Editor’s Note: We published David’s personal story, ‘My Story and My Fight Against Antidepressants,’ in October 2013 and it continues, today, to be one of our most read pieces. Here is the story of what’s unfolded for David since that time.
Unfortunately or fortunately—sometimes it is hard to tell with life—my story and my battle continue. In January 2014, I had some major setbacks and made the decision to restart antidepressants.
I’d made a rather large life change by taking on a new job that was entirely different from my previous career: I went from counseling and engaging with people all day long to staring at a computer screen with not much work to do. I tried everything to stay positive and cope with the changes, but it was just too much. At that stage I’d not yet heard about The Road Back programme or supplements that could assist the brain and body with major anxiety and/or withdrawals from antidepressant medication. To describe to you the anguish I felt at the thought of having to take Prozac again is impossible. Having to go back onto antidepressants because my anxiety at the job change, coupled with the relationship breakup and issues of not being able to see my daughter very often became too much and led to me feeling depressed again.
At that stage I was desperate and my mind was in a mental fog. I remember holding the Prozac tablet in my hand and feeling like it symbolized my abject failure as I swallowed it down with a gulp of water. I didn’t know what else to do. I had been practicing the tools of exercise and CBT but I had nothing for my brain or body to assist it with this additional strain so soon after coming off the antidepressants for the first time in nine years. So with my desperation and need to be ok and get back to work, I took the Prozac. And it didn’t work at all. In fact, it made me ten times worse. I felt like my mind was lost. I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t think one positive thought. I felt even more depressed after I battled through going back on again for four weeks. I knew it wasn’t working and so reluctantly went back to the psychiatrist who told me to go back onto Cymbalta.
And so I did, and at first it didn’t help that much so I had to increase it to double the dose (120mg) and then the depressed feelings started to lift but I was plagued with anxiety. More anxiety than I have ever experienced in my life. I kept thinking that my life must be the cause of all this anxiety. I kept looking for the cause being my finances or lack of relationship or the fact that I was now a single dad to my two boys and my little girl.
But as days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months it just didn’t sit well with me that I was constantly in a state of anxiety. And then one day it dawned on me. Cymbalta is an SNRI. It works on serotonin and noradrenalin/norepinephrine. It’s basically like giving yourself a shot of adrenalin each morning—I imagine the pharmaceutical companies think this is good as it lifts people out of the demotivated and lethargic state of depression—but what do you think it does for people who have a tendency to feel anxious? Of course it sky rockets your anxiety out of all proportion. And then guess what happens when you try to withdraw or taper from it… Suddenly, your body and brain no longer have that shot of adrenalin they’re used to, and you crash.
When I dropped from 120mg to 60mg (which I wouldn’t recommend to anyone knowing what I know now), I couldn’t get through my day. I was plagued by major fatigue and had to chew on glucose tablets every two hours just to have the energy to cope. Feeling exhausted like that certainly doesn’t do anything for your mood either or make you feel joyful. But, I finally realised after months of being on Cymbalta that I absolutely had to get off.
This was when I went searching again on the internet and came across the work of James Harper and the Road Back Programme.
I immediately ordered his book and contacted James for assistance with using his supplements to taper the medication. Looking into what James reports in his book was another eye opener for me. Just as the work of Robert Whittaker had shown me the research around how little benefits there were over the long term for users of antidepressant medications, as well as the lies we have been sold by some in the psychiatric community and pharmaceutical companies, James’s work described the damage being done to our bodies and minds by the depletion of certain important chemicals and nutrients. James Harper is a bio-pharmacist who has been helping people taper off antidepressant medications since 2000. He has developed a range of supplements to assist with the tapering process that are aimed at ensuring the body and brain have the right type of nutrients, as well as supplements like high levels of Omega 3 to alleviate some of the withdrawal reactions. I ordered the supplements from an Australian master distributor and have since become a distributor myself to ensure I have access to these products both for me and for any of my clients who need assistance with the withdrawal process.
I have also adapted a daily tapering template from James’s book to monitor food and drink intake, exercise, sleep, mood, and anxiety, as well as any and all supplements being taken, to ensure that it is clear to me what is making the difference or what is going wrong if I am struggling with the taper for some reason.
Going back to what happened in 2014, I was on that high dose of Cymbalta (120mg) and struggling with ridiculous amounts of anxiety on a daily basis. I started taking the Road Back supplements and noticed an improvement in my mood and anxiety levels but still not enough. One morning I’d had enough and noticed that my anxiety peaked each morning about one hour after taking the Cymbalta. So, I decided to experiment and took only 60mg. Now, I don’t recommend this as a taper for anyone as the jump is way too big but what I noticed was a huge drop in my anxiety that day. Surprise, surprise. I knew then that the Cymbalta was driving my anxiety but now I was stuck on a high dose of it. I contacted James again and asked if he thought I should attempt a direct switch back to an SSRI, however he felt it best to taper off the Cymbalta. So, I persevered with it and managed to taper every two weeks by 10mg. Cymbalta comes in a slow release capsule and so it is practically impossible to get doses smaller than 30mg; in order to get 10mg doses, I had to go to my local compounding pharmacist, which cost a fortune.
