I felt as though I were telling a boyfriend that I needed space, that I had been having lunch with another guy and now I was confused about where to go or how to proceed or what I wanted.
For eight years I’ve put complete trust in her and didn’t question anything she said.
I put on the blinders in order to survive, just like I did the first year of sobriety.
“Just show up and do what they say,” the old-timers would say. They said they didn’t know anyone too stupid to follow the program, but lots of people too smart.
“You think too much, you’ll get drunk.”
The one night I did think too much about what the first step meant—admitting powerlessness over alcohol—I drove my Ford Taurus over the Indiana line into Michigan (Indiana was dry on Sundays) to get a six pack of beer that I chugged down in the parking lot of my college dormitory.
So I stopped thinking.
I forgot about the 12 steps, and whether or not I was even an alcoholic, and just didn’t pick up a drink.
I applied the same logic to my mental health.
Ever since I was hospitalized for suicidal depression in 2005 and 2006, I haven’t entertained any opinions regarding how to recover from depression and anxiety other than my doctor’s for fear that I would unravel the same way recovering alcoholics do when they start thinking.
Just tell me what to take, and I’ll pick up the prescription.
I would walk away from conversations about hormone therapies, raw diets, or biofeedback because I was afraid if I deviated from my authorized path, I’d end eating rubber chicken again with a bunch of folks wearing paper robes. I kept my eyes away from books that bashed psych meds in any way because processing the authors’ arguments produced too much anxiety in me. I stuck my fingers into my ears and yelled, “blah blah blah blah blah blah … I can’t hear you!!!”
But one day in January I read past the introduction of one of those alternative-health books and the information it contained pried open my sealed-shut mind. I started to do what the 12-step old-timers warned against: I started to think.
I started to think that maybe four psychotropic drugs are too much to take at one time, that they could very well be taxing my liver and kidneys, and that all the detoxification that was happening inside my body might be leaving me deficient in some essential nutrients.
I started to think that my thyroid and pituitary problems are probably contributing to my depression and anxiety more than I had suspected.
I started to think that maybe my diet wasn’t as good as I thought it was, that I could very well have a sensitivity to gluten and dairy, that I’m probably consuming too much sugar, and that cutting out all caffeine could help me sleep better. I started to catalog all the digestive problems I’ve had over the years and consider them in connection to my mental health issues.
I started thinking and reading, and thinking and reading some more, trying to figure out what made sense FOR ME. Not for all bipolar persons or for everyone struggling with depression and anxiety. Just FOR ME. There was so much information. So many different opinions and philosophies. Who was right?
“I’ve been doing a lot of research the last two months,” I told my psychiatrist today. “I’m overwhelmed by all the information, but I do know that I want to go off of as many medications as possible.”
I braced for the negative response, but I didn’t get one.
I explained that I had made some big changes to my diet that seemed to be making a difference; that I was working with a functional doctor who was treating my thyroid, tweaking my hormone levels, and giving me supplements to address my nutritional deficiencies and digestion issues. I said I didn’t know if it was the right thing to do, and I’m pretty confused, but so far the results seem to be good and I want see if all this foolishness can make me feel even better, that I’d do anything to be able to wake up in the morning without a death wish.
It was the first time since my hospitalization eight years ago that I reached for the helm.
She listened intently and then smiled with the compassion that makes her such a rare find and an excellent doctor.
We acknowledged that neither conventional psychiatry nor functional medicine holds all the answers.
“Let’s get you well on as little medication as possible,” she said. “Can we both agree to that?”
I nodded and promised to continue all of my other health efforts: meditation, yoga, swimming, healthy diet, supplements, and light therapy.
And I left her office, a little lost, like I was that Sunday evening I drove to Michigan for booze. But empowered at the same time, prepared to take on the responsibility of steering my course to good health. I’m ready to prove the old-timers wrong.
Thinking for yourself, I’m pretty certain, won’t always end in disaster.
Originally published on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.