them. BUT, again, he knows EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT. Doesn’t mean one who needs the meds for longer periods of time or indefinitely is “defective.”.
The short of all of this long sharing is that, yes, I hate the meds industry (for various reasons). I know (for a fact) that they are MAINLY OUT to make big bucks, as well as make supplements for the most part look bad, make holistic doctors look even worse, BUT, if they would take their heads out of their greedy backsides, they COULD REALLY HELP so many of us who do need the supplementation of taking such potentially life-uplifting meds. Because from some of those who were once in that industry, there were some who really cared about people like us. And, by “us”, I am not saying there is something wrong with ‘this’ “us”. Our chemistry and/or mind is what it is from whatever it is that makes us the way we are. And I have come to accept that that’s just the way it is. Yes, I can still live a holistic life-style, eat not just healthy, but right for my body (love Magdalena Wszelaki for this), I can still take certain helpful supplements whilst working with my psychiatrist (love Julia Ross and Trudy Scott for this), get balanced help for my hormones (love Brigit Danner and the amazing Dr. Ritamarie Loscalzo for this)…all whilst working in tandem with my awesome psychiatrist.
Oh…and I’m a Reiki Master…and I have no idea how something or someone SO MUCH greater than ourselves (sometimes called God, The Great Spirit, Universal Energy, etc.), would ever limit its healing touch JUST BECAUSE WE HAVE SOME FLIPPIN’ MEDS in our system. Oh, sorry, but my BEOTCH just got up and SLAM DUNKED that one. AS IF!!! Sorry, I don’t think so. Besides, we’re going to be giving up these bodies when it’s our time to pass on to wherever we believe we’re going. (I personally believe in an afterlife.). So, this body I was given in this life is going to be shed, return to the earth, or whatever one’s belief is. I’m doing my best to take care of it, but I also know that it’s limited in what it can do here in the Earth Realm, so, I will get the help I need holistically, nutritionally, etc. and if there are times (or most of the times) that I need help from some meds, well, I’m gonna go do that. In short, this Baby Girl knows she needs some help right now. She’s getting herself to her Pdoc for some assistance.
Bless you all here!!!
Different people have different perspectives on this issue. I have found the site madinamerica.com to be quite informative regarding the use of psychiatric medicines.
kdn, I hear you.
I’m very familiar with madinamerica.com. They are great and have some great writers. I also love Dr. Kelly Brogan and her awesome new book, “A Mind of Your Own.”. I’d also strongly recommend Dr. Julia Ross and Trudy Scott, aka, “The Food Mood Expert”. I tell family, friends, etc. that IF they can avoid meds to do so.
For myself, I do everything I can in my power to not to have to take psych meds for various reasons. However, I also know when I sometimes need help from said meds. Everybody’s different. Not just with different perspectives, but with different needs, etc. For myself, I realized, I’m dying anyway (and I mean literally). I’d rather die having emotional quality of life instead of quantity. If meds right now will help me temporarily (or until I physically die), then so be it. In the end, life’s going to end either way. Right now, my aim is for quality of life. I know that might not make sense to a lot of people, but they’re not living other’s lives. In the end, we have to account for ourselves. Having lost consciousness several times in my life and experiencing unmedicated “altered states” of being, I long for quality.
Peace to all here!
Well today my meds made me feel absolutely terrible. I have only increased it slightly. I had three days Tms and cbt but feel terrible. I am finding the consent questionaire to assess your anxity and depression scale are driving me mad. As answers 0 to 4 do not really explain my mood. In three days my scale went from 21 to 7 and it was inertia on my part. So the results looked good but actually I was feel really awful.
We live in a world where everyone is Evaluated for their preformance re their job. Targets ect which I feel is not always appropriate when assessing depression at each session.
I have to wait too see if Tms suddenly kicks in and my meds decide to work with my body instead of against it. Oh how tiring this constant battle is. Lizzie
When you are in a bad mood, always tell yourself: “This too will pass” I learnt this from the following short-story book: “Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?: Inspiring Stories for Welcoming Life’s Difficulties by Ajahn Brahm”
(It might be available in your local library.)
Hope you feel better soon.
Thank you I will read it. I feel this time I have to give the meds a chance . So will try to stick with it. My fantasy is to wake up every morning I can jump out of bed and look forward to the day . Rain or shine. We have to live in hope, xx
kdn, the book you mention sounds awesome. I plan on reading it too. Thanks.
I just finished listening to Davidji on Hay House Radio. That might be a helpful place for others here too.
For those who have hypersomnia (sleeping too much) and depression where you have no motivation or energy have you seen stimulant meds help along with taking the antidepressants? If so which stimulant meds were used?
I am interested in knowing your views on this.
It does cause an issue with anxiety a lot of us have with depression because it could agitate it but also taking a benzodiazepine could help balance it out perhaps?
Just wanted so say how much I can relate. I am surrounded by people who tell me that lifestyle changes, good food, a job change, finding a new hobby, vitamins, church etc would fix me right up instead of these dangerous medications that are unnatural and for really crazy people, no? And, let’s me you said, part of me believes it… but for the most part I stopped sharing with people, I never even told one of my best friends about my second hospital stay since she seemed to think the first one was mainly a self-indulgent spa stay… I am single, so needless to say I am pretty isolated and couldn’t do without my mental health professionals.