Are you depressed and looking for health and happiness?
So was I.
In 2016 I had been under the grey cloud of depression for much of my adult life. I was prescribed my first antidepressant medication in 1988. Since that time I had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder and then persistent depressive disorder.
By then (2016) I had been on over ten kinds of antidepressant medications in varying doses and in several combinations.
And they weren’t working!
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Under the guidance of a psychiatrist, I was first prescribed Amitriptyline in 1988. We lived in eastern Oregon at the time. I took the Amitriptyline for a short time but discontinued it because of the unpleasant side effects.
Several years later, while working on a sheep ranch in Wisconsin, I was given free sample bottles of one of the newer antidepressants. We were without health insurance at the time and couldn’t afford medications so we cut the pills up into little pieces and spread them out over many months.
In 1998 we moved to Minnesota and I got health insurance coverage. Thereafter, I was prescribed Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Lexapro, Effexor, Celexa, Wellbutrin, Viibryd, and Abilify at various doses and in various combinations. (Those are the ones I can remember.)
Many of these drugs showed promise in lifting the dark cloud of depression for a time — and then the depression would return.
Med reduction, diet, or lifestyle changes were never suggested by my doctors; new meds, larger doses, or different combinations of the drugs were the only options offered.
Medications Not Working
In February of 2016, I was on a combination of two antidepressants at high doses: 450 mg. Wellbutrin and 40mg. Viibryd.
10 mg. of Abilify, an antipsychotic, were added due to an emotional meltdown.
Adderall, a stimulant amphetamine was then added to the mix because I was now so drugged that I couldn’t stay awake without it.
I was assured that at the low dose of 20 mg., the amphetamine would not be addictive.
It was becoming increasingly difficult just to show up for work, and to do my job.
While the antidepressant medications numbed the emotional pain, they also numbed joy, happiness, love, and things like creativity and interpersonal connection.
Psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry were having a field day.
But I wasn’t.
On several occasions when I tried quitting the medications, an unbearable dark cloud would descend over me. I tried tapering off the meds slowly but eventually could not continue to do so.
I tried seeing a number of psychologists. One was helpful.
This psychologist helped me identify conflicting beliefs in my life. This person also brought the therapy sessions to a close stating that they didn’t see anything more to cover with me in therapy.
I was told: Your type of depression is biological.
The psychologist strongly recommended I submit to a series of electroconvulsive therapies (electrical shocks delivered to the brain under general anesthesia.)
I declined the shock therapy.
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My personality had become flat. My wife was much more aware of this change than I was. This phenomenon is called anosognosia. I was having short-term memory problems, disengagement from relationships, and irritability, but I was not acutely aware of it.
My dependence on the medications for my emotional stability was very humiliating.
At this time of greatest humiliation, whether or not we would continue to have health insurance was called into serious question.
Our health insurance premium was to be $1410/mo. My salary where I was working as a job-coach in supported employment was $2000 a month.
I decided to look into the cost of the drugs on which my life now seemed to depend.
I was shocked to learn how much the psychoactive drugs were costing my insurance company.
$3, 833 per month!
I told my psychiatrist that my drugs were costing more than I was worth. She smiled and patted me reassuringly on the shoulder as I walked out of the room.
Fortunately, Minnesota subsidized our insurance premium for another year and we continued to have coverage. But I wasn’t confident the health insurance crisis would be solved over the long term — and it was clear we could not afford my medications without health insurance.
What would happen to me if we lost our insurance?
After about two weeks on the supposedly “non-addicting small dose” of amphetamine, I inadvertently missed a dose and experienced what were clearly drug addiction withdrawal symptoms.
I began tapering myself off the drug over the next several weeks. I could not lay still to sleep at night. It felt rather like spiders were crawling up-and-down the insides of my bones.
I paced around-and-around our house all night — night-after-night — to keep the horrible feeling away.
(This is the drug that is regularly being prescribed to restless school children. The common brand name is Adderall.)
My dad had passed away from what we were told was Alzheimer’s disease.
I learned later that many so-called Alzheimer’s deaths are thought to be linked to the overprescribing of medications.
My Dad was on a basketful of pills for many years.
Dad put his trust in specialists. He sought out the very best. He stood in awe of credentialed professionals (he lacked a formal education himself.) He worked for a corporation that provided “good” health insurance coverage.
He made regular visits to doctors.
Unfortunately, specialists tend to see not the whole ocean that makes up a man. They see only the part of the man that makes up their specialty. They hold that part, like a glass of salt water, up to the light.
I thought it peculiar that at the time of Dads’ death that he still knew who I was. This was not typical of what I’d heard about Alzheimer’s disease.
A basket full of pills is called polypharmacy. It is a serious problem. Many of our loved ones are suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s-like symptoms because of it.
It is neither expedient, feasible nor ethical to study the long-term effects of taking a basket full of pills. Lacking scientific studies, I believe the problem is too frequently overlooked.
Though I was not on the same kinds of medications as my Dad I was beginning to have many of the same kinds of symptoms that he experienced.
I was frequently dizzy and I was having difficulty keeping up with the demands of our labor-intensive homestead. Falling as I went about my work on the farm had become a common occurrence. My mind was failing. I couldn’t carry an intelligent conversation. I couldn’t remember my wife’s birthday.
It seemed I was on a journey that starts with a cane, progresses to a walker, a wheelchair, bed rails, and death.
This was the road Dad had traveled down.
Would I even make it to retirement?
We sold our small farm and moved to a less demanding home in town.
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A Paradigm Shift
That fall and winter, after my daytime job in supported-employment, as a job-coach, I had time on my hands. As a distraction, I developed an interest in old art that depicts the mostly agrarian and pastoral ways of life of my European ancestors. I started a Pinterest site that I named “An Idyllic Life” and I collected old paintings there.
Through the art, I witnessed people living wholesome, fulfilling — and medication free lives.
It was thought-provoking.
At the same time, I found several sources of information about the harmful effects of our modern adulterated foods, sedentary lifestyles, and toxic environments. I also found new information on the overuse of harmful psychiatric medications. Many of these things rang true with my basic philosophy of life, but I hadn’t really embraced them.
I discovered people who had embraced these ideas and who had gotten off their psychiatric medications.
They were experiencing a new lease on life.
With my wife’s outstanding support we began to make the further lifestyle changes I needed. We had believed we already lived a healthy lifestyle, but there was more to do.
With new confidence, I began tapering off my medications in February of 2016.
20-months later I took the last tiny dose of antidepressant medication. The date was October 17, 2017.
A day of victory!
I am currently free from the relentless grip of depression, and I am recovering from the side effects of the medications I had been on.
Over the past year of my withdrawal and cessation, my persistent depression has dissipated.
In relation to where I was, my thinking has cleared.
My dizziness and frequent falling are nearly gone. I am again able to experience the full range of human emotions. I am again able to make conversation. I can write again. I can sing again. My arthritis is gone. I have lost 29 pounds. My blood tests have improved in every area tested.
I am currently going through a rebound and am dealing in a healthy way with grief that has been put on hold for years. I am beginning to see the degree of cognitive decline I had experienced on the medications and was largely unaware of.
Every new day is a blessing.
I have new tools to work with. Ones that are wholesome, healthy and sustainable.
Unadulterated whole foods, fresh air, exercise, rest, peace of mind, love, and an appreciation for beauty; these are the essential ingredients for healing.
I am no longer dependant on a subsidized health insurance policy, a licensed mental-health professional, or a pharmacy full of costly drugs.