I’ve always been a sensitive person. At age 6 I developed a hole in my stomach due to the stress of public school, and had to be taken out and homeschooled. At age 14 I was put on Zoloft, and was on and off of either Zoloft or Wellbutrin for the better part of 10 years. At age 24 I realized that if I didn’t start doing something about myself, I was looking at a lifetime of popping pills. I started wondering: What will prolonged usage going to do to me in the years to come? Do I really need this? Is there a better way to live my life and manage my violent ups and downs? Something inside of me knew that I could overcome this, that I was capable of managing my emotions without the help of pharmaceuticals. Chemical imbalance or not, I was determined to cure myself through proper nutrition, positive thinking, and if nothing else, sheer stubbornness.
First, I want to say that if you’ve never had a panic attack, then you have never had a panic attack. There is nothing like it, and nothing is more terrifying than seeing that pitch black wave of absolute doom come crashing over you with nothing and no one that is able to help pull you out of it. You cannot rationalize a panic attack. When you are in the midst of it, there is no sound judgement. No way to step outside yourself and think clearly. It is a crippling experience that about 6.8 million Americans experience every day. It’s an epidemic, and one that is treated primarily by chemical drugs.
Here are just some of the side effects of the most common mood disorder drugs: Nausea, vomiting, headaches, rapid weight gain, constipation, joint pain, blurred vision, chest pain, fainting, irregular heartbeat, hearing problems, tremors, seizures, trouble breathing, hyperventilation, ringing in the ears, paranoia, hallucinations, aggressive behavior, decreased urine output, dizziness, painful red lumps under the skin, bleeding gums, loosening of the skin, blue and yellow color blindness, nightmares, loss of bladder control, incomplete body movements, dry mouth, sweating, serotonin toxicity, loss of coordination, memory problems, impulsivity, hostility, etc., etc., etc.
Thankfully, not everyone will experience these side effects, and I only experienced a handful of them myself. But the fact that I was taking something that could possibly do these harmful things to my body was enough to make me find a better way. I want to be clear on the fact that not all pharmaceuticals are evil, and there are some who need medication in their lives. You should always, always talk with your healthcare provider before beginning, changing, or stopping treatment. Working with a doctor you trust can help you figure out if medication needs to be part of your daily anxiety or depression management, and if the possible side effects are worth the benefit. Whether or not medication is right for you, I believe there are other important habits we must have to cultivate a sound mind and proper emotions. Here is how I was able to safely get off my medication and manage my mind.
1. I DID NOT go cold turkey. I knew from experience the crazy that can manifest when you just stop taking the pills. I tapered myself off slowly, under medical supervision, and made realistic goals. In total it took me about 3 months to get completely off my medication. I started by taking ⅔ of my normal dose. Then after a few weeks, when I felt confident that I was handling the lower dosage well, I went to ½ the dose. Another few weeks passed, and I went to ¼ the dose. I stayed at ¼ for a bit longer as my body adjusted, and finally, when I was comfortable and 100% sure I could do it, I stopped altogether.
2. Nutrition. I didn’t know half of what I know now about clean living, but I did know that to keep myself balanced emotionally I had to eat for my mind, not for my desires. I made sure to eat breakfast, as well as frequent, small meals throughout the day so I didn’t have extreme highs and lows. And I included plenty of healthy fats, greens, whole grains, fruits, and water. Greek yogurt with honey was my favorite breakfast, and olives, avocados, and apples were a favorite snack. I knew that for my body to be able do what it needed to heal, I had to give it proper nutrition. This also meant staying away from “diet” foods packed with artificial sweeteners and preservatives.
3. Exercise. I’ve never liked it much. It bores me and I feel like I’m wasting time. I like my work out to be for a purpose, like hiking, playing kickball, swimming with friends, etc. I’m not going to lie to you and say that I got up at 6 am every morning and jogged a mile and a half. I’m not that person, and I doubt I ever will be. Instead, I added small things to my day that strengthened my body and released the much needed endorphins. Squats while brushing my teeth, yoga here and there, walking to the grocery store—anything to keep my body moving.
4. Sleep. I can’t stress the importance of this one enough. Even the most even tempered person who is sleep deprived will experience a roller coaster of emotions. So if you struggle with a mood disorder and only get 4 – 6 hours of sleep a night, you are adding fuel to the fire. You should strive for 8 – 9 hours a night. Sleeping does not equate to being lazy. Sleeping is being responsible. Sleep is how your body repairs and heals itself, and gets ready for the next day. Not sleeping is like skipping out on class and expecting to ace the final. It’s not gonna happen.
5. Filter what comes in. If horror movies give you nightmares for days afterwards, don’t watch them. If country music makes you want to call your loser ex-boyfriend or drink your sorrows away, don’t listen to it. If a coworker wants to have lunch but all she does is gossip, don’t go. If your grandma calls and insists on berating you about when you’re going to give her great grandchildren, because you’re not getting any younger or thinner, don’t answer the phone. You have the right—nay, the responsibility—to filter what you allow in your life. You cannot control what others do, but you can control what you accept from them. Be an adult, and make the right choices.
6. Silence the demon in your ear. One of the main culprits for my anxiety and depression was my inner abuser. I had a voice in my head constantly telling me all the ways I had failed, am failing, and most assuredly will fail; what a disappointment I was to God and my family; and how I was never trying hard enough to be better. It’s frightening how detrimental thoughts sneak in and disguise themselves as truth. Before you accept a thought as gospel, take a step back, capture the thoughts in your head, and look at them. Ask yourself: Is this true? Is this helpful? Is this building me up, or tearing me down? Is this encouraging me to be a happier, healthier person, or is it sending me to a place of darkness? If you wouldn’t allow someone to talk to your child the way you talk to yourself, there is something wrong.
7. Support. You have to have support. You have to have someone whom you can feel safe telling anything to. Whether it be a therapist, support group, friend, or loved one, you must have a safe place to spill your guts where you won’t be judged. A man is not an island. We are not meant to live life alone. Solitary confinement is one of the worst forms of torture, and will drive a person mad. It’s essential to have good people around to support you and lift you up in difficult times.
These 7 habits helped carry me to mental and emotional healing. I’m not perfect, and on occasion I still fall into the trap of lies from my mind, but I am able to pull myself out before the tidal wave comes. I have since found prayer, skilled relaxation, and crocheting as positive tools in keeping my mind calm and alert.
You must realize that you are precious, and necessary in this world. You are a priceless creation and we need you here; not a crippled, beaten down version of you. You are beautiful and good, and worthy of everything beautiful and good, but it is up to you to take hold of it. Make today the day you shine light into the darkness and banish the evil thoughts and habits from your life. You have the strength inside of you to make a change. So what if you fall? So what if it’s hard? It’s time to start the journey to wholeness now. Don’t let one more minute of your life be stolen by lies. You can do it, and you will.