How Coming Off Antidepressants Taught Me to Give Myself More Credit

The psych meds were responsible for helping me heal, but so was I.

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There was a time I thought I'd never be on any type of antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication.

Fast-forward a few years and I thought I'd never go off them.

It was November 2010, and by all accounts, it should have been a happy time in my life: My blog So About What I Said was taking off, my work as a college newspaper adviser was fulfilling and my family was healthy.

Life was good.

Then the feelings crept in. Slowly and unexpectedly at first, but like a tidal wave I just couldn't outrun. I felt as though I was drowning in a sea of depression, and the worst part was that I couldn't even pinpoint a specific cause to explain my symptoms. My father had committed suicide seven years before, but I didn't have a history of depression or anxiety. I just knew that, suddenly, nothing made sense anymore.

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My life soon became a blur of long, unbearable days. They stretched before me like an eternity, and even something I once loved, like writing, became impossible. I'd call my mom in tears, not knowing what else to do. I'd never been a person who cried, but I just couldn't stop the tears; they had a mind of their own. They flowed out of fear, frustration, sadness, and even anger. Part of me wondered if I could somehow exorcise this depression if I just cried it all out. If there were no tears left, maybe the depression would be gone, too.

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I was strapped to an emotional roller coaster; I desperately wanted to get off the ride, but I couldn't. I just kept going around and around, seemingly getting worse with each passing day.

A few months later, following two hospitalizations for severe depression, my psychiatrist prescribed a cocktail of Effexor, Seroquel, and Depakote. This was the first time I'd ever been on such powerful medications, but I was desperate to try anything at that point. I took the first dose at the doctor's office (that's how bad I felt), went home and slept for the entire afternoon. It was the first time in months that my brain had a chance to slow down and rest. It was just what my body needed to begin the process of healing itself.

Part of me wondered if I could somehow exorcise this depression if I just cried it all out. If there were no tears left, maybe the depression would be gone, too.

As the spring turned to summer, my mood also began to change. My concentration was almost back to normal, and I was no longer wracked with the intense crying spells that once defined each day. My life — the life I'd known before the depression hit — was finally within my grasp again. I felt like myself and to see those black clouds lift was the most refreshing feeling in the world. The sun had returned. I felt like I was coming home again.

To my relief, the meds continued to work, and life settled into a comfortable, familiar rhythm. So when my mom first suggested that I think about going down on my dosage, I was very hesitant. After all, I liked how things were now; why should I change a good thing?

"You're on a lot of medication, and of course you needed it when your depression was so acute," she said. "But you're out of the woods and doing so well these days. Just think about it."

She had a point. It had been nearly five years since I was hospitalized. For some reason, though, despite improving, I continued to cling to those pill bottles; they'd become some sort of security blanket. Maybe I couldn't live without them.

My biggest fear was relapsing and ending up back in the hospital — having to drudge back up that mountain of recovery for a second time was just too overwhelming to even think about. I'd become afraid of who I was with the medication and even more afraid of who I'd become without them.

But maybe I could live — even thrive — without them. Maybe, at long last, it was time for a change. Those meds had saved my life and were there at a time when I needed them most, but you know what I'd also realized over the last few years? I saved my own life, too.

Here's the thing about depression: It's insidious. It sneaks up on you. It creeps its way into your life at a time when you're most vulnerable, planting roots in your psyche. And it pretends to be your friend, leading you to believe that it's something you need in your life, that it's somehow an intractable part of who you are. And for a time, you believe every lie it feeds you.

I didn't need those lies anymore, though. I made a choice to live. I made a choice to keep going. I made the choice and I did the work. It was all me, and it was time I gave myself a bit more credit.

With the help of my psychiatrist, I began weaning myself off Seroquel and Depakote, the most potent of the three meds, last fall. I'm still pretty vigilant about watching for signs that the depression is creeping back, but so far, so good. I feel good. I feel like myself. And that, after almost losing myself, is something to be thankful for.

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