Are Antidepressants Worth Taking?

Since being diagnosed with clinical depression a few years ago, I’ve been on and off (mostly on) the anti-depressant Fluoxetine.

I’ve taken varying doses between the minimum and, most recently, the maximum.

What beneficial effects did Fluoxetine have for me? What were its side-effects?

Rather than writing about how anti-depressants are supposed to work, in this post I’ll share my subjective experiences, which may be typical, or they may be anomalous.

[Nerdy science warning: Care should be taken before drawing conclusions from a sample size of one with no experimental controls in place.]

Fluoxetine seems to take the edge off the more difficult aspects of life. And by “difficult” I really mean “intensely emotional.”

I experienced less emotion while on the medication. This felt a bit like having a force field, enabling me to more easily endure uncomfortable situations (whether they occurred in the external world, or purely in my internal world of thoughts and feelings).

Fortunately my emotions weren’t numbed completely. I think that would have felt unpleasant for me, though I can understand why someone who’s been through a lot of trauma might want to numb everything and feel nothing.

Often it’s really beneficial to have a force field which prevents you feeling so much emotion. For example, in stressful work environments, it’s easier to keep your cool.


Along with dulled emotions, I believe my thinking wasn’t as sharp. It’s hard to quantify exactly how dulled my cognition seemed to be. At a rough guess, maybe 10%?

I’m finding it easier to get out of bed now I’m off the antidepressants. And the morning’s mental grogginess fades faster. I concede this is partly because I’m simply enjoying life more, so I have more willingness to engage with the morning rather than trying to hide from it.

Sometimes life is fucking brutal. Our loved ones will die one day, many of them before we die ourselves. That kind of loss can cause immense suffering and pain.

Dr Jordan Peterson rather bleakly proclaims, “Life is tragedy tainted by malevolence.” I have some sympathy with that outlook.

So it’s no wonder people turn to antidepressants to get some temporary relief from the bleakest parts of life.

Was my life ready that bad?

I wasn’t taking Fluoxetine short-term. I’ve been on it for years. So what unbearable trauma happened to me? Why was my life so bad that I didn’t want to live any more?

In short, I simply didn’t like life. I wanted to escape from it. I spent large chunks of my time wishing I wasn’t around.

At the time, my understanding was that if life’s making you depressed, then it’s perfectly natural to take anti-depressants so you can cope with it.

I liked my Fluoxetine-powered force field. I didn’t want to give it up. It didn’t miraculously make me happier, but at least it reduced the intensity of negative emotions.

And that’s the key point: I had decided I didn’t want to deal with everyday life any more. I constantly wanted to escape, through anti-depressants, through videogames and eventually by taking drugs.

And that lead me to addiction and Narcotics Anonymous.

It might seem strange, but I’m incredibly grateful I hit that low point.

Because it was there, as my life teetered on the edge of total destruction, that I learned the last little secret to curing myself of depression.

The root problem wasn’t that I was depressed. My core problem was that I couldn’t cope with everyday life.

And the solution wasn’t to mask or escape from reality (via games, drugs etc). The solution was to learn how to accept life on life’s terms.

I needed to stop running away. I needed to take responsibility for my life.

It’s thanks to Dr Jordan Peterson and to Narcotics Anonymous that I’ve made these astonishing realisations.

It’s taken me literally years to get to this point. Change is often really hard.

It’s been almost 8 weeks since I cold-turkeyed Fluoxetine. I don’t recommend that anyone else does this – it can be very risky to suddenly stop taking antidepressants, in some cases fatal.

Two months ago I couldn’t fully articulate why I wanted to stop taking my medication. But I knew it felt like the right thing to do for me personally.

It’s only now that all of this is becoming increasingly clear to me, almost 5 months clean from drugs and 2 months free from anti-depressants.

Ultimately, I needed to learn how to cope with everyday life again.

I needed to start taking responsibility for myself. And I needed to learn a better way to relate to so-called “negative” emotions.

Without Jordan Peterson and NA, I expect I’d still be on anti-depressants… possibly for the rest of my life.

So, it’s difficult for me to understate how grateful I am to both NA and Dr Peterson (via his YouTube videos).

Who knows where I’d be without their help.

[Caveat: depression is a complex disease. It has many different causes and seems to affect different people in different ways. In this post I talk only about my own experiences. I’m not a doctor or a medical professional. I am not recommending what I did for anyone else.]

Where I am Today

So much has been changing for me recently. On certain matters it feels like I change my mind daily. But far from feeling uncertain or adrift, I’m feeling confident that I’m on the right path.

