6 Mistakes I Made Trying to Quit Antidepressants
Even with careful planning, it can be difficult to successfully stop antidepressants (or benzodiazepines, mood stabilizers, etc.).
I spent years attempting to quit, in part because there were so few resources available. Today I thought I would list the biggest mistakes I made on the road to being med-free in hopes someone else might be able to avoid them.
In no particular order, here they are:
1. Trying to Stop Medication Cold-turkey.
If there is anything I know for sure, it’s that stopping cold turkey is the worst method for successfully quitting. Unless someone has been on medication a short time (less than a few days) this is just asking for problems. Depending upon the half-life of the drug, withdrawal can happen anywhere from a few hours to days after taking the last dose, and then symptoms can quickly become severe. From flu-like symptoms to emotional instability the side effects can be devastating. And yet, I know people will try this method anyway because I did… and more than once. I was never successful, and it always set me back in the healing process.
Despite what we have been told, psychiatric medication can be some of the most challenging substances to come off. While I was never successful in stopping medications on my own, with a planned approach to tapering off, I eventually succeeded.
2. Underestimating the Power of Food.
I learned early on that I did better emotionally when I stuck to a Paleo Diet. However, I didn’t know until I entered a holistic treatment center that adhering to this type of diet made withdrawal easier. At one point, I stopped eating Paleo and introduced wheat and dairy back into my diet. Instantly I was depressed, anxious and unable to continue tapering off medication. Fortunately, I was committed to healing without medications, and I got back on the Paleo wagon. For me (and for most people I know who are successful in stopping medication) making this type of diet a lifestyle is essential.
3. Trying to Quit Without a Medical Provider
When I hit my emotional bottom the very last person I wanted in my life was another doctor. However, I quickly realized going without one was a TERRIBLE IDEA and came to understand what I needed was someone who could help me address the underlying cause of my symptoms. So I started working with Holistic and Functional Medicine practitioners. I’ve seen Facebook groups and some organizations encouraging people to taper off their medications without telling their providers. While I understand the reasons they are advocating this, I think it’s a bad idea.
There is a reason people get put on medications. For me, the reasons ended up being hormone imbalance, food intolerances (causing inflammation), and a poorly treated thyroid condition. Without medical professionals, I would not have healed the underlying issues that allowed me to taper off medication and be healthy- the ultimate goal.
4. Trying to Rush the Healing Process.
The body has an AMAZING ability to heal, but healing doesn’t happen overnight. I’ve always believed I can achieve anything I put my mind to and while this has served me well, it also has its challenges. Getting off a lifetime of medication requires determination, but it also requires patience. My healing has been better than anything I imagined, but it has also taken longer than I wanted. I tapered off one medication at a time, and slowly. It was the only way. During the process, I had to learn I was not superwoman and I could not conquer everything at once. I could not heal on anyone’s schedule, especially mine. Healing isn’t a race. It’s a journey.
5. Trying to Heal in the Same Environment That Made me Sick.
When I committed to the radical idea that I could heal and live a happy, med-free life, I realized I needed a fresh start. My husband had an opportunity to relocate, and we decided to move. The idea of living in a place where no one knew my struggles felt like the right decision. However, it was hard, and a few months after moving I returned home. I was a huge mess and coming back was the wrong move, but I am glad that it happened. Because after a few weeks I realized once and for all there were no shortcuts to healing, that my old familiar life was keeping me sick, and that even those who loved me the most could not help me.
Sometimes the only way to bloom is to plant yourself in new soil. I returned to my new home committed to doing the deep work healing requires. Stepping away from everyone who had supported me, I learned how to love and support myself. I didn’t do this alone, but I did I carefully choose whom I allowed into my life during this time.
6. Being Unkind to Myself.
Essentially the first five mistakes all fall under this one. I spent a lot of time early in the healing process telling myself “I was so stupid(for getting put on medications, for having a difficult time tapering off, for struggling with my mental health).” Eventually, I was forbidden to call myself names and taught that kindness is what heals us. Listen, we don’t know what we don’t know. I was always doing the best I could, even when my choices were causing me more suffering. I don’t know how I came to believe that being unkind to me would lead to success (actually I know exactly how I began to think that… but let’s save that discussion for another time, ok?) but it only made things harder. When I started showing unconditional kindness to myself, my healing took off.
There is a much longer list of mistakes I’ve made over the past few years, but these are the biggest ones. They are also the ones I see others making. Just because healing takes time, doesn’t mean it isn’t possible and it isn’t worth it. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but I have not regretted any of it. I’m still working with holistic providers to improve and maintain my health, but most days I do it with a lot more patience and kindness towards myself and others.