I’m a mom who has struggled on and off with a deluge of mental health issues for quite some time.
16 years ago I was diagnosed with depression at a VA clinic in Fort Ethan Allen. Within ten days I was on my first SSRI. I was a full-time undergrad at UVM, a part-time job, I had a 6-month old daughter, a breast pump in my back seat, a chip on my shoulder from my time in the Marine Corps, and a relief from abuse order in place against my now ex-husband, (that’s another story).
Depression? How is that possible? I thought you had to be in a corner alternating between crying, self-loathing and contemplating suicide. I fit neatly into neither of these misconceptions boxes.
Over the next decade and a half I would go on to remarry, go through five more pregnancies, four live births, and receive counseling and various additional diagnosis including; depression with anxiety, dysthymic disorder, PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder, postpartum depression and various combinations of the fore mentioned ailments.
Nothing seemed to work, or more accurately nothing completely eradicated my “symptoms”. There was no miracle drug, no perfect pill, no therapeutic breakthrough or hallelujah moment. I think I tried a total of 5 different prescription SSRIs over the years.
During pregnancies and nursing babies I was cautioned against side effects and potential birth defects, the possibility of the baby being born “addicted” to the drug. For some of my pregnancies I went cold turkey, for some I remained on my medication. Each decision was fraught with turmoil tears, prayer and of course, doctor supervision.
Then all sh!t hit the fan. My fifth pregnancy started out well enough, minus the incessant nausea and vomiting. We learned this baby was a growing well, measuring to dates and was a boy! Our first after four daughters! We were ecstatic. The Brad Paisley, “If He’s Anything Like Me” was popular then, (2011), and every time it came on I beamed with joy while belting the lyrics.
About halfway through the second trimester we got the most devastating news of my life at a Midwife appointment, which would later be confirmed via ultrasound at our local hospital. There was no cardiac activity. A few days later I would be induced, labor and deliver my sleeping son Jason Russell, (RIP son)…
To put it mildly, my mental state was far from balanced, and I had four children I had to go home and care for amidst grieving the loss of a life lived to short.
I decided a preemptive strike was in order, given my history, and my physician agreed, we decided to up the dosage of my current SSRI.
Within a week a could feel the difference, but it was my husband who truly noticed. It was upon relaying a story about my mom and aunt taking me on a shopping trip and offering to buy me something that he spoke up. “Honey, you didn’t want to buy anything? You couldn’t find ANYTHING you wanted?” Nope. I didn’t. I couldn’t. I was just numb. It should be noted that I LOVE shopping and could also be considered a recovering shop-a-haulic. I was not myself.
This mental state, which to this date, I cannot find the proper words to describe, was one I did not like. I was a cloudy, dulled version of myself, trapped in an ocean of indifference. This was the turning point for me.
DISCLAIMER: I 100% know that many people need and rely upon medications to maintain a balanced mood and/or well-being. I was one of them for many years. I am not discounting the need, efficacy or validity of medication in any way shape or form. Science has given us the ability to treat conditions with medications and I am very thankful that we as a society have these tools available to us. I am only telling my own personal story.
I decided that however long it took, I wanted to wean myself off these drugs, under doctor supervision of course. It was a slow and steady process with some hiccups and bumps along the way, and it took almost five years, but I am 100% off the medications which plagued me with unwanted side effects for a decade and a half.
How did I do it? Very slowly. Some things that helped me along the way:
- I started seeing a Naturopathic Physician, the scope and depth of analysis and care was something completely foreign to me up until that point. For the first time since my first diagnosis, lab work was run to measure the brain chemicals and hormones. The results were very enlightening. Some supplements were prescribed, those helped too.
- I begin exercising regularly, (which for me is 3-4 trips to the gym per week, at/on either Body Pump, Barre or the elliptical trainer, plus the occasional afternoon throwing hay with my husband on the farm).
- I stayed in counseling and was honest with not only my counselor, but my doctor and my husband as well. I was held accountable for my actions and feelings.
- I gave myself grace. The withdrawal symptoms were not pretty as I got down to cutting halves of pills in half. My body was reacting and adapting to this lack of medication as best it could and as fast as it could. A hot bath with some Epsom salt and lavender was my oasis and reward at the end of a long day.
As I write this, it has been three full weeks since my last micro-dose of my medication. There are no more lingering withdrawal symptoms or side effects and I feel great. My mood is stable, my mind is clear and my senses are sharp.