Jenny Biddle Interviews Herself as she Celebrates a YEAR off Anti-Depressants.
Q: Hi Jenny it’s Jen here. Wow, it’s been a YEAR since you came off anti-depressants. Congratulations! How do you feel?
Thanks! Wow! Where did that year go? It feels like a monumental achievement to come off anti-depressants. I attempted to come off a couple years before, but perhaps the timing, circumstances and approach wasn’t right, the stars didn’t line up. Persisting through the challenges to finally get there makes it feel like a big achievement.
What were you on? How long were you on anti-depressants?
Effexor. 75mg a day. Just over 4 years.
I know you wrote a couple of intricate blogs about the process of coming off. Can you recap?
I spent 6 months weaning down. I received different advice from doctors/pharmacists about the speed/rate of which one should wean off. Taking it too quickly the first time, I decided to take a lot longer to wean off the pills. You kind of just want to get off them ASAP when you’re experiencing side effects, but going too quick can have repercussions. I slowed it down, found my own pace to keep side effects to a minimum. In the last weeks I ended up splitting pills and counting microbeads, a little OCD I know, but I was listening to my body.
What helped you get through?
Daily support from friends, family, my partner
Reminder notes on the wall that everything would be ok, or call a friend when things got tough
Better diet & regular exercise (I know you don’t wanna hear that)
Blogging, sharing stories with others and hearing theirs
Going easy on myself and allowing a little more TLC than usual, chocolate
Pick your battles
Keeping on going with work and normal life, being busy
What were the first weeks like after your last pill?
One might think once you’ve taken the last pill, that’s it, you’re done, success. But when you’re altering chemistry of the brain it can take a while for things to even out. Those weeks were challenging. I still had side effects: headaches, neck tension, nausea for a week or so, but the brain zaps lasted the next month or two, just these random crackles in the brain! It took a little while for my emotions to flatten out again.
I also had a big bout of anxiety for months after anti-depressants. This surprised me. I found myself afraid to hang out with friends I’d known for years, feeling anxious in my music career/performing, getting distressed in social situations, running out crying. There was a lot more crying. My psychologist said perhaps anxiety is actually the primary problem, with depression the secondary problem – and my doctor had gone ahead and prescribed treatment for depression alone. In my darkest times before anti-depressants I felt like I was on the edge of a cliff about to lose grip or jump off; anti-depressants seemed to push me back from the edge a bit. So I can at times feel a little too close to the edge. I’ve been surprised by the anxiety I have felt since coming off them, but things have evened out.
What helps reduce anxiety?
Feeling the fear and doing it anyway. I’ve learned bits and pieces about psychology. We tend to avoid what scares us or makes us anxious and uncomfortable. Yet anxiety works in a way that when we avoid something we are anxious about, the fear grows bigger and gains more power over us. Fear serves to protect us, but in many cases our brains are on overdrive and get anxious about things that aren’t actually real threat. The best way to tackle them is to face them, and face them, and face them again, in increments, piece by piece when you can.
Understanding anxiety. I read a couple books about it. The Power of Now, Overcoming Anxiety for Dummies, Reasons to Stay Alive.
Treat yourself when you’re brave
Mentally, how have you been off anti-depressants over the last year?
I’ve felt a normal portion of up and down: joy, excitement, pain, anger, sadness, loneliness, achievement, pride, anxiety, grief, helplessness, love, peace, struggletown, contentment, and everything in between. Life takes us on its rollercoaster. I recall a Silverchair lyric “I was hurting to feel something more than life”. We can strive for eternal happiness, but it’s not a realistic goal. I am happy, then sad, then happy again. I am learning to feel what a human is meant to feel.
Are there times you’ve considered going back on them or regret coming off?
Moving country has been one of the hardest things I’ve embarked on – in terms of feeling pretty isolated, being away from friends, family, support networks, routine, familiarity, starting all over again, navigating new place far from home, and the vulnerability of leaning on your partner. Someone suggest I go back on them. But I don’t believe that’s the answer for me. Perhaps I’m too stubborn. But I believe that I’m meant to feel hard feelings adjusting to a new world and way of life. A pill won’t solve it, or magically assign me new friends, or a new ego, while it might take the edge off the hardship.
You’ve had a lot of support along the way and people have shared personal heart-warming stories.
Yes. I’m very moved by people’s email, sharing stories. Initially I wasn’t sure whether to put the blog out there. But once I did I realised I’m not alone, we’re not alone, and so many people go through this seemingly secret battle of mental illness. Sharing stories binds us together and gives hope.
