This is going to be a vulnerable post, but I think it’s important to share my story in case it may help others. I hope it’s obvious from my website that I’m really passionate about holistic mental healthcare. I believe anyone can benefit from talk therapy, but in my approach I incorporate holistic modalities that provide clients with tools and skills to use on their own so at some point they won’t need to keep seeing me. I’m also passionate about alternative approaches to Western Medicine and have found good results from acupuncture and integrative and functional medicine. So with my preference for holistic healthcare I was never really excited about the idea of anti-depressants. I also think I have the same fears and thoughts that a lot of people do about anti-depressants..will I have to be on them forever? Will I have to try 3 different medications before I find the right one? Will I have terrible side effects like weight gain, losing my sex drive, or feeling even worse than I started? I also had taken an anti-depressant in the past and it made me feel like I was on a stimulant so I stopped immediately. I also didn’t particularly like the doctor (who was a PCP by the way) who prescribed the medication so I had no desire to go back to him to talk about my experience and figure something else out.
That’s when I began using 5-HTP and L-theanine. I was working at a holistic practice which sold the supplements and the owner of the practice provided a mini training on the positive effects of these supplements. 5-HTP is a building block to serotonin. For more info see https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/integrative-mental-health-care/201709/l-tryptophan-and-5-hydroxytryptophan-in-mental-health.
L-theanine is an amino acid (also found in green tea) which increases GABA, producing a calming anti-anxiety effect. For more info see https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sleep-newzzz/201708/what-you-need-know-about-l-theanine. There isn’t a lot of research on the efficacy of these supplements (https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/hn-2793000#hn-2793000-uses), but I was willing to give them a try (and I always informed my doctors I was taking them). I don’t know if it was a placebo effect, but I did notice an improvement in my mood while taking these supplements. I once ran out of L-theanine and did notice myself having more anxiety than usual so it seemed like it was doing something for me.
Fast forward to a year later and several life stressors later, I was really struggling to maintain my anxiety and depression with my usual coping strategies. I was still taking 5-HTP and L-theanine, using meditations and guided imagery, practicing a gratitude journal with a friend every day, and getting my own therapy, but it just wasn’t cutting it. My relationship was being impacted, I was having trouble focusing on my work, and I was feeling irritable most of the time. My therapist encouraged me to see a psychiatrist so I finally scheduled an appointment. The psychiatrist I met with actually took more than the 10 minutes I had with the PCP, to learn more about what was going on, and he prescribed an antihistamine to help with sleep. He also gave me a sample packet of an anti-depressant, which I was still feeling apprehensive about taking.
I was continuing to have those fears about what this all meant, how the medication would impact me, and what it would mean for the future so I waited a few days until I had another episode where I felt overwhelmed by my emotions and decided to start. I had been told there could be gastrointestinal side effects to the medication and my doctor advised starting with a smaller dose than what was provided in the sample packet. I did experience some nausea, but it was only for a few hours and did not happen again until I increased the dose (and again it was pretty tolerable). Now that I’ve been on the medication for awhile I can’t believe I waited this long to start. There’s been a huge shift in my mood and huge improvement in my ability to manage my emotions. I finally feel like I can take care of everything I need to. I’m also aware this isn’t going to solve all of my problems and I need to continue taking care of myself and doing my work in therapy. I also know I am lucky it worked out this way because this isn’t everyone’s experience with anti-depressants. But for those who are afraid, I think it’s important to know there’s a possibility those fears won’t come true and you don’t have to keep suffering.
If you feel like you are running out of coping strategies, feel like you can no longer keep managing your symptoms of anxiety or depression, or feel like your mental health is negatively impacting your family, relationships, or work, it may be time to talk to a therapist and/or a psychiatrist. It is especially important to seek help if you are feeling hopeless or suicidal. If you are currently experiencing hopelessness or suicidal thoughts please go to your nearest emergency room, call 911, or call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Also, FYI, a therapist’s role includes helping you find referrals for psychiatrists and they will likely have referrals to people they trust.