Prozac and the path of surrender part 2 | Why a natural health nut has gone back on SSRIs
‘Confessions From A Woman In Wellness’ is now a vlog too — check it out on YouTube.
Why I started Confessions From A Woman In Wellness
‘Confessions From A Woman In Wellness’ is where I share my knowledge as a professional breathworker, as well as the ups and downs of my own life. Writing helps me tune inwards to a higher perspective that makes navigating the day-to-day a little easier. It’s a great source of comfort in my life, so I blog primarily for me, for catharsis. That said, I would love my writing to touch others. ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’ as the saying goes. So here I am, back to follow up on part one of ‘Prozac and the path of surrender’.
In part one I explored the pros and cons of taking anti-depressants, following years spent on and off these prescription meds. At the end of that video I posed a question: surrender to life on SSRIs or surrender to life without them? And concluded with a tentative but growing desire to come off meds, to try to heal my mental health naturally.
In part two I’ll be sharing what happened next when I did eventually decide to stop meds. I’ll share the strategies I adopted to stay well naturally, the successes and limitations of those strategies, and finally why I ultimately decided to go back on SSRIs.
After posting part one, I felt a deep yearning to heal my anxiety at the root. As I threw away my medication, I asked myself what strategies I could use to thrive without my little friend Prozac. One of them was to watch the words my inner critic uses to describe myself and my life. While our thoughts shape the kinds of words we use, it’s equally true that our habitual language shapes our thoughts — and in turn our feelings and beliefs. Alfred Korzybski, a scholar whose thinking went on to influence the development of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) said:
“We do not realize what tremendous power the structure of an habitual language has. It is not an exaggeration to say that it enslaves us…impresses upon us unconsciously, is automatically projected upon the world around us.“ — Korzybski (1930)
It was time for me to practice talking to myself more like a compassionate friend.
Another strategy I wanted to try was to use difficult feelings as a compass. If a situation made me anxious or blue, I’d trust in the validity of those feelings and take them as a sign that I needed to change something about my life — maybe even big things.
And lastly, I vowed to commit to a tonne of self-care like daily exercise to shift nervous energy, and even cold showers to strengthen my body and mind.
I spill the tea on how I got on with all these strategies in my ‘Confessions’ list here on Medium. I’ve documented - not just the wins — but the challenges too, like the farcical row with my husband on holiday in Porto! If you’re on a mental health journey of your own, I hope these warts and all accounts reassure you that you’re not alone or at the very least give you a laugh.
Let’s fast forward now five whole months, during which time I kept up all the good practices I’ve outlined and more. How did I get on? Well, I’ve already told you I’m back on medication, so you know it wasn’t a walk in the park. Nevertheless, I gained a great deal from my experiment, so let’s start there with the positives.
For one, I gained a strong sense of purpose as I rose each day to the challenge of living med-free and documenting it all, to be in service to anyone who stumbles upon me here. I also managed to evolve some of my limiting beliefs, by taking time to sit and study them objectively and then reframe them using more empowering words. Even just ten minutes made a difference to my mood. For example, I’d always identified as someone with a ‘history of rocky mental health’ but with practice, I began to open up to the idea that my ‘future could be different’. I particularly liked the affirmation ‘my best years are yet to come’.
Another positive change that I initiated in those med-free months was to move from my home town in Bedfordshire to Brighton. This decision was a direct result of my intention to use difficult feelings as a compass, a north star pointing to the next right step I should take. You see, in the time I’d lived in Bedfordshire, I never settled. I loved being close to my family and oldest friends, but I craved more inspiration, creativity, and community. I also longed for more wild and beautiful nature on my doorstep, in particular the sea which I’d always imagined living by, even as a child. So, to cut a long story short, I sat with these longings and took action, ushering in an exciting new chapter on the south coast.
I’ve grown a fair amount in five months. It was scary making big life changes like moving, but I’m glad I listened to my intuition and took life by the horns. On the other hand, I’d hoped to experience more relief from my low mood and anxiety after so many months of consistent self-care. While I undoubtedly got stronger, I had to really work to keep unwanted symptoms at bay — and some weeks I didn’t succeed. Eventually, it began to feel like I had a job on top of my day job just taking care of myself.
As the months went on, a kind of battle-weariness set in and I started waking up every day to an onslaught of negative thoughts that I was having less and less success shifting. I did my best to move through these tortuous mornings by taking myself out for a walk and then hitting the gym. Some days this was enough to take the edge off it. Others, it wasn’t and I’d let myself cry. Tears are powerful things. I recently learnt that preliminary research suggests crying helps us regulate, reducing levels of the stress hormone cortisol to bring us back to equilibrium. I have great reverence for the human body, it has an incredible innate intelligence. At the same time though, I was getting pretty sick of needing to cry. I started to ask myself, how much longer is this going to go on? How much more healing work do I have to do and are there enough hours in the day?! The killer question was, is natural healing going to be enough? To which there was no answer, no guarantees.
I thought back to the time I last took Prozac, to a life lived on a more even keel with easier access to joy and ease. I realised I wanted that again. I wanted that more than I wanted to stay off meds. Around the same time, I had a blood test which showed I had a hormonal imbalance. For those of you who are new to my ‘confessions’, I’ve suspected for a while that I have Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder aka PMDD. PMDD is similar to PMS but more serious, with lower lows that lead 15% of women with the condition to attempt to take their life. With new insight into my hormonal landscape and more investigation to do to fully understand what was going on on that front, I took stock and decided it was time to give myself a break. It was time to return to Prozac.
“PMDD is ultimately a cellular genetic malfunction in response to hormone changes, and it should be treated as the serious medical condition that it is,” — Tory Eisenlohr-Moul, Women’s Mental Health, University of Illinois at Chicago.
Giving myself a break
Within a month of taking Prozac, I noticed an improvement. The barrage of negative thoughts dampened down, which enabled me to co-exist with them, and some days defeat them entirely. From this place, I felt more able to be out in the world. I took on new breathwork clients, sang with a local choir, and even tried an improv class (laughter is the best medicine after all). There’s no doubt about it, Prozac helped get me out of a rut and back into the driver’s seat.
Since starting back on SSRIs and feeling the benefits, I’ve been reflecting on why coming off meds became such an important goal of mine in the first place, and whether that was the right goal to have set myself after all. Some of the main reasons for wanting to be med-free were:
- A systematic review in 2019 concluded: ‘56% of people experience withdrawal effects when stopping various antidepressants. 46% of these people report “severe” symptoms’. (This has certainly been my experience!)
- Recent studies suggest anti-depressants adversely affect gut health, which in turn exacerbates mood disorders. In other words, the medicine can become the poison.
I stand by these reasons for wanting to get shot of anti-depressant meds. I have however come to see that I also had some more questionable motivations for wanting to be 100% natural.
One of them was perfectionism, the desire — no, the compulsion — to strive for nothing short of the absolute best across all areas of life, including mental health. The irony of course is that perfectionism creates stress, which is quite at odds with the wellness ideal. This got me thinking about the power of intention, about the fine line between running towards an ideal that inspires you, and running away from perceived imperfections like anxiety and depression.
I’ve realised I could be kinder to myself, accepting myself whether I’m on or off meds, reaffirming that I’m worthy either way. And so are you. To those of you in the throes of your own healing journey, I send you love. Perhaps like me, you’re eager to be further ahead than you are. It’s useful to remember the timescales for our growth are not always entirely within our control. Let’s try to be content putting one step in front of the other.
As for the direction of those steps, let’s make them towards joy. It’s a far better goal than just being med-free.
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