I’m Super Crunchy… But I Take Anti-Anxiety Medication (& here’s why)
Some physical health issues turned into major mental health problems, exacerbating the mental illness I already had. Despite using oils, supplements, herbs, and other natural things, I opted for allopathic, pharmaceutical help. I’m super crunchy, but I take anti-anxiety medication. Here’s why.
I wanted to die.
On March 7, 2019, with my kids gone and my husband not watching, I slipped outside in sub-zero temperatures without a coat or mittens. I wanted to wander into the woods and be put to sleep by the cold.
There wasn’t an essential oil I could rub on it or a supplement left to try.
I had been seen by my naturopath, two chiropractors, two massage therapists, and a shamanic healer.
We had smudged the house with all the sage we could find and put healing crystals all over the place.
I had had my chakras balanced. Four times.
My husband had become a certified master Reiki healer and aromatherapist and treated me daily. We practiced acupressure, meditation, prayer, and sound healing.
I took all sorts of supplements: Vitamin D and C, a B-vitamin complex, GABA, 5-HTP, and more.
Y’all, by the time my mental health took me outside in frigid temperatures, ready to freeze to death, there was literally not one more crunchy, natural thing we could try.
I’m Super Crunchy… But I Take Anti-Anxiety Medication
Whether you’ve been following me for a long time or you’re new to All The Nourishing Things, a quick look around my site will reveal one thing: I’m pretty into all things natural…
We don’t vaccinate our kids; we do grow some of our own food.
One of my core beliefs is that our bodies were designed to heal themselves.
Think about it…
When you cut yourself, usually in less than a day, a scab forms. The scab protects the wound from infection while the body forms new skin underneath. Eventually, the scab falls off to reveal healed, new skin.
You don’t have to take a pill for this process to occur. Our bodies are just freaking awesome! They are designed to heal themselves.
So, me being into all this natural stuff and holding the strong belief that our bodies are made to heal themselves, it may come as a shock when I tell you that I also take anti-anxiety medication.
As in, from the pharmacy. Behind the counter stuff, y’all.
Let me give you the back story of my mental health…
I was “officially” diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and PTSD about 3 years ago.
Before that, my only other mental health diagnosis was postpartum depression after my daughter was born. I didn’t know about natural anything back then. I took Lexapro for 10 months. (You can read my whole story here.)
Once I got off the Lexapro, I resumed life as usual. Or, I thought I did.
Now I know that I had had anxiety since childhood — and I had developed various coping behaviors and habits subconsciously to deal with it.
Habits like obsessive-compulsive house-cleaning and passive-aggressive behaviors when I didn’t get my way.
I’m not defending myself; but I recognize that those things were my brain’s way of helping me cope when life handed me lemons.
I didn’t know how to make lemonade.
But I did know how to throw lemons back at life (and people), how to make a mess of myself and situations, and how to defensively get through anxious situations with avoidance or passive-aggressive behaviors.
Still, the body isn’t meant to deal with anxiety 24/7/365 — yet, that’s what mine was doing. When it goes on long enough, you eventually have physical symptoms — and I did.
As any natural-minded person would, I sought foods and supplements to relieve the knot in my throat, heart palpitations, HPA axis dysfunction, and insomnia. I was treated by nutritionists, chiropractors, naturopaths, and more.
In 2017, I discovered EMDR therapy.
It dramatically changed my life. And my physical symptoms.
After my first 2-hour session, the knot in my throat was noticeably less. In two months, it was gone.
EMDR pressed the “calm down” button on my nervous system — and it gave me so much of my life back while helping me to cope in a healthier way with anxious situations.
EMDR was like an eraser for my nervous system, figuratively erasing my brain’s and body’s stored memories of trauma, anger, and anxiety that started all the way back in childhood.
It worked REALLY well for about 2 years. And I managed my mental illness with a combination of EMDR, Traditional Chinese Medicine, diet, and supplements.
Until I began having anxiety about my physical health — a new type of anxiety for me.
I lost it, y’all.
I went for over 11 years without taking any pharmaceutical medications, except for a couple of rounds of antibiotics.
You get to a point, though, when you know that, despite all the natural and nourishing things you’re doing, none of it is working.
The First Time I Took Anti-Anxiety Medication
It’s not understood how much of mental illness is nature vs. nurture, how much is genetic and how much is because of trauma. For me, I believe that there is just as much a trauma component as there is a genetic one.
Mental illness is prevalent on both sides of my family. Though, it has often been accompanied by alcoholism and/or addiction, which, if that part is genetic, has thankfully not been an issue for me.
But I reached the point of no return — it was either take anti-anxiety medication or suffer and die.
