Coming off an Anti-Depressant

Coming off an Anti-Depressant April 16, 2010

Almost exactly two years ago, as I felt my personal world falling apart around me, I was having some trouble getting through the day. I met with my physician and told him that I felt like my head was in a fog, and it felt heavy. I couldn’t think straight, and I was having a hard time concentrating. I asked if he thought that I would benefit from an anti-depressant, and he said yes. So he started me on Buproprion (Wellbutrin), and I’ve been on it since.

I can’t say I noticed an immediate change in my outlook on life, but I’m sure it’s helped. I’ve supplemented it with therapy, spiritual direction, and a wonderful web of family and friends.

And now, two years later, I’m weaning myself off of the Bupropion over the next week, starting today to cut down from two pills per day to one.  I do feel some anxiety, of course, because I have no idea about the real chemical differences that the pill has made in me, and how my body (and brain) will react to the absence of the medication.

One thing I am doing this week — along with my spiritual director and another person who is dear to me — is rereading The Chemistry of Joy: A Three-Step Program for Overcoming Depression Through Western Science and Eastern Wisdom by Henry Emmons.  Using new-fangled Western brain chemistry research and old-fashioned Ayurvedic typing, that book gives amazing guidance about what type of body and brain you have and how you can manage your sleep, exercise, and diet patterns to do the same thing that a prescription anti-depressant does.

For instance, if you suffer from a norepinephrine/dopamine excess, you should eat differently than if you have a shortage of those brain chemicals.  And if you happen to be an Ayurvedic “fire type,” like me, there are certain ways you should pattern your sleep and exercise that are more soothing and healthful (since fire types are not prone to slothful depression but anxious or even angry depression).

I imagine that quite a few readers here (many of whom I count as friends) take or have taken an anti-depressant, so I thought I’d share my journey and invite you to share yours…

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  • carla jo

    Tony, I’ve been on and off Bupropion over the last five years and it’s helped–not dramatically, but enough to help me have the mental strength to do the other things that help me function–eat better, rest better, exercise, socialize, etc. I used to take Wellbutrin and I felt like it was more effective than the generic version but that’s just me.
    I think the fear of coming off of an antidepressant is common, but for me, it helps tremendously to know that something works, that if I do start to slide into that numbness and fogginess again, I know what to do. I don’t fear my depression anymore and that’s perhaps the biggest difference.

  • courtney

    “The Chemistry of Joy” is an amazing and very helpful book for all around mind/body/spirit health.
    Another fascinating book on the topic of re-training our brains how to think and be mentally healthy is “Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation” by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. It’s amazing the difference that truly being aware of, paying attention to and caring for our bodies and brains can make.

  • Coming down of of these medications can be quite a struggle. Don’t be too hard on yourself if it takes longer than you plan. I’ve been on and off several different medications over the years, and the adjustment can be difficult. You will be in my prayers.

  • Tony,

    I really admire your honesty with your life. I am sure it is a help to others that are experiencing similar issues.

  • Sarah

    Praying your thru this stage of the journey.

  • I have battled depression in extremes since I was 5 years old. I have had OCD since at least that age. It’s odd, because usually OCD sets in with puberty, but I had it all my life. Unfortunately I didn’t get it diagnosed until I was 30. I took Zoloft for about a year and it revolutionized my life. On the drug I was able to distinguish which of my experiences were valid and which were symptoms of illness. It was amazing.

    I am off of it now, but I weaned myself more slowly than you are. I cut my pills in half and went down a half dose at a time. Some pills you can’t do that with, so don’t try it unless it’s allowed. And whatever you do, please take the doses down very slowly. I am glad you are ultra-accountable in this time. Thoughts of suicide can show up like a thief in the night when anti-depressants are discontinued. Remind yourself these thoughts are symptomatic and expect them – doing that very thing prevented me from running head-on into a telephone pole when, due to finances, I was unable to take my pills for a solid week because I ran out. Scary stuff.

    One more thing. On Zoloft, I didn’t feel. But now that I am back off of it the difference is amazing. The strength of my natural feelings are so strong they run out of control at times. I guess it’s the OCD that causes me to feel so strongly. I’m not sure, but I am a person of intense emotion. (Oddly, I often hide them and dwell within a self-made fortress of feigned indifference – I get tired of getting hurt.)

