One woman’s 14-month effort to free herself from anti-depressant medication
Today I was in the middle of my morning practice of breath work followed by meditation and my mind was wandering all over the place as it is wont to do. As I gently guided my attention back to my breath, I felt gratitude for the ability to notice that I was in my head, grateful to feel like ‘myself’.
Only 3 months ago, I was in the throes of trying to negotiate life without anti-depressant medication. For 14 months, I valiantly (truly!) tried to live without this medication that I had been taking for years. There were many reasons why I wanted to give this experiment a go. I didn’t want to feel dependent on the pills anymore. I was feeling great, emotionally strong, and felt I should at least try to be off medication. Who knows what the long-term effects might be? I wanted to feel everything in my life fully, without any filtering.
It was hell 24/7.
I really, REALLY, don’t like taking any medication. I will try every alternative option I can, unless my life is imminently threatened, before I will take western medication.
I am a teacher and student of Yoga. I have been studying all aspects of this amazing practice in depth, with various teachers and on my own, for nine years. I thought I had all the tools necessary to be able to live free of medication for anxiety and depression. I know people who had taken this kind of medication and who have been able to successfully live without it. They have ups and downs, but they can manage their lives — so shouldn’t I be able to as well?
Back to my unmedicated hell, I was doing all the things one is supposed to do to alleviate depression and anxiety. I exercised daily (yoga, fast walking, or swimming laps in the summer). I was seeing an acupuncturist at her clinic twice a week. Eating well and supplementing with vitamins and herbs to help my condition, trying to get enough sleep, trying to use all my yogic tools. It felt like I was spending most of my time just trying to manage the anxiety and depression.
I had lots of support available. My husband and family were there for me. It was hard for them as they watched me struggle; it was hard to be with me. I also had the support of my Acharya family, a group of 12 people studying and practicing together guided by our teachers for a year, a kind of virtual ashram. My friends were there for me; I was not alone. And yet, I felt like an uninhabited island. Instead of feeling everything fully, I couldn’t feel at all.
I would describe the way I felt as being in a sinking boat, having to continuously bail out the water to prevent myself from drowning. The only time I actually felt good was when I was teaching Yoga, or being of service in some way. It took an enormous amount of energy for me to focus. I woke up tired and stayed tired all day, but at night I had trouble sleeping. I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t cope with the smallest issue that would come up. I didn’t want to be around people socializing. I didn’t want to do anything. But I forced myself to keep my self-help routine going. For 14 excruciating months I tried.
I couldn’t feel my center. I couldn’t connect to my highest Self. I couldn’t feel gratitude.
I could only feel heavy, with a mind that was always moving, continually brainstorming ways to solve it’s problem (the problem never being clear) as if it was flying around overhead, looking for a safe place to land, but never finding it. No peace, no rest. No place to land.
So last August I decided I was done. I decided I had given this experiment enough time, and it wasn’t working — not for me, nor anybody else close to me. I was tired and defeated. I called my doctor.
I didn’t know if returning to the medication I had been taking would work; that had been made clear to me when I went off it. What I did know was that I had no quality of life without it. I couldn’t be of service to myself or others in the condition I was in. But I had tried. As is my nature, I had kept up trying until I absolutely couldn’t go on.
The medication was extremely hard to get back on. It produced many unpleasant side effects for the first week. I couldn’t work. If I didn’t know and trust my doctor so well, I would have given up on them, maybe tried something else. But he told me to stick with it and tried to make me as comfortable as possible during the reintroduction process. I chose to listen to him.
Very slowly, I started to feel changes. After two weeks, I knew something was happening. At one month, I was starting to recognize myself. Three months later, I know I’m back. My husband says I’m back. I can now be there for my mother and my sister, for my friends and students. I am here for me.
I am glad, even proud, that I challenged myself with this experiment — living without the help of medication for my disorders. I learned much from the experience. I am a different person than I was before.
It took me a while to stop feeling like I failed — to lose the shame.
Now, I feel just as glad and proud of myself that I could say yes to help. I still wish I didn’t need to look outside of my physical and energetic body for help, and I am truly grateful for this chemical that allows my Best Self to shine.
[Editors Note: The ideas expressed in regards to individual healthcare strategies do not necessarily reflect the voice of Best Self Magazine. They represent the voice of the author and are intended to provide alternative ideas and conversation. Do not use information for self-diagnosis, starting or stopping treatment without the consent of a healthcare provider or medical physician.]