How I’m successfully managing my mental health without antidepressants

Tips on managing depression without medication | Honest MomPeople are often scared to take antidepressants (SSRIs) for depression, even when a doctor recommends it. And I understand why. I was in the same boat back in college, and I opted not to take anything for the depression and anxiety I was dealing with then. I got by. Barely. And then I eventually got better, so in the end, it all worked out.

But then when I got postpartum depression after having my second child, not taking antidepressants wasn’t an option. I had to. And I was definitely scared about it – but Zoloft plus therapy worked well and made me feel like me again.

I’ve had my ups and downs with SSRIs since then. Two years ago I went off them for a period of time because I was tired of the side effects. For a long time they were unnoticeable or very mild, but then they got slowly got worse. I was fuzzy and tired. I felt like I was in a fog and had trouble sleeping, which only made things worse. I was also tired of dealing with the “poop-out” effect of an SSRI losing its effectiveness and having to try a new one because a higher dose would bring on worse side effects.

So I went off antidepressants. And I only lasted five months. The depression got too bad for me to handle with just trying to eat well, sleep, and exercise. I needed more help, so back on the meds I went. And I started going through the cycle again of feeling like myself, then the SSRI losing effectiveness, then trying to increase the low dose I was on but then having bad side effects, and then onto the next med. I was frustrated and not sure what to do.

Then this past May I got really, really sick. After countless doctors and blood tests and brain scans, no one could figure out what was wrong with me. Several doctors recommended that I go off Luvox, the SSRI I was taking, to clear out my system and “reset,” so I did. Four months later, I’m on no medication and almost totally better physically – but my brain is still taking its time to get back to normal. I’m definitely getting better day by day, though, which is encouraging.

Honestly, I’m pretty terrified to take an SSRI ever again because while no one ever figured out why I got so sick, Hubs and I strongly suspect (after doing a good deal of research), that I had a massive, rare reaction to the Luvox. We also wonder if, after being on SSRIs for almost six years, that maybe my brain had just had enough.

So how am I managing my mental health without medication – and doing a lot better this time around? Here’s my strategy so far:

1) The basics: I (try to) eat well, sleep, exercise. I’m not doing really great at these things all the time. Especially since the start of the school year. I have gone gluten-free, which has helped my digestive problems tremendously. Who knows if it’s helping my mental health, but I have a hunch it is. And going gluten-free has also improved my eating habits.

I’m working at the exercise thing and the sleeping more thing. It’s a process. But I’m determined to get there. And when I do accomplish the trifecta of eating well, sleeping, and exercising, I do feel a lot better. It’s basic stuff, but it’s super important.

2) I started taking SAM-e. This is a supplement recommended by my therapist. SAM-e forms naturally in the body when an amino acid called methionine combines with the energy-producing molecule ATP. It can also be made in a lab, and that’s how the supplement is created.

I was definitely skeptical – I’ve never dabbled in supplements before – but after researching it and finding that SAM-e has been prescribed for managing depression in Europe for years, and that there have been many credible studies on it, I thought – why not? And honestly, SAM-e has been life-changing for me.

I started with 200mg in the AM and 200 around lunchtime, as the SAM-e package recommended. I now take 400mg 2x a day because my stress level has been higher, but plan to go back to the 200mg dosage soon. I feel like the 400mg has made me a little jittery, which I read can happen if you take more than your body needs. Other than that, side effects are uncommon.

If you’re curious, you can read about SAM-e on the Mayo Clinic website, on the National Institutes of Health website, or on the NYU Med Center site. I get my SAM-e from Amazon– I’ve found it’s the best price and the brand I use is highly recommended. If you are thinking you might want to try SAM-e, note that it is not recommended if anxiety is your main symptom or if you are bi-polar.

Why isn’t SAM-e used more in the USA? My hunch is that powerful drug companies don’t want us to know about it because then we won’t buy their meds. There have been studies on SAM-e and depression (including a promising study at Harvard) and I hope more will be done. I urge you to Google SAM-e. You’ll see there is a lot of great info about it from credible sources.

3) I started using Natural Calm. This is another supplement, and yes, I was skeptical about this too. “Supplements” sound like New-Age, wishy-washy stuff. Or things muscly meatheads use. But a lot of my very normal, non-meathead friends use Natural Calm, so once again I researched it, found it was safe, and said – well, what the heck? And once again, I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

Natural Calm is simply a magnesium supplement. The theory is that it helps restore healthy magnesium levels and increases calcium intake to encourage natural stress relief and ease irritability. It also gets your digestive system moving, which I figure is a great thing given all the talk of the connection between the gut, the brain, and depression. If you’re interested you can read this Psychology Today article about why magnesium is important for the brain.

I get the raspberry-lemon flavor of Natural Calm from Amazon and mix it with a glass of ice water with a bit of lemonade mixed in. I drink it about a half hour before my most stressful part of the day begins, which for me is when my kids come home from school and chaos ensues with homework, activities, dinner, etc. And the Natural Calm works. It doesn’t make me feel weird or fuzzy or anything at all. I just am the regular, normal, calm version of myself and the stress and chaos of 3:45pm – 8:00pm is way more manageable.

I’ve been really surprised at how well I’ve been doing off antidepressants. I’ll be honest, I’ve had some bad days, but I am still not getting enough sleep or exercise, and I’ve been playing with the timing and dosages of the supplements I’ve been taking. I bet when I do figure out the right balance in the coming weeks, I’m going to feel downright amazing.

Also – I want to emphasize that I haven’t been paid by a maker of SAM-e or by Natural Calm for this post. This is just me telling you about my experience because I hope maybe it could help you, too.

If you do want to try SAM-e or Natural Calm and you click on my Amazon links, I could get commission through the Amazon affiliate program for anything you buy while you shop. But that’s just a side bonus of blogging. 🙂

And definitely talk to your doctor before embarking on any new therapies, including SAM-e or Natural Calm. You need to be sure it’s right for you and your own health situation. I deal with moderate depression and mild anxiety, and I would guess if you deal with severe depression, you would likely need SSRIs. But again, talk to your doctor.

What do you think about supplements for managing mental health? Have you tried to manage depression/anxiety without traditional medication? Did it work, or did you find you needed traditional medication?

photo credit: blmiers2 via photopin cc