Vital Mind Stories: Alexis's Gentle Antidepressant Taper

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Many of the women I work with are initiated to themselves through a dark night of the soul during their medication taper process. I have become very comfortable holding space for this birth process, not unlike a midwife who reflects back to the entranced birthing woman her primal capacity for creative expansion. Sometimes, something has to die - a job, a marriage, a home, a belief system - in order for her to be born.

Alexis’s experience was different. She will tell you about the potential for a psychiatric medication taper to be like gently waking up from a bad dream in order to meet oneself, fresh and beautiful, in the mirror.

She helps me to see that the process need not be so cataclysmic to be a powerful spiritual awakening.

And now from Alexis:

When I think back to what my life was like a year ago, I am in awe with how far I have come and how different I am. And NOTHING outside of me has changed. I still have the same job (I am a full time yoga teacher), I am still single (but I am not unhappy about that anymore), I still live in the same area although I have moved apartments. I made one huge change though, after almost 5 years of being on antidepressants I am off of them completely.

5 years ago I was addicted to drugs and alcohol. I began drinking at a really young age and by my high school years I was not just drinking and smoking marijuana, but I started to use ecstasy and then cocaine. This was the beginning of a ten year, nasty cocaine addiction. In my late twenties, I began to feel exhausted of the all night partying, going to work on little to no sleep, and basically feeling morally and spiritually bankrupt. Amazingly, I gave it up! Unfortunately, I swapped the late nights of partying for staying in and taking opiates. Eventually this turned into to taking Oxy's all day every day. There I was in a brand new addiction. This one was even scarier because on top of being mentally addicted I was physically addicted and would go into withdrawal if I didn't have my fix for more than 10 hours. This went on for a couple years, I would try and get clean and never go longer than about a day.  The symptoms would get so bad that I would be calling a dealer to buy pills. Eventually I hit rock bottom, my relationships were crumbling, I would lie and steal from my family to get money, I was so disgusted with myself and I knew I couldn't go on. I finally got clean, with the help of a therapist and 12 step programs. While I am really grateful for the doctor who helped me, we didn't take enough time to really discover why I was using all these drugs in the first place, instead he put me on antidepressants thinking that would fix whatever reasons I had been self medicating in the first place.

The next few years, I continued working at my sobriety, made some big life changes and from the outside my life had done a 180 degree turn from where I was. On the inside though, I felt kind of numb. I didn't feel depressed or unhappy, but I never felt anything - no real joy, sadness, or any emotion. It was as if my senses were dulled and I wasn't really living. On top of this, I gained 35 pounds and I was so self conscious of my body that I didn't even want to socialize or go out.

Last year, I signed up for Kundalini Teacher Training. Little did I know, I would meet an amazing doctor, who was just coming out with a new book about truly living - living a life off of any medication. I bought Dr. Kelly Brogan's book and towards the latter half of training I had devoured the pages and was so inspired to get off the medication. I started the process of weaning myself off and thank God, it was easier than I thought. I had some really emotional days where I was actually feeling again - crying hard and allowing things to release that had been pent up inside of me - and while these days were taught it felt amazing to actually be having emotions again. I shed the weight that I had accumulated and started to feel more confident in my skin. This confidence has crept into other parts of my life, I have been more connected know than ever to the universe and God and I feel like I have a real message I want to share. I have started blogging and I truly hope to inspire others to find this connection within themselves as well. Life isn't easy at all - but it is necessary to experience it. To go through the ups and downs, and cry so hard your eyes are puffy and also laugh so hard you can't breath! That is living! For so long I was dulled and numb by medication, creating an external shell that looked "successful" but inside I was lonely, empty and dying. The practices that Dr. Brogan puts forth are simple, any one can do kundalini, breath work and eat a little bit better. Once you feel this little spark inside of you begin to light up you will be excited to keep moving forward on the journey, to truly finding yourself and then being yourself fully. It feels amazing, I love who I am, I am grateful to Dr. Brogan and I know with her help and inspiration many many more woman and men are on the path to shining their authentic and un-dimmed light!

 

Full Video Transcript

Dr. Kelly Brogan:  Hi, everyone. I have the deep pleasure of speaking to Alexis today who is a radiant example of the inspirational capacity for a woman to heal herself.

I had the auspicious opportunity to meet her in my Kundalini yoga teacher training. I just got a little window into the process that she was in the depths of really. So, I want to share her experience not only because it is an example of the potential to totally shed disease labels, but also because it’s an example of how we have the opportunity and ability to do this really completely on our own. We’re in an incredible time for self-initiated healing.

And to be clear, she’s not a patient of mine. And she’s going to tell us a bit about what it is that she was able to move through and the process that she was able to engage even in the past couple of months.

So, tell us where you’re coming from, Alexis. And give us a little bit of a window into it.

