Depression runs in our family. You have a chemical imbalance” was a mantra I was often told. “Your grandmother suffered. You remind me of her.”
At age fifteen I visited the psychiatrist for the first time. I went because was exhibiting some OCD behavior but was soon diagnosed as depressed after about five minutes in his office. He scribbled a script for Prozac and I was on my way. I can’t remember if it worked or not, but eventually it was determined that I should try another anti-depressant instead. After exhibiting side effects from the pills such as fatigue and more anxiety, some supplementary meds were added on to my routine.
There began a game of Russian Roulette of different SSRIs and sleeping pills to get the right combination to find what worked for me. I also tacked on a diagnosis for a learning disability and attempted to add more medication to my routine. Focusing had become nearly impossible, I wasn’t able to retain any information in school. I was involved with some activities here and there, but I was always exhausted. No matter how hard I worked, my grades suffered. Eventually, I mostly stopped trying. My grades started slipping. Small projects were overwhelming. My time at school oscillated between experiencing panic attacks and feeling apathetic, helpless, hopeless, lonely. I binged on sugar, snacks anything to provide brief comfort. I napped constantly. When I awoke I felt empty. My doctors kept prompting me to find solutions in another pill.
The diagnosis followed me to college where I felt out of control with racing thoughts and anxiety. Time to change my medication again! However, this time was the worst it had ever been. My sophomore year I had to be admitted McLean Hospital in Massachusetts for self-harm with suicidal intent which happened in between a change of medications. One of the side effects for the new medication turned out to be “Increased suicidal thoughts.”
I was released from McLean into their outpatient program. Added more medication of course…but this time I was introduced to structuring and mind mapping tools such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This tool as very helpful. Finally, I had a way of coping with the thoughts that were driving me into darker places.
However, fell back to a baseline of survival- my usual surviving but not thriving, exhausted. My felt as though it wasn’t performing optimally. I still found things immensely difficult, and I felt numb yet anxious and scattered. Holding down hold jobs felt impossible. Relationships suffered. My sex drive was nonexistent. I still had brain fog and difficulty retaining information. My psychiatrist again prompted me to change and add more medication, but I was done with the experimentation at this point and refused any additional pills. I was sick of this repetitive story.
“Is this just my reality? Is this the kind of subpar life I’d just have to accept?”
My mind rehearsed a familiar scene. “Go off the drugs, this isn’t the way it should be, there is something else.”
I tried to wean myself off a few times with little result. (The truth is, I didn’t know what I was doing, and was receiving no assistance.) Again, I would spiral into darker places accompanied by my old friends, insomnia, anxiety, indecision and suicidal thoughts.
“Would I have to be on these drugs forever?”
“Yes,” was the answer I was frequently told by my psychiatrist. “You tried to be without them and you couldn’t do it, at that point we say you need them.” At this point I had been on drugs for about ten years. I don’t think my brain remembered functioning without them, so of course I needed them.
I continued to deal with ups and downs, the apathy and the numbness. Relationships ended, dreams were put on the back burner as I suffered.
I was constantly in the market for another solution. Why was I so tired all the time? I’d wake up and be tired. I took long naps throughout the day. I started feeling as though I was nutritionally deficient in something. I attempted to seek help from my doctor for answers but found him severely lacking in nutritional information.
Unable to rely on doctors, I began to seek my own answers.
Slowly, inch by inch, I began to start taking my power back. I started elimination diets, researching inflammatory and processed foods. Eventually without thinking, I began making substitutions. My energy began improving. Stomach issues I had been experiencing such as IBS, acid reflux and general queasiness began to disappear. Nutrition became a very fascinating subject. There was so little we seemed to know in comparison to what we were traditionally taught. I enrolled in the Institute of Transformational Nutrition. My dietary changes were helping me, I was less fatigued. I but I didn’t quite know what to do with the information I was learning or how it all fit in. Still, I submitted to the idea that even with these changes, I would still be on the drugs forever. I believed that eating could help my fatigue, but it would never help in with my depression and mental state. This is a chemical issue that could never be fixed, I thought.
Finally, my mother, a nurse, and a long-time advocate of” healthy eating” stumbled across an interview with Dr. Kelly Brogan, a woman’s health psychiatrist whose specialty was weaning her patients off anti-depressants through a complete overhaul of their diet and lifestyle using a paleo approach.
Her mindset was that depression was a symptom…not a state.
This statement moved everything into place for me. I had been viewing myself as “a depressed person” my whole adult life, my symptoms were the byproduct of something greater. Repeatedly I heard the words “food is medicine” and I began to heal myself through food and dedicated self-care. Hope and possibility, feelings that I had long forgotten were returning. I was validated by her findings.
I realized that the solutions to depression, anxiety and fatigue were met by a consistent holistic approach. If my body was trying to tell me something, I would start listening to what it needed.