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.

Dull

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.]

Moving Forward

[WARNING: ramble-style post]

After declaring my journey was over yesterday, I’ve reconsidered.

There are a few different directions in which I’m thinking of moving forward with this blog and other creative projects.

CODENAME: Project Diary

I still want a place where I can talk about stuff from my own life in a pretty unfiltered way. Selfishly, it’s a kind of therapy for me, plus my experiences can sometimes be helpful for other people.

I’d want to cover mental health, depression, personal development, and the ongoing exploration of a meaningful life.

I also want somewhere where I can be fully open and honest about my recovery from addiction. Not everyone I’m close to know the full extent of my recent drug problems. And for that reason, this Diary Project would need to remain at least semi-anonymous.

CODENAME: Show Me Da Money

I’m also really keen to explore various ways in which to make money online. I’ve been trying my hand at matched betting recently and have been successful.

I also want to review various products and services, providing my honest reviews. I’ll include affiliate links so I can earn some commission.

Really, I’d like this money-making project to be totally separate from Project Diary. I want to be able to share my product reviews on Facebook without fear that my father-in-law will find out about my drug misadventures and hunt me down with a shotgun.

Another core design goal for me: I want to be different from all the existing 10-billion websites trying to sell people stuff.

Sure, I will stick closely to my guiding principles of Truth, Honesty and Humility. I will never sell trash to people just to make a fast buck.

But being an honest salesperson isn’t particularly a unique angle. I need some other way to differentiate myself. Some clever branding trick which helps me stand out. I’ll keep mulling this over.

CODENAME: Don’t Kill Yourself

I’d also like to do something around suicide prevention. An old friend of mine killed herself around a month ago. And I’ve already lost far too many people to suicide in my lifetime. I want to do something more to help, but I really don’t know what.

I feel impotent on this matter.

It’s such an important topic, and yet, if I’m honest, there are plenty of other things in my life which feel more important right now. I feel awful for being so selfish, but it’s the truth.

I have one good friend who I feel is very vulnerable at the moment. His moods have been swinging wildly in recently months. He’s come close to suicide several times. I’m helping him by using my Samaritans listening training to try to be there for him. Really, giving him my time, attention and empathy – it doesn’t feel to me like I’m doing very much, though I’m sure my friend is grateful for my help and understanding.

Maybe that’s enough? Just being there for people in my life? I don’t know.

I’ll keep mulling over this one.

CODENAME: No-one Likes My Music

I’m perhaps a little unusual in that I’m in my 40s and I’m still just as passionate about new music as I was in my 20s. There’s tonnes of dance music and electronica which are a vitally important part of my life.

Music literally keeps me sane and keeps me alive. I listen to Spotify for several hours every single day.

Ironically, virtually no-one else seems to like the same music as me, which makes me feel a bit sad.

I want to do something creative in which I celebrate the music that’s important to me… But without annoying my friends with different music tastes.

When I share music on Facebook, I’m lucky if I get a single “Like”. It’s demoralising… and I don’t want to annoy my friends with stuff they don’t care about.


I’ll keep thinking about these different creative endeavours and how I might best progress them.

Any and all suggestions welcome!


Misery Is Optional

Some days, the Just For Today email from Narcotics Anonymous really hits the nail on the head for me. Today is one of those days.

“I don’t have to be miserable unless I really want to be.  Today, I will trade in my misery for the benefits of recovery.”

– Extract from Just For Today email.

There’s a lot of crossover between the ideas of NA and those in other philosophical traditions such as Buddhism and Stoicism. And this is a great example.

Look, I get it: it’s human nature to tell ourselves we are justified in our misery…

Perhaps a political party we despise has just been elected (as will happen for a large proportion of the UK electorate in the next few days). Perhaps our boss at work is treating us unfairly. Maybe we’re suffering from some kind of mental or physical illness.

But I like to remind myself of Victor Frankl and his 1946 book, Man’s Search for Meaning. Viktor survived the Nazi concentration camps. If anyone had good justification for feeling miserable, it would be him.

And yet – he took control of the way he reacted to his horrific circumstances. He didn’t let them get the better of him.

Can We Help Being Depressed?

I’d like to think I know what I’m talking about when it comes to depression and suicide. I’ve been depressed on and off for most of my adult life and been close to suicide several times.

When I’m feeling really low, it feels like a kick in the teeth to be told that I should just decide to be happier. It feels ludicrous and absolutely impossible to even try. And I want to punch anyone who suggests it, no matter how well-meaning they may be.

But whilst in the depths of depression, I gradually came to accept an incredibly profound concept:

“Whilst I am not to blame for my depression, there are certain things I can do which can make things better for myself.”

Bollinger, R. 2019

Interestingly, Narcotics Anonymous says something similar about addiction.

Now, as I’ve alluded to above, if you’re currently depressed, often the last thing we want to hear is that we have a responsibility to try to get better. It’s much easier to throw our hands up in the air and say, “Hey, I have an illness. I can’t help it. There’s nothing I can do about it.”

