Natural Ways to Reduce Depression
Yes, Virginia, there really is an SSRI discontinuation syndrome.
For one reason or another, you may want to stop taking anti-depressants, or maybe you would like to avoid taking them in the first place and are looking for suggestions on how to alleviate depression naturally. I was motivated to stop taking SSRI drugs because I wanted to be as drug free as possible when I tried to get pregnant.
If you have been on anti-depressants for a while, it can be VERY difficult to get off. There are two possible reasons: you are experiencing a recurrence of the depression symptoms, or you are experiencing SSRI discontinuation syndrome. It can be hard to tell the difference between the two. In this lens I will explain what SSRI Discontinuation felt like, and how I became SSRI free.
Please talk to your doctor if you would like to get on or off anti-depressants. Everything that follows is my personal experience. I hope it is helpful and informative, but my experience can not substitute for medical advice, of course!
What is an SSRI?
SSRI stands for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor. It describes the action of a certain group of anti-depressants, including Zoloft and Prozac. These anti-depressants keep more serotonin floating around in your brain, which improves your mood. For more info on how SSRI's work, click on this link from the Mayo Clinic.
What is SSRI Discontinuation Syndrome - I just call it withdrawal.
SSRI discontinuation syndrome are the symptoms some people get when they stop taking SSRI's. It is not a recurrence of original symptoms, it is not your imagination, it is not PMS or a Bad Day. Don't let anyone tell you any different.
It is called 'discontinuation syndrome' because it is not technically a 'withdrawal' in the illicit, drug-seeking sense. But I call it withdrawal because I had severe, debilitating symptoms that were alleviated by resuming Zoloft.
Here is how I came to learn the difference:
I started taking Zoloft in college. After 2 or 3 years I stopped taking it, just to see if I still needed it. I didn't like the idea of being on a drug for the rest of my life if I didn't HAVE to be. Everything was fine for the first year without Zoloft. Then I started feeling the depression come down again. I restarted Zoloft.
Off and on over the next ten years I would try to get off Zoloft, without doctor supervision. I would miss a few days by accident, start to feel bad, so I would restart. Sometimes I would stop on purpose, and would last no more than a week before I had to get on it again. I thought: I guess I have to be on this for the rest of my life. I just accepted that fact and moved on.
A few years ago, I got a bee in my bonnet again and I wanted to get off Zoloft. Not because I wanted to get pregnant, just because I felt it was time for a change. I discussed it with my psychiatrist and she suggested tapering off Zoloft over a period of four weeks. Take half of my dosage for two weeks, then half of that for the next two weeks. I tried this, exactly as directed, and soon felt terrible, so I had to resume Zoloft.
I gradually came to the firm belief that what I was experiencing was NOT a recurrence of depression, but SSRI discontinuation syndrome. I went through it often enough to become very familiar with the symptoms.
Here is what my initial depression, before anti-depressants, felt like:
I was tired, unmotivated, listless, irritable, crying for no reason, walking around in a grey, numb fog.
Here is what SSRI discontinuation syndrome felt like:
Sometimes I got the zaps: literally feels like electric shocks in your brain. I did not want to live anymore. I didn't want to take my own life, I just prayed for death, I wanted the misery to be over. I cried a lot for the tiniest things, especially just from imagining someone being angry with me, even if they weren't. I mainly just felt terrible. A black despair, coupled with extreme anxiety. Worse than I had EVER felt in my life.
It seemed especially clear to me that there was a difference between SSRIDS and depression, because I had successfully stopped taking Zoloft for a year in college. That time I did not have those terrible symptoms. The recurrence of my depression at that time was gradual and subtle, not instantly debilitating.
It was only after taking Zoloft for about ten years that the SSRIDS started to occur.
Isn't that scary? If you take an SSRI long enough... something in your brain changes.
How I Got Off Zoloft
Operation Zoloft Free
Something in my brain had changed, and it seemed I could not get off of Zoloft. So whether I truly needed it or not, how would I ever know?
When my husband and I decided to try to get pregnant, I was determined to try one more time to get off of Zoloft. Now that I had a supportive partner to watch out for me, maybe I could do it. And I decided to do it like never before: I would do it with planning, patience and utter commitment.
