November 15, 2016

Why I gave up Antidepressants for Good.

medications anxiety

When I was 29 years old, I went to see a new doctor for my yearly exam.

At the time, I was working as a TV news reporter, and my doctor immediately recognized me from the crime-filled, disturbing stories I had been covering.

He also noted that I seemed on edge as I sat in his office that day. His comments on my demeanor made me feel like there was something wrong with me, like working long days interviewing grieving parents about the murders of their children shouldn’t overwhelm me.

“That is stressful,” I said. “Isn’t it appropriate I am stressed?”

Was this doctor really suggesting that something was wrong with just me because I wasn’t desensitized to the horrific events that surrounded me? Did I really need medication to make myself numb to my surroundings?

“You’re a strong, brilliant career woman. You can’t be crying at work,” I remember him saying to me.

At the time, I was so desperate to feel “normal” and not cry almost every day driving home from work because I was so exhausted and overworked. I walked out of his office that day with a prescription for Lexapro—a drug used to treat anxiety and major depressive disorder. In a 10-minute consultation, I became part of the statistic on the overmedication of Americans, and looking back on that is terrifying.

A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reports that antidepressant use has skyrocketed over the last two decades, up nearly 400 percent. Statistics show that one in 10 Americans now take antidepressant medication. Among women in their 40s and 50s, the figure is one in four.

Yet 69 percent of people taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), the primary type of antidepressants, have never suffered from major depressive disorder (MDD). Even more shocking, 38 percent have never in their lifetime met the criteria for MDD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social phobia, or generalized anxiety disorder, yet still take the pills that treat them.

I stayed on Lexapro for several years—even after I left the TV news business. I was changing careers, moving, breaking up with a serious boyfriend, and I thought that the medication would take the edge off of my life’s uncertainties.

It wasn’t until I attended a lecture by best-selling author Marianne Williamson that I had my wake-up call. I listened as Marianne talked about her latest book, Tears to Triumph, and about how moving “with the edge” is our life’s work, spiritually speaking. The edge is made up of those sleepless nights, those cries, those uncomfortable conversations.

She told me that heartbreak is nothing new. Has anyone not had his or her heart broken? Has anyone not suffered a professional failure? Has anyone not experienced the loss of a loved one?

These things may be painful, but they are not mental illness.

As I look back on that day in the doctor’s office, I want to pull my 29-year-old self aside and hug her. I want to tell her, “You don’t need an antidepressant; you need to find a new station to work for, a new boss, job, career. You need to sit in meditation 20 minutes a day, twice a day, reconnect with your spirit, and pray. You need to surrender your life to a higher power, eat healthier food, rest, connect with your friends and family in a meaningful way.”

It’s been several months since I weaned myself off Lexapro with the guidance of my doctor, and I feel like myself again. I have 100 times more energy. I am clear. I am joyful and alive. That lethargic dark cloud that used to follow me everywhere I went has lifted.

Since becoming more conscious and awake, I’ve discovered that our society seems to promote self-medicating and numbing ourselves out. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said and heard, “I need a drink.” I’ve rarely heard, “Let’s pray. Time to meditate. I need to feel my feelings so I can release this pain once and for all.”

I am in no way saying that my story holds true for everyone. I’m not saying that anyone who has been diagnosed with a mental illness should give up their medications cold turkey, or at all. I’m simply suggesting that we all take a deeper look into our choices, do our research, ask our health care providers and drug companies tough questions, and explore our options for treating anxiety and depression.

Feeling sad, out of sorts, anxious, or depressed at times is part of what it means to be human. My hope is that anyone who reads this will at least consider looking into other forms of relief. Your brain and heart will thank you.


Author: Kate Eckman

Image: emma.kate/Flickr 

Editor: Catherine Monkman

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Andra Maria Gill Nov 22, 2016 6:53am

This is a fantastic article! I completely agree, especially when you say "These things may be painful, but they are not mental illness." - Andra https://youtu.be/y6YnmcttOjY

Laura Sharkey Nov 18, 2016 11:28pm

Kate, I am one of the people who is on medication because I have been diagnosed with a major depressive disorder, and I cannot thank you enough for including a mention of this in your article. I agree with you that there is a huge problem in the US (and probably a lot of other countires, too) with overmedication, and a cultural tendency to assume that anything that allows us to avoid discomfort is a good thing. In fact, one of the things I value most about my practice is that it has instilled in me the habit of sitting with discomfort instead of trying to avoid it. I have, though, felt judged, dismissed or otherwise disrespected in the yoga world because the fact of overmedication is often interpreted as an indication that *all* psychotropic medication is unneccessary. For me, I need to take medication *and* meditate, practice asana, connect with community, etc. So I greatly appreciate you sharing your story, including the acknowledgement that it is not true for everyone. Balanced shares such as yours are crucial for creating a yoga culture where both the use of pharmaceuticals when necessary, and the rejection of them when appropriate, are respected paths.

Stephanie Schmeck Nov 16, 2016 4:37pm

I gave them up for good too! They just made everything worse for me. In fact, so bad at one point, when I was put on a new anti-depressant, that I became very suicidal. I vowed then that I would never put myself in that situation again. I think most people are just looking for a quick fix when it comes to most issues having to do with their health, and doctors are more than happy to throw a pill at it.

Shunyo Bridgette Nov 16, 2016 3:35pm

Thank u for making this clear meds have a place

Shunyo Bridgette Nov 16, 2016 3:34pm

This is true there is a place for meds

Lester Shane Nov 16, 2016 3:12pm

For those people who have had deep depression, meds have saved lives. This is pretty irresponsible. Your caveat that people diagnosed with a mental illness "should not give up meds cold turkey" implies that nonetheless they should be trying to give them up. For many people, medication does not cloud their feelings, but brings them back from a place of such darkness where feelings other than despair are shrouded in in that black hole. Medication may bring light and restore a feeling of normalcy where the additional exploration, prayers and meditaiton are possible.

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Kate Eckman

Kate  Eckman is a certified executive leadership and confidence coach who asks her clients, “How would your life look if it was lived confidently?”

Through her own work in front of the camera as a TV news anchor and reporter, QVC beauty host, and professional model, Kate learned what it truly means to be confident. (It’s not what you think.) She says, “The truth is, you already have what it takes. You were born with it. You just need to remember what that feels like.”

Kate is the creator and author of The Full Spirit Workout: A 10-Step System to Shed Your Self-Doubt, Strengthen Your Spiritual Core, and Create a Fun & Fulfilling Life, which is a workout for the spirit that will help you get fit on the inside. It’s a series of daily practices that keep our spirits, minds—and selves— open and available to receive abundance, transformation and enlightenment.

Kate also works as a motivational speaker and is the author of the blog, Love Yourself, Love Your Life, sharing inspirational stories about self-confidence, personal development, healthy body image, redefining beauty and success, and creating divine relationships.

She is  a certified Reiki master and online course creator.

Kate earned her executive and organizational coaching certification from Columbia University’s Coaching Certification Program, master’s degree in broadcast journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and undergraduate degree in communications from Penn State University where she was an Academic All-American as a member of the women’s swimming and diving team. 

Originally from Cincinnati, she now calls New York City home. You can connect with Kate on her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.