That freedom from responsibility seems appealing, comforting almost – it allows us to take a break from caring. But it’s a silk-lined trap.

“When we recognise that there are ways we can help ourselves, and we’re not condemned to suffer indefinitely, that’s incredibly liberating.”

Bollinger, R. 2019

No Quick Fix

Now, I’m really not saying that a depressed or addicted person can just click their fingers and magically decide to be happy. It’s not that simple.

As any behavioural psychologist worth their salt will tell you: behaviour change is hard. And that’s because we have to build up healthy habits, which takes practice and time.

It takes incremental effort, every day, as we attempt to make our lives just a little better. Just one tiny step forward every day will result in us eventually finishing a marathon.

Actually, it’s even better than that: if you improve 1% every day, by the end of 1 year, you’ll be 37.7 times better than when you started. (I blogged about this idea here).

(Note: not 37.7% better, 37.7 times. That’s 3,770%!)

Your Turn

So, over to you…

What small things are you willing to do, today, which might help you feel less miserable, more fulfilled, happier with your lot in life?


The Big S

My brain keeps coming up with amusing ways to begin this post. It’s bizarre, the subject I want to talk about isn’t funny at all.

Suicide

There, I’ve said it. I’m sorry if I’ve just ruined your day.

Last week, an old friend took her own life.

She was recently married and had a young baby. But depression and other mental illnesses don’t particularly care about your life circumstances. It doesn’t matter how successful and happy you might seem on social media.

She wasn’t the first person in my social circle to do this. It’s distressing that I’ve actually lost count of the number of friends and family who have died by their own hand.

And even worse, I’m not particularly unusual. By the time most of us reach our forties (like me), we’ll know at least one person who killed themselves.

Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. I’m sure the rest of the Western world has similar stats.

Just stop and think about that for a second…

Not cancer, not heart disease, not even car crashes. Suicide.

And yet many of us are still too scared or feel awkward talking about it. And that stigma contributes to the problem.

I feel strongly about this issue – before my blog’s recent redesign, this post aimed at preventing suicide was permanently featured on my home page.

Impotence

I’ve had my fair share of mental health problems: depression which brought me close to suicide several times, panic attacks and addiction in recent years.

I’m incredibly grateful for these difficult experiences. They’ve taught me useful skills, for helping both myself and others. I’m better able to empathise with people going through similar experiences.

Volunteering as a listener for a suicide prevention charity was one of the most fulfilling roles of my life.

And yet, I feel like I should be doing more. More to help others, more to reduce the number of deaths by suicide.

Suicide isn’t inevitable. Severe depression can be treated. Maybe not for 100% of people, but certainly for some, maybe even most.

There’s more I could be doing to help.

Recently I’ve been looking for a clearer purpose for my blog, a tighter focus. Again and again The Universe keeps prompting me to do something about mental health issues and specifically suicide.

I guess it’s about time I did something.


An Excellent Reason for Believing in God

[UPDATE: 12 noon 22/10/2019: Wow, what a coincidence! Richard Dawkins was on the Joe Rogan podcast a few hours ago!]



No, I’m not trying to evangelise or convert anyone to religion. But in this post, I’d like to describe a really simple, practical reason for believing in God.

Believing in God (or a Higher Power) makes it easier to deal with life. And dealing with life is often not easy, so we should take whatever help we can get!

Bollinger, R. (2019)

When I was a teenager, I was an Evangelical Christian for a few years. There were several benefits which I experienced first-hand.

I loved the sense of community and one-ness, especially when we sang together. It’s also a lovely feeling to know that your Creator loves you and cares for you, no matter what.

But, as I grew older, I became troubled by the apparent conflicts between science and religion. There seemed to be little or no scientific evidence that God exists.

At the time, I felt that science was the ultimate arbiter of truth… if science said a certain belief was probably wrong, then it made sense to go where the science led.

So, for most of my adult life, I described myself as an atheist. But I still wished that I believed in God. Christians often seemed to have a warm glow, a sense of peace and happiness, that eluded non-believers.

According to several studies, religious people are happier, have fewer health problems and tend to live longer than the non-religious. These are not trivial benefits!


Since my Spiritual Awakening in mid-August, I’ve questioned many aspects of reality and re-assessed my belief systems.

I remember chatting with my good friend Tim Brownson about an idea I was toying with. I asked him, “Is it worth believing in something, even if objectively we suspect it might not be true?”

Tim replied that he felt in his gut that it probably was worth this self-delusion, even though this flew in the face of so much of his scientific learning.

My gut feeling agreed with Tim’s. So I decided to start testing this idea out…

What would my life look like if I started choosing to believe in ideas purely because the act of believing in them seems to confer certain benefits, even if modern science casts doubt on their ultimate truthfulness?

