Back in 1999, I could count on one hand the people I knew who were taking antidepressants or mood enhancers and stabilizers. I would even go as far as saying that taking depression medication was socially stigmatized: people who were taking such prescription drugs did not want others to know about them. Today, it is becoming the norm in the Western hemisphere, and, slowly, in other parts of the world.
According to a study published in 2011 and conducted by the US Department of Health and Human Services, around one out of 10 Americans 12 years of age and above takes depression medication. This study showed that depression medication is the most commonly prescribed medication in the USA for people between the ages of 18 to 44 years old. In the past 20 years, the rate of antidepressant use in the USA alone has increased 400%.
Some of the people who have inquired about or come for healing retreats at our place in Brazil, have sent me a list of antidepressants and stabilizers when asked about the prescription medication they took if any. And no, they were not terminally ill, they did not have a pre-existing condition of depression, nor were they bipolar, yet taking depression medication was a common practice among many of them.
Psychiatrists and doctors in general are quick to push antidepressants, often not wanting to look further into the eyes and hearts of their patients. In my own life, I faced my first burnout and depression in March 1993, at 19 years old; one of my professors recommended I go to see the university psychologist whose office was on campus. I shared with him as if I were a reporter a few of the most traumatic events in my life, and in that same one-time meeting he both recommended a minimum 25 year therapy with a psychologist he knew, and prescribed me depression medication. I gave the latter to my roommate who was salivating at the mouth looking at my bottle: prescription and over-the-counter drugs have never spoken to me.
Another example of the quickness to prescribe antidepressant drugs by many mental health specialists was given to me by a friend of mine in France who went to a psychiatrist to talk about her problems. During her initial visit, she was immediately prescribed Seroplex. The mental health professional diagnosed that she had a serotonin deficiency which caused her depression, and 10mg of Seroplex three times a day for at least six months would do the trick. She declined, and asked him if she could simply reflect with him around some of her personal issues before exploring the SSRIs avenue, i.e. Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors, not to mention that this was her first appointment. The psychiatrist refused to meet with her again unless she would take Seroplex...For more info about serotonin deficiency, please see the footnote at the bottom of this article.
According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a clinical depression diagnosis must include at least five of a list of nine symptoms, including and especially a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure, and the patient must experience those five symptoms or more regularly for a couple of weeks and more. The list includes: insomnia or excessive sleeping, overeating or appetite loss, feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness, fatigue or diminished energy, and irritability and restlessness; this list is not exhaustive. I wanted to highlight some of those symptoms to show how common a depressed state can be, and why I strongly feel it is a topic that needs to be approached in a balanced way by the healer and the one seeking healing. In my opinion, the actual problem is not the depression itself, but the healing approach that most follow to treat it.
Let’s face it, there are plenty of reasons to get depressed in today’s world: wars are multiplying, harmful technology is on the rise, food is now cloned, new diseases with complicated names are appearing every other day etc… Still, over and above the outside world, what about our inner world? More precisely, why are we no longer interested in dealing with our own emotional struggles soberly? Why are we so afraid to feel our pain? And since when does living life mean to be disconnected from that very life?
You exist, but do you live?
“So don't be frightened, dear friend, if a sadness confronts you larger than any you have ever known, casting its shadow over all you do. You must think that something is happening within you, and remember that life has not forgotten you; it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why would you want to exclude from your life any uneasiness, any pain, any depression, since you don't know what work they are accomplishing within you?” Rainer Maria Rilke
The main effect of depression medication, recreational drugs, overeating, excessive TV watching, blasting music through our ears 24/7 and more, is that we are becoming numb and number. One the main problems with depression medication is that one simply postpones dealing with the issue(s) one is trying to avoid feeling. In effect, we are buying ourselves time, as the problem was not dealt with but only suppressed by the meds. Our problems need our direct involvement and conscious presence to resolve them and sustain the results. I believe that the actual solution is not some miracle pill---it simply does not exist---nor should it be to chemically repress our negative and painful reactions to those problems, but rather to face and feel those negative reactions, learn to express them alone first, and when it is rightly grounded in the context we’re facing, to express them out in the world.
