by Alex Bovell
I’ve always wanted to talk about this but I’ve been really afraid that people will think I’m a hypocrite. I guess it’s because medication goes against everything the natural health industry believes in and I associate myself with that industry as a nutritionist. Sometimes we can become too caught up in whether or not we follow a specific ‘way’ or are part of a group, that we forget why we’re doing this in the first place. I feel as though this is what happened in my case. Perhaps it was my ego that took over & I forgot the reason behind the WHY. It’s not about being ‘more natural’ than someone else; it’s about helping others & yourself.
I’m extremely passionate about natural therapies & complementary medicine. It’s something we often bypass these days as we opt straight for modern medicine. These natural therapies have been around for a long time & have an important place in society. However, I also believe modern medicine has a vital place in our lives. Both of these play a needed role in our world, both can help so many people, and it’s time these two industries really work together. I’ve been on a bit of a rollercoaster with medication and through my personal experience, I’d like to share my opinion on anti-depressants to voice some awareness into this taboo topic.
In year 8, mum took me to a naturopath & a psychologist because I wasn’t quite myself. I remember having to fill out these little worksheet entries with mum every night as she really helped & supported me. Unfortunately, as I entered high-school the depression I felt worsened and in year 9 we went to my family GP where I talked and he gave me a questionnaire (one that I’ve now done many times). After he read over my answers he diagnosed me with depression & prescribed Lovan, which belongs to a group of antidepressants called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs supposedly ease depression by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin in the brain making more serotonin available. They’re called selective because they mainly affect serotonin, not other neurotransmitters. I completely understand & sympathise with my family for making this decision. I was a nightmare… I wasn’t functioning, I was a mess and I couldn’t continue the way I was. I’ve talked about my depression before and mentioned that it was like a switch went off in my head and suddenly I went from a happy energetic kid to an anxious unreasonable teenager. If you’re interested in this I’ll attach the link to that here.
I started the medication immediately that day and to be honest majority of those days are a blur to me. My family said I was a completely different person; the old me was creeping back and I began to smile again. However, the one thing I remember is the numbness I constantly felt, unable to feel the emotions a normal person experiences throughout their day. Highs and lows are normal and I still wanted to feel excited and deal with sadness. I really hated the numbness, I felt like I was cheating on my life by changing the person I naturally am and l felt like I wasn’t strong enough to beat this mental illness. I felt like a failure. Fast forward around 2 years, 2011/2012, I decided I’d had enough and chose to completely remove myself and go cold turkey. I now know this was a STUPID thing to do as stopping immediately is one way to mess with your emotions completely.You should always consult your doctor if you’d like to stop any medication as we don’t know what can happen. As many of my family and friends know I’m all or nothing with a lot of things, once I decide something, (like going vegan) that’s it, there’s no changing my mind until I am ready. I wanted to manage my depression, anxiety & OCD on my own.
For around 6 years I managed my mental health with exercise, nutrition, family & friends. I saw multiple psychologists who helped me deal with my skewed thought processes and naturopaths who helped lift my mood with herbal remedies. However, 2018 saw me crashing down again. I had come off contraception in 2016 and my hormones were all over the place, as were my emotions. I had no idea what to do! I really feel for my family, my boyfriend & my friends because they’ve been there for me this whole journey & continue to support me and make me smile every single day! They just wanted to see me happy but I couldn’t leave my room some days. The double-edged sword is that with depression, you isolate yourself and this only worsens the problem because socialising can uplift you and pull you out of your funk! I was such an anxious mess & I literally couldn’t convince myself between what was real and what wasn’t. This sounds crazy I KNOW I lived through it and felt my world was crashing. The intrusive thoughts associated with my anxiety debilitated me and for a few months, there wasn’t a day that went past without me bursting into tears.