Alexis Agnew: Okay! So yeah, I met Kelly I guess back in October of 2016—sorry to keep track of the years.

--at the beginning of our teacher training. And at that time actually, October, I had just celebrated five years of sober recovery from drugs and alcohol.

And at the time that I started working on getting clean, my doctor had also simultaneously put me on anti-depressants. So, I’ve also been on those for about five years.

I was at the point thinking I wanted to dig deeper as far as trying to find myself. And I was feeling like being on those pills, I never really felt so depressed, but I also never really felt joyful or happy. I didn’t really have any emotions. I was kind of just like, you know, very even-feeling all the time.

And I had also gained a lot of weight. I was feeling really self-conscious in my body. I wasn’t even sure if that was because of the anti-depressants. But I just wanted to start to get off of things that I was taking to just reconnect more so with myself.

Dr. Kelly: And what were you taking just so people have a sense of where you’re coming from?

Alexis: I’m not sure. My doctor tells me it was a low dose. I don’t know if that’s true. But I was on 20 mg. of Celexa.

Dr. Kelly:  …for a couple of years or for…?

Alexis: I guess about five years. It was pretty much right over the same time as I was [working] to get clean off drugs.

Dr. Kelly: So this, to me, is a fascinating element of your experience because it’s, in my opinion, a bit of a dirty secret in the guild of psychiatry.

We have protocolized shifting dependency from illicit substances to regulated prescription substances that, in my opinion, are actually potentially even more habit-forming. It’s really what’s done.

So, we aren’t really giving people an opportunity to look at, as you’ve referred to, the root cause of what was driving your initial addiction. If you weren’t encouraged to do that, but instead you were shuffled right into the psychiatric mill, so to speak, and started on medications that kept you divorced from any process of self-exploration, isn’t that just another way to prolong your process?

Alexis: It was like just putting another band-aid on top of the problem.

Dr. Kelly: Right! So somehow, you had the sense that you wanted a different experience. At some point, you were on medication, you were sober, and you had the sense that there was more for you. Can you just speak to how did you know you wanted to even come off medication?

Alexis:  I was just kind of “Is this all there is to life?” You just wake up, just get through the day. I just felt like I wanted to—even if it was experiencing sadness and crying and being frustrated, I just wanted to feel something.

I felt like I was just feeling nothing and just getting through the day. You know what I mean? I feel like that’s just such a boring way to live.

Dr. Kelly: Yes, yes. I like to refer to it as just sort of feeling like something important is missing from your human experience.

Alexis:  Yeah, exactly.

Dr. Kelly:  So, tell us a bit about the journey, the journey off medication.

Alexis:  Well, I did get inspired by meeting you. And then I ordered your book. I read through it. I decided I already have a lot of these tools in place. I had a yoga practice. I eat pretty well. I enjoy exercising and being out in nature. And I have a good support system. So I’m like, “I can try to get off of this.”

So, I just did it myself as far as like weaning down. I didn’t even really tell my doctor. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing. And even when I would’ve reached out or something, I started to feel really wrong or anything like this.

But at first, I just started putting a little bit more space between—I would take my regular dose one day, maybe skip the next day, one day at a time. And then, just little by little, I was putting more space in between the day that I would take my dose. And then, all of a sudden, I just didn’t take them anymore.

Dr. Kelly: Not what I recommend! No, I’m kidding.

In my practice, I never see people like you who can do it this way. So obviously, I see women who have tried and struggled because they’re sort of taking it every other day, but sort of self-weaning without the help of compounding pharmacy. Personalizing each little small dose decrease wasn’t successful for them.

So, those are often the women that I work with. And so I tend to really do slow—very, very slow—tapers.

But I find it fascinating to learn about a lot of the grassroots work that people are doing. A lot of people are doing this themselves because doctors are not trained in helping patients off of psychiatric medications. So odds are, even if you asked your doctor for help, they would’ve—I don’t know for sure, but they would’ve either discouraged you and refer to the chronic illness means like, “You are mentally ill. You’re always going to be mentally ill. And so you need to take medication like a diabetic needs to take insulin.”

Or if they put trust in you and try to taper you off, it’s possible that they wouldn't have had the training or experience because we’re not exposed to that in a conventional medical school and residency. It would’ve been potentially unsuccessful.

But you knew you were ready. You knew what the tools for your own self-healing and support were. You educated yourself in a way that you felt prepared you, and then you did it.

So, did you feel like you had to move through a birth canal, so to speak? Was there a dark window? Was there a struggle? Or was it pretty much like waking up from sleep? Was it a gradual emergence?

Alexis:  I remember there being a few days that I felt just a little bit more emotional. I started crying over little things and stuff like this. So, I guess in that way, it kind of felt like waking up because it didn’t feel bad. It wasn’t darkness. You know what I mean? Stuff was coming up and coming out. So, I guess it was kind of like that waking up sort of a thing.

