One year off anti-depressant medication: Managing my anxiety

It’s been about a year since I weaned off my anti-depressant medication. I had been taking it for over six years, predominantly for anxiety but also depression. Coming off the medication was an experiment – after finishing my first round of the I Quit Sugar program in Spring 2014, I felt ready to have a go at living without it – a notion that had terrified me in the years prior.

Indulge me in a disclaimer here: I am not ‘anti’ anti-depressant medication, at all. They served me very well for those six years. Nor I am opposed to going back on them, if the need arises again. If you are considering ceasing your use of anti-depressant medication, I strongly advise you to consult your doctor before doing so.

My transition to a real food lifestyle brought home to me how linked my physical health is to my mental health. As my physical health improved, so too did my mental health – and there is ever-increasing evidence on the role that nutrition plays in mental health. I notice it the most now when I’m sick – I have very little mental resilience in times of illness!

In January this year, just a few months after I’d come off medication, I wrote that I was feeling ok. This is still true. I’m not ‘cured’, and I personally don’t believe I will ever be ‘cured’ – certainly I don’t think that quitting sugar and eat real foods magically cured my mental health issues. But I do believe it positively contributed to making it easier for me to manage. Although mental health is a personal and unique experience for everyone, I generally found the anxiety more challenging to manage than the depression, as it made its way into every aspect of my life and sometimes prevented me from fully participating in activities I was interested in. I often imagined my anxiety to be like a vat of bubbling acid in my stomach, the level of which varied from day to day, or hour to hour. For the past year, the vat-levels have been pretty low – and sometimes completely empty, when I can enjoy moments of calm.

In addition to living a low-sugar, real food lifestyle, and bearing in mind that everyone’s experience of mental health is different, some of the strategies that are helping me to manage my anxiety include:

  • Meditation and mindfulness: Yeah, I’m pretty bad at this. I go through phases of doing it, and when I do – I definitely notice the difference in my stress levels and frame of mind. Unfortunately, it’s one of the things that drops off as I get busier and more stressed. However, it’s handy to know that it’s a strategy I can turn to, that does help.
  • Giving up coffee: This was a total surprise, and one I wasn’t too happy about. I gave up coffee for one week during an IQS program earlier this year (fully expecting to go straight back on it after the week), and fortunately/unfortunately discovered that I felt much calmer without it, and slept better and deeper. In addition to being less anxious and highly strung, I’m less tired during the day. So I’ve become the occasional decaf convert, and an avid rooibos and chai tea drinker!
  • Confronting the source of my anxieties head on: Although I do believe that I am prone to depression and anxiety, for a number of reasons, this past year has forced me to reflect on the psychological causes of my anxiety, and to push myself to begin to challenge them: fear of loss, failure, uncertainty, of what others ‘will think of me’. My determination to let go of the latter has pushed me out of my comfort zone, but it has also helped me to become more comfortable with myself – to embrace my quirks and interests, to pursue opportunities I otherwise might not have, and to question what it is that I want to do, rather than what others expect of me. Part of this has been realising that I am not only the sum of what others define me as, or how I have defined myself in the past.

Don’t get me wrong – some days I still struggle. This isn’t one of those smug posts about how I cured my mental health issues with food. Sometimes old habitual thoughts creep in, and I try hard in those moments to see them as they are (just thoughts), and to talk myself through them the same way I would talk a friend through them. Although I try to be focused on the present, sometimes I still become preoccupied with worry about the future – even though rationally, I know there really isn’t much point to worrying. I occasionally have intense, irrational moments lying in bed at night, worrying about the future for my children (What if I die? What if they die?) – although I also wonder whether this is part of the parental experience, rather than just a manifestation of anxiety… I’m getting better at ending these thoughts earlier, rather than letting them drag on and on into affecting my life.

Managing the anxiety, and the depression, feels a little like exercising a muscle (not that I know that much at all about exercising!), that I’m constantly strengthening; and feeling all the better for it – but which requires ongoing work and vigilance.

Anyhow, here’s to a year! πŸ˜€

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with depression or anxiety, you might like to visit beyondblue for information, resources and support (including email support, phone line and online chat). If you are considering ceasing your use of anti-depressant medication, I strongly advise you to consult your doctor before doing so.

22 Comments

  1. Well done on that anniversary, Erin. Depression is something I have grappled with several times and been medicated for too. I love the analogy of strengthening the muscle by working on strategies and managing it.

    • Erin says:

      Thank-you Michelle, I really appreciate you taking the time to comment, and for sharing a little of your own experience. It’s an ongoing journey isn’t it!