    Thank you for sharing your journey with us, and for being so vulnerable. These are not easy things, but we need each other. I could never do depression alone. I thank God for my friends and family, who help me along the way.

  • Thanks for sharing your journey. Im fascinated with neurochemistry and its connection to theology as well-so it sounds like a great read

  • Scott Erwin


    Thanks for sharing. I suffered (suffer?) from OCD which was kicked into high gear after having suffered two counts of PTSD within two years. I nearly killed myself, and almost lost my family. I began to get help in 2002 and was on Prozac (fluoxitine) until 2007. I made a switch to celexa and now have no health insurance, so I recently went cold turkey off all meds.
    My switch from Prozac to celexa was more difficult than my situation now, primarily because I have done much more of the difficult personal work I have needed to do.
    I say all of that to say that western medicine is wonderful thing, but it is not magic bullit (as you seem to fully know.) My hope for you is that you take this slowly and under a physicians care, because the mood swings can be quite erratic, and the symptoms (much like detox) can be quite painful. Godspeed. I will pray specifically today for you. BTW, I think all PTS grads should end up medicated
    PTS class of 1998

  • Jo Ann W. Goodson

    Tony, I am so very proud of you. First, for sharing this your story as I know how much courage it takes to do so. Second, that you are coming off of your medication as you feel you might be able to do without it now. Only you and your doctor know what is best but if there are alternative ways that work I think that would be wonderful. As you say, you never know how medications really affect your body. The book you mention sounds great and the examples you gave should be helpful. I know these “fire” types. My father was one, my first love was one, my husband was one and my son is one. I could go on and on as “fire” people are really in my family. Being a “water” person I grew to know, love and respect these folks that were very different from me. They help to push me a little when I need it. I am also proud of you for reaching out for help from a spiritual director and friends. You cannot do it alone !!! Prayer and counseling worked for me and I did not go on medications as someone was available for me any time day or night, one in my back yard. Several years ago my brain was not working as it should have and I was put on Aricept. I learned how to train the brain and that with the medication brought me to good mental health once more. Prayer was another good thing for me. Today I have been off my medication for a little over a year and doing great. I believe in taking medication when it is really needed but I also look, like you, for alternative ways and sometimes I do both at the same time. Good luck to you and God bless you with whatever you need to come to good health both physically, mentally and spiritually. My prayers are with you. Again it took so much courage to do this and I hope many will be helped by your willingness to share in order to help yourself and others.

  • ordering the book.

    thanks for the post

    reading this entry, I believe I share the fire type.

  • David Morris

    Thanks for sharing Tony. And for your thoughts on the book too. Wishing you health and hope…

  • Tony, Although I’ve struggled with depression for the great majority of my 62 years, I’m thankful that meds never worked for me. I was coerced into “toughing it out,” and it was tougher than I could ever express. However, Christ has finally brought me to a place of peace and assurance. I can now look back and say, “Thank you Lord that I was afflicted that I might learn your Word” (Psalm 119:67, 71).

    Coming from a Jewish background, Christ was a difficult pill to swallow, but He has proved to be the very medicine that I needed. I’d be glad to send you a copy of my book on the subject, free of charge!

  • courtney

    Jose mentioned the ties betwixt theology and neurochemistry . . . I’d be interested in reading more about how left-brain/right-brain dominance relates to a person’s relationship to faith/religion. I began to wonder about it while reading the “Mindsight” book by Dr. Daniel Siegel that I mentioned earlier. Here’s an excerpt:

    “The right mode [thinking predominantly with/through the right hemisphere of the brain] creates an ‘AND’ stance, while the left creates an ‘OR’ point of view. Using my right mode, I see a world full of interconnecting possibilities: this AND that can be true. And together, wow, they could make something new! Using my left mode, I see a world more divided: Is this OR that true? For the left, only one view can more accurately reflect reality.”