Photo by Charlie Brown
Mental illness affects everyone differently. I think what works for one might not work for another. It’s about trying combination of methods: diet, exercise, new job, holiday, yoga, music, hobbies, friends, opening up, vitamins, therapy, avocadoes, knitting. Anti-depressants certainly help many people. They are the hands to catch you. But alone they won’t magically make everything better. It’s about finding what works for you. We are not alone in mental illness We do this together.
Thanks for reading and for your support.
Love to connect and hear your stories.
My Irish partner, Gwendolyn and I rode into town today – her on her horse, me on a bike, and was delighted by the cheer in the street as people celebrated Ireland voting YES to marriage equality!
It’s a very exciting time for Ireland; The Marriage Equality referendum has said YES to marriage equality, the first in the world to legalizing gay marriage by popular vote. I get goosebumps and teary eyed watching the news footage of this historical moment in time.
As I’m not a citizen of Ireland I couldn’t vote; but I went canvassing, door to door for Team YES this week in a town called Bantry, West Cork. It’s been uplifting to see the amount of support from the LGBT community, as well as their friends, families and supporters who also believe in marriage equality. Thousands of Irish citizens flew home from abroad just to vote. The result has been an overwhelming YES, 62% for and 38% against. It’s changing times; Ireland is proof of that, along with 18 other countries that have legalised gay marriage.
It’s got me reflecting on the matter and I wanted to write a blog and open up about some of the things I’ve kept secret much of my life.
In my home country, Australia, gay marriage is still not legal, but I am confident with time this will also change. Whether gay, straight, whatever, I find more people in support of gay marriage, certainly the people in my little world.
15 years ago, I didn’t feel this was the case.
In the late 90s, early 2000s, when I was a teenager, I thought I was the only gay person in the entire world, apart from the gays that were mocked on sitcoms.
I never really had a word/label for my sexuality when I was a teenager. I felt what I felt, I was who I was, and I had no idea I was “different”. I had the biggest crush on Helen Hunt, and as far as my pubescent self was concerned, I was going to marry her. HAH! In many ways I was this innocent, sweet, naïve little tomboy who would never hurt a fly. I had my Helen Hunt poster (or should I say 20+ posters) on my wall beside my bed that I would kiss goodnight. Hahha!
My mother ignored my behaviour. I suppose she thought/hoped I’d grow out of it. Some years later she told me she just wanted me to be happy, but that being gay would be a hard road. Messages from school, extended family, friends, the church, the media and the government, slowly but heartbreakingly made me realise I wasn’t “normal”, “right” or “equal”. I discovered labels such as “dyke”, “homosexual”, “gay”, “lesbian” etc, and the emotional consequences have been so deeply scarring.
In many ways I’m lucky: I could have grown up in the early 1900s where homosexuality wasn’t spoken of, or where women were passive and submissive and had no real rights at all to be creative, to work, to choose whether to be pregnant or not, or express themselves, their sexuality, their emotions. I could have grown up in a country where you receive the death penalty for being gay. I’m told this still exists in places. I could have grown up in a culture that marries off their women. I could have had strict religious parents. From that perspective, I’m lucky my life hasn’t entailed such things.
But school can be cruel. I began to experience ridicule and witnessed the torment of an openly gay student. In my early teens, I began hiding it, lying about my sexuality, making up stories about sleeping with guys, I hung posters of the Backstreet Boys, and I went out with guys just to convince people (and myself) I was straight… to avoid ridicule. I never told anyone I had fallen in love with a girl in my class.
Then there was church. I went through my church phase in my late teens (truth be told, the girl I fell in love went to church… that’s how I ended up there). For a few years I immersed myself in the religion. I was in the church band, went to youth group, bible study, was a leader in the kids club, went on church camps (I have to laugh now at the thought of the church leaders splitting up boys and girls for our sleeping cabins… ooops… thankyou). For me it was a place where I made friends and felt like I was part of something, felt like I belonged. For a while, I think I believed in the religion. I even tried to convert my mum at one point. But slowly the cracks appeared. Things just didn’t add up and seemed to go against massive parts of my core. I remember thinking Christianity’s anti-gay doctrines were like telling someone born with brown eyes that they were sinful for having brown eyes. As I sat through sermon after sermon every Sunday and bible readings every Friday, I became increasingly angry, depressed and self-hating. I would pray night after night for God to not make me gay. I tried to be interested in guys, tried to want a boyfriend, tried to find them mildly attractive. I read books about “curing” the homosexual Christian. But alas, this went against my true self, and the more I pushed it down, the more it screamed out to be heard. I cut my arms for years, torturing myself, making myself bleed, and I promised God I’d never be with a woman, never live in sin. But all the while, I was in love with my female classmate, and nobody knew, and I couldn’t do a single thing about it but ache in her presence… and ache without her. The message I received was that I was wrong, sinful for being a homosexual, that I would go to hell, that it wasn’t God’s Will, that I wasn’t worthy, that I could be healed if I wanted (hmm… after years of praying, I can only conclude I am just how nature intended me be).