When you start thinking of beliefs in terms of their usefulness, they make a lot more sense…

  • I believe in God, because it helps me to feel loved and cared for.
  • When bad things happen, I tell myself it’s all part of God’s plan, because it helps to reduce the despair and suffering I’d otherwise experience.
  • I believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, because it means that I am worth saving. No matter how pathetic and low I might feel, God will always love me enough to sacrifice His only Son for me. When I value myself, I become more productive.

Atheists such as Richard Dawkins have scoffed at these beliefs, calling them little more than infantile “comfort blankets”.

But let’s get real for a second…

Life can be fucking hard.

Just look at the global suicide statistics (source: WHO)

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally.
  • Close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds.
  • There are indications that for each adult who died by suicide there may have been more than 20 others attempting suicide.

And this sobering stat about depression:

  • Depression affects 20-25% of Americans ages 18+ in a given year. (source: CDC)

It’s clear to me that many of us need as much help as possible getting through life.

“Life is suffering, tainted by malevolence.”

Dr. Jordan Peterson

Humans need hope in order to survive. We need to find meaning in our lives. We need a reason to get out of bed in the morning. We need to feel wanted and loved.

For many people, religious and spiritual beliefs give them the strength to carry on living. Their “comfort blanket” literally keeps them alive.

As someone with lifelong depression who has been close to suicide several times in his life, I’d tell Richard Dawkins to fuck off with his “comfort blanket” comment.

Even if you’ve never had depression or been suicidal, your religious or spiritual beliefs can reduce the amount of suffering you might experience. Why would you not want a reduction in anxiety, depression, stress or fear?

Look at the opioid crisis in the US. Which do we think is better: getting people addicted to powerful drugs so they can (temporarily) cope with life, or allowing people to have relatively harmless beliefs which enable them to live meaningful and productive lives?


Look, I’m not saying that there aren’t problems with religion. It’s blindingly obvious that there are problems caused by religion.

But let’s not throw the baby away with the bathwater.

What if we can pick and choose the elements of religion and spirituality which we find personally beneficial, and ignore the rest?

My argument is that we can do this, and we should.

When you’re hopeless and lying in the gutter, you don’t slap away a helping hand. You’ll take all the help you can to get back on your feet.

“Do I believe in God? Well, I act as though He exists.”

Dr. Jordan Peterson

Contrasts

I used to have nothing left to look forward to in life. I thought the only major milestones left for me were retirement and death. I was just killing time while I waited for the grave. My life was empty and meaningless. I was full of nihilism.

Now, it feels like my life has only just begun. It’s a cliche, but I’m born again. Every day is full of adventure. I don’t want to waste a single day. My life is full of meaning and purpose. (This is true most of the time… I still have occasional bad days).


I used to think drug addicts were pieces of shit, the lowest of the low.

Now, I realise that some of the best people in the world are drug addicts (at least the ones in active recovery). They’ve been to hell and back and survived. And they understand what it’s like inside my crazy head.


I used to think only idiots seriously believed in spirituality or religious ideas. I was a closed-minded scientific atheist.

Now, I’m a lot more open-minded. And humble! There’s so much that we simply don’t know. Curiosity and agnosticism seem much more appropriate than blind certainty. My current belief system takes ideas from science, religion and spirituality. I even pray to God most days!


When I was off my face, wasted on drugs, and exploring other dimensions within my mind, I thought that was the high point of my life… feelings of euphoria. I used to say to myself, “If I could feel this way all of the time, my life would be worth living.”

Now, I try not to label feelings as good or bad, they are what they are. I’m learning not to chase after pleasant feelings or run away from unpleasant ones. I’m learning to accept life on life’s terms, rather than trying to escape from it.


I used to dislike responsibility. In fact, I crafted many aspects of my life to minimise my responsibility and optimise my pleasure. And ironically, pursuing this path didn’t make me happy (except in short bursts).

Now, not only do I see responsibility as necessary for myself, I’m actively leaning into it! I actually want to be a responsible adult! When I feel proud of myself, it’s so much better than temporary feelings of euphoria I got from drugs.


I was incredibly selfish. I often ignored the consequences and impacts of my behaviour on others.

Now, I’m learning to be less selfish, to focus outside of my own head and be more caring towards others.


I used to beat myself up for my perceived failures. I made myself feel awful, worthless, pathetic. At its worst, I made myself severely depressed and suicidal.

Now, I take each day one at a time. I try to make each day just a little better than the last. Some days I’ll slide backwards, but overall I’ll make progress. I’m learning to be kind to myself. I forgive myself for my mistakes, and I try to learn whatever lessons life present me.


I used to feel very alone, most of the time. I rarely left the house unless I had to.

Now I’m part of a wonderful community of people, all helping each other. I belong.


I spent huge amounts of time distracting myself with food, the Internet, videogames and (sometimes) porn.

Now I seek what’s meaningful (not just fun or easy). I have the Courage to face my dragons instead of running away from them. I embrace reality rather than chasing fantasy.


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