    In the book, Dr. Siegel basically says that balance, which includes actively engaging both sides of the brain, is the key to mental health. Rigidity and chaos are what happen on the more unhealthy outskirts of harmony/integration.
    (my apologies to Dr. Siegel if I’ve paraphrased him wrongly)

  • Jo Ann W. Goodson

    “In the book, Dr. Siegel basically says that balance, which includes actively engaging both sides of the brain, is the key to mental health. Rigidity and chaos are what happen on the more unhealthy outskirts of harmony/integration.” This really fits into what I think. During my mind training exercises I could begin to tell that I was using both sides of my brain and now I think I use both all the time. It is as if they are talking with each other and a decision comes out. I apply this to the actions and the speaking of Christians. Some see everything in the bible as “this is the way it is”, left brain conservatives. Others see the bigger overall picture and the “way” as a process that never ends. If we learned/trained our brain to see that both must work together if we are to be the Christians I think Jesus was trying to model for us. I think that if each of us would become head, hearts, guts and tools, as Doug Pagett describes it we would become much more effective and it would help us to understand each other better and be have more empathy for those left or right brain folks who have not put the two together. I would love to see a lot more conversation on this subject. How this fits into helping someone with depression I do not know but if the scientists and doctors think all of this makes for better mental and spiritual health then I think we should try it.

  • Jo Ann,

    The two approaches — Bible and process — aren’t mutually exclusive. Here’s a link to one essay:
    (Please also see the other related essays on my blog.)

  • Jo Ann W. Goodson

    Daniel, thanks for the link. It was interesting. I to believe that bible and process aren’t mutually exclusive. For me, medication and The Holy Spirit can be used together. Going it alone is just not for everyone and I would not encourage it without checking with medical and other well qualified persons. Just as we have surgery to remove the things that no longer work, it is my belief that we should use medicine in the same way if our doctors ask us to. Depression, as both you and I know first hand is a very difficult thing to struggle with and what works should be used along with our prayers. Thanks again for the article.

  • Tony

    Thought this site might be a benefit.

    “God’s Words of Comfort & Healing”

  • Jo Ann,

    This will rub against the grain, but I think it’s worth a view.

  • Thanks for your honesty and transparency in this post, Tony. I’ve never been on any medication to regulate things emotionally/psychologically, but a number of people very close to me have so I understand how important and necessary these things are.

  • Geraldine

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I believe that we all can benefit from each others honesty and experiences!
    I’ve been on anti-depressents for nearly a year now and my aim was always to get off them as soon as possible. I know the anxiety you’re talking about so well! I’ve struggled a lot to re-discover the ‘real’ me and not only the ‘depressed’ me, and I still am…… just a few weeks ago I was trying to get off the anti-depressents only to discover that I still need them.

  • Jo Ann W. Goodson

    Daniel, very interesting. This does not change my faith in psychology. There has never been a “cure” for bi-polar, as an example, but people have really been helped by good psychiatrists. I have several friends that are bi-polar. When you talk of going cold turkey and God healed you, I think that is wonderful however even God does not heal all of us. St. Paul prayed all his life for his healing but God did not heal him. We do not know why God heals some and not others. This is a mystery and many folks think they cannot believe in this kind of God. There are many things that doctors continue to treat even though there has been no cures. Cancer and many other diseases are in this catagory. Should our doctors tell us that you must go cold turkey with this because there is no cure or should they continue to treat patients until a cure is found? Though chemo kills things in the body does that mean we must stop helping in what ever way we have now? The mind is a part of the human body and must be treated with what we know and have at our disposal at this point in history in my opinion. Thanks !!!!

  • Jo Ann,

    From a Biblical perspective, dealing with strictly bodily things is like calling on a plumber. However, when it comes to the psychological/emotional/social, the Bible has a lot of council in this area.

    Paul castigated the Corinthian church for taking their problems to the law courts, arguing that God had amply equipped them in this area to handle their own problems (1 Cor. 6:1-5). When it comes to psychological issues, the problems are even compounded.

    Medications have many counter-effects, numbing the fine-tuned equipment with which we have been downloaded, and Secular counseling is diametrically opposed in so many ways to Biblical counsel.

  • Daniel

    Enjoyed the thoughts on your blog.

    Liked the info on “ Thankfulness and Depression.”
    It has benefited me and others.

    Much agreement when you say…
    “the Bible has a lot of council in this area. “

    Ephesians 5:20
    Giving thanks always for “All” things
    unto God and the Father
    in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;

    Romans 8:28
    And we know that “All” things
    work together for good
    to them that love God,
    to them who are the called according to [his] purpose.

