How I quit my antidepressant cold turkey and lived to tell the tale.

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I’m finally all healed up from my dual-surgery round robin in July. But because I’m such a glutton for punishment tremendous bad-ass, I couldn’t just leave it at that. Nooooo. I figured “why not tack on another major medical event, while I’m at it?” And thus begins the story of how I quit my antidepressant, cold-turkey, after 3 years.

Let me first be extremely clear: I do not, absolutely do NOT, recommend discontinuing any medication without the support of a medical professional and some very trustworthy friends or family. Getting off any psychopharmaceutical is a difficult and sometimes dangerous effort. Most doctors recommend a step-down, or weaning off process. I repeat: never stop your medication without consulting with a professional. 

In my case, it was time to quit. Pristiq quite literally saved me when I needed it most. Three years ago, I couldn’t manage my depression without it. Starting the medication was, for me, a last resort decision that was not easily made. But I’m so grateful that I did it. In certain cases, medication is the best, fastest way to help regulate the chemistry of one’s brain – and, in doing so, can save lives, both literally and figuratively.

But, after spending several years on Pristiq I was experiencing some negative side effects, and with a hope for pregnancy on the close horizon, my doctors and I decided it was a good time to try removing the medication and see if my chemistry could balance itself, given all the positive changes I’ve made and ongoing work I’m doing in the maintenance of my health over the past couple of years.

What positive changes and ongoing work, you ask?

Careful to never confuse my medication as a “cure-all,” the meds were, to me, merely a supplement to all the other, natural “treatments” available to me.

  • I changed my life dramatically to extricate myself from an unhappy marriage and start over. Not easy. Not fun. But so worthwhile.
  • I spent an hour each week exploring my triggers, identifying and correcting unhealthy patterns, and healing past traumas with a wonderful therapist who didn’t pull any punches with me.
  • I improved my health and nutrition by taking supplements, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet rich in whole foods and proteins, and low in refined sugars/carbs and additives.
  • I go for acupuncture regularly, which has helped balance my body and systems in ways I didn’t even realize I needed, but has made a tremendous difference in how I feel.

And, as a bonus, I stumbled into the most healthy, nurturing and satisfying relationship of my life – which every day blossoms more fully into a future that fills with me excitement, joy, and stability. Score!

In short, I learned to love myself, forgive myself, and to make taking care of myself inside and out a non-negotiable priority.

But even with those support systems in place, I was scared. Scared to quit, and scared not to quit. I really didn’t want to be chained to medication for the rest of my life, if possible. I wanted to be able to have a clean system for pregnancy. But I heard terrifying stories about the painful withdrawal experience. (Hint: stay far away from online forums. They are like mainlining nightmare fuel.) Pristiq has a high incidence of severe discontinuation syndrome, which I had already experienced milder forms of, if I was even just a few hours late in my daily dosage. I didn’t want to do a super-slow wean off, because I felt it would just draw out the uncomfortable effects of withdrawal for weeks, possibly months. I wanted to cut the cord, walk through the fire, and come out on the other side as quickly as possible… knowing I had a safety net of psychiatric professionals, and friends, and family to save me if I started going down in flames.

Luckily (and ironically), having surgery meant I’d be on some very strong painkillers for about a week, which numbs discomfort (duh) and keeps asleep more hours than I’m awake. So it was decided that I’d try a cold-turkey quit starting the day of my 2nd surgery, when I would be guaranteed to barely remember the first few days anyway, thanks to anesthesia and Percocet. I spent the week slithering from my bed to the couch, and back again… dosing every 4 hours with painkillers and every 12 hours with benadryl (as studies show antihistamines can ease the “Brain Zap” side effect of withdrawal, which was by far the most disconcerting).

brain zaps quitting antidepressant

Let’s be real: I was high as a kite, and it helped. But even through the fog of those drugs, I couldn’t shake the feelings of withdrawal. I spent a few days feeling completely underwater, like everything I experienced was in slow-motion and far away. I had flu-like symptoms of nausea, headaches, and exhaustion. And I was definitely tender, as evidenced by the amount of tissues I went through during Louie marathon that I was leaning on to distract me during my waking hours. But, unlike in my depression, I wasn’t sad. I was just… feeling. I wasn’t hopeless. I wasn’t drowning. I wasn’t scared. I didn’t feel alone. I had perspective. I knew, in my bones, that this discomfort was only temporary. And that I was loved. And strong. And I could make it through.

Randomly, these lyrics from Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer, were constantly in my head whenever I thought about life beyond medication…. beyond withdrawal.

