Recovering Emotions After 24 Years on Antidepressants

Cathy Kreisman
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This is the story of my recovery from depression. I expect it to be an ongoing process that will take a while. But I want to show that recovery is not only possible but should be the expected outcome. This writing will grow. I learned as a child to keep my mouth shut as my thoughts and ideas were not welcome. So, I am adding to this as I think of things that I need to talk about. It’s a bit of a struggle for me to communicate, so please bear with me.

I have suffered from depression my whole life. One doctor told me that dysthymia (or mild depression) was what I suffered in between my major bouts of depression. The causes of my depression were environmental. I grew up in a very dysfunctional family in Minnesota. My parents were both alcoholics and depressed, and their dysfunction became my growth environment.

I’ve had three major bouts of depression:

  1. The first time was at puberty in the eighth grade. I had no confidence in myself. My childhood was filled with messages from my father telling me I was fat, that fat people are ugly, and that no one would ever love me. So, I grew up feeling fat and ugly. I was so sad, I could barely make it to my room after school before the tears would start falling. This happened almost every day. My parents took me to a psychologist who did hypnotherapy with me. It proved to be fairly effective for the short term.

  2. My second major episode of depression was as a senior in college. I came to realize that I would soon be leaving college and entering the work world. I had no confidence in myself and was soon lost in tears over my prospects. I called my parents at home and they came and got me to spend a few days at home. I was educated but not prepared for life.

  3. My third major episode with depression happened at about age 40 in 1991. We were now living in Oregon. I had a very good job in the high-tech sector at a computer manufacturer. I was building test equipment for our product for manufacturing and maintaining that equipment and much more. I was running the lab, and purchasing parts, and serving as a lead in my group. I had received accolades in the job I was doing and went on an employee excellence trip as an award. When I got back from that trip I was told, “We have to cut back, and your group has been dissolved.” Some people in my group lost their jobs, and others got reassigned. The management forgot about me. I was finally assigned to a job in purchasing which was basically grunt work. I was typing purchase orders and filing them. I became very depressed and suicidal. I didn’t know how to resolve the dichotomy of being told I was an excellent employee and then put into a job that was so bad for me. The rug of self-confidence was pulled out from under me.

I contacted my health insurance company in 1991 to get help. I had never taken advantage of my insurance so they sent me a questionnaire to fill out to assist in finding me a doctor. It took one and a half years to get a doctor appointment. I had never been taught to fight for myself, and thus was not able to fight that battle. Worse, I believed I really didn’t deserve help.

Once I finally got in to see the doctor, I started taking antidepressants in 1993. It took six months before I started seeing an improvement in my mood. I was also put into a cognitive behavioral therapy group which I found to be very enlightening, but of limited usefulness. It demonstrated to me how we see and think about things when depressed, and how twisted it was. It lasted 10 weeks.

Over the years I have taken a wide variety of antidepressants. There was always a balancing act between which was worse, the depression or the side effects. Side effects included things as minor as dry mouth, to constipation, irritability, a zombie-like state and sexual dysfunction.

I stopped taking them on my own twice, with disastrous results. I got extremely depressed both times. It was worse than before I started taking medications. I would stop in the middle of the workday to run into the bathroom and cry. It felt like I had a bowling ball in my stomach. I ended up going back to my doctor both times and taking something else. Antidepressants changed my brain chemistry. Stopping them too quickly or without medical supervision is a very bad choice.

My doctor told me after the second time that I would have to take them for the rest of my life. I believed him.

In the end, I was taking 500 mg of Nefazadone in the evening and tried a number of different antidepressants in the morning. I had problems with all of them.

The last morning antidepressant I took, I had to stop taking it when people told me how zombie-like I was. I spoke and moved very slowly.

After almost 25 years of taking antidepressants, I had no emotion left whatsoever. I felt dead and wanted to be dead.

I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t do daily tasks, keep up on my daily chores, or manage my own house. We had 36 acres of property that I had been managing, but I couldn’t do it anymore.

In 2016, my husband and I made a decision and moved to southern Oregon, and sold our house. We wanted to be closer to family and to where my husband grew up. My doctor in the Portland area told me that I needed to make contact with a new psychiatrist here to “manage” my medications.