    1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
    Rejoice evermore.
    Pray without ceasing.
    In “EVERY THING” give thanks:
    for this is the will of God
    in Christ Jesus concerning you.

    Found out the hard way…
    There is healing in the word of God.

    A simple exercise.

    Giving thanks always for “ALL” things,
    pays high dividends and
    there are no bad side effects.

    Here are a few more scriptures about giving thanks.

    These are from the site

    “God’s Words of Comfort & Healing”

  • glad you shared. I took Effexor for awhile when I was having those falling apart at the seams moments. It helped, and the emotional swings from coming off it where a real pain for about the first two weeks, but they level out.

    Hang in there, you are doing the right thing coming off slow and with a program in mind. We will be praying for you!

  • Thanks AA Love!

    Knowing Christ has set me free from guilt, shame, and concerns about my own performance and righteousness (John 8:31-32). He has set me free from self-obsession, knowing that it’s all about Him and His precious gift of righteousness (Gal. 2:20). Fear of failure and rejection no longer dominate, because I’m now convinced that He is taking care of me (Romans 8:28). He has set me free from a meaningless existence, knowing that I’m serving Him, and therefore everything that I do and even think is suffused with eternal significance.

  • courtney

    Funny . . . the left-brainers are taking the “either/or” route with this one.

  • Tony,

    Might I suggest a read through Kathleen Norris’s new book “Acedia and Me.” Not that acedia is the issue for you per se, but her thoughts on acedia, depression, and our drug culture in America made her thoughts on fixed-hour prayer as a path of healing very intriguing. She’s a Protestant who is Benedictine oblate, and kinda feisty sometimes. It’s a fun read.


  • Jo Ann W. Goodson

    Tony, do not know why several responders think that I have left out the bible in my comments. I have been in a relationship with God since I was between 4 or 5 spending my life trying to find out who/what God is and who this child of God really is. I have read and studied my bible now for many years. As a very senior citizen I have also experienced God in every way I know of. Have audited classes at Wake Divinity school, have read more books probably than many people and have a home library of hundreds of theological, many books written by theologians/teachers, etc., was in an ecumenical Benedictine order, The Fellowship of the Holy Trinity and was its token Baptist. All this is to say that my decisions and comments come from a life lived as a Christian as well as teachings from other religions. I am a healer and have been involved in the healing of others. I agree that spending time in prayer is part of the healing process. Centering Prayer beginning with a twenty minute session and increasing it to twice a day is one piece of the process that helps me. It is not stated in the bible but I think it should be, that God helps those who help themselves. God must work with us for our healing and that of others and this includes doctors. Praying, studying my bible, spending time with my doctors and counselors, talking with friends and in small healing groups are all necessary and we all thank God for the outcome but we were all part of the process. Healing is a process !!!!! Do not leave anything out.

  • tom c.

    Hi Tony, I just wanted to add that I think it is very brave of you to share your personal story with depression, especially in this public forum. An important component of the process of de-stigmatizing mental health issues is for people to take risks to speak of their experiences. Best wishes on your well-being!

  • Indeed, counter our own narrowly self-serving image-management inclinations and prevailing social elitism, this is the very thing that we ought to do. In God’s hands, it’s also the road to freedom (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

  • Jo Ann W. Goodson

    Tom c., I like your comments and believe them to be true. Tony and others are very brave to share their stories in an open forum such as this. Wish more folks would do this with their struggles and difficulties. Since I have been on FaceBook I have had many opportunities to share parts of my story that I have never had outside of couseling small groups. It is just something we do not do a good job of in our churches. Our church use to do a great job by having different types of small groups for different things. However, it went away and now we are trying to get them back. Hope I can participate in many more. Thanks again Tony !!!! God bless you !!!

  • Tony,

    When my wife left me after 15 years of marriage, I too felt like my world fell apart. Here I was at 42, now with custody of my two young sons and I had no idea what to do next. As you are aware, grief is a powerful experience and I was tumbling deeper and deeper into it’s grasps.

