Monday, April 26, 2010

Flowers for Algernon (or "How Christine Weaned off Antidepressants")

I have been on antidepressants for about four or five years now.

They saved me from myself.

I was not suicidal, or ready to harm my kids (well, any more than every other parent on their worst day). But somewhere between college and giving birth the first time, I completely lost "Christine." She was still in there. She surfaced regularly, but I had to fight for her. Giving birth just tanked her, and she became a memory to my husband and I.

Things improved at one point (or should I say, they weren't as MAJORLY SUCKISH as they had been - perhaps that's a better perspective). I remember Michael making a joke, and I laughed. He just stared at me for a moment, smiled and said, "Your smile." I knew what he meant, because my face felt weird. I didn't smile much for two years, especially not a genuine smile - all the way up to my eyes. I felt sad and embarrassed and helpless. I didn't want to lose me again.

When Presh was about two, I had another dip. This one was a bit different. I started to have much more social anxiety. It made no sense. Well, in "normal" world, NOTHING of our depression/anxiety makes sense. That is what makes it so debilitating. The little things in life haunt us. At the same time, Mac's Tourettes became painfully obvious. It was her neurologist that opened my eyes to so much.

I got stuff.

I have always had tics. I can think of two isolated events when they completely took over, but every other time I could hide them. I didn't know the "why." I just figured I was a nerd, and being the good American kid, I fought hard to be as normal as possible. I have also always had depression and anxiety (hind sight). Neurological disorders of every kind are kinda like a pile of pantyhose that runs through the dryer. You know they are separate, but you have no idea where to start to even BEGIN to sort them out.

So, I got in on a study of Cymbalta in the very beginning (had long been an approved med, but they were trying to determine just how well it improved cognitive abilities). I was under the care and guidance of some of the best doctors in the state. Oh, AND my meds were free during the study. So, it was kinda' a win-win as far as starting to find help. Unfortunately, one of the side effects was very clear and vivid dreams. So much so, that I spent much of my day trying to determine things I had dreamt and things which had actually occurred. I weaned down at one point, and simply could not handle the withdrawal and a new move and the kids. I was getting brain zaps and all sorts of crazy stuff. Spent hours curled up on the sofa, or a walking zombie on meclizine. So, I started on some generic Zoloft, at a much lower dose. Steadied me out neurologically and stopped the effects of withdrawal.

Fast forward to a time when I have set myself up for success. My life is simple. We are not over-programmed (who am I kidding - there is barely ANYTHING programmed). We are rocking our diets. I did a very slow wean, while supplementing with lots of flax and niacin. I took my time, but the withdrawals from this particular med have been night and day different from the Cymbalta.

And here I am. I have been off RX antidepressants for just over two months.

Not only that, but I am actually letting my food be my medicine. The hormonal wave just before my cycle? I supplement with Niacin. I flood my food with flax. When I'm feeling lethargic, I whip up a massive green smoothie. If I have to get some work done, I sit by the window for a minute, listen to the birds and soak up some sunshine. I do simply wonderful things like ... just walk and look at the flowers and the grass and the bugs. I embraced the heart of therapeutic parenting - which is to choose what kind of day I will have. Cause - you can't make anybody do anything, really. You can't. But you can choose how their choices will or won't affect you. You can choose to listen to the birds. You can choose to smile.

Do I have any withdrawal? Sure. I feel like Charlie in "Flowers for Algernon." I am doing type-o's phonetically much more than ever before (I also blame my years as a shorthand guru for triggering this while my brain is self-correcting). My neurological system is trying to fill these gaps on its own, now. I get stuck on words much more than ever ... not just the I'm-almost-40 kind of forgetfulness. I have moments where I stop myself to concentrate on something, and it does. not. help. at. all. Moments where I simply cannot make my brain do what I'm wanting it to do. It sometimes feels as though I'm going backward developmentally. So, in taking back control of my brain functions, I'm having to be patient and understanding of ... myself.

Again, though, this is worse if things are moving too quickly and I have too much going on. It's my red flag to give my whole body, mind and soul a rest.

It was actually going on the meds which caused me to look harder at my lifestyle and diet. For me, it was putting the horse before the cart. I could not find the strength to make these changes until I received some extra help. Then, I was able to take it into my own hands. It took me years, but here I am.

Christine. The way she was meant to be.

(photo by Marko Mihajlovic, used with permission)


Diana said...

I love your honesty. I love your candor. I love your opennes, and your heart. Thank you for sharing!

I've struggled with depression for several years now. It's cyclical and very often stress induced. Unfortunately, I don't tolerate Rx meds AT ALL. They make me sicker than sick. Thankfully, St John's Wort does work for me. Not as long lasting or as quickly as the Rx stuff does, but there's no side effects either.

I'm working on changing the diet around here, but it is tough to convince my family that processed stuff is nasty, green food is good, and there really is more to the food chain than red meat and white potatoes. We're working on it, though.

As for the brain stuff, I totally get that as well. The one med I haven't found a good substitute for yet is my thyroid stuff. I can't use the synthetic Rx stuff (gives me horrible vertigo), but I've found a pharmacy that still compounds the natural stuff. I couldn't figure out for the life of me yesterday why every joint in my body hurt, why my eyes were going wonky, why I was getting dizzy and so completely wiped out just after working in the yard for a little while. I couldn't think straight, either. I wasn't confused or forgetful - stuff just wasn't there.

