Deep Share, part 2 (aka getting off of anti-depressants)

This summer, I did a deep share about one of the Gate Passages I was going through in getting off of anti-depressants. In my 15+ years as a psychotherapist helping kind souls through trauma, I’ve seen firsthand the silencing effect that the stigma of struggling with mental illness can cause. With the new Moon in Scorpio happening November 18th, the time is right to share rather than be silent. It's time to continue telling this story.

It’s been more than 6 months since I took the last dose — a minuscule cluster of tiny white balls stuck to the end of my moistened right pointer finger. I took a super longtime coming off — more than 2 years. By western medicine standards, this is unusually long. Typically, docs recommend 2-3 months, which I say isn't nearly long enough.

It’s been a wild ride. 

The first few months were a dark time of recurrent and prolonged panic attacks that triggered my survival fight/flight/freeze response, with a heavy heaping dose of sobbing spells. I felt as if I could feel all of the agony on the planet without a filter. It was all of the feels, all the time. Even though I had so little of the medication in my system by the time I took that last dose, I still felt the withdrawal effect big-time, which is not uncommon for sensitive people.

Between you and me, I’m relieved that I survived this part. There were moments when I didn't think I could. I did it with tons of support. I did it with the sheer knuckle-down determination to use all of the healing tools I’ve learned ... every single one of them and especially when I felt like I couldn’t do it.

Since then, I’ve noticed some interesting things about being off of anti-depressants.

All of them have to do with my heart. 

First, I cry all the time. I cry when I’m happy. I cry when I’m sad. I cry when I read about homeless dogs. I cry when I read about people doing kind things for others. I blow through tissues like they're going out of style.

Next, my sensitivity is off the charts. Anti-depressants by design take away the extremes of feeling — the dark lows and the happy highs. Most people wind up humming along in the middle. That’s where I hung out. Along with erasing the extremes, the meds dulled this sensitivity. It didn’t erase it by any means, but I'm surprised how the meds covered it up. I feel this sensitivity most in my heart center. 

I deeply long to feel connected to people. This too was something that I couldn’t feel so much on meds. I knew it was there intellectually, but now it’s a persistent ache in my heart. It's what neuroscientist Stephen Porges talked about at the trauma conference I went to a few weeks ago when he said that we human beings are wired for connection.

Lastly, I notice a lot grief for stuff I never dealt with. Lost loves. Lost opportunities. Although it should not surprise me given the work I do, I was pretty freaking surprised how much grief I've stored in my heart saying not now, maybe later. This grief is now demanding like a screaming, hungry baby that I face it now, and I am.

No matter how ...

you look on the outside or what you do for a living, Gate Passages are hard for each of us. Even so, they bring gifts. All of these things going on in my heart since that last dose is a gift.

If you need support going through your own Gate Passage, I'm here.

Meanwhile, pass the tissues.

Deep Share, part 1 (aka getting off of anti-depressants)

When I thought about sharing one of my own Gate Passages with you ...

I felt major butterflies in the belly.

I’ve felt this feeling many times. I know it intimately. It’s the signal to do something even though, and more importantly because, it scares me. 

This feeling reminds me why I’m here. I’m here to shine a light in the darkest places, which usually happens during Gate Passages (times when your life swiftly and unexpectedly changes). I absolutely love doing this for other sensitive souls.

Here, though, I’m shining a light in my own dark place — one of my own Gate Passages. 

Over the past 2 years, I’ve been winding down taking an anti-depressant. It’s one I’ve been on for about a decade — the last time I took a break. 

The first time I went on one was 1996. I was struggling with searing pain from my neck to my fingertips that started when I was a newspaper reporter. The pain turned into a disability, which ended my journalism career and also caused major depression and anxiety. 

I didn’t realize it then, but this pain brought to a head something deeper. It brought to the surface something from my beginning: I struggled enormously with being a sensitive and empathic soul on this Earth and did not understand how to get along here. 

With this deeper issue now front and center, I had a new normal — crying. Crying was how I dealt with everything. When I had to make a decision and felt overwhelmed, I cried. Whenever there was any stress, like not being able to find a parking spot for doctor’s appointment, I cried. When I was with someone who was sad, I cried.

The doctor I’d been seeing — a wise physician with kind brown eyes who wrote a book about the kind of chronic pain I had — suggested it. I agreed to try it. Within 2 months, I felt lighter. The darkness and despair decreased.

This felt good. Even better, though, I stopped crying and felt better able to cope with decisions and stress.

While it turned the volume down on the extremes — the intense despair as well as the intense joy, it dulled my empathic skill and sensitivity. I was fine with this trade-off at the time, because it gave me the energy to focus on healing the chronic pain. 

I’ve gone off a few more times since then. I wanted to see what life was like without anti-depressants, and I also wanted to see what I was like without them.

Each time, the crying was back. The darkness in my heart and my head was back. The intensity of feeling everything was back. The physical withdrawal symptoms, like weird eye-clicking when I blinked and vertical dizziness, were back. Even though I became much better skilled at coping with life, I was a mess. Within days or weeks, I’d go back on.

This time, I was ready. I gave myself way more time to get off than previous times (like a year and a half more). This time, I was self-employed and my schedule was very flexible. This time, I had flower essences for support. 

Aside from the physical withdrawal symptoms, I didn’t feel much change really until the final 6 months. As I went from the tiniest dose to nothing, the intensity came back. The despair came back. The crying came back. 

This time I noticed a mountain of heartache and regrets. This time, I’m ready to face them, to heal them, to honor them. Art therapy is my tool of choice for this, and I’ve been diving into my studio and following the intensity where it leads. I’m also practicing things that are hard for me, like reaching out to others for help. Each week, I make myself a new Your Signature Blend Flower Elixir and pop that sucker into every glass of water I drink and right on my tongue when I need it.

This time I also notice that my empathic sensitivity is different. I’ve always heard and felt stuff, but now I’m also seeing it. This showed up in the New Moon Oracle readings I did a few weeks ago (I’ll be doing them again from June 21 to June 23 and will announce it here first).

I share this with you because Gate Passages are freaking hard.

It’s hard for each one of us — no matter how we look on the outside or what we do for a living. 

Sea Otters & Robin Williams

I'm a slow processor.

Always have been.

It used to bother me big-time. Everyone else would get it and be moving onto the next thing. Then there'd be me, bringing up the rear.

When I heard that Robin Williams killed himself a few weeks ago, I was shocked. Like many of you, I wondered how someone so beloved and who gave so much joy could feel like there was no other option.

I'm in the therapy biz, and I've sat with many individuals who were thinking about going ahead with suicide. Before my time in the biz, I found myself there as well. Like Cancer, depression can be fatal. It's a serious medical condition involving brain chemistry. And like cancer, it can be treated. Left untreated and/or without the right treatment, however, it can lead to substance abuse/overdose and suicide. 

Robin's suicide has been weighing heavily on my mind as I slowly process through it. Then, yesterday, I got a newsletter from someone whose work I like: Miss Alexandra Franzen. In her newsletter, she shared this fact about sea otters: 

They hold hands when they are sleeping so they don't drift away from each other.

otters holding hands from wildlife2.tumblr.com
otters holding hands from wildlife2.tumblr.com

Maybe these Sea Otters are onto something, as it relates to depression. If you know someone who struggles with depression, hold his or her hand so they don't drift away. If you struggle with depression, reach out in any way you can.

Tell me what you think ... about Robin's suicide, depression, sea otters.

Sending love, Maureen