    After about two weeks of not eating (food had no taste and I had no appetite), sleeping (up all night journaling or conversing with friends) yet still trying to be strong for my kids and all the run my business, I pretty much reached a point of collapse.

    I couldn’t get an appointment to my doctor, so I resigned myself to the emergency clinic near my house. When I went in to meet the doctor, he asked me what was wrong and I told him my story and why I was there. This man, whom I had never met before, sat beside me and put his arm around my shoulder and allowed me to cry for about ten minutes. Then he stood up and said, “You’ve got a lot on your plate, but the first thing you need to do is sleep at any and all cost. The second is to force yourself to eat. Think of your kids and do these things for them.” For whatever reason, his advice was the first piece of advice I listened to and it was such a spiritual moment for me.

    Anyway, he prescribed Xanex to take the edge off and to help me rest at night. It did the trick! I began to sleep and my mind was able to rest. Once I did that my appetite came back and slowly I started to rebuild my physical and emotional self over the course of the next few weeks. I went to counseling (secular I might add) for about 6 weeks (although I probably needed more – it got me thinking in the right direction).

    While Xanex was helpful, I hated the way I felt on it. My emotions were numb. I described it as having no ups or downs. If a bomb had gone off in the room, I would have just calmly walked out. It’s what I needed, but it wasn’t who I was. But it was my oldest son who convinced me to get off of it for good. He saw me taking the medicine one day and I explained what it was and he said, “No wonder you act like a zombie”. And that’s exactly how I felt.

    So after about 4 weeks on the stuff, I stopped taking it immediately. While my emotions returned and sleep was a little harder to come by, I felt more like myself and I wanted to face this crisis in my life with all the raw emotions attached. My personal journal became my therapist and while it was painful for quite some time, I felt like my drugs made me numb to the experience that in some way I needed to embrace, not avoid.

    Later on, I discovered Pema Chodron (a little Buddhist nun) who wrote and spoke the most beautiful words in her book “When Things Fall Apart”. I credit her teachings in many ways for restoring my mental strength and health.

    Ok well that’s my story for what it’s worth. Take care of yourself.

  • Jo Ann W. Goodson

    Steve, thank you for sharing your very painful but awesome story. It is so sad when we must go through this type of thing. Thank God that you received the help that you needed when you saught it. Your story is very similar to mind with the exception of my children were out of the home when my husband and I divorced. My emotional state was very similar and I too saught and received very good help from others. I did not go on any medication but my spiritual life practices really increased. Before our divorce we lost everything we had and needed to start over again. My husbands business, our home, no money, etc. and while I had been a stay at home Mom after the birth of our first child, I went to work and worked three jobs to help my family. My husband was diagnosed with what the doctor said was incurable cancer but performed surgery. After the recovery from surgery I got him into an alternative cancer program at Duke Hospital, for his particular type, and the end of the story is that he was cured of the cancer but it took a toll on him emotionally and physically to the point that things were so bad that I moved out of the house just to heal myself. We dated but after a year was over I had a knock on my door and the sheriff was delivering papers for a divorce. I had no previous warning and thought things were going well. However, he had moved an old girl friend in with him and they decided to marry. He would never seek a job that would earn a decent living but prepared taxes during tax season to earn some money, he had inherited his fathers business but kept only the tax portion. He was in a big mess and would not seek the help he needed. Things of this nature take a terrible toll on a person but like you, I relied heavily on my Christian beliefs and practices as well as from other faiths and great counseling. Again my thanks for sharing your story. Do hope everything turned out well for you and your children.

  • Tony, I don’t have anything to add at this time, other than to thank you for this post. It means things to me you’ll probably never know. So thank you.


  • Steve from Schenectady

    As a fellow pastor who has battled through burnout and depression, and also takes Bupropion, I sincerely thank you for sharing. When I finally shared my journey with my congregation last fall, the response was overwhelmingly positive and supportive. There were many who told me of their own experiences and struggles with depression, sharing stories I had been unaware of. The greatest benefit to me, and to my family (and really to the congregation as well), has been the twice-monthly counseling sessions. However, I am convinced that the Bupropion does make a difference. Peace and blessings to you in your ministry .

  • Darrell

    Thanks for talking about “Coming off an anti-depressant”. It helps to hear that others struggle with depression.

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