“I kicked the habit. Shed my skin. This is the new stuff I go dancing in.”

Peter Gabriel, I love you.

Once my eye doctor cleared me to take easy walks again, about a week after my surgery and stopping the Pristiq… and just when the Percocet ran out… I started meditating.

A new studio called Unplug had just opened within walking distance from my house – a chic, stylish space geared toward teaching meditation without any of the religious dogma or “woo woo” propaganda that can sometimes be associated with the practice and turns a lot of people off. They offer the first class free, and I absolutely loved it. I immediately signed up for their monthly unlimited package, with the goal to attend at least 20 times in the next 30 days, as part of my recovery and withdrawal process.

It was such a relief to give myself 30 minutes a day to just sit in silence, focus on my breath, and accept every thought, sensation, and feeling as they came – without judgment. Some days were easy, some were insanely hard, and some days were amazing. But, giving myself a goal, a routine, and a new discipline to focus on was exactly what I needed. The walk there and back was a gentle re-introduction of exercise, with the bonus of some quality time in nature, and a great way to practice continuing my meditation outside the studio walls. I looked forward to it every single day.

And I learned that practicing meditation can actually heal your brain. It literally grows the pre-frontal cortex (which deals with logical thinking) and shrinks the amygdala, which adds up to an increased ability to regulate our emotional responses to stimuli. It also reduces the stress hormone cortisol in our systems, improves our memory, and can aid in the management of depression, anxiety, pain and a whole host of other health problems! I had no idea when I started meditating, but the benefits seemed uniquely tailored to my needs. Every single time I went, I walked out happier, calmer and more at ease and at peace than when I walked in.

With the help of meditation and getting back into my exercise routine after my eyes were healed, in addition to the other natural tools I use to manage my mental and physical health, I was able to breathe through the tougher moments of withdrawal and help my brain develop in ways that will continue helping me manage my challenges as they come. It took 4 weeks before I felt the last brain zap fade away, but now it’s been 7 weeks since I took my last Pristiq and I feel better than ever.

I realize that this is just one chapter in the novel that is my lifelong journey with mental illness. And I feel gratitude every day for being in a really healthy, happy, balanced place for the first time in a long time. There may come a time in the future that I need to turn to medication again to help guide me toward the light at the end of another tunnel of depression. But, this experience has taught me that with proper support and healthy self-care habits, I have more influence over my well-being than I previously knew. And that feels fucking awesome.

By the way, wanna see me meditate? LOL. The news was there filming class one afternoon I was there. Try not to be distracted by how much the teacher sounds like George Bluth. But at least you can see my studio.


He so does sound like George/Oscar, doesn’t he?! Hilarious.

And meditation has had fringe benefits I never expected! I got to meet a hero of mine, Arianna Huffington, in all her grecian goddess glory, at a special event that was held at the studio:

10553491_1446165262319048_8139808474237683479_n

…and I even asked my favorite teacher, Olivia, to officiate our wedding! Guys, she’s so awesome. I can’t wait. (Less than six weeks to go! eeeeeeep!)

So, I guess the moral of this story is multi-fold (like paper towels):

1. My story was UNIQUE, and I do not recommend cold-turkey withdrawal from any prescription without a doctor’s supervision. Everyone’s needs and experiences are different. Your mileage may vary.
2. BUT, in the right circumstances, and with support, it is possible to quit your antidepressant and live (happily) to tell the tale.
3. Whether or not you take medication for depression, don’t forget all the other natural therapies such as diet, exercise, acupuncture, yoga and meditation that you can use to support your physical and mental health.
4. Try meditation! It has changed my life. It will probably change yours, too. If you don’t know where to start, google “mindfulness meditation” + your location, and look for podcasts or youtube videos with guided meditations. Olivia has a few here. And read a few books. Amazon has a ton of great options, covering all different styles of meditation. There are a TON of styles. Chances are, one will work for you.

Lastly, let me say that if you ever feel depressed and need help but don’t know where to go, reach out. To friends, family, to me, or to a professional who is equipped to help. There is no shame in needing help for your depression, no matter how mildly or severely you experience it. Trust me. I have lived with depression my whole life, from manageable levels to debilitating and frightening depths. And I wouldn’t be here without the help I’ve asked for, and received. So please, don’t suffer in silence. The world needs you. And there is hope for a better tomorrow and a brighter future. I promise you that.

Ad astra per aspera, friends.


