Serotonin Is A Helluva Drug...

When I lived in Budapest, I met an American college student at work who told me that he had been very hearing impaired for most of his life due to a birth defect in his ears. I don't think he ever learned sign language or anything, but he certainly struggled a lot in school when he was younger. Then he had a surgery that restored his hearing almost completely, and he sort of surged ahead, making up for lost time. He found himself becoming almost an over-achiever in school and in all areas of life, because he finally was able to hear and learn without needing any additional support, and he felt all this renewed energy to get out there and do things that had seemed impossible to him before. 

Now, this was nearly twenty years ago, and things have been changes in the realms of deaf culture, special education, and what possibilities are available to people with varying degrees of disability. I also never learned anything about his family or how much support he had at home or in school, so I won't jump to any conclusions there. He was a friendly work acquaintance I lost touch with at the end of that summer. 


Mental health is not the same thing as having a disability, but I've been remembering that person and how he described the feeling of wanting to do more now that he felt that he had overcome this major obstacle that had been standing in his way. Because I've finally found a combination of resources that have helped me actually live my life, and it's amazing how I feel essentially reborn.


I've been asked several times about the specific supplements that are working for me, so I will list them below. But I also want to talk about what a difference I feel in my daily life, one that I did not think was possible. 

The other day I missed a dose of my primary antidepressant supplement, and at the same time my "moon time" started, so the extra hormonal shift coupled with the missed dose resulted in my having to spend a day feeling the way I used to feel every single day for years. 

The difference was so striking, I honestly cannot believe I was able to function at all without medicine. The truth is that I really wasn't, or if I was then it was just bare minimum. The heaviness of my mind, the low energy, the negative thoughts (even when I understood it was just my brain chemistry that day and that it would pass), how quickly tears came to my eyes, the feelings of hopelessness, guilt, exhaustion (not necessarily sleepiness but just zero emotional or mental energy)... It was awful.

On my "meds" (the primary supplement I take, Sam-e, actually does require a prescription in Europe but not here in the States) I feel what I would describe as amazing. I think regular people would describe it as "well-rested and normal" but to someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety for literal decades it feels like living on another planet. 

When I chat with my coworkers, students, my family, it's not through a veil of sadness. I don't look around with tired eyes and find myself genuinely wishing several times a day, every day, that I had never been born. I can spend time with my daughter and really be present. I can get out of bed in the morning and I don't go straight to the couch to try and summon the strength to brush my teeth and get ready. 

This morning I got up, took my medicine, made coffee, packed lunches, loaded the dishwasher, folded some laundry, got my daughter and myself dressed and ready for the day, and got us to school and work on time. I was not wired or hyper, I could have happily lounged the morning away if it had been a weekend. But the stunning thing to me is that I was actually able to do those things, all at once, in sequence, while keeping track of the time and without feeling completely overwhelmed. Unbelievable. 

The first day I tried it, I felt a difference right away because it turned out to be a dose that was a little too high for me (400 mg. I wasn't jittery, but I couldn't sleep that night, so I switched to 200 mg). Normally it could take a few days to feel a difference and up to two weeks for optimal effect. But I remember going to work and thinking, "Is this what it's like to be 'normal'? This is incredible!" The way a simple task suddenly is actually simple feels like having superpowers when you're used to struggling through your day every single day. 

I was always so worried that if I took any kind of medication, I would lose my creativity. On the contrary, I now have the mental energy and wherewithal to actually pursue my interests and passions, and I do so with gusto. I go to work, come home, have dinner, spend time with my daughter until she goes to bed. Then I, a huge unabashed nerd, study French, practice piano, work on my lines for the play, complete a lesson of teacher training, maybe work on songs with my ex (who has re-introduced me to the addictive joy of "jamming" as well as tentative forays into songwriting), then watch some TV and sleep. I almost feel like an Edwardian lady of privilege who is on her way to becoming "accomplished" and "marriageable" by the standards of a bygone era.


I know she's not Edwardian, f*ck off.

I was never able to do any of that before, even though I really wanted to. I still have nights when I'm way too tired to do anything, but more often than not I fight the regular fatigue and try to at least do a couple of things. It's just so fun to be able to enjoy my life again. 


By the way, next time someone talks shit about smart phones, let me just say that I'm fully learning French and piano via apps on my phone. Thank you, technology, for making these things accessible and free! It's so fun to learn new things again. Language learning has always come easily to me because I grew up bilingual, but learning a new instrument is like candy to my brain. 

I played clarinet in grade school (it was cool in fifth grade, okay?!) and guitar in high school, but I've never been fond of sheet music. Last night when I was practicing... Which, by the way, is so funny as an adult when you step outside the moment and watch yourself plunking away at the keys to a simplified tune thinking, "There's a reason why you do this as a child and not at 37," but whatever. Anyway, I was practicing bass clef notes, and that moment when it starts to click and your fingers pick the right key when your eye sees a note without checking with your "left brain" first to see if it's correct is the best feeling! It's been literal decades since I learned a new instrument or even read music, and it's so fun to do it again. I highly recommend it. 

