In June 2018, I started tapering off 15 years of psychotropic medication. I was 31 years old, and for almost half my life I had taken some form of antidepressant drug. Initially prescribed as a teenager, I was now an adult and through a moment of divine intervention, intuitively felt that it was time for me to stop.
I remember it clearly. It was the same week Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain died by suicide. I laid in bed depressed, bundled underneath the covers, unable to move except to go to the bathroom, feeling within the cells of my physical body the weight of the world’s suffering, the unbearable sadness of billions of humans on planet Earth, and it was just all too much. My husband, Henry, caught me researching lethal amounts of Ativan on my phone, and rather than get angry, quietly held me in the bed of our basement apartment in Brooklyn, NY.
I mustered up what little energy remained and decided to take a shower. As I stood underneath the showerhead, I prayed, “Dear God, I need help. If what I am carrying is not mine, please remove it from me.” Immediately, I felt lighter and my entire body tingled.
Prior to this moment, I had only read about instances like this in Gabby Bernstein books. Like really, just ask God, and poof, it’s gone?
After the shower, I sat down to meditate. After a few minutes, what can only be described as angelic tones and the ringing bells of heaven’s opening gates filled my ears. Surely my husband was fucking with me. I opened my eyes, but Henry was nowhere to be found. Holy shit! I closed my eyes and went back to meditation. In my gut, heart, and soul, I intuitively knew that the pills were no longer working for me, and that it was time to stop.
I stopped teaching yoga full time, and devoted all my time and energy to healing. (I am grateful for the emotional and financial support of my husband and mom, without whom this wellness journey would not be possible.) I started seeing a naturopathic doctor and told her about my medical history and moment of divine intervention, and rather than judge me, she listened intently and let me know that she had successfully helped other people taper off SSRIs. She assured me this was not a process to be rushed, and that it was important to bring the body back into a state of balance so it could support me without the drugs. She ordered a handful of tests and I discovered I was eating a lot of food that I thought was healthy, but in fact was causing a high inflammatory response in my body. My gut microbiome was off, my cortisol levels were through the roof, my adrenals were fatigued, and I had the MTHFR gene mutation (which prevented my body from effectively processing folic acid and other B vitamins).
I cut out cane sugar, dairy, eggs, spinach, and eventually wheat. I started taking a methylated b12 and folate supplement to increase energy levels and support cellular function and a high potency probiotic to support gut health (something that can be negatively affected from long term pharmaceutical use). Over the course of the next 10 months, I worked with my doctor to gradually reduce Lexapro and add in natural alternatives such as 5-HTP and St. John’s Wort.
I used to be the first person to defend antidepressants, adamant that they were non-addictive. It wasn’t until I stopped taking the medication completely that I realized just how dependent and physiologically used to them my body had become.
Withdrawal symptoms took over. I experienced extreme fatigue, nausea, a headache that wouldn’t go away, brain zaps (electrical shocks), feelings of dimensions shifting and arriving in my body, body aches, chills, shakes, and trembling.
Someone I know suggested kambo (a purgative, immune boosting secretion from an Amazonian frog) and even though I felt like shit directly after my first kambo ceremony, the medicine completely wiped out any acute drug discontinuation symptoms I had been going through. Since that time I’ve had four kambo ceremonies, and I’m not sure I would be where I am today without them.
As I write this, I am proud to say I have been Lexapro free for seven months. I’m learning to be gentle with myself as my body, mind, and spirit give birth to a new normal — a new level of clarity and sensitivity. I’m learning that long-term side effects of being on antidepressants (sleep impairment, restlessness) may still be revealing themselves, and that I must take each day as it comes.
Hindsight is always 20/20, and I know that each obstacle in my life has happened in perfect divine order. But if I could go back in time, here’s what I wish my teenage self would have known before taking any antidepressant:
Removing refined sugar from the diet can have an immediate and profound impact on mood swings.
Gut inflammation and poor dietary choices can influence the brain’s ability to produce neurotransmitters properly.
Being intuitively sensitive is a gift and not something to be covered up or fixed.
Antidepressants are not without serious side effects, and getting off them is a full-time job.
I’m not here to judge or chastise you for being on SSRIs if you are. Everyone is on their own journey and each of us is different. But if you want to know that it’s possible to live life SSRI-free, after thousands of pills and hundreds of prescriptions, after years of self hatred, after psychiatric hospitalization, after suicidal ideation, I’m here to tell you that it is. It will take more work, courage, resilience, support, and surrender to God than you might imagine, but it is absolutely doable — and worth every step.
Veronica Lombo is a writer, teacher, and intuitive guide for sensitive beings. She has been teaching yoga and meditation for over ten years and is currently a therapist-in-training. Veronica is here to help you embrace challenges as sacred opportunities for growth, learn tools to support your wellbeing, and connect to the Divine light within. Find her on Instagram or on her website.