Here's how I did it.
1. I made a serious commitment to getting off. I was willing to commit to "Operation Zoloft Free" for at least a year.
2. I had a supportive partner who was also committed to walk with me through this for a year. I warned him about all the possible symptoms I would experience and the strain it may put on our marriage.
3. I accepted the possible symptoms that were to come. I expected to feel more irritable, impatient, sensitive, weepy, overwhelmed, anxious, etc. I decided it was worth it.
4. I chose the taper off over the course of a year. Very, very slowly. This was my attempt to reduce the withdrawal symptoms to a manageable level, and give my brain a chance to adjust (if the brain vs. Zoloft can be discussed in such a way: I don't know).
5. I was going to support my cringing brain with nutritional and vitamin supplements. Be careful here, you can't just start mixing a bunch of supplements with an SSRI in your system. Do not mix SSRI's with St. John's Wort, for example. Or so I've heard. Like I said, I've no medical anything, this is my personal experience.
4. I sliced off the tip of about 30 pills. If you don't do it ahead of time, you might not do it all, if you are in any of the same kind of rush I am in the morning. And I mean I cut off the very, very tip of the pill: my tips were 1 to 2 millimeters wide. I saved the tips for later use. I took the pills without tips for a month, while at the same time taking Vitamin B complex, organic spirulina and fish oil. Almost every night I would eat a potato. During the month of doing this, I don't think I felt any withdrawal symptoms at all.
5. The following month I sliced off a quarter of the pill and took that, while still taking Vitamin B, spirulina, fish oil and potato. At this point I started to feel the effects. I was more irritable and unmotivated, but by no means wishing for death. It was manageable.
6. I kept going on the 3/4 pill for about 2 months, until I didn't feel the withdrawal symptoms as much.
7. When I felt pretty good, I moved on to taking half a pill, and continued my supplements and potato. Again, I felt some depression, anxiety and irritability, but it was manageable.
8. I continued like this for about 8 months: cut off a little more than before and take that dosage until the withdrawal symptoms ease, then move down to the next step.
After 8 months, I took the leap. I stopped taking Zoloft altogether, while continuing with supplements and the potato. I have been Zoloft free for six months now, and I feel fine! I got off Zoloft without the horrible withdrawal symptoms!
Potatoes Not Prozac - A nutritional path to healing
This book has been one of the most influential in my recovery from depression and anti-depressants. This book is the reason I ate a potato every night. The potato really did work- my mood was much better the day after eating a potato.
This book is full of useful information about how what you eat affects your mood. The book talks a lot about sugar and losing weight, but don't be fooled. It is extremely helpful for depression and general nutritional advice, too.
Nutritional Supplements to Help Depression
I took fish oil, organic spirulina and Vitamin B Complex. You can get these supplements almost anywhere, I like to get them from Trader Joe's. And of course, don't forget to eat your potatoes.
Spirulina is a blue-green algae. It is a complete protein and rich in vitamins and minerals. One of the essential amino acids that it contains is tryptophan, which is used to make serotonin. It also contains phenylalanine, which is a precursor to dopamine. Serotinin and dopamine are essential neurotransmitters for maintaining a sense of well-being.
The Iron Connection
Are you getting enough iron?
This is how I stumbled upon this. I can't believe no one told me this before, or that I didn't already read it somewhere.
I had a day where I felt particularly tired. Physically tired. I had a decent nights sleep, but my usual tasks seemed especially tiring. My muscles actually felt a bit weak. And I was extra grumpy. And that night I had restless legs that kept me up for hours. I can't remember a time when my legs were so bad.
I thought: maybe I have restless leg syndrome. So I looked up the causes and saw that iron deficiency can play a part. I looked at a list of iron-rich foods and realized I had not eaten much of them at all for a while. *Then* I looked up symptoms of iron deficiency (or anemia) and boom: restless legs, irritability and weakness. That, coupled with it being that time of the month made me realize: I need iron!!!
Since feeling tired and being irritable can be symptoms of depression, it might be worth looking at your iron intake.
Iron rich foods include meat, spinach, and beans.