One of the first people I told my big secret to was the pastor at church. Alongside the “it’s wrong” ramble, he told me he would watch me with my friends and make sure I didn’t do anything inappropriate (creepy much?) (power-trip much?). He suggested ex-gay therapy, as a mate of his had had some success. Every Friday night at youth group, he would pull me aside to have a little chat, pulling me away from the after-bible-study nibblies and games with my friends, to “see how I was going”. Inevitably it would turn into a heart achingly distressing disagreement, where I would attempt to plead my case to the ego-centric power-tripper, as he provoked me to tears and I went home crying.
I would cry “But what if you weren’t allowed to love your wife?”
“But I am,” he said. “God designed woman and man to be together as man and wife. He doesn’t allow same-sex couples. It’s a sin. It’s not natural. It’s not God’s Will”.
“But being with MEN for me is not natural. This is who I am!”
I cried and cried. I ran home to Mum and cried. I dunno if she ever knew what the issue was back then (probably). After coming home particularly distressed one Friday evening, she rang the pastor and she stood up for me. He left me alone after that. At church, I told him too he no longer had a right to talk to me about my sexuality. He said, “But as the pastor of this church, I have a right to ask you how you’re going with God.”
The outcome of all this was that I pulled out of the kids club, eventually the band, and eventually the church.
To my delight, several mates of mine at church have since come out as being gay. I thought I was the only one.
I’ve persecuted myself for most of my life – perhaps as the church had trained me to do. I beat myself up. Cut my arms. Thought about suicide. It’s stung to the core of my existence. I know there are many other facets of my personality and life, but being gay is this huge part of my core. It’s shaped my attitudes, self-worth, self-image, mental health, the way I perceived the world, etc. My music career stemmed from writing songs of self-expression because I had this big secret I couldn’t tell anyone. For a lot of years I never wrote gender-specific lyrics, till 2011 when I wrote Hero in Me – a light-hearted, uplifting tune about my experience growing up being gay. I feared rejection, feared persecution, feared people being disgusted with me. I’ve feared not getting a job/gig because I’m gay. Not making a CD sale because I’m gay. I have felt such shame at the core of me. I never wanted to be gay. I never chose it. Music was my friend. I channeled my pain, ambiguously through lyrics. I yearned to be adored.
“Coming out” has been a slow process. A slow slow process.
I remember telling my mother. It was 2005, and there was a heated discussion with my extended family about homosexuality being a sin. I shrunk in my chair as the discussion went on around me, with all the “it’s wrong,” “it’s a sin” talk. My mother, however, stood up for gay people, for women, and for love. She probably knew all along that I was gay, but I’d never have the conversation with her. I’d always been too terrified of her rejection. But after witnessing her courage, I decided to tell then that I was gay, and that my special “friend” was more than a friend. I lay on the bed beside my mum as she read a book. I agonized for some minutes (or a whole decade I should say) and I finally said, “Mum… I feel like this family won’t accept me….”
“Why’s that?” she said, barely moving an inch as she kept reading her book.
“Cos I’m gay,” I said.
“Phhh don’t worry about them,” she said. And that was that. It was like I’d said I just spilt some milk in the kitchen, and she couldn’t care less. She’s always been telling me not to worry so much what other people think.
But there’s been this constant ache, this constant need for approval inside me. Perhaps like there is in all of us to some degree. I kept trying to prove that I’m not evil because I am in love with a woman. This desperation inside me.
I have memories:
“Be careful with that girl. Do not dishonour God.”
“You don’t have to sit on each other’s laps; there are plenty of other chairs.”
“Hi so and so, this is Jen and her… um….friend….. Josephine.”
“Let’s get Jenna’s… friend… to take the family photo.”
“You’re not one of those lesbians are you?”
I’ve cried at weddings for this bittersweet combination of happiness for my friends/family and pain for myself. Wanting to marry the one I love… but not being allowed. Cringing at that line where the marriage celebrant says “marriage is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”. I had to smile when I recently saw something on social media where a bride and groom told their friends and family to block their ears for that sentence of the ceremony, cos they didn’t believe it either, but in Australia is must be read out loud.