Moving and packing was a nightmare. Our house was in total disarray, and making decisions about what to pack and when to pack it proved to be very difficult for me. My head was spinning, and I couldn’t make decisions about what to do. We did the move very slowly. I think we went up and down I-5 about 25 times over the course of six months. The new house was situated on about five acres (we really downsized) with a panoramic view of the Rogue River valley.

I made an appointment to see a psychiatric nurse practitioner. I really liked her. I was still not doing well, so we talked about my starting anti-anxiety drugs. She seemed to understand me.

She made it clear that she would be unable to continue treating me — she could not bill Medicare, which I became eligible for within several months of arriving in the valley. She referred me to my new doctor.

Shortly after I started seeing him, my new doctor had me read the book Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker. It took me a while to read it, but by the end, I became angry over the manipulation and lies that the pharmaceutical industry tells to the public about psychiatric drugs. The FDA only requires six months of studies on the efficacy of psychiatric drugs. They do not require any long-term studies. Independent research has shown that psychiatric drugs have very limited usefulness over the long term and in fact can be harmful. The pharmaceutical industry also says that mental illness represents a physical problem with the brain that needs to be fixed. There are no studies that prove that this is true. Doctors are now taught in school to prescribe drugs, not to treat mental disorders.

Studies have also shown that in the case of antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs, the weaning-off process can be very difficult. Close to 20% of US citizens are on a psychiatric drug of some kind and this country has the worst outcomes on mental illness by far in the developed world.

My therapist and I jointly made the decision to wean me off of the drugs. We started by reducing my meds by 10% per month. He always asked me if I was ready to go down, and I always ended up saying yes. Finally, a doctor was teaching me, rather than telling me!

In the beginning, it was a very scary process for me. Since I had twice gone off medications on my own, I knew how bad it could get. I was also expecting that at some point in time, my emotions would come flooding back.

There were a couple of episodes of anger that I experienced while I was reducing my medications. I got angry with my husband for letting the dogs out of the house at a bad time. I got angry with a bird for pecking on our metal chimney. No one got hurt, and I learned about riding out my emotions. Feeling them in a safe way.

At the same time, I was also learning tools to help me with my emotions. I was learning to meditate and journal. Meditation in particular has proven to be an incredibly important tool for me. It has helped me “smooth out” my emotions and gain a better understanding and compassion for myself and others. I can say without exaggeration that meditation has saved my life.

One time early in the process, I was meditating and I was thinking about how scared I was reducing my medication. After a while, a voice came into my head saying, “You are going to be okay.” What an amazing thing to happen! I eventually came to believe it, and it became easier and easier to continue reducing my meds regularly. My last dose of medication was taken in June of 2017.

Earlier that same spring, I started attending a local Buddhist temple. Buddhism has been an interest of mine for a long time. In coming to the valley, I found myself with a choice of places to go. My doctor had started teaching me how to meditate, and I wanted to deepen that practice. At the temple I learned about various activities I could participate in that would help me learn more about my new skill. The one thing that really called to me was a one-week meditation retreat that would happen in June. At first I rebelled against the idea of one week away from home meditating, but I came to believe this was the right thing for me to do.

So, I applied to the temple for permission to go, and I went. There were three 90-minute meditations per day. On the advice of the lamas, for each session I spent 30 minutes meditating, 30 minutes studying and another 30 minutes meditating again. I had found a book there to study. It was called The Mindful Way Through Depression. As soon as I saw it I knew that was what I had to work on. I read the whole book during the course of that week.

It was during that time that I took my last doses of antidepressants. I had started feeling emotions. During one of my study sessions, I started thinking about all those years of depression, and I started crying. I cried for about an hour. Just being able to cry was such a relief! It was very good for me. I plan on attending the same retreat this year.

My individual therapy continues. I am also participating in group therapy. I still have issues with anxiety which I am confident I will learn how to deal with. Group therapy also involves getting a “buddy.” A buddy is someone you meet with weekly or semi-weekly to talk about what is going on in your life. We have only one assignment, and that is to tell each other our life story. After that the agenda is our own. It’s a hard thing to do. It can be very emotional. It is actually a great way to get to know someone. I have several buddies now and it has so far gotten me a few very good friends, for which I am incredibly grateful.