I thought it might be useful briefly to recap where I am today and some of my beliefs. These are subject to change and revision!

I’ve started reading about the work of psychologist Carl Jung – it’s fascinating. Many of his ideas seem to chime with intuitions or part-formed ideas I’ve been mulling over recently.

We each hold a divine spark within ourselves, in our unconscious mind. Some people can go their whole lives without realising it’s there. But others of us, myself included, keep getting hints and fleeting connections with our inner divinity.

This divine spark is potentially God-like. It’s like a physical embodiment of what we’re all capable of. It’s pointing the way to being the very best me.

Now, when I think of God, I’m referring to this God-like potential inside myself, this little slice of heaven.

One way (maybe the best way) we can get in touch with the God inside us is through meditation. When we’re still and pay attention… we can start to feel a deep inner peace. We “wake up” in a very real sense.

I now view meditation as an essential part of my spiritual journey.

In mid-August, I took a huge quantity of DXM. I refer to the following 2-3 weeks as a Spiritual Awakening. Chemically, something happened inside my brain which enabled me to become more closely in touch with my unconscious mind, including the spark of God or Higher Power within me.

My Spiritual Awakening isn’t just a singular moment in time. It’s an ongoing process. Every day, I’m waking up more. There’s also a tight correlation with another kind of waking up… every time I bring my conscious awareness back to the present moment (i.e. being mindful), that’s another form of waking up.

Through these two forms of waking, I’m getting closer to the real me and also the me that I’m capable of becoming – the best version of myself.

I’m now thinking that this true purpose of life… or at least the true purpose of my life. It’s to manifest the divine spark within me as much as possible in my everyday life. It’s to become Holy – the best version of me possible.

This won’t happen overnight. It’s a daily process, requiring continual effort.

I will make mistakes, I will forget things and need to re-learn them. I’m embracing a model of “two steps forward and one step back.” In other words, I’m being kind and patient with myself. I’m not going to quit just because things don’t seem to be working so well on a particular day.

I still have some reservations and reluctance regarding the official 12 Steps and the associated “stepwork”. I really dislike dogma – it’s necessary to be generic in order to deliver teachings in a way that’s suitable for the masses. But I am not the masses.

I’m determined to keep thinking critically and keep integrating the 12 Steps teachings in ways which resonate deeply with my other beliefs. I’m not just going to accept things on blind faith – that’s simply not who I am. I would be insulting my inner divinity by uncritically accepting everything I’m told.

I do have a “self”, but it’s not constant. In fact, in my case, it seems to change more frequently and more radically than most people’s. I don;t see that as a weakness, I see it as a strength.

I think of my sense of self as like an eddy in a stream. Over time, it may appear to hold a mostly consistent form, but it’s also ever-changing in many small ways.

Having a loose sense of self makes it easier for me to ignore my ego, which often just gets in the way of my spiritual development. It’s important for me to stay humble and open-minded, willing to re-evaluate my thinking at any point in time.

I don’t need to be right all the time. It’s far more important for me to be kind, both to myself and to others.

I want to embody the spiritual principles of Truth, Love, Courage and Humility in everything that I do. Again, I don’t expect to be perfect. I will make mistakes. But these mistakes are necessary and I’ll welcome them. Every “mistake” is an opportunity for learning.

I’m going to keep building the gap between stimulus and response in my own mind. I’ll do this through a daily meditation practice. This will have a huge effect on reducing any feelings of anxiety, depression or addiction. In essence, I’ll become free.

I’ll take personal responsibility for my life. I’ll pray for guidance on how best to do this. When I pray, I’m praying to the inner God-like potential that lives in my unconscious.

I’ll use the Serenity Prayer – this seems to embody the concept of personal responsibility.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

The Serenity Prayer

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Imagine the bleak emptiness of outer space. There’s literally nothing for gigantic distances.

I think this is what nihilism is like. If you feel your life has no meaning or purpose, then you’re empty & dead inside. Virtually no life can survive in outer space.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

When two stars orbit around each other, it’s known as a binary star system. Due to the powerful effects of gravity, each star pulls off huge chunks of matter from each other.

Over time, each star becomes more like the other. It becomes harder to say the stars are truly distinct… each star is increasingly composed of portions of the other.

I think people are like this too.

“You’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”

– James Altucher

I agree with the sentiment of this quote from James, but the pedant inside me feels he hasn’t formulated it very accurately. However, this quote certainly has an emotional punch – it makes you think carefully about who you’re choosing to spend time with.

