Nine years ago I decided to wean off all my meds and take natural supplements instead.
One evening I was fixing a magnesium concoction, chatting with a friend. We were talking about my depression, and this new holistic route I was taking.
“You have everything you need inside you to get better,” she said.
Yeah, I suppose I do, I thought. I mean, why would God create you with some missing pieces?
A few months later my husband found me in our bedroom closet, in a fetal position, unable to move. I was horribly depressed and hiding from the kids. He begged me to change courses, to go to Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Clinic for a consultation.
I was stubborn and wouldn’t budge. I was positive that I had everything within me that I needed to get better.
Then his voice cracked and he started crying.
“Please,” he begged me. “Do this for me.”
So I started taking pills again.
It was like the scene in the movie, “As Good As It Gets,” when Melvin (Jack Nicholson) takes Carol (Helen Hunt) out to a nice restaurant. Melvin says to her:
I’ve got this…what?…ailment. My doctor, this shrink I used to go to all the time…he says in 50 to 60 percent of the cases a pill really helps. Now I hate pills. Very dangerous things, pills. I am using the word hate here with pills. Hate ’em. Anyway I never took them…then that night when you came over and said that you would never…well, you were there, you know what you said. And here’s the compliment. That next morning, I took the pills.
Like Melvin, I hate pills. I hate them so much. I prefer looking for jewelry in my dog’s crap than taking prescriptions. However, the people I care about the most tell me that I’m easier to be around when I’m taking medication.
A few months ago, I was talking to my best friend from college. She has experienced 25 years of my mood swings, so her assessment of my mental health is extremely valuable to me. Our history allows her to place my meltdowns and freak-outs in a context that even my doctor and therapist can’t. Plus, her perspective is always interesting because she is no lover of medicine. She treats every ailment of hers and her kids holistically, with this kind of herb or that type of extract, which I’ve grown to respect.
I had just been to see a new functional doctor, who sent me home with a list of 26 supplementsthat would treat the underlying causes of my depression and anxiety. The plan was to start weaning myself off of my antidepressants and mood stabilizer over the course of the next six months, and rely solely on SAMe, Vitamin B-12, NatureThyroid, and some intestinal health support to treat my mood dips.
“But you seem good right now,” she said.
“I’m not that good. I still want to die,” I responded.
“But maybe you want to die less?” she laughed.
“I just need to get over my fear of not taking the meds,” I said. I was picturing the scene in the closet. There was a pause, which I didn’t really understand, because I know her philosophy on pills.
“Maybe you need to get over the fear of taking the meds,” she said. She went on to explain that, over the years, I have seemed more resilient when I was on the right medication combination, and that she thought my psychiatrist was very good, that I was okay to trust her.
I never thought of it that way: That I was afraid of taking the meds. I always presumed I was scared to NOT take the meds, to make that jump out of the plane — not knowing if my non-pharmaceutical parachute would work — that I was a wimp, inept at training my brain to think positive, and therefore had to take the synthetic stuff.
Obviously, the fear of taking medication is far more prevalent than the fear of not taking medication.
“I’d like to make the obvious point that I don’t think is made often enough,” said Kay Redfield Jamison, PhD, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins 21st Annual Mood Disorders/Education Symposium, “which is that it doesn’t do any good to have effective medications for an illness if people don’t take them.”
She went on to say that a little less than half of bipolar patients do not take their medications as prescribed.
I was never crazy about taking meds, of course. I fought my college therapist for 18 months before I finally gave in taking Zoloft. But moving to an affluent town on the East Coast (Annapolis), where people have the disposable income to throw at holistic experiments, has made it even more challenging. Aside from my husband and my psychiatrist, I don’t have anyone around me who REALLY believes there is such a thing as a severe mood disorder that can be life-threatening if you don’t treat it effectively, ideally with medication and other supplements (plus other things like exercise and therapy). Most folks here adhere to a philosophy that medication only masks the symptoms, and a person can’t really heal or get to the underlying causes of depression or anxiety until she is off the toxins.
Zoloft and Lithium, in other words, are lame Band-Aids.
Just the other day, for example, a well-intentioned friend approached me about seeing a healer-chiropractor who apparently can only do reiki if a person is not on meds.
“Any sort of synthetic drug blocks the energy so she can’t get through,” my friend explained matter-of-factly.
She is a kind woman with a good heart. I know she’s not trying to insult me. But those types of remarks pour salt on a wound that is forever fresh. Because part of me thinks she’s right. There’s a voice inside of me that won’t believe bipolar disorder is legitimate and that drugs like Zoloft and Lithium aren’t cop-outs.
A child psychologist I met with yesterday was explaining the two voices inside of every kid (and I add adult), and how it can prove very difficult to move forward until we totally abolish the “You suck” voice from our heads.
“Believing it just a little is going to elicit almost as much anxiety as believing it a lot,” she said.
I think she’s right. My real battle does not exist with people on the East Cost (or West Coast) who don’t get depression or bipolar disorder. The war is within myself. I must kick the little self-doubting turd out of mind and believe that I am on the right path, that all of the sweat and tears and research and hard work of the last 43 years have guided me there.
I must believe in my own wisdom: That even though I can’t always feel the benefits of medication, that they must remain a part of my treatment plan for now.
I must trust my truth, as difficult as that can be when you live in a place like Annapolis.