One specific day mum was extremely worried as she lied with me in bed and suggested why don’t we go to the doctor. At first, I hesitated like ALWAYS at this suggestion. I was determined to beat this naturally without any assistance from western medicine because of the experience I had in my early teens. However, it was almost a relief someone saying you’re allowed to accept help, you don’t have to do this alone. I don’t know why this day was different from the others, maybe I was at my lowest and didn’t know what else to do but I went to the doctor and explained to him what was going on. This doctor was amazing, he was the first I’d ever gone to that suggested other options first such as “have you tried yoga?” in which I replied, “I’m a yoga teacher”. Then he suggested changing up my diet and I replied, I’m a nutrition student. The poor guy may as well have been trying to nail jelly to a tree, I wasn’t making this easy for him. I mentioned I hadn’t responded well to SSRI’s in the past as they make me feel numb and so he suggested another anti-depressant group such as SNRI’s.
He prescribed a medication form the Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitor (SNRIs) which work by blocking the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine increasing the availability in the brain. He warned me of the first few days and I’d been through this before so I was scared because with anti-depressants you can feel worse before you get better with some medications. I’m not going to sugar coat this, that first day of taking them I wasn’t there, I was a ghost, completely out of my body. I remember sleeping for the majority of the day as my boyfriend lied next to me (bless his soul!!) cuddling me. I woke around 3pm & I couldn’t walk properly… my legs were jelly, I couldn’t believe the way I felt. There was a cloud of fog over me and all I wanted to do was sleep. I still had to continue on with normal life and I found myself at uni on day 3 of the medication still feeling like a zombie in my own body. It was again a confusing time because I was at my wit’s end but I also HATED the idea of being on medication. Maybe it’s my stubborn nature that’s to blame.
Changing my mind - frame
There was a really important moment on this day, as someone, I truly admire pulled me aside for a chat noticing I wasn’t quite myself. I’ll never be able to thank her or my loved ones enough for this because they all honestly helped me realise sometimes we need to accept the help and let our guard down. I explained to her my feelings about being on medication and she just supported me 100% saying there’s a place for anti-depressants and you know if it’s needed in your life right now. I think having that confirmation from someone in the natural health industry let me relax about the whole situation. We brainstormed all these complimentary things I could start whilst on the medication to pull me out of this and rewire my brain. If you ever want a great podcast, ‘The work of Byron Katie’ really helped me. The guilt and shame fell off my back as I realised this really is like any other illness and if you need some help it’s okay to accept it. Just as though someone who breaks their arm uses a cast to realign the body, this medication was helping me rewire my thought processes. Unfortunately when you’re as low as I felt, thinking clearly isn’t always something you’re capable of doing.
This was always going to be a controversial post. I certainly haven’t written it to offend anyone at all. As a complete blanket statement, I do believe anti-depressants are overly prescribed, without trying alternative options. Many people have been prescribed this medication as a precaution yet preventative options should always be taken into account such as exercise, diet, psychologists amongst others. I’ve definitely noticed the SNRIs suit my body better than the SSRIs. I don’t feel numb, I can definitely still cry (just ask my family) and I feel emotion (this may be different for you). It’s not to say I’m going to stay on this forever and I’m not saying I won’t, I honestly have no idea at this point. What I do know, is for the first time in a very long time, I’m enjoying my life again and the intrusive thoughts aren’t crippling & debilitating me. I’m not going to feel ashamed for this, and I wouldn’t want anyone else to be. The decision is ALWAYS yours, no one can tell you what to do. You always have the power and know what’s right in your own body.
What I will leave you with is an amazing test from Nutripath, Neurotransmitters-Advanced, which is a urine analyses test, that assesses 12 neurotransmitter levels including Serotonin, GABA, Dopamine, Noradrenaline, Adrenaline, amongst more. These neurotransmitters are associated with mood disorders and it’s an incredible insight into your levels, something I’m hoping to get done very soon. A qualified practitioner can definitely help you out with this!
Thank you for reading, with awareness comes acceptance and that’s all i’m trying to create the best way I know how.