Dr. Kelly: Again, I have a skewed experience of women who apparently really need to go through a dark night of the soul before they can emerge. It’s so [uncommon] even for me to hear about this kind of process. It’s a bit of a more gentle process, self-directed process.

Did you feel like there was something in you—either in your mindset, in your lifestyle, a relationship, something about your professional identity—that you needed to shed or that sort of needed to die in order for you to fully emerge into this lighter space? Or was it really just sort of rainbows and unicorns?

Alexis:  It’s not so much like I had to shed anything. I felt like I was just becoming more of myself.

Dr. Kelly: Yes.

Alexis: And the story was like with teaching yoga and working with clients—I mean, I’m not a therapist, but a lot of people, they tend to talk to their yoga teachers. They tell you how they feel and what they’re going through. And I thought now I could be more relatable.

Before, like I said, I wasn’t really going through any experiences or feelings. It was just always the same […] level. So now I felt like I could relate to people more so and I was just more of myself. I don’t know if that make sense.

Dr. Kelly:  It does! And essentially, what you’re saying is that in addition to enjoying a more expanded space of maybe joy and pleasure, satisfaction, I’m guessing you’re also willing to embrace harder feelings, that gift or pain or struggle or disappointment or frustration.

You understand that this is part of the whole swathe of human experience. You don’t get one without the other. And the alternative you opted for five years was a kind of flatness that really felt ultimately like a disconnection—not only maybe from yourself, but from others interestingly.

Alexis:  Yeah.

Dr. Kelly:  So, that’s more of a mindset shift.

Alexis:  Yeah, exactly. It was just like softness. Now, when people are telling me just everything they’re going through, all their up’s and down’s, I feel more connected to them because I feel the same […]

Dr. Kelly:  What do you think was sort of like an early indication that you were on the right track? Was there something that you felt in your body? Was it a physical change? Or was it more this sort of emotional territory you’re talking about that you knew you were getting on your path, becoming more yourself?

For the people who struggle on this process, I want to make sure they know what’s possible. We want to lend them a hand if they’re in those challenging windows. How did you know that you should stick with this, that you were on your path?

Alexis:  So, I would say that even though I said I had some days that I was definitely more emotional—and like I said, I would sometimes cry for no reason—those feelings felt better than the flatness.

So, I was like, “Alright! This is more exciting. And I feel more alive than just that flatness. And I have the tools to work through it.”

And the whole time, I never got to a point where I felt like bad or scared or I would do harm to myself or anything like this. I knew I was always in a safe. And even if the tough feelings come up—good feelings and tough feelings—they all felt good than not feeling anything at all.

So, you just start to feel more alive. I feel like I just want to keep going to connect […]

Dr. Kelly:  Any physical changes or shifts on this process? Or was it really just emotional for you?

Alexis:  Well, like I said, over a few years, I gained a lot of weight. And I’ve always worked out and ate healthy, and I would just keep gaining weight. I gained almost like 35 lbs.

And then, when I asked my doctor sometimes, “Oh, well, do you think it could be because of the anti-depressants?” he would say, “No, I don’t think so because Celexa usually make people gain weight and you’re on a really low dose.” So I was like, “Okay! Maybe it’s just my metabolism or whatever.”

But then, all of a sudden, I think I was off of them for maybe almost two to three months, and I lost 10 lbs. And then, within two or three weeks, I lost probably 20 lbs… in two weeks! It was crazy!

I’m a little bit overweight, but it was water weight or what it was. But people were just like, “Oh, what are you doing? You look so different.”

So I know that’s what it was because it was as soon as I got off of them. A little bit of time went by, it’s like my body re-calibrated. And now I’m back to where I was—just my normal, healthy me.

It’s not all about weight and how you look. But when you feel so uncomfortable in your body, you don’t even want to go or have lunch with even my friends or go on dates or anything like this. It really starts to play a hand at you from doing a lot of things because you’re so, so conscious.

Dr. Kelly:  It’s a reunion with your body in so many ways. And this is a part of it—feeling, as you’ve said, more yourself.

It’s incredible! I told you that I so have enjoyed watching your emergence on social media because your radiance is so apparent.

And radiance is not just an energetic thing. It’s everything. It’s all of your 10 bodies, so to speak, projecting the same image. It’s been incredible.

So, to be clear, what were or was the formal diagnosis that you once had? Do you know? Were you told that you, in addition to being sort of a recovered addict or substance abuser, let’s say (because those are the words we use in psychiatry), were you ever told that you have a diagnosis of depression or some kind of anxiety disorder or anything? Any reason that you were on the Celexa?

Alexis:  No, not really. I mean, literally, like I said, at the same time as I was getting off (as I was working on my sobriety), I see the psychiatrist because he prescribes medication. So he’s like, “Well, you’re obviously self-medicating for some reason by using drugs and alcohol. So we’ll put you on anti-depressants.”