I also signed up for a little Super 8 filmmaking class just to learn something new (or in this case, something old) and that's coming up in March. We're also planning a couple of trips to some festivals and to the coast. The point is that I'm excited about life and mental health is the thread that connects this all. 

I keep telling people that if anyone had told me one month ago that I would be feeling this much better, like I have a new lease on life, I genuinely would not have believed them. In fact, people did tell me that, and I didn't believe them.  

It's not just about popping a pill and sitting back and waiting. Believing (or at least being willing to consider the possibility) that you're worth getting better for... that maybe you could try pouring some of your love and energy into your own heart instead of giving it away where it isn't appreciated or reciprocated... giving yourself the same support in exploring your creativity and hobbies that you give your family... giving your body rest, good food, and exercise when it asks for it as much as you're able... reaching out to a friend, therapist, confidant who is a positive influence... All of these things are hard work at first, but build them up bit by bit, and don't use any time you fail to do so as an excuse to tear yourself down. One day you might look around and find that your daily life is perfectly pleasant and that you're actually kind of happy. So when bigger obstacles come, you're not already so depleted that you literally cannot handle them, and you completely fall apart. 

I feel like saying that if I can do it, anyone can, but that feels like selling myself and the proverbial "anyone" short. But it can be done, and it's certainly worth a genuine effort. 

Now for the nitty-gritty... 

Support 
The first thing that is most important if you are struggling in life (and absolutely all of us do at one time or another) is find someone trustworthy to talk to. If you open up to someone and they do not respond in a compassionate way (ie. victim blaming, mocking you, telling you how glad they are that they don't have any problems, etc), stop sharing and find someone else. Often just talking a little bit to someone helps pull you out of the mental storm and gives you some perspective. Plus, people you trust, who know and love you, will let you know when they think you might need to reach out to a therapist or doctor for more help than their listening ear can provide. Which leads me to... 

Therapy 
Literally everyone should try it at least once in their lives, it's amazing. But it is often expensive and it can be difficult to find a therapist who takes your insurance (if you have it) and who is accepting new clients. Also, finding the time and energy to drag yourself to an appointment can be very difficult if you're already feeling overloaded. 

A friend of mine recommended trying a therapy app and I loved it. You create an account and answer some questions, and the app matches you with a (real, human) therapist. You can always switch to a new therapist if you're not jiving with the one you got. You can subscribe monthly or purchase a few months at a time for reasonable rates. I bought myself two months of therapy at a time. I met with my therapist weekly and was able to text and message her as-needed between appointments for barely more than the cost of a single in-person appointment I had tried before. It was a life saver. BetterHelp is the one I used, and I've also heard good things about TalkSpace from friends whose opinions I trust.

If you prefer in-person therapy, and there really is nothing quite like sitting in the physical presence of another person when it comes to building trust and rapport, there are also low-cost clinics in most major cities and many therapists offer sliding scale rates. Some strategic internet searching is worth a try to find the right fit for you.

Meds.

OK, so number one, I am not a doctor. Ask your doctor for advice about any and all medications and/or supplements you wish to try.

I was always resistant to the idea of medication for a number of reasons. I didn't want to feel dull or dumbed down, I didn't want to deal with side effects, and I also felt like instead of medicating maybe I needed to change my life so that it worked better first. 

What is working for me and helped me feel a difference right away is a supplement called Sam-e, which supports serotonin production in the brain. I typically pair it with a B-vitamin because that's what it uses to produce the serotonin. There is tons of information out there. In many countries in Europe it actually requires a prescription, it's that powerful.

One warning, do NOT combine Sam-e with any other antidepressant medications because that could cause your body to over produce serotonin, called serotonin syndrome. Also, if you are bipolar or suspect you might be, or if you experience manic episodes, this is NOT the supplement for you, it can push you into a manic episode. Again, take responsibility for your health and talk to your doctor. 

I always recommend supporting your locally owned compounding pharmacy or health food store first and foremost! But if you don't live near any such groovy places, or you are in such a low place that going to the store requires more energy than you have right now (there is no shame in that!) then you can order it online.



I am a medium sized woman and one 200 mg dose per day works for me. Take it in the morning only or sleep will be elusive. Do your research.

I also love Fungi Perfecti Mycobotanicals Brain. Fungi Perfecti is owned by mycological rock star Paul Stamets and everything they produce is amazing. I take their immunity support supplements regularly too, and have for years. Love them. This is not something that replaces the Sam-e, but has lots of other amazing benefits. Just look up everything that Paul Stamets is up to, you won't regret it. 




Nordic Naturals is my go-to brand for Omega 3's when I'm stateside, and it's good for people with depression.



Finally, this turmeric supplement by Gaia also contains black pepper to make it more bioavailable. It is an anti-inflammatory that I take a few times a week. 

 


I don't take all of these every day, but I do take the Sam-e every morning, and then the others in varying combinations most days. 

Do your own research and find what works for you. Prescription drugs are also literally life saving and worth trying, especially if you have health insurance. 

I hope this information helps and that it finds its way to even one person who could benefit from it. Cheers to our health, mental and otherwise. 


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