I continued with the taper until I was down to 60mg and then I got stuck. When I tried to reduce any further, I was hit with the massive fatigue problem again, as well as bouts of being highly emotional. I just couldn’t get any lower, even with the Road Back supplements. I went to see a doctor who had been recommended to me as sympathetic and understanding when it came to people wanting to come off antidepressants. (By the way, by this stage, I’d decided I would never go back to the psychiatrist I’d seen for over nine years, as he’d steered me in the wrong direction, and been unaware of things I was aware of, one too many times.) I decided that I would be the driver of my own recovery with the help of a doctor who was sympathetic to my plight and willing to prescribe medications that I chose myself, which is exactly what I did.
I’d done a little research by talking to various professionals and looking on the internet and believed that the best medication to switch to was Lexapro (escitalopram). I wanted the doctor to be aware of the supplements I was taking from the Road Back Programme and she looked at them and agreed they were fine to take as they are all natural. She said that she wanted to talk to a psychiatrist colleague of hers first with regards to whether I could switch directly to the Lexapro from the Cymbalta. I said that was fine but I’d already decided in my own mind what I was going to do. When she called me to discuss it, she said the psychiatrist had told her I should first taper fully off Cymbalta within a week or two, and then start the Lexapro. I said, thanks but no thanks. To actually suggest that I should go through the torment of major withdrawal and then have to endure the agony of going back onto an antidepressant, which would take four to six weeks of hell, was just unacceptable to me. So I said very kindly to the doctor that I appreciated her efforts but that I would like to switch directly. She understood that this was my choice and that I was informed and experienced enough in these matters and gave me the script for 10mg of Lexapro. I switched the next morning directly from 60mg of Cymbalta to 10 mg of Lexapro. The result? My anxiety all but disappeared. I immediately felt calmer than I’d felt in over a year. I did have the fatigue issues as mentioned earlier, but I knew they were a withdrawal issue and nothing more and sure enough within about a week the fatigue went away.
I continue to take the Road Back supplements as well, especially the ‘Body Calm Supreme’ capsules, during the day and at night to ensure I get a good night’s rest. I also continue with my counselling sessions as well as ensuring that I do my twenty to thirty minutes of cardio exercise at least two to three times a week. In addition, I am ensuring that I take time out for me and meditate at least three to four times a week.
The next step I’ve taken is to start looking into natural methods of boosting serotonin in the body and brain. Reading some of the comments made on my first article here at Mad in America, I am grateful to a reader who put me onto Patrick Holford, an eminent nutritionist in the UK who has written a book called The Feel Good Factor, in which he describes how his clinic tests people for a lack or deficiency in not only serotonin but in all other minerals and vitamins. Though there’s never been evidence to support the claim, I do believe that lowered levels of serotonin may contribute to anxiety and depression. But I also believe that the human mind-brain connection and resulting emotional reactions are so complicated that to implicate only a lack of serotonin as the reason for anxiety and depression is misguided, and to take damaging chemicals that artificially alter serotonin levels in the brain is not the answer. Treating anxiety and depression by naturally increasing serotonin levels through exercising, changed thinking and emotional reactions, and correct diet and supplements may offer a healthier and certainly less risky way of beating depression.
Healing mental health issues through correct supplements as well as nutrition is, I believe, the final factor for me in my journey. This is possibly what was missing in my first attempt at coming off, and why my brain and body couldn’t handle the extreme anxiety I felt in December 2013. I am ensuring that as I prepare to taper off the Lexapro in 2015, my brain and body are being supported in every way possible through correct nutrition and supplementation including the Road Back supplements and adding in recommendations from Patrick Holford. If needed, I will start taking 5-HTP, which is a derivative of Tryptophan – the basic amino acid building block of serotonin. My determination to be free of antidepressant medication continues.
I realize that there is actually nothing wrong with me aside from being put onto antidepressants for feeling anxious about a major life event that had taken place, and then being trapped in the antidepressant vortex for more than nine years. And so, I am determined to help people get off antidepressants and stay off them for life. I know firsthand how hard it can be to get off, and the ongoing psychological and emotional trauma that it can put you through.
My wish is for as many people as possible to read what I have shared here and talk about it. To have the courage to make the changes in their lives that will lead to lasting and positive growth and a feeling of being free to choose to live the life they have always dreamed of: free from anxiety, free from depression, full of meaning and excitement and the achievement of everything that they hold dear to their hearts.
Part III of this story is coming soon.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.