I went in to get some cold medicine for one of the kids last night and saw my own meds sitting there. It was only then that I realized I hadn't taken them...and very likely hadn't taken them for at least two days. I stopped what I was doing and took them right then an there. Within 20 minutes, all the joint pain went away, my eyes could focus again, I had a clear head, and my energy level shot through the roof. Later that night I had a chat with my hubs. I asked him to do me a time I'm beat to the core and tell him all my joints hurt, he needs to ask me if I've taken my thyroid meds.

If you haven't had yours checked for awhile, it may be worth doing. Some of what you're experiencing as withdrawal could possibly be related to that. said...

Thanks for sharing Christine, it is always great to hear another perspective.
I was on meds for 5 years while I found the real J, I learned to love myself and support myself and how to cope with the shit that sometimes happens in life... I learned a lot while I took those meds. Then I was done and although I am not a green smoothie drinker I to have learned to slow down, to smell the flowers and to know that life is a wonderful gift. I would not of learned that without those years of balance that the meds gave me.

Anonymous said...

That is so awesome. I'm getting ready to try to go off my meds myself. It's amazing how just leaving my job is helping. Last night I was going to bed and, similar thing, I smiled at my husband. He was just so happy, because for the past couple years when I'm tired or upset I just. don't. smile. I could not be happy, because I was too worried. And now I can. It's incredible. I'm wondering why I didn't do this before. And I'm so sure this is the right decision.

That said, any suggestions on where to look to get info on how to use food to help stabilize? Now that I'll actually be cooking more I can try..but I know nothing about nutrition.

alicia said...

I love Christine...the way she is honest and the way she was meant to be. The path matters yes, how you got to this point matters. But what matters is you know who you are. And there are few things more important than that.

kristen said...

Here is to your health:)!!! Good for you. I too am a true believer in eating for health. When I am not taking good care of my self and exercising I can feel it and it shows. Take good care of yourself!

Tara - SanitySrchr said...

You crawled inside my brain, didn't you? You can admit it? It's okay!

I'm fighting with depression in the worst it's been in quite a long time. I can't possibly describe what it feels like, but I know my poor husband HATES it's effects on me right now. I know he must think I'm wearing a chastity belt, too (I take one of those you mentioned up top...massive side effect). Thank you for your post.

mysticpi said...

Hi Christine,

I found your blog thorugh Sara's and I'm so in awe of you! You so rock. I'm so impressed with your parenting and have watched all the videos.

Anyway, thank you for posting on this topic. There wasn't much online that I could find two years ago when I went off my antidepressant. I have been on and off antidepresents for about 5 years now, I was also on generic Zoloft most of the time.

The time I was off the longest I totally felt like I was rediscovering my old self, the moody, the sexy, the crying, all the stuff that I had not felt in years. When I was on it I didn't feel depressed but I felt flat, a bit empty, and so not into sex.

The off periods didn't stick because I'd get depressed again and couldn't cope on my own. Therapy, jurnaling, yoga and meditation helped but it seemed like it was a full time job to stay just ok, and I couldn't keep it up.

A couple of months ago I switched to St John's Wort and it's working great for me. I'm still waiting to get my sexy back...

I'd love to hear more about how you are taking care of yourself with diet, but of course I'll be reading anything that you feel inspired to write :)

Shan said...

Wow! I wondered how it would be for you going off the anti-d's with your current changes in diet and in lifestyle. I'm so glad you are able to really pay attention and direct the C ship accordingly.

I have certainly had seasonal depression and otherwise on and off in my adulthood but last year was a humdinger for me.
It probably started getting worse when we got our energy/patience zapping child and had to give back a foster baby that we were all thinking we would get to keep. Last year though, WHOA! Anxiety hit me hard and constant and I thought I was losing my mind! I finally went to the doctor imagining I had totally screwed up my thyroid meds. But the doctor looked at me kindly as I mentioned(through unexpected tears) that I just never expected to make it to forty and that I was up at 3:00am with panic attacks about a camping trip.

ANYWAY, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven when he gave me some chill pills and Celexa and my nerves stopped shocking me and my heart quit beating audibly.

I was like "OH YEAH. I AM a laid back person." ;D

I did get tired of the lacking emotion and no interest in you know what, so when Spring started I started weaning! It was a dizzying nerve zapping thing but not too bad overall.

I am REALLY going to try to be healthier and interpret my needs more as well. I've also learned from you and others how to deal with my tricky child without losing my cool and hopefully my perspective.

It is such a good thing for the whole family to take care of yourself as a mom. I'm so glad you are figuring things out about your needs and doing what's best for you!!

Hopefully we can continue to tweak our natural chemistry and take one less Rx! YOU'LL make it to forty, and I'll go camping or something equally challenging! :D

YAY CHRISTINE and the quest for healthy!!!!!

(Sorry so loooooooong.)

johnsonweider said...

Congratulations, what a milestone and an inspiring post. I'm not off yet, though I have been giving thought to what I need to have happen to get off. I do love the relaxed, patient, strong me so much more than how I was before I got on - stressed out of my mind, teary, at the breaking point. I'm scared I might go back to that if I got off. Thanks for sharing your positive experience and congrats again.