Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Right now: treating anxiety and depression

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 :)


  1. Yeah you do. I'm too lazy and private to blog about myself but it seems we have had a lot of similar experiences and it definitely seems like you are doing the right things.  I used to suffer from anxiety and realized, (after my eventual truly debilitating 'panic attack' which lasted for 3 weeks!) through my hippy chiropractor and his Applied Kinesiology, that diet, nutrition, stress and exercise had everything to do with my issues... whereas before I thought it was 'just the way I am' which was just naturally-born crazy, anxious, depressed.  I'm probably predisposed to anxiety, depression, chemical sensitivity, etc. I don't really know.. But all I know is that when my physician and newly referred shrink had no answers for me and no solutions I desperately resorted to my mom's chiropractor for help. (In fact my physician's only advice was to go home and take a bath. I tried that and it just gave me more anxiety while sitting naked in the tub. Strike that, reverse, the shrink's solution after having me complete a questionaire was to put me on Zoloft which was a huge mistake- It made me nauseated on top of my already complete lack of appetite). Me, who usually fluctuates between 120-130 lbs was down to 105lbs!  I had been suffering from mega anxiety, sensitivity to light and noise, the tops of my hands felt tingly and cold, my brain was extra fuzzy, my hands trembled, I was always on the brink of tears b/c I felt so helplessly emotional and worried wondering what the hell was going on with me. I had zero appetite, and an unbelievable level of physical weakness.. All these symptoms occuring ONLY after or as a result of, a simple panic attack.  From THE moment I had this, what I thought was, random and inexplicable anxiety attack after giving a huge presentation at my work which  gave me a case of stage fright.

    But then this chiropractor, Dr. Michael Thomas out of Wilmington, MA recognized my symptoms and through a chiropractors seemingly quacky analysis methods explained all about my condition.  In my interpretation he explained that I was suffering from Hypoglycemia and sugar-handling stress. (see and all about my hormone and adrenal levels and functions, and how we needed to give my 'levels' a 'boost' to get me back on track and then it's up to me to stay on track through nutrition monstly.  He explained that all my 'levels' were depleted.. and my body/brain wasn't able to bounce back from it like it previously did with past panic attacks which back then would only last a mere nightmar'ish 20 seconds.

    His 'boost' was basically some supplements of amino acids and a fairly strict list of what to eat, when to eat it, and all the things I seriously needed to avoid.. at least until after I was feeling better.  He had me eating a meal or snack every 4 hours and it had to be a combo of protein, fast carbs and slow carbs.   And it worked.  I have not yet had a true panic attack ever since and this whole ordeal was back in 2005.  And when I feel like I have an attack coming on?  Rather than getting overly worried now I EAT.   I've noticed my own correlation between low blood sugar and anxiety/panic.  So to cure/prevent anxiety often times it's just my body's way of telling me to breathe, rest, and eat well because my blood sugar levels were running on empty, kick-starting my adrenalin and resulting in this plethora of resulting symptoms. 

    All I'm saying is, you seem right on track. I only suggest that you do not take any SSRI while taking 5-htp and make sure you eat often enough and of course get a good night's rest.  I obviously know you eat well- but just suggesting that you do not go too many hours without fuel.

  2. Gotta love chiropractors! I see Dr. Shaddrick in Davis Sq, he's the bomb.

    I've definitely experienced hypoglycemic episodes, though was never formally diagnosed with it. Going primal sorted that out and as long as I don't go overboard on the occasional ice cream or chocolately treat (refined sugars), I don't have to worry about eating at any particular time or any particular thing/amount. It's great.

    My main confusion now is figuring out if 5-HTP is working or not. I upped the dose a lot last night and it doesn't seem to help me sleep the same way it did initially. I'm not constantly depressed so it's not like I can tell immediately or even from week to week. My responses to stressful situations especially at work could use improvement so I'm thinking that will probably be my indicator. I am constantly letting myself get stressed out, though I'm better at recognizing it now.

    Thank you for sharing!