Water Fast Post #9: An Antidepressant Story

I’m told by my suitemate, the male half of the New Jersey couple that knows a little about everything, that one of the side effects of fasting is increased energy and the need for less sleep. The idea, I guess, is that once you take digestion out of the equation, you save tremendous energy.

I know this because he expressed surprise that I had slept so late when he knocked at my door announcing a “friendly” wake up call at 9am the morning of my third day at True North.

I’m instantly irritated. I’m not hungry this morning, but I might be suffering the cranky effects of low blood sugar, because I could very well strangle this man. If I can’t do anything; I might as well sleep. Further, one of the health issues I’ve been facing for the better part of a decade is low energy. So I might as well go with it, as where on God’s Green Earth but True North Health Center should you sleep the day away??

But I’m wide awake now. And noticing a few other fasting symptom: Dizziness and a headache.

I make my way over to breakfast, for lack of anything better to do. And when I say breakfast, I should clarify that it’s everyone else’s breakfast – I drink my water (from the hot tap this time). There, I sit down next to Dr. Alan Goldhamer, the founder of True North. One thing that impresses me is just how accessible the medical staff is here; it is not unusual to strike up a conversation about your health with your doctor at the lunch table.

Dr. Goldhammer, whom I’ve heard referred to as “The Hammer” is a straight shooting, no holds barred, wealth of information delivered with a dose of hilarity. A man after my own heart.

As I listen to his conversation at the breakfast table, I remember a few weeks prior, when I had spoken to him on the phone seeking a 2nd opinion regarding some miserable withdrawal symptoms I was having while weaning myself off prescription medication. Even though I had clearly stated to my current Seattle doctor that my goal was NOT to be taking pharmaceuticals, her solution to the symptoms I was having was to suggest a second prescription to counteract the effects of withdrawing from the first prescription.

The irony.

Hammer, on the other hand, told me like it was: “You are in hell. There’s nothing to do but put your head down and get through it. No pill is going to make this easier; it’s up to you to heal yourself.”

At the time, it was just what I needed to hear, as it was one of the few experiences I had where a medical professional didn’t try to solve a problem by throwing a pharmaceutical at it. I knew right then I was heading to the right place, as I was starting to put the pieces together that prescription medication use might be one of the things making (or at least keeping) me feeling rotten, for I had never been less vital than in the 12 years that I had been on medication.

Several years ago, I recall Oprah, in struggle with thyroid disease, saying “getting off medication was the beginning of my road back to health.”  For some reason, that resonated with me; it took me a few years, but intuitively I felt that if I could clean the pharmacy out of my system, my body might just know what to do on its own.

This was my impetus of going to True North: Not only to try to get my health back, but to detox my body of the decade of daily prescription use.

Warnings and Caveats

Caveat: I’m going to talk about antidepressants now, which historically has been a source of shame and secrecy among folks who take them. I’ve wanted to write about them for a while– but again, the shame and secrecy. What has encouraged me to go ahead and bare all is a statistic I came across in a Harvard Medical Study that reports 1 in 10 Americans are currently taking some form of antidepressant, 70 percent of them women. An astounding 1 in 4 women between the ages of 35-50 currently swallows a daily SSRI pill.

Based on our clientele at Twist Yoga, I’m thinking that that I am not alone in antidepressant use. You?

My antidepressant story

I was seeing a therapist in my early 30s – working out typical early 30s neurosis around relationships and careers– when she suggested I start antidepressants. Although admittedly I was depressed (mildly; not anything drastic), I was vehemently opposed. Weren’t pills for the mentally ill? Certainly I couldn’t – wouldn’t – identify with mentally unstable people.

Several weeks later, she broached the subject again: “Are you sure? The “new generation” of SSRIs has come along was since the Prozac of yesterday,” I recall her saying. “How bout you just take them for a little while… until you can get control of your depression and work through some things?”

So I left that day in 2002 with a prescription for 10 mgs of Celexa. What made me feel better about things was the fact that my therapist had made sure I knew I was taking a “really low dose” and it was just temporary.

Just temporary.

…. Fast forward TWELVE years, to March of this year, when I was still taking my daily Celexa.

Several times over the past decade I’d considered going off of them. Pregnancy was one of those times; but I was so sick with severe (all day every day) morning sickness that my doctor advised against it, saying she didn’t want me depressed while pregnant – plus, as she said, I was practically on a “homeopathic dose.”

Thankfully, Claire was born healthy and so far unaffected.

Several other times I’d considered quitting – like the time I visited my doctor two years ago, exhausted and moderately depressed, and told her I wanted to get off the medication because I didn’t feel it was working any longer.  She not only advised against it, but encouraged me to add Abilify to my daily pill arsenal; an additional antidepressant that is cleverly marketed by the pharma companies as an “add-on treatment for adults with depression when an antidepressant alone is not enough.”   I balked at that, conceding to instead double my current dosage… DESPITE my gut feeling that I shouldn’t do so.

I was overwhelmed by the idea of stopping the medication. I wanted to quit, especially when I had an inkling they weren’t making a difference, but the inertia of stopping swallowing a daily pill was too strong. Plus, my doctors had continually warned me that withdrawal was terrible, and heard multiple concerns of depression returning.

I’m not trying to play the victim here; I could’ve insisted. But the negative aspects of taking them (addiction, side effects, avoiding withdrawals) hadn’t yet overtaken the positive aspects of quitting…. Yet.

What gave me the kick in the ass I needed to quit was when the folks at True North told me that I couldn’t participate in a water fast unless I was prescription medication free.  The only medication they allow water fasters to continue is Synthroid, a synthetic thyroid hormone that ironically, I take as well.  They recommended this book, which I purchased immediately and didn’t put down until I had finished.

Disgusted and horrified with what I had read, that very night I cut my dosage in half, and over the next several weeks, proceeded to wean myself off a decade long addiction to SSRIs.

Then, I spent a week in antidepressant withdrawals: Brain zaps, dizziness, confusion, fatigue.

As of now, the physical withdrawals sometimes linger, three months after the fact. But they are mild and tolerable.   And guess what?? My depression hasn’t returned, mentally I feel better than I have in years, I am back to feeling all ranges of emotions – happiness and sadness – and am absolutely thrilled to not be numbing myself with a pill.

It took 12 years for me to finally quit antidepressants. Reading Anatomy of an Epidemic was the thing that jolted me out of my intertia. No judgment here, I know people whose prescriptions medication is a lifeline, and they do very well on them.  But if you are taking or considering taking mental health drugs, are a mental health professional or your children are considering or currently taking mental health drugs, I strongly recommend reading this book, if only for another perspective on the topic.

And if you do decide to make some changes, definitely seek medical advice before you stop taking any medication.

Oh, and withdraws? Yes, they sucked. But should you and your doctor decide to do so, you are strong enough to get through them.


Disclaimer: Do not attempt to do a fast of any sort without the support of a medical doctor. Before starting any new diet and exercise program please check with your doctor and clear any exercise, medication and/or diet changes with them before beginning. I am not a doctor or registered dietitian. I do not claim to cure any cause, condition or disease. I do not provide medical aid or nutrition for the purpose of health or disease and claim to be a doctor or dietitian.

This is merely an opinion blog. The information held on this blog is merely the opinion of a laymen individual. The information covered in this blog is open to public domain for discussion and in no way breaches or breaks the boundaries of the law in any state of the the United States of America where I live. I am not a doctor nor do I claim to have any formal medical background. I am not liable, either expressly or in an implied manner, nor claim any responsibility for any emotional or physical problems that may occur directly or indirectly from reading this blog.