Slowly I’ve had the guts to come out.
In recent years I’ve found the courage to write lyrics in my songs “There’s a hero deep inside of me. Be my lady and your hero I’ll be”.
Slowly I’ve had the guts to correct people when they assumed my “partner” is a man.
Every day I meet new people and am faced with decision to tell them about my girlfriend, or just omit her from conversation altogether. Slowly I have the guts to mention her, as she’s a huge part of my life.
While I don’t want to box myself in as a GAY singer/songwriter, from time to time I find the guts to talk about being gay here and there, or tell the audience about my lovely wifey. At Port Fairy Folk Festival, in front of 1000-2000 people, I mentioned my “gay song” Hero in Me… and was surprised when I had a whole queue of people lining up to buy that album after the show.
Two years ago, I was lecturing at a university and wanted to show the students my song Hero in Me – as I had examples from all stages of the making of this song: the music, the development of lyrics, the rough recording, the full studio recording, and finally the video clip. When it came to showing the video clip to the class I’d got to know for several months, I ran out of the room for the “gay bit”. I feared these students losing respect for me because I was gay. When I came back into the room at the end of the video, I couldn’t look at anyone and I said “Right that’s it for today, see you next week.” AHhahah! To my surprise a girl put her hand up and said “I just want to say thank you. Thankyou for courageously sharing this with us.” The whole class clapped.
The more courage I have, the more courage it builds as I find many more positive experiences these days. You find traces of homophobia; silent disapproval, ridicule, preachiness, judgement, discrimination, horror stories. And then there’s Australia’s lame government who lag behind the times, probably fearing their own rejection for standing up for gay rights. But for the most part, in 2015, the people I know are actually really ok with gay people, and there’s no issue at all. In my tiny rural town of 200 people, they embrace me. My 80 year old landlord embraced me. My parents welcome my girl into the family like she’s one of their own. Ireland has just voted for equality in marriage. There are so many positive experiences. I’ve learned that suppressing who I am, trying to change who I am at the core, is only detrimental and contributed to my self-abuse and depression. If I can be true to myself, have the courage to be who I am, it attracts the right kind of people/opportunities into my life; friends who love me for me and want to know me, music lovers who are interested in my music. I spent too long pretending I was someone else in order to be liked. And although I have days where I don’t have so much courage, and I let it slide when someone says “Your partner, is he from Ireland?”, I am finding more and more courage to be the person I’m meant to be.
It’s funny… your parents tell you not to worry about what other people think… But ACTUALLY applying that is so much harder.
Although gay couples don’t have the same legal rights in Australia, I delight in a changing world. I can see it changing, slowly over the decades. And I can feel myself changing too – allowing myself to be who I am, not hating myself but exploring, growing, flourishing. I am grateful for the friends and family who have embraced me and my partner. I’m grateful that we can walk down the street holding hands and we aren’t arrested or beaten. I am grateful that Ireland has just set an example for the rest of the world and challenged the Catholic Religion to think about how it relates to young people in a modern world. I am uplifted by the support of people who aren’t gay themselves, but totally get what it means to love who you love.
Today I just wanted to have the guts to share my story, the good and the ugly. And I encourage you too, to have the guts to be who you are, whatever that means for you.
Since November I’ve been weaning off Effexor 75mg. I’m just milligrams away from being medication free and wanted to share some thoughts about the experience.
After posting my last blog about embarking on coming off anti-depressants, I was overwhelmed with emails from people sharing their stories – whether first or second-hand experience. I was enriched and warmed by the response, the support and the bravery of people’s openness. Thank you for your brave contributions. It showed me we are not alone. There are so many people out there who battle through mental illness, or are close to someone with a mental illness. It’s far more common than we realise. It was vulnerable opening up about coming off my medication, and I feared the consequences. But to my wonderful surprise, with vulnerability and openness came connection (as Brene Brown says in her TED Talk). It opens communication, support, connection to our human experience. I thank everyone who has supported me through this part of the journey, the messages, checking up on me, boldly sharing experiences. It’s made it all the more doable. And now, only weeks away from going med free, I’m more excited than ever.
It’s been an interesting journey. A challenging journey, but also a rewarding one. I ponder the topic while I’m splitting pills each morning…
Brief recap: I went on anti-depressants in 2011. I had been sinking into a depression of sleeping, binge eating, disconnection, lethargy and perhaps an existential crisis. Alongside therapy, the doctor put me on Effexor. It helped kick me in the right direction and after a year I felt ready to come off them. But when I tried weaning down over a couple of months from 75mg to 37.5mg a day, then down to one pill every 48 hours, I found myself riddled with withdrawals, suicidal one day, fine the next, straining my relationships and career, till I relapsed and the doctor advised I go back on the medication. I have been on the meds 4 years.