The pain of crippling anxiety isn’t a physical pain for me. In fact, I struggle to put it into words. It’s the worst, most crippling pain I’ve felt. Yet not the sort of pain that a Tylenol would help.
It’s soul pain. Seering, seething mind-racing that produces the literal desire to crawl out of my skin.
Anxiety is the worst horror movie you can imagine — but it’s playing inside of you.
From the outside, you look totally fine. But your mind and soul scream for freedom from the inside.
The first time I took an Ativan? That feeling stopped for a little while.
It bought me a few hours of relief or sleep, like it sort of hit the “reset” button on my brain. The anxiety would calm enough to allow me to breathe, see things rationally, and try to start over once it wore off.
But taking Ativan forever wasn’t an option for me. It’s a highly addictive benzodiazepine.
I’ve witnessed someone very close to me with a benzo addiction. It’s hell to come off of.
I Needed REAL Psychiatric Help. Not herbs. Not oils. Not supplements.
My body also quickly built up a tolerance to it. Where 0.5mg worked at first, within a couple of months 1mg wouldn’t touch the anxiety.
My general practitioner tried a non-benzo anti-anxiety medication, Buspar, for me. She also put me on Trintellix, a very expensive SSRI.
Neither did anything.
Well, the Trintellix made me super nauseous, so that was fun.
I needed help, and I needed it NOW. My GP didn’t have the expertise that a psychiatrist had, but the wait to see a psychiatrist was several months.
Unfortunately, there is a mental health provider crisis in Minnesota — with too few providers and too many folks needing psychiatric care.
By this point, I was four months into mental hell. I had lost 20 pounds from anxiety alone. Nothing tasted good. I couldn’t sleep more than 3 hours a night before I awoke, immediately in a full-blown panic attack.
To make matters worse, I wasn’t able to function at home, couldn’t be left alone, wasn’t comfortable no matter what I was doing, and couldn’t focus on anything.
I tried to be useful and do “normal” things, but cooking, cleaning, typing, working, even driving — I was totally dysfunctional.
It was time for the big guns.
On March 11, 2019, I did the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. My husband drove me to the local hospital, where I admitted to having a suicide plan and attempting to carry it out.
I was admitted to in-patient mental health treatment where I finally received the psychiatric help and pharmaceuticals I desperately needed.
From the moment I changed out of my own clothes and into the mandatory scrubs every patient wears, the anxiety melted away.
I was finally getting the help I needed. I was in a safe place with doctors and nurses who would medicate me to help me sleep and stay calm.
Truthfully, if I ever get half as bad as I was before, I wouldn’t hesitate to go back. Of course, I hope that never happens.
Being a crunchy, hippie health freak has its advantages in a mental hospital, too.
A couple of years ago, I had DNA testing done through 23andme.com.
From 23 and Me, I acquired my “raw data” results. Then, I paid $5 to run it through a site called Promethease, which:
[I]s a literature retrieval system that builds a personal DNA report based on connecting a file of DNA genotypes to the scientific findings cited in SNPedia.
Biomedical researchers, healthcare practitioners and customers of DNA testing services (such as 23andMe, Ancestry.com, FamilyTreeDNA, Genos, etc.) use Promethease to retrieve information published about their DNA variations.
Next, I took that report to a naturopath who specializes in nutrigenomics — where I received an additional report of her findings about my DNA.
Things I learned from that report?
- I do not have any MTHFR mutations.
- Several of my genes put me at higher risk of autoimmune thyroid disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and gluten intolerance.
- I am genetically at a higher risk for having mold allergies.
- My body does well on supplements like N-acetyl l-cysteine, Vitamin B6, and SAMe.
But perhaps the most valuable piece of information I learned was this:
I have numerous cytochrome P-450 mutations — also called CYPs.
Up to 80% of pharmaceutical drugs and many herbs (like St. John’s Wort) are processed on the CYP pathways — and mutated pathways alter the way the body metabolizes these drugs.
Case in point: pain killers like hydrocodone and vicodin don’t work for me. They don’t make me sleepy or loopy, and they also don’t relieve my pain.
This genetic information about my CYP pathways also explains why SSRIs, like the Trintellix my GP put me on, didn’t work. They are processed on my most mutated pathway: CYP2D6.
So, in the history of our hospital’s mental health ward, I am the only person to show up with all of my genetic information on a flash drive. 😛
And within 36 hours, my psychiatrist had found medications that DID work for my anxiety.
If you are dealing with any sort of mental illness, I HIGHLY recommend having your DNA tested and interpreted by a psychiatrist. This is so helpful when finding medications that work for your body, without having to go through the torturous trial-and-error process.