What else have I learned? One thing I’ve learned about is my “inner guide.” That’s who spoke with me when I started down the path of medication adjustment. The inner guide can be called God, Great Mother, former lives, and many other things. The inner guide helps me make the hard decisions, once I learned to listen to it.

The good news is, I am alive. I feel alive, and I now have emotions, both good and bad. I am very grateful to have all of them. Most of all, I have joy.

I am also reconnecting with my husband in a wonderful way. We are talking about what I am going through and what I went through.

I am learning more each day about how to be more proactive in my own life. I no longer wait for someone to tell me what to do. I learn what to do by seeking appropriate people, books, and thoughts. My growing self-confidence gives me great hope!

36 COMMENTS

    • I guess everyone’s body chemistry is different. I had no problem stopping Celexa after a few years use. Effexor, on the other hand, was hell for me to get off I pretty much ‘cold turkeyed’ after maybe 6 years, even though by that time, I had learned a lot about supplements that help. NON PRESCRIPTION supplements, mostly nutritional, especially B vitamins and Omega 3, but also THC (don’t start it if you’re not already a user – the Raging Paranoids can hit, but CBD might help). Also, a beer or 2 seemed to relax me and sleep is the great healer. I obtained my info from an online forum from a former user who had had help from his dad, a pharmacist who knew a fair bit about neurology and brain healing. There’s probably a lot more medical help out there now than there was when I did it 5 or so years ago. Best of luck! Most of all, don’t give up!

  1. Cathy, as a therapist, substance use counselor, and instructor in substance abuse I have long lobbied against the use of these substances which I believe too often result in a “physician-induced substance use disorder.” Your words in this essay resound far more than mine ever have. Thank you.

  2. For those of you who are new to all this – Silje Marie survived 10 years of psychiatry hell. She had psychiatric drug induced toxic psychosis/akathisia. A technically beautiful documentary about one persons decent into horrific hell:

    https://www.thehappypillfilm.com/watch-the-movie

    No excuses for the psychiatrists, they have committed a serious crime against her and continue to do so against others. It’s not an error or a mistake oK; it’s serious human rights/financial crime going on around the world that has been covered up by the ‘doctors’ and the ‘regulatory bodies’ which are also controlled by the ‘doctors’ under the guise of serious ‘mental illness’.

  3. Beautifully told story of personal growth, healing, and spiritual resonance. Very heartfelt, thank you.

    “My doctor told me after the second time that I would have to take them for the rest of my life. I believed him.”

    Yes, we believe them when they look into their crystal ball and say we’re going to need something “for the rest of our lives,” without any foundation for that kind of negative prognosis of “this will be chronic and forever.” We have been so programmed/brainwashed to believe “doctors” without question, in what has been the age of authoritarianism. Good for you for waking up!

    I also ditched a lot of psych drugs (I can’t bring myself to use the word “meds/medication” any longer, nothing medicinal about these, at least for me that was most definitely the case) in order to heal naturally. Learning what “inner guidance” meant and then learning to trust and follow it was my healing path, too.

    What I love most about that is that it becomes our most powerful and reliable tool for life. For me, my inner guidance is my teacher, healer, guide, guru, and constant companion. I believe it is our God-self.

    And what I found most enlightening from the more present time oriented teachers, from whom I have learned and continue to learn a great deal, is that our guidance is based on our body/spirit connection, which is perceived PRECISELY through our emotions. One of my favorite and most resonant teachers, Esther Hicks, calls it our “emotional guidance system.” Our truth is based on how we feel, that is our spiritual resonance. Certain things/thoughts/beliefs/people agitate us while other things/thoughts/beliefs/people bring us feelings of love, joy, and peace. It is up to us to discern and choose which of these feelings we prefer to experience and that is to where we gravitate. That is our inner guidance, and feeling our emotions is vital in that process.

    I find it so interesting–and 100% reliable–and it’s the best case against psych drugs I know. At least for me, it speaks volumes.

    Now *that* I do believe is a viable prediction, that once we connect with our inner guidance, we have this for life. And I also believe it has plenty of foundation in personal histories; unlike the physician’s prediction of “chronic disorder” requiring neurotoxins “for the rest of your life.” Working with inner guidance is comforting whereas a lifetime of psych drugs is condemning. Please.

    Great to read about your healing work, keep it up!