Last November I decided to come off the medication and under medical supervision began decreasing. It’s always a question of when… when is the right time? When you’re feeling good… is it you? Or is it the meds? And when you’re feeling good do you really wanna jeopardise that by messing with what’s working, messing with the meds? And how do you cope with ordinary day-to-day stresses… as well as reducing meds? Living in a better environment, new friends, new love, and a new understanding of myself and the tools to handle life, I figured now was a good a time as any to come off the meds, and the doc okayed this.
This time I’ve done it a little differently. I decreased a LOT SLOWER, exchanging one 75mg pill for a 37.5mg pill each week (ie. Week 1: 7 x 75mg, Week2: 6 x 75mg + 1 x 37.5mg, Week 3: 5 x 75mg + 2 x 37.5mg … and so on…). Depending on what was happening in my life, I slowed this process down furthermore – ie. Live album recording, new relationship, needing a break from withdrawals.
But the next decrease was more challenging…
The thing is… drug companies don’t make any dose lower than 37.5mg of Effexor, yet there’s a label on the packaging that says “Do not stop taking this medication abruptly” as withdrawals would be almost unbearable with a high chance of relapse. So how does one do it safely and effectively?
I’m quite disappointed drug companies don’t provide safer/smaller doses and information to help people come off the medication. I suppose, in my now sceptical opinion, it’s to stop people coming off so they can make more money from people, and ultimately it’s not financially viable for them to manufacture lower dosages. It’s got me thinking about how these drugs are marketed to us and to doctors. Doctors/pharmacists seem quite uninformed and unsure about how these drugs will affect us when we’re on them, how to cope with withdrawals and side effects, and how to successfully and smoothly come off these pills, yet these medications are handed out like candy. It’s scary to think we know so little about medication, the brain, and how they interact. My weaning off attempts have been nothing more than trial and error.
This time, I was advised to split pills. I split 37.5mg in half. But when I began reducing by the same method/rate: Week 9: 7 x 37.75mg, Week10: 6 x 37.5mg + 1 x 18.25mg, Week11: 5 x 37.5mg + 2 x 18.25mg… I couldn’t handle it. I found myself on the roadside throwing up after a gig, throwing up at night, headaches, restlessness, spasms at night, irritability, crying. It seemed that when I introduced the smaller dose one day and remained on the current dose the rest of the week, my body was going “WTF!” It never really got the chance to get USED to the next level cos the process was perhaps too slow and disjointed. I took 6 weeks off reducing the meds, staying on 37.5mg/day as my body desperately cried out for relief from withdrawals. From there, I split pills to create a 1/3 dose (25mg) and went straight on that, one third every day, rather than introducing it slowly/disjointedly. A couple weeks later I went straight down to 18.25mg. Now I’ve begun counting beads within the capsules and am down to 13.5mg. It seems going straight onto a lesser level is the way to go, none of this alternate dosages for alternate days business. I now wonder if the process could have been smoother had I started splitting pills between the jump from 75mg to 37.5mg
It’s somewhat nerdy, but I’ve been graphing my progress over the months. This graph below shows my daily mood (red) 1-10 with 10 being the happiest of moods. The blue shows the daily dosage of Effexor with 1 representing my original dosage of 75mg and 0 representing nil (with everything in between). I’ve found a mild correlation between the dosage change and mood. When I remained on the same dose for 6 weeks my mood was far more stable. When I introduced a lesser dose, the following day was often lower with multiple side effects. The changing of meds certainly threw things around. But over the months I’ve begun to realise the complexity of our wellbeing with the interplay of exercise, social interaction, career, period, PMT, falling in love, trauma/stress, diet, vitamins, and perhaps a psychological expectation or anxiety of what might happen, that perhaps overall this graph doesn’t show much at all other than a human living life….
It’s certainly been a rollercoaster of a ride. I’ve had periods of tearfulness where I cry at beautiful things, cry at nothing, cry at stressful things, cry cos I’m scared, cry cos I’m happy. I’ve had nausea, vomiting, severe headaches, neck and shoulder pain. I lined my house with notes of encouragement and reminders to call friends if ever I had thoughts of suicide… but thankfully I haven’t had them at all. I’ve had times where I feel like I can’t handle the smallest of challenges, or the mere sniffling of some inconsiderate person in the library.