Leaving Inpatient Treatment with Anti-Anxiety Medications
I voluntarily checked myself out of the hospital after 5 days with 3 prescriptions:
- Remeron: 7.5mg twice during the day and 30mg at bedtime
- Seroquel: 100mg at bedtime
- Klonopin: PRN .5 to 1mg
6 weeks later, I discontinued the Seroquel. It gave me bad dreams and also negatively affected my hormones.
So now, I take Remeron — which, of the anti-anxiety medications out there is probably one with the lowest side effects. It’s also not a benzo or SSRI.
Klonopin is a benzo, so I am very wary of it. At first, I needed it during the day because the anxiety was and is still very real.
But over time, the Remeron has done what it’s meant to do.
What is Remeron?
Generically, it’s Mirtazapine, and it is classified as a tetracyclic anti-depressant — not an SSRI.
For some, Remeron can take up to 2 weeks to begin working at a therapeutic level. For me, it worked right away.
Potential side effects include:
- increased appetite (which I definitely have and which is definitely a good thing considering I weighed 125 pounds the day I checked into the hospital)
- weight gain (see above)
- increased cholesterol
- changes in vision or eye pain (rare)
- low white blood cell count (rare)
- serotonin shock syndrome (rare)
Here’s how my psychiatrist explained Remeron to me:
In the short-term it works as an anti-anxiety medication; in the long-term, it works as an anti-depressant.
It is processed partly on the CYP2D6 pathway, but is also processed down CYP1A2 and CYP3A4. So far, my body seems to be metabolizing it just fine, and I haven’t noticed any adverse affects like with the Seroquel.
I take two small doses during the day (7.5mg each) and then a large dose at bedtime (30mg).
What About the Klonopin?
Klonopin is a benzodiazepine — the same class of drugs as Ativan (generic: lorazepam), Xanax, and Valium. Of the benzos, it has a longer half-life, so it stays in your system longer.
I’m not thrilled to have a bottle of Klonopin in my house, just like I wasn’t thrilled about the Ativan. It’s all about risk vs. reward for me.
I am trying to re-establish the baseline of my mental health. So, having a panic attack or insomnia again wouldn’t be beneficial to me or help me with the establishment of baseline.
Though I am allowed to take up to 3mg per day, I need only 1mg at bedtime 99% of the time. And I’m ok with that.
The risks of losing sleep, having panic attacks, or falling back into dysfunction are too great and outweigh the risk of having Klonopin — for me.
As a crunchy, natural person, my long-term goals are…
I have NO clue.
If you had told me 6 months ago that I would be suicidal, checking myself into a mental hospital, and managing 3 different psychiatric medications, I would’ve said you were the one with the mental illness. 😉
Obviously, I don’t want to be on any medications. But right now? I need to be on them.
And I’m ok with that.
I work with 3 therapists plus my psychiatrist now. One therapist does EMDR, one does ego-state therapy, and one does DBT. The psychiatrist is in charge of my medications, refills, dosing, etc.
All of my therapists have recommended that I give myself a full year to recover. Then, maybe, we’ll work toward going off medications.
I have restructured my life to accommodate my inability to go and do as much as I did before. Though my medications don’t prohibit my life in any way, I also recognize that pushing myself to go and do more isn’t a good idea.
Right now, less is more.
Furthermore, I still have physical issues to deal with — the very same issues that brought on all this anxiety in the first place.
For my pelvic floor dysfunction, I go to pelvic floor physical therapy and religiously do my exercises and stretches at home. I am actively, but gently, trying to re-build the reserves of my pelvic floor — and it’s working!
We have a trip to the United Kingdom in early June to treat my pelvic congestion syndrome.
I do things that bring me joy, go for walks, putter around in my garden, lay on the couch and read books. I didn’t regularly make space or time to do those things before.
The point of all this is…
If we are being truly holistic with our healthcare, then we must recognize when herbs, essential oils, and supplements have their place AND when pharmaceuticals or allopathic intervention have their place.
It’s easy to poo-poo allopathic medicine or tell someone who’s on a bunch of drugs if they would just do A, B, and C, they could get off of them.
But, it’s not really that easy.
Maybe they could eat more nourishing foods or get up off the couch and exercise or try some herbs or take a few tinctures. Maybe they could start a meditation or yoga practice.
Or, maybe they’re doing all of those things and more… and they still need help.
Thank goodness for science and doctors and laboratories that produce these meds!
That’s holistic healthcare, my friends.
I’m a super natural crunchy hippie health freak who believes in herbs and crystals and energy healing and smudging and nutrient-dense foods.
And, I also take anti-anxiety medication.
I have not failed at being The Most Crunchy. I have succeeded in saving my life.