And at the time, I was just getting cleaner. I’m like, “Okay, whatever, I’ll do that.”

It’s totally different from what I am now. I’m more into yoga, more holistic living and all this. I mean, I’ve just been abusing my body for 10 years. I was like, “Okay, that sounds fine. I’ll just take those.”

Dr. Kelly: It sounds like the lesser evil. Well, what’s incredible is there’s just no informed consent there. There was no discussion. And I was absolutely guilty of this as a prescriber. There’s no discussion of what are the short- and long-term risks, what is this medication doing, what else could you be doing instead of that. It’s just treated like some sort of like, “Why not? Better safe than sorry” kind of a thing.

And meanwhile, for a good chunk of your life, you were living it really not as yourself, not in your own skin. And granted, there needed to be—as I’m seeing you’re aware—these pillars of self-care put in place in order for you to have the strength to move through your own process and your journey clearer, with clarity.

So, if you didn’t know that that was an important component, then maybe you would have reverted to using substances.

Alexis:  Right, right.

Dr. Kelly:  There is a simple program for self-care. And putting it at the forefront of this kind of effort, that should really give you back yourself and your life away.

Alexis:  Yeah. I mean, he never offered alternatives. “Well, you can take these, and that might help. Or you can try to just do some more exercise and maybe find a group of like-minded people,” just other—like you said, these different pillars or ways to kind of work through what I needed to work through and not just putting that second band-aid or whatever.

Dr. Kelly: Yeah. Amazing! I love this.

So, I would say just from my watching you evolving that you feel more connected to yourself, more connected to others. But my sense is you actually have developed also—or at least reconnected to maybe—spirituality, a deeper sense of wonder maybe about this human experience and the mystical aspects of it. Do you think that’s fair to say?

Alexis:  Oh, yeah. That’s probably the biggest thing that’s come back into my life. Before this, I was never really a spiritual person. So it’s like the one, big thing that I’ve been discovering and making a part of my life.

It’s exciting! You kind of have to just accept that. There is this bigger power and that we are having a human experience. We’re spiritual beings having a human experience—that’s this one quote I keep hearing.

When we start to think of things that way, it’s like there’s just so much possibility. Our souls never die. This is just one body that we have (if you even believe in all that).

But yeah, the possibility is just endless. And you feel like you have a support system just knowing that the Universe is behind you or something bigger or whatever it is that you believe in.

And again, before that, I think taking the anti-depressants […] and just getting through the day, I never thought in terms of spirituality and having this soul. You know what I mean?

Alexis:  I do! And I wouldn't have even five years ago. But it’s become so apparent to me that for women—I’ll say specifically just because that’s been my clinical focus—to come into this space of spiritual awakening, divine femininity, personal transformation, coming off of anti-depressants specifically seems like a critical part of that process.

And I don’t think we totally understand why it is because we don’t totally even understand what these medications do or how they interact with human consciousness. We only really understand what they do on a neurochemical level. But it’s been my observation that coming off of psychiatric medication is a form of self-initiation right now for people and for women specifically.

And your experience so echoes that. It’s powerful to me that it doesn’t necessarily have to be some cataclysmic event or some, I don’t know—you don’t have to be in bed for 18 months, moving through some, as I’ve said, dark night of the soul. But it could be this sort of self-directed, gentle awakening process that we’re sort of being ushered into a more spiritual realm where things just start to make sense in a deep way, our soul level.

Your experience is such a beautiful example of that and helpful to flesh out the landscape of what this could look like.

Alexis: Yeah.

Dr. Kelly: So, I so thank you for having the courage to share this and for lighting the way for so many people who need to know that this is possible and that this kind of self-expansion is available to each and every one of us who feels ready.

Alexis: If I can inspire at least one person, well, that’s all worth it.

Dr. Kelly: There’s no doubt. And the fact that you have a healing practice and that you work as a teacher yourself is no accident either. It’s part of how you are going to be sharing your light and energetically spreading this potential. I think it’s amazing.

So, thank you so much, Alexis.

Alexis: Yeah, thank you so much.

Dr. Kelly: Thank you.

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About Dr. Kelly Brogan

KELLY BROGAN, MD, is a holistic psychiatrist, author of the New York Times Bestselling book, A Mind of Your OwnOwn Your Self, the children’s book, A Time For Rain, and co-editor of the landmark textbook Integrative Therapies for Depression. She is the founder of the online healing program Vital Mind Reset, and the membership community, Vital Life Project. She completed her psychiatric training and fellowship at NYU Medical Center after graduating from Cornell University Medical College, and has a B.S. from M.I.T. in Systems Neuroscience. She is specialized in a root-cause resolution approach to psychiatric syndromes and symptoms. Learn More