Korean Wife Camp: Korean-Style Chicken Soup

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korean wife camp recipes

My usual staple chicken stock recipe is courtesy of the domestic goddess to end all goddesses, lady Ina Garten herself. (Bow down, people, and hail your queen.) But her method, while delicious and consistent, requires a whole day and night of time and energy. Which I can spare maybe once every three or four months in pursuit of a ginormous bulk batch of her nectar. It’s kind of a lot of work.

In between those times, this Korean-style chicken soup, or dak guk (닭 국), adapted from Maangchi.com) takes but a laid-back hour to make, and is incredibly soothing and delicious given how dead easy it is to make. I mean, who ever heard of one-hour chicken stock that was full-bodied and tasty as hell?! It’s almost good enough to completely supplant my beloved Barefoot Contessa stock. Almost. 

What I also love about this recipe, is that it makes better use of the ingredients, and produces less food waste. It always chaps my ass to fish out, strain, and throw out (or even compost) the stewed-past-death chicken carcasses, dried out meat, and baby-food mush veggies when making Ina’s recipe… but this one avoids that, giving second life to the ingredients that make it so flavorful and hearty in the first place.

dak guk korean chicken soup recipe

What you’ll need:
(serves 4)

For the broth:
2 chicken breasts (I’ve made this with boneless, skinless breasts and, as pictured, a spatchcocked double breast on the bone. Both were totally delicious, so it’s up to you! I use breasts because they’re healthier, and easy to shredm… but you could use legs, if you’re more of a dark meat connoisseur.)
16 whole cloves of garlic – skinned. (Do you know about this method of peeling large quantities of garlic? You’re welcome!)
1 medium/large onion – halved and quartered, skin on
2-3 Tbs ginger – sliced roughly
16 cups water
2 Tbs fish sauce (I love this brand, because it’s just fish, salt, and water – wayyy less additives than others. If you can’t find (or stand) fish sauce, you can use soup soy sauce, or simply plain soy sauce.)
1 Tbs salt

For the chicken topping:
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper – ground
2 Tbs sesame oil

For optional spice:
2 Tbs gochugaru powder
2 tsp sesame oil
cayenne pepper (to taste)

dak guk dalk kug korean chicken soup recipe

Brace yourselves for how easy this is, because at first blush, it appears too good to be true.

Put the first four ingredients into a stock pot and add the water. Bring to a boil and simmer for one hour, uncovered.

After an hour, remove the solids, reserving the chicken and garlic. The ginger and onion can enjoy a trip to the compost or trash.

Add the fish sauce and Tablespoon of salt to the stock, and stir. It will have reduced to about 12 cups at this point. Now taste that shit. Can you believe that only took one hour?! The stock is now DONE.

Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, use your hands to pull it into shreds. Don’t snack on it just yet.

Place the garlic cloves into a small bowl, and mash them into a paste with a fork. Mix in the sesame oil, salt and pepper, and then massage the garlic oil paste into the chicken meat. This gives the chicken an incredibly moist consistency, perfumed with so much aromatic flavor… it’s addictive. Snack on some now. Marvel at what you have created. Then, stop snacking. You want there to be plenty for your assembled soup!

dak gook korean chicken soupI personally like to gently sauté sliced carrots and celery and add them to the broth for a bit more veggie bite and fiber – but carrots and celery are my chicken soup favorites. You could do this with any vegetables of your preference, or give veggies the middle finger and let the chicken and stock speak for themselves. If you do add veg, once they’ve reached your desired level of doneness, hit them with a splash of soy sauce for a bit of extra umami caramelization. Then just layer them into your serving bowl with some chicken, ladle on some stock, and enjoy the simple, rich, soul-soothing properties!

This recipe is extra brilliant, because you can make it in advance, which makes it great for entertaining or daily lunches! Just keep the chicken, broth, and veggies (if you use them) in separate containers in the fridge. When you’re ready to serve, reheat the stock to a simmer, and pour it over the chicken as you serve. Easy peasy. And oh, so good.

For those of you who enjoy a bit more spice in life, here are two ways to heat things up a bit:
1. sprinkle whatever veggies you sauté with cayenne while they’re cooking.
2. make a paste using 2 Tablespoons Gochugaru (korean red chili flakes) and 2 teaspoons sesame oil in a bowl. You can add some to the chicken when mixing in the garlic, or just spoon it directly into your soup. Or both! Which is what I do. Mmmmm.

I hope you try this. It might just change your life forever.

If you do, come back and let me know how it went! Until next time…. 안녕히계세요! (Goodbye!)