I’d prefer to say it this way:

“You become more like the people you spend the most time with – and they become more like you too. So make sure you spend time with people whose qualities you admire.”

Bollinger, R. (2019)

I’ve seen this happen to beautiful effect in my own life. I respect and admire my wife more than any other human being I’ve ever met. I feel incredibly lucky to have her in my life.

We’ve known each other almost 20 years. After such a long time together, we’re bound to have rubbed off on each other, just like binary stars.

I’d like to think that I’ve adopted some of her better qualities, such as learning to be more calm and considered. And I’d also hope that I’ve rubbed off on her in positive ways too.

Who do you admire? What precisely is it that you admire about them? What are you learning from them?

Are you spending time with people who you feel are helping you become the best version of you? Or do you hang around with people who are bringing you down?

It’s your choice.

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Reasons to Get Out of Bed

If you’ve ever been clinically depressed, you’ve probably been through phases where it’s difficult to make yourself get out of bed. Life feels pointless, you can’t think of any activities which seem worthwhile.

Heck, you don’t even have to be depressed to want to stay in bed! Maybe you simply hate your job and are only doing it for the money.

This morning as I lay in bed, now that the superpowers from my Awakening have faded, I noticed some old and familiar feelings and thoughts.

I felt very tired and groggy, a little dizzy. I had a headache. I couldn’t immediately think of any good reasons why I should get out of bed. I’d had some disturbing dreams which left residual emotions of sadness and confusion.

By contrast, at the peak of my Awakening a couple of weeks ago, I was springing out of bed, full of enthusiasm, a list of all the things I wanted to accomplish that day floating around in my mind.

Back to this morning: as I remembered how great I felt two weeks ago, I felt even more sad. I started to feel sorry for myself.

Thankfully, quite quickly I reminded myself that allowing myself to be a passive victim is not helpful at all. I have to take personal responsibility for my life. I have to try to make things better for myself and my family in small ways every day.

That was enough to spur me out of bed. I made myself a strong coffee and waited for the grogginess to fade. I reached out to some new friends from my 12 Steps fellowship to ask for support. They responded quickly and with kindness and understanding. One guy even phoned me a bit later this morning and we had a really good chat which left us both feeling better.

An hour after getting out of bed, I was feeling tonnes better. I’d found some meaningful things to put my attention onto.

Whenever you project your mental energy outside of yourself and onto an a task which feels important, it gets you out of those vicious negative thoughts which can swirl around in your head. The devil makes his playground from idle thumbs (or however the saying goes).

My Life’s Purpose

From being depressed, suicidal and without any discernible purpose at the very lowest points of my life, I’d say there’s a good chance I’m now at the very best point in my entire life. There are so many things which feel important and are competing for my attention.

In no particular order:

  • Looking after my wife, my dogs and my home. (My wife is easily the most important thing in my life).
  • Exploring the intersection of Science, Spirituality and Religion, looking for deeper truths which can help people to lead meaningful lives.
  • Looking after my own mental, physical and spiritual health. This is a pre-requisite for everything else.
  • Continuing to build and refine a set of daily habits which support my happiness and health.
  • Regularly taking part in a 12 Steps fellowship, as other addicts and I gather together to try to save our own lives and each other’s.
  • Helping others. At the moment I’m spending a lot of time on the subreddit for Jordan Peterson, responding to people who are looking for help or advice. I’m trying to remain humble and open-minded as I do this. I really want to avoid giving inappropriate advice. I’ll keep trying to strike the right balance here.
  • [Optional] Creating a videogame based on music.
  • Keeping on top of my pile of Amazon reviews (I receive free products in exchange for honest reviews).
  • … and probably several other things I’ve missed off.

So yeah… I’d say I have quite a few reasons to get out of bed each morning!

If you’re struggling to find reasons to get out of bed in the morning, might I respectfully suggest this methodology for Sorting Your Life Out, which is based on several of Jordan Peterson’s ideas.

And if you’re feeling so low and hopeless that suicide is seeming like a valid option, please watch this short video.

What are Prayers Good For?

The act of praying is treated with derision by many. A common example is after mass shootings in the US. Religious folk often use the phrase “thoughts and prayers”. Secular folk will mock them for using (supposedly useless) prayers as a substitute for taking meaningful action.

Let’s re-assess though. What are prayers for?

As part of my quest to unify Science, Religion and Spirituality, I’m going to hypothesise that prayers may have some kind of positive function, though perhaps most of us don’t fully understand it.

