My Antidepressant Exit Strategy

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.”

17 thoughts on “My Antidepressant Exit Strategy

  1. Once again, Sam, you impress the hell out of me.

    As somebody who has wavered back and forth on whether or not to start antidepressants, I am grateful for the openness and candor with which you have addressed the topic–it has been helpful to me.

    If getting off the stuff is what you want to do, I have no doubt that it is what you will do.

    It would be great if you post how you are feeling as you wean off the med and if, indeed, that full spectrum of emotions opens up for you.

    Be well. I’m not about to say “good luck”, because the task at hand, I am certain, is as good as done.

  2. As you know, Sam, I was on antidepressants of one kind or another for several years, and just the other day in our workout together I was thinking about the fact that I haven’t taken one in months. I know I used to bring my depression into the gym with me, and there were many mornings when those heavy weights felt like metaphors for my woes. There were times when the effort of working that damn leg press machine dredged up all kinds of sadness, and I thank you for sticking it out with me during those awkward moments. I dropped celexa and effexor months ago and I’ve felt just fine. Having hit one of my training goals with your help, I feel better than ever, and with Glenn in my life now, if that leg press brings me to tears it’s just because it’s so damn heavy.

  3. This post about the antidepressants is fascinating. Good for you! And I’m so pleased that you will get reacquainted with a range of emotional intensity that may have been missing before!

  4. Good for you, Sammy. You’ve come such a long way since we first met in my living room over 12 years ago. I’ve never experienced antidepressants, but know that you will succeed once again. You are so disciplined that once you make up your mind to climb a mountain, nothing will get in your way. This is why your dreams, ideals, loves, career, friends, support – all happens for you. You make it happen. I am so very proud of you and “my….. how you’ve grown”. love you,

  5. My boyfriend also weaned off it, is much happier, and uses “medical marijane” on weekend for stress relief. You CAN use it and not be stoned.

  6. Avid reader here of your website and blog/ emails. Love your website/ blog/ ideas/ musings/ and daily guy candy.

    Congrats on trying to kick the Lexapro. I take it, too. Just wanted to say please be careful. I decided to go off my meds a year and a half ago because I wanted to be brave and take life as it came, but it totally messed me up. I honor the fact that you want to try it. If I could, I would do it, too. But because of my lessons learned [it was a horrible brain chemistry year for me], unfortunately will keep me a Lexapro customer. I don’t want to discourage you. Just want to say I send you good energy while you do this and hope that your brain chemistry says, “see! I told you so. I don’t need it any longer.”

    Coffee and Lexapro in the same month? Man, you’re livin’ dangerously!

  7. Since research now shows that after the first depression period, it becomes a brain chemistry issue, it is indeed hard to get off the drugs that keep your chemistry balanced. Sometimes just greatly reducing your dose is enough to reclaim your emotions yet still stay level-headed and “level-hearted”.

  8. I had no idea you were going to Dr. Joe DeFoto. That is who I went to when I was living in LA. He is a great doctor–absolutely love him! He is so non-judgmental and so caring and so real. He is also very, very hot! I have a major crush on him.

  9. Pingback: Confessions of a Coffee Junkie, and a Practical Way to Quit « PEACE LOVE LUNGES

  10. I went off Lexapro 5 months ago (finished the taper-down Jan 1). If you can cut from 20mg to 10mg, you are doing very well. I couldn’t hack it, and had to drop to 15mg to start. Unfortunately for me, after 5 months off I can see that it’s not working so I have to go back on. But I’m going to try to keep it at 10mg in an effort to improve the range of emotions I can feel. Best of luck.

  11. Sam:

    Good luck with this. Per our conversation Thursday, here are the thoughts of someone with a PhD in Psychology:

    1. Remember, success is being happy, not ‘being off of meds.’ So if you go off of this and after a while you feel you need to be back on them, don’t hesitate because you think it’s some sort of ‘moral failure’. Sad to say, a lot of people do feel this way. But the key is to be happy, not to prove some point that you can live without a ‘crutch.’ It’s like diabetes—if you can manage it with diet & excercise, great. But if not, it would be foolish to not use other options to keep yourself healthy.

    2. Some people will tell you they have go off anti-depressants and feel fine. This may or may not apply to you. Sad to say, the pharmaceutical industry pushes their medications often far beyond appropriate use. For example, so-called “soft sign” depression is not necessarily affected by pharmacotherapy. So someone who had been prescribed an SSRI for “soft” depression might not feel a huge difference after going off of meds—simply because they shouldn’t have been on them to begin with. The flip side of that, of course, is that maybe you don’t need to be on them, either.

    3. The take-away message is: your mileage may vary. Studies are great for giving you an idea of which medications to try, but in the end it’s your own personal results that matter. The most important thing in life is being happy (in my view). There’s no valor in spending a life unhappy just to prove a moral point that you “don’t need a crutch”.

    And to everyone out there thinking of going off meds (of any kind); obviously, only do this under the guidance of your doctor.

  12. Great perspective, Arsh. FYI and to all: I’ve now been off the medication for three weeks and am about to start taking a new vitamin/amino acid based formula that’s supposed to support/foster a “friendly environment” in the body and brain for the repair or creation of new neurotransmitters in the brain. I’ll keep you posted.

  13. Great news about your journey off meds dealing with depression and awesome you share that with us!

    I’ve found some remarkable all-natural products recently introduced to the general public I feel compelled to share with you as I’ve seen remarkable results myself.

    They are from a company called Wellcorps (, and when you look at their Philosophy link under their Company tab, you’ll see that this company is geared towards helping us achieve optimum wellness on every level. They’ve pulled the best from various cultures around the world, and come up with their own unique formula that is like nothing I’ve come across in my 30 years of taking supplements.

    I use three of their current newly released products, Perspective, WellcapAM, and Wood.

    Perspective combined with WellcapAM has given me an elevated sense of constant “feel great”, and a sense that I’m unstoppable. It feels like it brings out the best part of my personality, and I feel downright unstoppable. They’re doing test studies now on groups dealing with depression and seeing across-the-board thumbs up.

    Wood (as you can tell by the rather “gifted” lumberjack cartoon on the label) is geared for men.
    It not only obviously increases libido and for sure, firmer erections (it’s done so for me), but I feel stronger and have more stamina at the gym, and with the enhanced anti-oxidant protection, this cold I felt coming on, which usually lasts for weeks, went away in 24 hours.

    Might be worth exploring my friend. Haven’t seen you at Golds Hollywood lately, but I’m sure that’s because you have a new “baby”!

  14. Pingback: Improve Your Mood Naturally: My Self-Science Experiment « PEACE LOVE LUNGES

  15. thank you Sam 😉 I too am HIV positive and started on Lexapro as the dark cloud came over me but now as I’m am doing a lot better I want to regain my old self so your story made me feel the hope is still there , Thank you regards Craig

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