But I’ve learned just to ride them, just to feel them, ride the wave, go through it, it won’t last forever. I’ve also had feelings of elation, happiness, being in love, enjoying TASTE and TOUCH far more than ever before. My partner is a psychologist, but beyond that she’s a nurturing, empathetic woman, and I recall climbing up Mt Buffalo and stopping to have a cry. She held me and told me I’m doing really well. Those mere words empowered me and created a safe place for me to just weep till I no longer needed to weep. She says perhaps coming off the meds is like lifting a blanket that has numbed my feelings, both good and bad. And that perhaps now I am forced to face feelings I didn’t face 4 years ago, forced to FEEL feelings I didn’t let myself feel 4 years ago.
We have this perception that happiness is something we can obtain, something to aim for and possess, living happily ever after. But in fact that’s not what being a human is about. Being a human is about feeling. Experiencing the fullness of what it is to be human. FEELING sadness. FEELING happiness. FEELING anger, frustration, irritation, fear, loneliness, joy, boredom, ups, downs. FEELING it. Acknowledging it, moving through it, understanding it won’t always be this way.
One thing is for sure: I was on 75mg Effexor. I’m now on 13.5mg Effexor. And I feel great! I feel alive. And I am so determined to be medication free. It leaves me with a lot of questions about my mental health and medication. Medication certainly has its place, and there’s often the argument that mental illness requires life long medication just like asthma or diabetes. For some, medication is vital for quality of life and to go without would make existence nearly impossible. For others it can be a kick in the right direction, a little extra help while getting back on track. Other times, I think pills are handed out like candy with a trial-and-error approach to finding the right medication/brand/solution/dosage for that individual – so many people can experience worse symptoms than before they were on the meds. There are so many grey areas, so many uncertainties in our understanding, so many questions.
For me, I question… Did I ever really need medication? Was the doctor looking for a quick fix that was ultimately just a blanket for the human experience? Could my mental health issues have been helped some other way, with some other combination of things, more exercise, therapy, diet, yoga? Did I come to rely on meds, fearing coming off them? Do drug companies enhance fear of coming off them with the endless list of withdrawals so you remain on their product? Or did meds give me the necessary leg up 4 years ago and guide me in the right direction? Was I not ready to come off 3 years ago, or was the method of coming off an unrealistically drastic method suggested by drug companies to set you up for inevitable relapse? Is my success now because I am READY now, or because I listened to my body during the process of weaning off, and tailored the reduction to suit the rate at which I was comfortable decreasing the medication?
We all have our different experiences, and I feel for those who have also been battling anxiety, depression and other mental health issues as we battle trial and error with drugs, side effects, quality of life, stigmas and more. I’m by no means qualified to be handing out advice on this, but I just wanted to voice my experiences in the hope that it might open communication and help us feel connected as humans.
As I plough strong towards the finish line, I say thank you so kindly for your support, for checking in on me during these 5 months. Huge thanks to my friends and family, especially my loving partner for riding the wave with me and being a rock when I could not, for your words of wisdom, your grace, letting me be who I am, feel what I feel. And thanks to Sal for your DAILY picture messages of encouragement over the last 150 days (dedication!).
Love to know your thoughts and experiences if you’d like to share them.
I debated whether or not to blog about this topic. But I figured it’s a way to start discussion, open communication, get people talking and perhaps hear about other people’s stories.
I’ve decided to come off my anti-depressants.
I went on a low dose of Effexor (75mg) in April 2011. At that point it had been some months where I’d lost enthusiasm for life, for everything I enjoyed. Everything was an effort. I had to force myself to go to work to entertain people, force myself to go busking, force myself outta bed. And when I wasn’t binge eating or sleeping, I would lie on the floor in the dark in my tiny shoe-box apartment and write depressing songs. It was getting harder to face people, harder to face the day. I decided to nip it in the bud and saw a doctor about it. I was shocked to hear I was depressed. It was hard to admit. Hard to accept. I didn’t want to be given that label, as it seemed so… real… permanent… like it would frame me to BE depressed. I was depressed. Eventually I came around to the idea of pills, along with therapy.
The pills helped take the edge off the depression. The lows weren’t as scarily low. And gradually I started to change my life and feel better. Found love, moved house, tried to find balance with work/personal life, developed some new tools to cope.