It doesn’t make sense to me that so many humans, worldwide and as a species, would bother to pray if doing so conferred zero utility (benefit). Humans generally don’t like to waste their time and energy like that.

The first idea that occurred to me is about praying to put events into God’s hands. What function could that serve? Well, I believe it has a very important one.

If you look at Stoic philosophy, there’s a strong focus on what’s within one’s locus of control. In other words, we really only have control over our own thoughts, feelings and behaviour. External circumstances are often outside of our control. We can’t always force a certain outcome to occur because there are so many variables outside of our control.

This is why I feel that a good general approach to life is to do your best, but let go of your need to control the outcome. This is the spiritual principle of Acceptance (or Love). And it’s extremely powerful.

If there was a medication which could minimise depression, anxiety, worry and stress within a matter of a few minutes, everyone would want to be taking it, all the time! And yet, that’s the power of Acceptance.

It releases us from our need to control events outside of ourselves. And by doing so, it releases us from any emotional prisons we’ve wandered into.

NOTE: There’s often a misunderstanding about Acceptance. It is very much NOT about being passive, falling into a heap on the floor, allowing the world to kick you while you’re down, becoming a helpless victim.

I re-iterate, Acceptance is about doing the best you can, and then letting go of your need to control the outcome.

Doing this can bring a tremendous sense of peace.

For example, think about job interviews. You can give them your absolute best, but still not get the job. Sometimes there’s a candidate who beats you by just a tiny margin. You couldn’t control that (other than assassinating all other candidates before the interview!) And so it doesn’t make sense to beat yourself up for “failing” when you know you did your best. So instead, you just Accept the outcome, even though it’s not what you wanted.

This is why I included Acceptance/Love on the second version of my Tidy Your Room diagram. To do our best at taking personal responsibility and improving our lives, we need to attend to our psychological well-being. Acceptance is a great way to do this.

So, how does this relate to prayer?

Well, how do you feel after a mass shooting? Quite possibly any or all of the following: deep sadness, sick to your stomach, anger, frustration, helplessness.

Or maybe you’re just numb to it all because it seems to happen so often and yet nothing seems to change at a societal level.

These feelings, whilst understandable, can be psychologically debilitating if they go on for too long.

The truth is, for most of us, there’s very little we can do to directly affect the chances of a mass shooting happening in future.

Maybe we could vote differently (assuming we believe that would help). Maybe we could donate to relevant charities to help the victims. Maybe we could hold a protest. But, unless we happen to be a US Senator, there isn’t really that much we can realistically do.

Except, we can also pray.

God, please care for the victims of today’s tragedy. Please bring them comfort in their time of need. And I pray that such a thing doesn’t happen in my own community. I leave all this up to Your Will, my God.

The act of prayer hands over responsibility for a situation to God (or a higher power, or Fate/Destiny). [EDIT: Again, this is NOT an excuse for inaction. We should still be courageous and do what we can to make things better. Only then then should we hand over responsibility to a Higher Power.]

Praying like this is tremendously liberating from a psychological perspective. It allows us to function normally again. (See the Serenity Prayer a bit further down in this post).

I take the position that we need to look after our own mental health first, otherwise we’re no use to other people. Looking after yourself is definitely not selfish. It’s the first step to being able to help others effectively.

And, it seems to me, that prayer is an effective way of re-centering ourselves psychologically. It removes the burdens of stress, sadness and worry from us. It allows us to return our focus to the things which are within our direct control.

I’m really not sure if there actually is a divine being up in the clouds who can intervene on our behalf. But I think praying to Him serves a useful function.

Maybe prayer is a powerful way to bring ourselves to a place of Acceptance.

Bollinger, R. 2019

Of course, there are people who use prayers merely as virtue signalling – “Look at me, aren’t I such a good Christian person [smug smile].” But, I think that’s probably only a minority.

We also pray as part of the 12 Steps for addicts. It’s very far from useless. I feel it serves a similar function to that in mass shootings. It reduces guilt, fear, depression, shame, anxiety, worry, stress. It re-centers us, gets us back on an even keel, heals our hearts. Using Acceptance, it brings us back to a place where we can take full responsibility for ourselves again.

The Serenity Prayer

“God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.”

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

So, again, be open-minded.

Just because something may strike you as useless, pious, weak, like an excuse for inaction… that doesn’t mean it really is.

Challenge your assumptions. Look beyond your prejudices and biases.

Assume the best of other people. We’re all human, we’re all doing our best, we’re all imperfect and we all make mistakes.

Focus on our similarities, not our differences (another important lesson from 12 Steps).