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 good, 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 brain to think positive, 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.
Insightful article, Therese. There are too many professionals who think they are the ones who can “cure” and medication is not needed. I am 62 and have been battling this illness since I was 8. Of course, back then, no one discussed mental illness. I just knew there was something dreadfully wrong with me and I had to keep it inside. Without going into detail, you and I have similar backgrounds. What I didn’t know until this year, at this advanced age, is that I also have PTSD. Not from one traumatic event but from my childhood. Yes, I finally found the right medication this year, too! My history with medication is a long story which you have experienced. I’ve just done it longer! Once I had the right medicine, and finally understood that the traumatic issues still have to be worked through, I knew that the medicine and therapy go hand in hand. I always thought that medication was supposed to “fix” everything. Although it’s taken so long to arrive at the peace I have now, I do believe that “it’s not the way you start out, it’s the way you end up” that matters. So, Therese, you may find that all the great work on yourself (as well as for others) gives you more peace with age. I missed out on a career, marriage and children in my struggle with this illness, I am so grateful to finally be able to live in the present moment (well, most of the time, I’m still working through childhood traumas) I am learning to let go of the past and concentrate on having a bright future! I know it’s easier said than done, but possible if you just hang in there!
I think I should qualify in my comment when I said these things occurred ” this year “. I meant a year ago. Couldn’t happen in 9 days of this year!
Thank you Therese. I wish you happiness & all thoes suffering from depression.
I have been talking to many people & my 87 year old friend said ” I knew something was wrong with me most of my life. I dare not tell any one about it. It became worse with each child. I wanted to kill my self all the time but the fear of hell & Fire prevented me.”
She received help only when her son attempted killing himself & the word depression became normal to her.
I wish you peace and happiness and good health. It is very true we have a negative voice in our head. I fight my negative voice and death thoughts regularly. Your writing and campassion for all of us with mental illness is important. Thanks for using your God given gifts to educate the world.
Thanks! Insightful and refreshingly honest as always. “it can prove very difficult to move forward until we totally abolish the “You suck” voice from our head”….and there is the rub! I hate that voice and I hear it all the time. I was just thinking the other day that if I talked to someone else the way I talked to myself I wouldn’t have any friends! (Wait a minute…I don’t have any friends) See, there’s the “You suck” voice now! I do too have friends. Therese, the best part about reading what you write is the reassuring feeling I get that I am not on this dark, difficult journey alone. Thank you my friend.
God can come to us in a pill. HE is the One who inspired the chemists to create the pills, that help us to live, even though we’re Done With Life
Oops! Hundred noodle lashes. I applogise.
What I meant to write:
Thank you Therese. I wish you happiness & all thoes suffering from depression be gone.
I decided this week to make friends with the “turd’s” voice in my head. I think fighting it is giving it power; where embracing this poor thing might silence her. I need to have a talk with her this weekend and see what happens.
When my friend was trying to get rid of her idiot second husband she wasted a lot of time hating him and the things he did. I told her hate and love are very close–we need to aim for apathy–if you truly DON”T care, that would be ideal. So try hard to think neutrally about the drugs—and not hate them—and they may well help.
As for me- my brain was completely obsessed by lighting myself on fire on the end of my driveway, about every 8 seconds was how long it took for the whole “soak rugs in gas, go buy more gas, pour on me, light” to run through my head. The county mental health office said it would be 2 months before i could see someone there. So I just forced myself to weed the garden and kill buckthorn (“kill, kill, kill”)when I wasn’t bawling in my bed, starring out at that spot on the driveway where ‘the deed’ would happen. When I finally got drugs I was so relieved that I wasn’t fighting my brain all by myself.
As a recovered alcoholic in AA and a person with chronic major depression, generalized anxiety disorder that I believe stemmed front he childhood trauma of my brother’s death when I was eight, and as a HSP, I struggle with the message I hear at some AA meetings where there is a lack of understanding that many of us do require, along with working the steps, medication for other diseases/conditions. I have a fantastic psychiatrist whom I trust and who knows all about my recovery from alcoholism and yet sometimes anxiety about meds overwhelms me. I’m particularly sensitive to this issue because I take Xanax, which is addictive. I take it four times a day as prescribed. I feel as if I depend on it, although I dont abuse it.
I took Ativan which is similar to Xanax off and on for a few years. My psychiatrist told me it was “”not addictive but you may become dependent on it.” I have heard from many others that they took benzos for a long time and found, not only very difficult to withdraw from, but some could not because the withdrawal was too painful. I also have suffered from severe anxiety as well as bipolar disorder and PTSD. If you have a good doctor, he will not encourage you to take Xanax long term. Fortunately, I had no problem discontinuing and find that a change in bipolar medication as well as meditation and exercise made a huge difference in lessening my anxiety.