I tried to come off the meds a year later. I thought I was doing all the right things in my approach to come off them – I saw the doc and psych and had their support, I was exercising, and I weaned off really slowly over a couple of months. But when I got to the point of half a pill every 48 hours, I couldn’t handle the withdrawals; dizziness, headaches, pins and needles in the face, suicidal thoughts. I was most terrified on the day I went looking for a rope. I knew they weren’t real suicidal thoughts. I just had to keep telling myself “This is not real, this is not real, it’s the drugs, it’s the drugs.” But I didn’t trust myself. I was afraid to be alone. I ended up falling back into depression, I literally cried over spilt milk (and I spilt milk a lot), my relationship couldn’t handle the withdrawals and neither could my body/mind, so I went back on 75mg before I could reduce them anymore.
It’s been over two years since then. Life has changed significantly. I’ve moved to the country, which suits my soul and personality far more than the city. It gives me space to breathe, write songs, be creative and reflective. I’ve got to know new beautiful friends and be part of the community. I do tours here, there and everywhere and come back to my little bungalow sanctuary in the mountains. My music career is full of things to excite me and help me grow and I’m about to do a live album in December. I’ve done a lot of soul searching, reading, self-reflection, journal writing, and got some new tips and tools for life. And… I’ve found new love! I think it’s time. I think it’s time to come off the meds.
I’ve been thinking (and talking) about this for 6 months or so. It seems to be a controversial topic. Some say “Well if you don’t have any side-effects, why come off them and potentially ruin a good thing?” Others say perhaps I’m born with a chemical imbalance and need the meds. Then there are peeps who say “Sure, why not try and come off them? You’re in a good place. You can always go back on them?”
I have faith, if I can JUST get through the withdrawals, my brain will find its own balance and I will be able to handle life without meds. Part of me thinks that “you need the meds cos you have a chemical imbalance” is a cop out – A) it’s a quick Band-Aid solution, B) it stops people having to deal with the fact that I might be depressed and C) stops ME taking responsibility for the way I feel/process/operate only to rely on drugs. In saying that, I know there are certainly cases where people are born with chemical/hormonal imbalances and have a far better life with medication. It’s an individual case. I had depression as a teenager and it was believed that maybe there’s a chemical imbalance. But I don’t think so. I may just be in denial, but I think I was just really struggling with stuff teenagers struggle with – grades, being accepted, being gay, family, friends, religion, society, the media, body image, eating disorders, what to do with life, identity, balance, growing up, sexuality, becoming your own adult person with your own choices, opinion and pathway. That’s not to say I’ve got all my shit together, but I have faith that I’ve learned a few new tools to handle every day – like learning to say no and finding balance between work and social life, recognising that many of my problems are how I perceive them, working on finding self-worth from within rather than expecting it to come from external sources.
I think anti-depressants have their place. For me, at this point in time, I don’t want believe I’ll need to be on them for the rest of my life. I don’t wanna reside in “it’s a chemical imbalance, just take the pills.” I don’t wanna be tied to them. I don’t wanna spend the money. I don’t want the withdrawals on the odd day I might forget to take a pill.
So I am going to attempt to come off them. I saw the doc yesterday. I’ve been prescribed the half dose. This time instead of going from 75mg a day to 37.5mg for a month, then one every 36 hours for a few weeks, then one every 48 hours, the doc has suggested reducing by 75mg over each WEEK. A new plan. And when I get to the end of the 37.5mg script just stop altogether. I also plan to create a list of things to do when withdrawals hit: go for a walk, call a friend, write, sing, etc.
I’m scared. I’m scared of the withdrawals. I’m not really scared of “failing”. I think once I get through the withdrawals things will balance out. I could be wrong. In which case, I’ll go back on them. But I have to try. I’m at the point where I just have to try.
If you have a positive success stories to share with me, with us, give me a li’l pep talk, I’d love to hear your experience and insight (remembering that it’s an individual case).
I also ask that you just… check up on me. Every once in a while. It might be a rocky few months. But when’s a good time to do it really? Life is always gonna be there. But I’m pumped (and scared!) and I’m excited (and nervous) and ready!
Today I set foot back in my old high school. To sing and to speak. It’s been 12 years since my year finished up and I hadn’t been back since.
School is a rollercoaster for all of us, aint it? I have vivid memories. Good and bad. The experiences at this time in our life that can make us… or break us.
I walked back through the gates and was flooded with memories. Everything was kinda the same, yet… so different. I remember the table where I sat on my very first day, reluctant in a skirt, with my hairy legs (I didn’t know you were supposed to shave back then), shy, very dorky, but eager to please, and aching to fit in. (It didn’t take long before I was shaving my legs…). The buildings, the teachers, uniforms, the quadrangle, the hall, everything was as I remembered it. Students were lectured about etiquette on public buses… just as I remembered. They all have the hots for the young male teacher… just as I remembered.
