What aspects of your life have lasted for a decade? Depending on how old you are, probably not much. Maybe you’ve been going to school for ten years. Maybe you’ve been married for ten years. Maybe you’ve had the same job for a decade. Regardless of what it is, if it’s been consistent for ten years, it’s probably an essential part of your identity.
I started taking antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication when I was 17 years old, and it, like my depression and anxiety, was (at least in my mind) and essential part of who I was. I was always me, but on medication. I had this vague sense that there was also a version of me not on medication, but I had no idea who she was, how she would act, and how she would feel. After a certain point, all I knew was “me on meds” and I was scared to discover who “me without meds” was.
A couple years ago, I was finally feeling pretty good about my life and I wasn’t depressed anymore – did that mean that as soon as I stopped taking my medication, the depression would come back and I’d feel how I felt when I was 17?
I did some research online and I asked my doctors how long I’d have to keep taking antidepressants. Nobody had any sort of concrete answer for me. Best case scenario, I would be OK. Worst case scenario, I could spiral back into depression. Out of complacency and fear, I kept taking the medication even though I wasn’t convinced that I needed it anymore.
As I’m wont to do, I didn’t stop reading about depression and happiness. Particularly over the past year, I became more and more empowered that anti-depressants weren’t actually helping me anymore and that maybe I could still be happy without them. Although I don’t want to discredit antidepressants, (I truly believe they can be helpful) there is a reason that doctors and resources weren’t able to give me more specifics on how, when, and why my medications were going to help me and if and when I’d be able to stop taking them. There are simply too many unknowns.
As is true of most medications, you never know how a particular one is going to affect an individual. There are too many factors at play, internally and externally. On top of that, the full effects of antidepressants themselves are understood only up to a certain point.
It hadn’t been the goal of my research, but after reading Lost Connections by Johann Hari, it helped provide me the impetus I needed to talk to my psychiatrist about my regimen. The book starts with Johann’s own experience with having depression, being told it’s a result of a chemical imbalance in his brain, and his journey with medication. Like me, he felt an initial bump from the prescription but he was still depressed over time. After combing through countless studies on antidepressants, he learned that there was still a lot to be discussed and evaluated about the efficacy of antidepressant drugs.
I’m not ready to discount the merits of antidepressants, but considering that I became happy mostly based on my own self-help efforts over the years, I was ready and willing to try living without them.
After discussing with my psychiatrist, I started weening off of the antidepressants as the weeks went by. I was hyper-vigilant for any signs of withdrawal. In my case, and under my doctor’s guidance, it was surprisingly easy and painless. Weeks later, and still today, I’m completely off of my antidepressants and “me without meds” feels almost the same as “me on meds”.
I will caveat that a few of my family members knew that I was no longer on medication and they raised concerns that I’m more easily agitated that I was before. I’m not entirely convinced that this is true or a result of getting off the medication. I’m not discounting the fact that these may be connected, but there are also a ton of external factors at play.
I want to tread carefully on this issue and make myself very clear. I almost didn’t publish this blog post (at least, not in its entirety) because I was worried that it will be misconstrued as a call to toss out all of your medications and shun doctors. In case you missed my point entirely, I am not qualified to comment on whether or not any particular person should or should not take or continue taking medication. My point of sharing this story is to give an account of my experience with discontinuing antidepressants after almost 10 years. I’m sure there are people out there with their own stories of discontinuing antidepressants and having a negative experience – even withdrawal symptoms or falling back into a depressive state. My intention is not to minimize that.
Regardless, one thing is very clear to me. “Me without meds” is still a work in progress. There are still so many things I want to work on to improve myself even if I’m no longer depressed. Despite that, I’m proud of this step. Antidepressants are not something to be ashamed of, and they are often a necessary tool in the journey to happiness, but for me in my current state of mental health, it’s a good feeling to know that I can be happy without medication. I almost feel that all the work I’ve done on myself, naturally, is validated.
This isn’t a particularly long or scientific post, like most of my blog has been. It’s a step that I wanted to share. It’s a way to let people know that maybe we don’t have to resign ourselves to a reliance on pills. If they make you feel better or they don’t make you feel better, maybe it’s not the only way.
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