10 Surprising Things That Happened When I Got Off Antidepressants
Antidepressants are life-saving medications that help people, right?
No, not always.
I took antidepressants daily for over 22 years. Every few years, when I wasn’t better my doctor would prescribe a different one. I believed taking antidepressants was my only hope for relieving my depression, but when I reached my lowest point in 2015, I realized something had to change.
I searched the internet and found a group of holistic mental health professionals that agreed to help me get off my antidepressants. Withdrawing from psychiatric medication – especially my antidepressant – is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and it took a while to stabilize.* I didn’t know what life would be like without them, and the results continue to surprise me.
Before I give you my list, I want to recognize that this is a sensitive topic. I never want to shame anyone for choosing to take medication. I know and believe the accounts of many who benefit from antidepressants. That said, we’ve been led to believe that medication is the only answer to mental health struggles. Not only is this incorrect but medication can make symptoms worse and be impossible to quit. For this reason, I’ve chosen to share with you the following ways my life changed once I was off antidepressants.
1. I had more energy.
I cannot tell you the number of times I was told if I would just “get some exercise,” “find some hobbies,” or “leave the house” my mental health would improve. Antidepressants made that impossible. I just didn’t have the energy. Towards the end of my journey with meds, even small tasks like showering felt impossible. I didn’t know if I would ever be the healthy, energetic woman I longed to be, but as I tapered off the first antidepressant my energy started to return. The lower my dose, the more energy I had. Today I can exercise, take care of myself and my family, and work with energy to spare.
2. My brain fog disappeared.
I didn’t realize how fuzzy my thinking had become until the fog lifted and I could think clearly. I managed to make it through college and even received a Master’s Degree while taking medication but it was difficult. Once the fog lifted, I started to enjoy reading, writing and working again. As a child, I’d dreamed of being a writer, but all my creativity disappeared when I started taking meds. It took almost a year being off them to find the courage to begin writing again – something I’m not sure would have been possible if I was still taking them. My memory also improved – which I was afraid wouldn’t happen.
3. My food cravings went away and I lost weight.
Yes, I did also change to a Paleo diet, but the truth is that I had tried to eat Paleo while I was still taking antidepressants and it was difficult because my cravings were out of control. Not everyone experiences rapid weight gain on antidepressants but I sure did. I couldn’t eat enough…EVER. I was relieved to find that as I tapered off the antidepressant, my appetite returned to normal. Consequently, I was able to stick with a Paleo diet and begin some light exercise. When I started tapering off I weighed my heaviest, and over the following 18 months I lost over 70lbs.
4. My moods evened out.
I started taking antidepressants when I was 14. I didn’t make the connection between my antidepressant and unstable moods. Therefore, I believed if I just worked harder in therapy and increased my coping skills eventually I would be able to manage my moods. It turns out the antidepressants were causing most of my mood instability. Once I was off, I noticed I could more easily predict my feelings on a daily basis. Of course, there are times when I feel sad or get angry, but today it is in response to something that’s actually happening, not the unpredictable roller coaster of emotions I experienced as a side effect of the meds.
5. I stopped having suicidal thoughts.
This deserves a blog post in itself. While I was depressed before starting antidepressants, my suicidal thoughts began after taking them. I fought through suicidal thoughts off and on for twenty years never realizing the medication was causing it. Since coming off the last antidepressant, I haven’t experienced this. Even on my worst days, I am thankful to be alive. I’m not sure why this common side effect isn’t taken seriously when EVERY ANTIDEPRESSANT carries a black box warning for increased suicidal ideation – but for me, when I stopped the antidepressant this symptom disappeared.
6. My digestion improved.
I never dreamed I’d grow up and talk about poop on the internet but here we are. I had severe constipation and THE WORST heartburn the entire time I took antidepressants. This required taking more meds(Prilosec anyone?), which never entirely resolved the situation. I’m now happy to say I poop regularly, am almost NEVER constipated, and never have heartburn. TMI?
7. My sex drive returned.
I want to talk about sex even less than poop, but if I’m honest, my decreased sex drive was one of the worst parts of taking antidepressants. Maybe it would have been worth the sacrifice if they had helped me with my depression, but they didn’t. I’d taken medication for most of my life, so it wasn’t until I was off that I realized how significantly this area of my life was affected. Many women have approached me to ask for help getting off their antidepressant specifically for this reason. If you’re experiencing this side effect, you are not alone. It’s possible that if you can taper off your medication your sex drive will return.
8. I realized almost everything I’d learned about depression was wrong.
I didn’t know when I started tapering off my antidepressant that eventually I would get off all my medications (two antidepressants, a benzodiazepine, a mood stabilizer, and some other stuff to help with their side effects). When I was off the first antidepressant and doing better than I had in a long time I was shocked. I started reading every book, blog, and article I could find on alternative mental health treatments. Almost all at once I realized I’d been chasing the wrong solution for over twenty years. There was never any hope for my healing until I could get off the meds and treat the underlying cause of my symptoms. Stopping antidepressants allowed me to see – for the first time – how almost everything I’d been taught about mental health was wrong.
9. I fell in love with my life and started experiencing joy for the first time.
This may sound unbelievable, but I had believed I was broken for so long, and been sick with side effects for so many years that when I started to feel good again it was like a rebirth. I experienced joy I didn’t know was possible. All my life I’d wanted a quick fix and pills promised me that. When they failed over and over again, I stopped believing freedom from my depression and anxiety was possible. Tapering off was brutal and, at times, took everything I had. I wasn’t sure what life would look like on the other side, but what emerged is a strong, vibrant woman who is deeply thankful for her life.
10. I was able to heal the issues that led me to take medication in the first place.
It’s true that a hormone imbalance, mismanaged thyroid condition, and several food intolerances were significant contributors to my depression and anxiety. But it’s also true that when I first sought medication, I was young and experiencing a lot of emotional pain. Like many, instead of learning that my emotions were normal responses to what I’d experienced, I was diagnosed and labeled. Since coming off the medication, I’ve been able to work through my painful experiences and come through the other side. I hope that everyone who has been hurt can experience the same unconditional love and kindness that allowed me to finally heal and move forward in life.
Again, I am aware this is a sensitive topic, and there are those who have tried to stop taking their antidepressants and cannot get off them. Further, I acknowledge the accounts of those who have gotten off their medications but have not recovered from the side effects.
Deciding whether or not to take antidepressants – or any other medication – is a deeply personal decision that should be made alongside mental health professionals you trust.
If you are experiencing side effects or not getting better on medication, there are alternatives that work. You don’t have to do this alone. Let me know how I can support you.
Now I want to hear from you. What is your experience with antidepressants? Comment below.
*Please note that stopping or reducing psychiatric medication can cause severe withdrawal reactions and emotional instability. Please do not change your medication without first seeking the care of an experienced medical professional.