  4. It is so uplifting to hear of another’s journey out of psychiatric care. I have experienced this as well. As you explain, it was a long time coming. A book that helped me (and I have re-read many times!) was The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz. You can get it as a free PDF download or purchase it on Amazon. May you be blessed as you continue your life in a deeper way. 🙂

  5. I’ve been there too Cathy – over 30 years on opiates, sporadic varieties of antidepressants, and 25+ years on benzodiazepines for General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), all doctor prescribed and never abused, also taken with alcohol since I was never told they didn’t mix well. I changed doctors when I entered my 70s, and was finally educated on iatrogenic illnesses (those caused by the medical profession). The alcohol was never a real problem, though it seemed to be, because of the combination with the drugs. I conquered the opiates and antidepressants myself and am now on a doctor assisted but self-directed long term tapering program using Valium. Because of its long half life, withdrawal is easier – but definitely not easy. After a year and a half, I’m only down by 30%.

    What really grabbed me about your story though was the effectiveness of meditation. My new doctor directed me toward practicing mindfulness, that led to meditation and I have also been studying Buddhist philosophy. Interesting that we both found the same path toward peace. I also relocated but in my case, it was because I lost EVERYTHING in a fire this summer. A couple of weeks of trauma and pain followed that but I’m now happier than I can ever recall feeling before! You’ll find tons of stuff on UTube if you can’t afford retreats – I can’t as a pensioner. Namaste!

  6. There are no such things as side effects of a drug. Drugs cause effects, some beneficial and some not so beneficial. To call the not so beneficial effects “side effects” I believe to be a word game to minimize what the drugs truly do to people. I feel it’s much more honest to say “the effects of the drug” period.

  7. You were very fortunate to find such good and honest doctors, Cathy. I’m shocked a doctor recommended Whitaker’s book to you, but that’s a promising sign that the medical community may be starting to wake up, hopefully. I’m glad you made the decision to trust in your “inner guide,” although I will mention that many of the “mental health professionals” do attack people for belief in God, anything spiritual, or not of the material world. God bless you on your healing journey.

  8. One of the best ways I learned to deal with uncomfortable emotions came from my boyfriend and also from a Buddhist monk on YouTube. The best thing I can do is to try to feel it completely, for as long as it lasts. Tears are chemically different depending on what you’re crying about, so just let the sadness leave you. Anger makes me feel strongly about issues I care about, and I appreciate it. I thank myself for nightmares so I can address what worries me in the morning with kindness. If you let yourself feel now and just think about how it feels to feel, and what your body is telling you, the less weird you will feel later.

  9. Cathy, there’s a lot of similarities in our stories! I also struggled with lack of confidence, “educated but not prepared for life” striking a cord! Funny, I have a farm and have had periods of feeling completely overwhelmed with it, too! I have been on antidepressants from 1994 and after a very bad attempt at coming off Effexor, ended up on it plus another and have been tapering those ever since.

    Your story of reclaiming your emotions gives me hope. As Peter Breggin says, I was spellbound by the meds, not realizing how much of a vice grip they had on my human experience. I have been stuck in anhedonia since the bad Effexor withdrawal, and fear I will never recover. Having been medicated since I was 30 (now 53), I fear I will ever truly feel and live again.

    I wonder if it was difficult for you to meditate initially? I have been unsuccessful at being able to practice. I know it is something that would be good to do, but long stretches of time go by where I forget to even think about doing it! I am cognitively damaged.

    I am trying EMDR to see if that might jostle my neurons into life.

    Thank you for this story of hope. I am glad for you that you have come out the other side.

    • I’m pretty sure everyone finds meditation challenging at the beginning, especially when we suffer cognitive damage as is the case with those of us here. Just staying with the awareness of the breath is difficult as the ‘thoughts’ keep intruding. Just notice them and let them pass – don’t allow yourself to get caught up in them. Keep returning to the breath, as often as necessary and it WILL be often! It’s like exercising a muscle; the control improves with use.
      Good luck with both the mindfulness and the recovery!

      • Wynne,

        You describe the ideal meditation approach very well.

        I suffered from dreadful (non disabling) melancholy on withdrawal from Psychiatric Drugs, and Buddhist Breathing meditation cured it completely in the longterm. This was great, because it was something I could do for myself.