  2. Hi lovely! So glad to hear you are doing so well and that you have such a balanced outlook on things. When I came off medication many years ago, it was dramatic and sudden and nothing like what you describe your learning curve on the road to making that decision as being. However, many of the things you have discovered along the way are things that I too found helped me maintain a balance (digging deep, challenging myself, meditation, nutrition). I am also not an anti-meds person, but certainly prefer living and feeling the way I do now to how it was back then πŸ™‚ ❀

    • Erin says:

      Thanks Marisa for your very thoughtful comment, and for sharing your experience. I tried to come off the medication a year or so before that (around 2 years ago) because it was suggested I should – even though I didn’t really want to. It was a disaster!! It’s definitely a very personal journey and decision to make. xx

  3. unmomentoperme says:

    Hi Erin
    I came across your site last May when I was googling info on quitting sugar. I loved those posts by the way. Im delighted you are feeling less anxious and better in yourself. I agree with you that there is nothing wrong with anti depressants and they can really help a person but its also wonderful if you are feeling well enough that you dont need them for the moment.
    Keep up the good work
    Carol

    • Erin says:

      Hi Carol! Thank-you so much for your lovely words – they made my morning. I’m so glad you found the IQS posts useful too! πŸ™‚

  4. Hi Erin

    What a beautiful post! There is so much power in knowing you are not alone, so thank you for sharing your story. The irony is the things that you hide from the world when your anxious are what make you so amazing.

    Rani x

    • Erin says:

      Thank-you Rani! I really appreciate that. πŸ™‚ It gets easier each day (and I think, on the bad days, knowing that those times will pass helps too). xxx

  5. Erin says:

    Hi Erin – really happy for you! I am a long sufferer of anxiety and depression myself, and I when I am depressed I tend to eat worse, which in turn fuels the bad feelings (making me want to eat more). It’s great that you had the opportunity to get your health and eating in a good place before you went off the medication, I think that’s a good way to do it, and it seems to have worked well for you.

    • Erin says:

      Thank-you Erin, for sharing a little of your own story too – I can completely relate! I actually tried to go off medication a couple of years ago – (pre all the health changes). What a disaster! Everyone is different, but I certainly found a difference by being in a good place before coming off them. πŸ™‚

  6. Amazing! The Chinese call the gut the second brain. We eat a whole food diet on the whole!! By this Halloween weekend I noticed an increase in my mind chatter… After coffee and sugar… A day later and clean I feel altogether calmer… I don’t believe in a cure I believe in accepting everything we are and managing well… Diet definitely has a huge impact on my experience… Cheers to you!

    • Erin says:

      Thank-you for the kind words! Yes, I definitely think there is something to gut health – the research is starting to emerge to support this, so it will be interesting to follow over the coming years! I love the term ‘mind chatter’ – that is a great way to describe it. πŸ™‚

      • Leanne says:

        Hi Erin,
        Wow! Congratulations on your 1 year! You should be so ever proud of yourself. I cannot begin to imagine how some of your tough times made you feel and affected your wellbeing as a woman, wife and mother, but look at where your at and your amazing successes due to continuing to strive and make better choices for yourself. This is freedom , this is power. I too know what anxiety can be like, constantly worrying about the future, more so now I’m a mother but I try to work on these little issues everyday and try to stay focused on the more important things in life and not miss out on anything, or have regrets!
        Thankyou fit sharing your post, I admire your honesty and openness xxxx
        Leanne xx

  7. Glad things are going well for you. I have no experience with such medication so I can’t comment but if you’re feeling happy, strong and positive then that’s wonderful! Giving up coffee is something I can’t even contemplate πŸ™‚

    • Erin says:

      Thank-you, that’s very kind of you to say! I absolutely understand the coffee thing – I wish I could drink more of it! πŸ™‚

  8. Erin this was endearing and a great to read, congratulations & I hope you have continued recovery as you find yourself nearly another year on (how quick did that go!??)

    I love your approach & strategies. After getting to know you recently (social media anyhow) it just shows that graceful swan image, stunning pictures, articulate & kind comments you make, gliding along beautifully can be accompanied by frantic paddling beneath still waters sometimes …

    After your comment of yesterday yes we are similar in star sign & so much more, I could totally relate to this Erin

    Thank you for sharing x

    • Erin says:

      Thank-you for the kind words Sarah – gosh I can’t believe it’s been a year since this already! Yes there is certainly always the frantic paddling… I think I’m more like a puppy doggy-paddling than a graceful swan!! I’m currently in the process of trying to ‘do less’…

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