But I’m a different person today.
It was like the new me was meeting the old me. The teachers who knew the old me were meeting the new me.
I was greeted by a friendly and familiar face. Ashamedly I didn’t recall her name, she wasn’t my teacher, but she knew all about me and the guitar I made and won a Design Tech Award for 12 years ago! And suddenly I’m reminded that teachers are human. With passions, visions, their own hopes and dreams, their own opinion, their own flaws, failures and mistakes. They don’t seem human when you’re a student. It’s us versus them. There are the ones who are like heroes to us, who inspire and encourage, who plant seeds that we take with us for life. And there are the teachers whose harsh words can define and limit us for the rest of our lives. I am grateful for the teachers who saw something in me and believed I was worth their time, effort, patience, and guidance, despite my troubled teen years. Unforgettable.
My school was a great school. There was opportunity, respect, education, some wonderful teachers. But it wasn’t always easy. Adolescence is a tough time for anyone, only to be made tougher by the idea of grades and “figure out who you and what you wanna do with your life NOW”
I approached the school wanting to come back to talk and sing. I wanted to share a bit of my story, my time at school, and where I have landed today, in the hope that if I could get through to just ONE person and make their life a little better, it would be all so worth it.
I stood in front of the school of 1000 people. I spoke about my high school years. I was a good student, but I struggled with an eating disorder. I struggled with being gay, lying about it and pretending I wasn’t to avoid bullying, I struggled with depression, anxiety and self-harm. How school can be so tough. I felt fear as I shared my story today, and that fear could have disabled me if I gave it too much weight. But the message I wanted to leave people with is bigger than that fear. It’s the message that we’ve all got our stuff; home life, abuse, disabilities, religion, sexuality, social/peer pressures, sickness, poverty, etc, but you WILL get through it. It all feels so intense at the time when it’s happening. It’s important to try your best, but school is not the be all and end all. There IS life after year 12. “I dare you to be yourself”, I said (perhaps easier said than done). Part of me wishes I had the guts to be myself back in school (but if we were never there, we’re never be where we are today – and today I had the guts to be me). It’s liberating to not place so much emphasis on what the world thinks. I came out of school alive. Not only alive, but I’ve prevailed. I’ve followed my passion for music, despite the hurdles and setbacks. We don’t HAVE to be bad at maths, cos our maths teacher tells us we are. We don’t have to follow the straight and narrow through the bottleneck society creates to success. And we don’t have to hate ourselves for being different.
It was an empowering experience. And if it could offer one student hope, it’s a job well done.
I stood on that very same stage where I once sang my little heart out and tied for first place at the School Talent Quest. The stage where I sang to my peer group at our graduation, and received a goosebumping standing ovation. Today I sang Hero in Me to the most appreciative audience. A song I would never have been brave enough to compose in high school. When the school applauded, it was like no applause I can ever recall. It echoed endlessly through the hall, and I felt their sincerity and enthusiasm as I stood there, struggling to accept their humbling praise. I felt a sense of empowerment and pride. I was proud to have found the courage to reach beyond my comfort zone and stand before those young people as the true person I am today, and inspire them to become the true person they are.
It’s all gonna be ok, ey.
What was your high school experience?
Was there an experience that made you?
Was there an experience that broke you?
Where are you now? Who are you today?
Tell me a fond memory?
Did you also draw a mustache on your face with eyeliner in the 8th grade?
Who are you grateful to?
I’m about to head on tour for the launch of my new acoustic album “Little Treasures”. I thought I’d get a blog happening about the tour, wins and losses, emotions (ew!), and stories for a li’l inside into what happens on the road as a travelling musician. Hopefully inspire some aspiring touring artists and take ya’ll with me while I’m away.
I leave tomorrow. I’ll be on the road in my little Yaris for a month, get back for a few weeks, then hit the road for another week. Driving all the way up to Brisbane and beyond, and back to Melbourne. It was going to be a solid two months on the road, including 3 weeks of recording in Sydney in the middle, but I decided to postpone recording to focus on the tour (what was I thinking starting ANOTHER new album before I’ve really launched this one! Keen pants or what???)
I popped into the recording studio yesterday, and was incredibly inspired. It’s been a while since I’ve been in the studio (almost 2 years since the recording of Chest of Drawers), and I didn’t realise how much I missed it.
A homeless man sat on The Purse outside Melbourne’s General Post Office, as he listened to me sing on the street. I smiled at him and continued to play guitar. After a while the man got up and put his spare change into my busking case, smiled and shuffled off into the stream of people, busy with their day.