In June 2012, I fell into the lowest place I’ve ever been.
I slept most of the day because I didn’t want to be awake. I drank an entire bottle of wine every night to quell bone-shaking anxiety. Horrible, self-hating thoughts ran through my head 24/7. Every time I had to go to the store, I ended up having a panic attack — I was absolutely convinced that every single stranger in sight was disgusted by me and wished I would disappear.
I was 25. I had a successful writing career. I was happily married and had two cats and a big backyard garden. Anyone with reason would say I had a good life.
My depression didn’t come out of nowhere, per se. I fought through an incredibly difficult childhood and adolescence, and I’d struggled with poor self-esteem and low mood for years.
This was different, though. This was debilitating. I decided to get help.
I started seeing a therapist, who told me I had major depression and PTSD. She immediately referred me to a psychiatrist. After a 90-minute evaluation, the psychiatrist told me her diagnosis: bipolar type II disorder, social anxiety, avoidant personality disorder, and agoraphobia.
Whatever the heck I was, I was a wreck. I started on generic brands of Zoloft (an SSRI antidepressant) and Lamictal (a mood stabilizer).
Weeks went by, and between the therapy and the meds, I felt a little better. My psychiatrist upped my dosages and my mood improved even more.
But when the holidays hit, difficult subjects came up in therapy. I was feeling like a mess again, so I asked my psychiatrist if upping my Zoloft would help. At the time, I was on 50 mg, along with 200 mg of Lamictal.
She bumped me to 75 mg and gave me a prescription for as-needed Xanax.
This pattern went on for months — I’d feel a little better, I’d hit a slump, and my psychiatrist would increase my Zoloft dosage.
By April 2013, I was taking a whopping 150 mg of Zoloft, along with the Lamictal and Xanax. I also noticed that I wasn’t feeling good, but I wasn’t feeling bad, either. I just … wasn’t feeling. I was numb.
Despite the fact that my diet hadn’t changed, I’d packed on 25 pounds. I completely lost my sex drive. Activities that I usually enjoyed were replaced by hours-long marathons of Seinfeld. My creativity was shot. I had difficulty concentrating and was constantly experiencing brain fog.
25 pounds turned into 30. 30 turned into 40, and before I knew it, I’d gained 50 pounds over the course of a few short months.
Sure, I’d “beaten” depression — but now I had a whole new set of things to be depressed about: Clothes that didn’t fit. A double chin. Stretch marks everywhere. Self-esteem that had once again hit rock bottom.
Determined to lose the weight, I started hitting the gym harder. I tried counting calories. I did the low-fat thing. None of it worked, and despite my efforts, I continued to gain.
I told my psychiatrist I’d had enough of the side effects, so we agreed to start tapering. I dropped my Zoloft dosage by 12.5 mg to 137.5 mg, but the results weren’t pretty.
Extreme fatigue. Crippling headaches. Dizziness and nausea. Little floaters in the periphery of my vision.
I was trapped. A mere 12.5 mg dosage decrease made it impossible to go about my day. There is no way I’m ever going to get off of these drugs, I thought. What have I done to myself?
I threw myself into research. I scoured online message boards trying to find people with my symptoms. I found them by the hundreds, but no one seemed to have any answers.
“You can be fat and happy or skinny and depressed” was the most popular refrain I came across.
The scale had moved up by another 10 pounds — putting me at a 60-pound gain — but I refused to accept “fat and happy” as an answer. I wasn’t happy. Sure, I wasn’t suicidal, but I was a different kind of low: I barely recognized myself.
I continued to do more research, and I switched psychiatrists because I felt like mine wasn’t listening. I quit therapy because I no longer found it useful.
My new psychiatrist wanted to try different SSRIs, so I did. After a merry-go-round ride on Lexapro and Prozac, I told him I was through. I wanted off the drugs and I didn’t care what it took.
Was I scared that I’d slip back into depression? Of course. But what scared me more was the idea that I’d never stop gaining weight. That I’d never think clearly again. That I was a prisoner to these pills, doomed to become a morbidly obese, placid shell of my former self.
I knew I had to take the risk.
In January 2014, I began an antidepressant tapering method known as the “Prozac Bridge.”
Because Prozac has a relatively long half-life, it washes out of your system more slowly than other SSRIs, thus making the withdrawal process gentler.
While withdrawal certainly wasn’t a cakewalk, I knuckled my way through it. My will to get off meds remained stronger than my discomfort.
The whole process took a little over a month. My doc tapered me faster than he should have, and I didn’t know any better. I threw up a lot. Every day, I had dizziness, headaches, and crying spells. I missed a lot of work. I got irritated by the smallest things.
Fortunately, The Antidepressant Solution taught me that withdrawal symptoms can mimic depressive relapse. Even though I felt like I’d stepped back into depression’s quicksand-like grip, I knew that the symptoms were my body’s way of sorting through the chaos.
By the end of February, I was off meds. I wasn’t feeling my emotional best, but I tried to be gentle with myself. I knew it would take time for my body to readjust.
Spring emerged out of one of the worst winters in history (in Michigan, to boot), and even as the days got longer and the weather got warmer, I still felt “meh.” I wasn’t back in a bad place, but carrying around an extra 60 pounds made me incredibly self-conscious. I also spent a lot of time just being angry — angry that I’d chosen to take meds, angry with the outcomes, and angry at the pharmaceutical industry at large.
In June, my husband and I went on a weekend trip. It should have been amazing, but it wasn’t — I spent the entire time in my head, beating myself up about my weight, feeling hyper-conscious about every inch of space my unfamiliar body occupied. That weekend, I decided I was going to fully commit myself to getting healthy. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I was going to do it full force.
After trying conventional approaches yet again, I stumbled across It Starts with Food and the Whole30 (the program outlined in the book). Even though it was wildly different than anything I’d ever tried, I decided to give it a shot.
It worked. That first month, I lost six pounds, moving from 228.7 down to 222.7. But it wasn’t just the weight that improved — my mood was much brighter, too.
The weight kept coming off and I kept feeling better. Eliminating grains and dairy and eating unprocessed foods had me feeling far better than any psych drug ever had, both mentally and physically.
I turned into a paleo fanatic and became obsessed with the connection between nutrition and mental health. I started reading every book and blog I came across, itching to know as much as I could about why this particular lifestyle was working wonders for me. The field of nutrition is full of contradictions, and paleo was the first thing that made sense to me — and provided real results for my body and mind.
Eventually, I knew I wanted to bring this information to as many people as I could. After starting this blog, I went back to school to become a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, and today, I work with people one-on-one to get to the root cause of their mood disorders.
I’m very much a work in progress — and will always be! — so you can continue to follow my journey through my blog. I’m also on Instagram and Facebook, and if you want to email me, you can shoot me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I wish you the best of luck on your path to health and happiness. You CAN do this!
Holly Higgins, NTP