I’ve gone over my history with anxiety and depression before, but today I wanted to review what I’m doing to manage these symptoms.
Since I was prescribed my first pill for depression, I was never a fan of them. Initially, I did not feel like they worked at all. Over several years, I learned to recognize how they affected me, by periodically switching pills (when I told the doctor they didn’t seem to do anything) and occasionally going off of them. Every time I have reduced a dose or gone off the medication cold-turkey (not recommended), about 2-3 weeks from the change, I experience a rather debilitating period of depression and anxiety for at least a few days. It always takes me at least a day to remember why it’s occurring, and then it starts to get better. I don’t like that the medication that is supposed to help me has such strong withdrawals, it just doesn’t say good things to me about how it’s treating my brain chemicals.
This brings us to me going Primal. Last July, I started eating whole foods as much as possible, cutting out things like grains (especially wheat), soy and other legumes, and refined sugar. Overall, I would say I am always at least 80% compliant. Those bad foods (bad for me, at least, though I would argue they are bad for most people) definitely make up less than 20% of my diet. I started to feel a lot better physically, eliminating all of the IBS and GERD-like symptoms I had been experiencing. I also started to feel like my moods were a bit more stable, though still not how I wanted them to be. Sometime around September, I read a book called The Mood Cure and then another, Depression-Free: Naturally. Both books are about managing mood disorders through the use of supplements. I figured that since improving my nutrition, especially protein consumption, improved my brain, supplements could help too. In The Mood Cure, Julia Ross explains that supplements like vitamins and amino acids can help improve brain function because her theory of mood disorders is based on deficiencies. Stress, poor diet, and traumatic events can all lead to nutritional deficiencies, and without a proper diet to support good brain function, those deficiencies will never build back up to proper levels.
I decided to cut down on the list of supplements that each book recommends and just go with what seemed to apply to me based on their detailed symptoms lists. I started with 5-HTP, taken at night with dinner and before bedtime, and L-Tyrosine, taken in the morning before breakfast. On days that I wasn’t taking L-Tyrosine, I felt quite different, like I usually feel, which is to say rather unfocused, easily distracted, and anxious. 500mg of L-Tyrosine made a huge difference in my anxiety, allowing me to easily make eye contact even when I was feeling uncomfortable in a social situation, and not forgetting “what I was about to do” all of the time. After 6 months of taking it regularly, I am taking some time off. It’s been a couple of weeks and I feel slightly less focused and slightly more anxious, but I also feel like since I have been able to experience how I would like my mind to function, it’s easier for me to kind of train myself to respond appropriately, even when I am feeling more uncomfortable. Maybe this is also just because I’ve allowed my body to absorb the extra amino acids from the supplement, I don’t know, but I like how it works! I may go back to taking it every other day for a while longer. It’s certainly cheaper than a prescription for Ritalin, and there's no side effects for me.
I tried Ritalin once, the only other brain-affecting drug I’ve tried aside from SSRI’s. It definitely increased my focus, but it made me more anxious and I “tweaked out” at some point in taking it. I ended up pacing in my room for several hours feeling “all over the place” in my mind. That kind of response says to me that it’s not something I want to rely on. With SSRI’s, I had the usual feeling of “not quite myself”, and as soon as I was off them, I felt like it was easier to laugh, easier to feel happy, easier to feel spontaneous and less inhibited. It was like the SSRI’s prevented anxiety and depression by just dampening my mood responses in general, which is not a good enough solution to me and it didn’t do anything to help me learn how to manage these feelings appropriately.
With 5-HTP, well, there are a lot of options of amino acids one can take to try to manage depression. St. John’s Wort is a particularly famous one. 5-HTP is generally recommended as the one to start with, so I’ve been trying different doses for the past 6 months or so. My depression and anxiety are often inter-linked so it is difficult for me to determine when it’s “working”, but it’s a process. I definitely feel that I am much more stable emotionally now than I was a year ago, or ever before since before I began experiencing depression almost 10 years ago. 5-HTP definitely helps me sleep, but it’s hard for me to tell when/if it really helps my depressive moods because there are often many other factors (sleep, food, external stress) that could be causing it and not just because “my brain sucks.” I often feel extra anxiety and depression just thinking about how my mind doesn’t function the way others do and that it makes my life harder.
To help with that, I’ve recently gone back to therapy. I’ve fought against therapy for a long time, after having some particularly negative experiences with family therapy and some therapists that I didn’t mesh with, but I really like the person I am seeing now and their approach. I am hoping that, as I usually do, I can see this therapist to get to a point where I feel like I can “manage myself” again and keep striving to improve my emotional responses and how I handle conflicts. I have a lot of pride in myself over my attempts at self-improvement these past 10 months and hope I am building some healthy habits to ultimately cure these mood disorders in myself.
In addition to Tyrosine and 5-HTP, I have tried L-Theanine (also helps with adrenal function, I felt no different), Vitamin D (which cured my Seasonal Affective Disorder), and a B-complex (I haven’t taken this regularly, but I should to help with the 5-HTP absorption). Unrelated to mood, I took Vitamin C and a ferritin chelate supplement to treat low iron in my blood, and my hair stopped falling out and levels went back to normal. I’m now also taking L-Glutamine and Candex to ensure my gut is free and clear of excess candida, and heal my gut to prevent absorption issues and further deficiencies like I experienced with iron and vitamin D.
If you have any questions about my process, please let me know! I love talking about it :)