Treating Depression Without Chemicals

Treating Depression Without Chemicals

Christine Tender Points

I’ve been mentally preparing for next week’s appointment with my psychiatrist. Although I see another mental health professional for cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), my psychiatrist (a medical doctor) prescribes and monitors any mood-altering medications I take. In my case, this doesn’t require a lot of effort. It’s not that I’m opposed to using any of the drug therapies available today. The fact is that I’m intolerant to almost every chemical I ingest.

I had battled episodes of depression for years, certain it was playing a key role in the development of many of my physical conditions. Conquering this one symptom of fibromyalgia had been the focus of my existence. How excited I was when Prozac (fluoxetine) hit the market! I was certain it was the answer to my prayers. Instead of relief, this drug gave me hallucinations. Aware of my goal and my lack of success, every doctor I’ve seen since then has eagerly prescribed for me the latest and greatest antidepressant on the market. In desperation, I’ve tried them all — and failed for various reasons. Mostly, my digestive system rebelled.

After Prozac, I tried Zoloft (sertraline). At first, I couldn’t believe how wonderful I felt. I slept easily and well. I felt energetic. I was nearly pain-free and thinking clearly for the first time in years. This state of euphoria lasted for nearly two weeks. Then, there I was on a business trip, briefcase in hand, briskly walking down a hallway dressed in my professional navy blue pantsuit. Suddenly, I needed a bathroom more urgently than I ever had in my life. Fortunately, there was one in sight. Of course, I arrived late for my meeting, suit jacket strategically tied around my waist, underwear and pantyhose left disposed of in a trashcan. I attempted to smile through my abdominal pain and fear of further intestinal activity, awaiting an opportunity to excuse myself as discretely as possible. Every antidepressant drug I’ve tried since then has had the same effect. I feel great for a few hours or days, until the drug gets into my system. At that point, my body recognizes an intruder and determines to get rid of it.

I also had great expectations for the natural substances I’d discovered, all recommended by either satisfied users or professionals I trusted. I was confident that either SAMe or St. John’s Wort would be my salvation. Unfortunately, my guts didn’t like them one bit better than the other chemicals I’d swallowed.

The alternative has been to minimize my depressive symptoms using any and every other means available. I’ve exercised regularly. I’ve eaten a healthy organic diet, eliminating substances with even the slightest possibility of aggravating the condition, such as wheat, dairy, and soy. I’ve occupied my mind with challenging activities (witness this column and the publication of my book, “Tender Points: A Fibromyalgia Memoir”). I see a cognitive behavioral therapist regularly, and an acupuncturist when I can afford it. I attend a fibromyalgia support group. For the most part, I’ve managed quite well. However, I’ve recently noticed a lack of interest in many of the things that once excited me — a symptom of depression I’ve not previously experienced. I feel myself slipping into a downward spiral. It’s time to try something new.

I’ve prepared a list of nonchemical treatments recently introduced for the treatment of depression that I intend to discuss with my doctor. The first is transcranial magnetic stimulation. This sounds like a very promising approach, if not now, then sometime in the very near future. The second is light therapy, successfully used for the treatment of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but more recently recommended for various other depressive conditions as well. The last and most invasive is called vagus nerve stimulation, a form of neuromodulation (the use of a medical implant to change the functioning of the brain).

We live in a very exciting time. Medical breakthroughs are emerging almost daily. I’m certain that one of them holds the key to successfully breaking my cycle of depression. The challenge for my doctors and me is to find the right one.

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Note: Fibromyalgia News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Fibromyalgia News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to fibromyalgia.

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