ABOUT FOUR YEARS AGO, I DECIDED TO PHASE OFF an antidepressant that I’d been taking since 2003. During the process, I worked closely with my doctor and psychologist to create a successful exit strategy.
My personal reasons for wanting to discontinue the use of the antidepressant (Lexapro) were many, the biggest one being my desire to reclaim a greater breadth of emotional frequency in my life. I started using Lexapro in 2003 shortly after an HIV diagnosis, which seemed to make sense for all the things I was going through at the time. I used it on and off—mostly on—for the next five years. Today, I’m undetectable; and in my doctor’s words: “You’re healthy as an ox, Sam.”
I’ve always liked oxen.
One of the things I found while being treated with Lexapro is that my “range” of emotions was “compacted” — like the center part of a histogram. I don’t experience the great “highs” (or lows) of life like I remember. Not that life is without happiness or struggles — but the colors of life seem a little less varied.
I am married to the man of my dreams, run a business, have supporting friends, loving family, and a great Yorkshire Terrier named Max. I am aware of my spirituality and I have a great peace of mind. Everything is fine. I am ready to feel the full spectrum of my life again.
Stopping the use of psycho-active medications is serious business. If you’re taking antidepressants, do not substitute my plan for medical advice from your doctor. That said, here’s my “exit strategy” for stopping the use of Lexapro:
Work with a doctor. Don’t stop taking medication without a doctor’s supervision.
Tapering. Not the sexual kind that Olympic athletes experience. The best way to avoid the side effects of antidepressants is to slowly wean yourself off. I cut my 20MG dose of Lexapro first to 10MG for a few weeks, then to 5MG for a couple weeks, then to 2.5MG for a couple weeks. The final slash to 2.5 was optional, but I decided to do it just for peace of mind.
Therapy. Uncovering what caused my depression in the first place is turning out to be an invaluable part of getting off the medication forever. I worked with a team of psychologists who practice CBT — cognitive behavioral therapy. I also talked through some my issues more informally with a spirit-based life coach.
Timing is Everything. My partner, my friends, my doctor, and my therapist all agreed that now seems to be a good time to do this. Most of the external factors that were pressing me at other times in my life are now more or less at bay.
Work Out. As a trainer, I know first hand that exercise is the best antidepressant that money just can’t buy. My doctor agrees: “Increasing your cardio will release powerful endorphins. It’s like natural morphine,” he said. “And it will improve your sex drive.” I’ve always liked that, too.
Supplements & Diet. I eat a pretty balanced diet, but I’ve increased my Omega 3 fatty acids from 900mg to 1800 mg per day during the “phase off” (these fatty acids have been linked to improved brain function, and maintain healthy heart and vascular function). I’m also taking 50mg of vitamin B6 daily.
Get centered. More meditation, more guided imagery, more visualization. I’ll spend some time working consciously to become more unconscious — to be “in flow.”