In this three part series, one of our avid TUS readers (with a background in mental health) shares with us her journey through anxiety and depression and how she found peace in natural remedies. Perhaps this story is yours. If you are struggling with anxiety and depression or know someone close to you that is, please share this series. If you are just joining us, please read Part I here: A Journey from Darkness to Light.
By: N. Chartier
By: N. Chartier
“Depressed? Of course we’re all depressed. We’ve been so quickly, violently and irreconcilably plucked from nature, from physical labor, from kinship and village mentality, from every natural and primordial antidepressant. The further society ‘progresses’, the grander the scale of imbalance. Just as fluoride is put in water to prevent dental caries, we’ll soon find the government mandating Prozac in our water to prevent mental caries”- M. Robin D’ Antan
Disclaimer: Drug types are used rather than brand names of the actual medications in order to protect the drug companies.
I began suffering severe anxiety attacks after I graduated college and dealt with it the only way I knew how; drinking after work and on the weekends, crying while getting ready for work each day, and faking it. I did everything I could to hide the fact that I was suffering on the inside so that I wouldn’t have to talk about it because I was tired of being asked, “What do you have to be depressed about? Why do you worry so much?” It was as if I wasn’t justified in feeling the way I did. Through work and through my education I learned that worrying becomes a “disorder” when it starts affecting your daily life and when you start rearranging your life around your anxiety or worry. I definitely fit in that “disorder” category.
I finally received my insurance six months into my career and immediately began searching for a psychiatrist in my area who accepted my insurance plan. Once I found one, I scheduled an appointment right away. I was told I would be seeing an Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner (ARNP) named Betty. I questioned whether I should be seeing the actual psychiatrist. However, I was informed that ARNP’s see most of the patients in the practice and that I had nothing to worry about.
The day of my appointment came, and I arrived as nervous as ever. But I was eager to meet my ARNP, Betty, and find out how she could help me. She spent approximately 15 or 20 minutes asking me general questions about my life, my anxiety, depression, work environment and relationships. I explained that I had been having panic attacks and that my anxiety had impacted me to the point that it was extremely difficult to leave the house. She looked at me and said, “You’re depressed. I can see it in your eyes. You look sad.” Puzzled, I looked at her with all due respect and questioned, really?
I had never thought of myself as a “depressed” person. I knew I was a neurotic, anxiety-ridden mess, but rarely depressed. I explained that I only get depressed after I spend hours worrying over nothing. Betty told me about a popular Selective Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitor or SNRI, and told me it combats depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She also told me success stories about other patients who took this particular SNRI and really sold me on it (without, of course, telling me any of the bad things, like side effects). In addition, she gave me a prescription for a benzodiazepine (benzo) used to treat the onset of anxiety on an as needed basis.
I left her office excited to finally have the solution to my problem in hand. I drove to the closest pharmacy to have my prescriptions filled. Right away, I took one of the half-milligram benzo tablets and then read through all of the warnings and instructions on both medications. I decided I would start taking the SNRI the next morning. Little did I know that by starting these medications, I was headed down a path of isolation, major depression, suicidal ideation, “needing” several additional medications, and a trip to the emergency room.
The first month taking the medications was great. I had less anxiety, and I was actually excited about meeting my neighbors and going out again. Unfortunately though, the relationship I was in ended around the same time I went back for my second appointment. I was suffering situational depression, something completely normal, but was told to deal with it by taking more medicine! My ARNP doubled my dose of the SNRI from 75mg to 150mg, doubled my dose of the benzo, plus added another anti-anxiety medication. I had only been taking the medications for a month, and I was told it takes about 6-12 weeks for the medications to achieve their therapeutic effect, so I had hope my mood would improve with time.
Several weeks passed while I continued on the medications. I quickly reached a point of not being able to care about anything. I became more depressed, and the medications numbed my ability to feel happy. It inhibited my sense of control and my ability to care about myself and the things that were always important to me. By November of that year I was too depressed to go see my family for Thanksgiving and instead stayed alone in my apartment in Naples, which was SO out of character for me. My depression was getting worse but I could not understand it because I was taking a heavy dose of an antidepressant plus two anti-anxiety medications.
I went back to see the ARNP and told her that I was having horrible spells of deep depression; it worse than anything I had before starting the medicine so she added a second antidepressant medication to my regimen. I was now taking four medications, but guess what? My depression kept getting worse. I went through bouts of depression mixed with what I would call my baseline mood, which was a “blah” sort of state of going through the motions. I wasn’t happy by any means. I wasn’t sad in between my spells of major depression either. I just wasn’t ME. I only existed as time passed me by.
A point in time came when it was becoming too expensive to keep up with my medications each month so I asked about a more affordable alternative. Plus, the SNRI obviously wasn’t working. Betty prescribed a different antidepressant, a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor, or SSRI, and gave me a weaning schedule for the SNRI. I would slowly taper off the SNRI while integrating the SSRI. The morning after my first day only taking the SSRI, I was in the emergency room. I had severe withdrawal from the original antidepressant and a bad reaction to the new one. I was physically and psychologically tortured, and I wanted to die. I don’t know if I would have lived through it if I didn’t have my roommate take me to the hospital.
The psychiatrist from Betty’s office came to see me at the hospital and put me right back on 150mg of the original SNRI, and I was monitored there for five days. The meds were so sedating that at one point my blood pressure read 70/37! After this experience, the reality set in that I might have to take this medication for the rest of my life.
The months came and went, and I continued to take my psychotropic cocktail as instructed. I functioned as best as I could. I had bouts of severe depression unlike anything I had prior to taking medications. Instead of seeing the nurse practitioner, the Psychiatrist decided she would start seeing me now for my appointments. My appointment times got shorter. Meaningful questions about how I was feeling were fewer. My appointments became about the psychiatrist trying to convince me to increase my dosages. I began to wonder what stake she had in me taking more medication. Nearly two years later I would find that out when I read the book Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry is Medicating a Nation by Charles Barber. But, prior to that point, I continued to take the meds and my health began to deteriorate.
In addition to an increase in depression severity, I also developed a number of health problems. I was diagnosed with Vertigo. I had night sweats, restless legs, tremors, exhaustion, memory loss, stiff muscles, a tight jaw, increased suicidal thoughts and ideation, a loss of the ability to find pleasure in anything, the inability to feel sad when appropriate, and so on. My hands shook so much that I couldn’t hold a drink without spilling it half of the time. I was no longer myself, and my family was noticing.
About a year after I tried to wean off the SNRI for the first time, I found out I was pregnant. I immediately stopped taking the benzos and began to wean off the antidepressant, again, under my Psychiatrist’s supervision. Within 3 days of not taking it, I was forced to start taking it again because the withdrawal symptoms were tremendous and unbearable. I couldn’t eat. I was having “brain zaps.” I could not concentrate. My joints ached. I began to do research and scheduled another appointment with the Psychiatrist. I was told that withdrawals can actually be worse on the unborn baby than taking the medication, so I continued to take a low dose throughout my pregnancy. Thankfully, my daughter was born healthy but the guilt I felt for taking the drug while pregnant was immense. My doctor wanted to increase my dose back to 150mg after my daughter was born in order to prevent post partum depression, which I wouldn’t agree to because I wasn’t depressed. It was at this point that I began to see psychiatry as a business, and I began researching natural alternatives…