The one message I repeat over and over again on this site, is that if we want to make it, if we want to heal our wounds and live a happy and fulfilled life, we need to be like a river in the Amazon jungle. The Amazonian rivers adapt themselves to each and everything obstacle on their path without losing sight of their destination. Every river reaches the sea, although rarely in a straight line.
All of what we feel and think is momentary, temporary, and it moves on after a long or short-lived moment...
Be they good or bad, our feelings and our thoughts are like waves in that they rise and they fall. In other words, everything shifts; so why not have a shift in consciousness each time our life changes? The Zen Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh would say: “Water is free from the birth and death of a wave.”
Escaping isn’t healing
“The public is being misinformed about the precision of these selective serotonin-uptake inhibitors when the medical profession oversimplifies their action in the brain and ignores the body as if it exists merely to carry the head around! In short, these molecules of emotion regulate every aspect of our physiology. A new paradigm has evolved, with implications that life-style changes such as diet and exercise can offer profound, safe and natural mood elevation.” Dr. Candace B. Pert, author of the Molecules of Emotion: The Scientific Basis Behind Mind-Body Medicine (Scribner, 1997)
the body’s natural process to heal is NOT sustainable long-term; the
flight does not resolve anything, except giving us a short-term escape
or buzz, and long-term it can be disastrous for our body’s health. “Research
on serotonin has been clear from the very beginning that the most
damaging thing that could be done to the serotonin system would be to impair one's ability to metabolize serotonin. Yet that is exactly how SSRI antidepressants exert their effects.” Ann Blake Tracy, PhD, head of the International Coalition for Drug Awareness.
The potential consequences of postponing dealing with our problems through taking depression medication is indeed compounded by a series of side effects with different degrees of intensity affecting the physical, emotional and mental.
In 2003, the United Kingdom banned all major SSRIs for under-18’s except Prozac for minors. Following the ban, the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly sent a Prozac Fact Sheet to UK physicians stating that Prozac itself was not recommended for children. The Alliance for Human Research Protection (AHRP) uploaded the fact sheet in question on their site, which also shows the possible side effects this particular depression medication can have such as suicidal mood, haemorrhaging and cardiac disease.
In the many reports and studies I read about the side effects of antidepressants, I was not prepared to read testimonies in which people taking and who took depression medication, SSRIs and the like were reporting utterly terrifying news, mainly that they could no longer feel anything.
“It's true that antidepressants numb not just the pain, but also every emotion going, but I would rather be on the straight and narrow than self-medicating with a bottle of wine to myself every night.” Laura Kemp, “Antidepressants are a lifeline for women like me: We'd rather not be on antidepressants, but millions of women would struggle to function without them”, The Guardian, 10 July 2011
I chose to quote the one positive testimony I found about “not being able to feel while on antidepressants” for two specific reasons: one, is to offer you the reader with the perspective of a journalist who does think depression medication is helpful enough in her life that she is willing to give up feeling life. The other reason, is to underline that in my opinion and as someone who also suffered from depression and suicidal depression, the choice is not the dilemma that Kemp presents us with, that is Seroxat (the antidepressant that “saved” her) or a bottle of wine---and if it were, I’d still opt for the wine! There are other possible avenues, including and especially the one of owning our depression emotionally, i.e. exercising our depression by expressing the sounds of the depression.
Most of the other testimonies reported that they wanted their “old self” back. They had lost their inner being, their desire to love and be loved, their ability to feel, in short, the “meds” had erased the humanity out of them.
Dr. Candace B. Pert is a known pharmacologist whose breakthrough research in the 70s shed light on how drugs interact with the nervous system, and how the brain communicates with the body. Dr. Pert discovered the opiate receptor, and other important receptor sites for naturally occurring substances and drugs in the brain. In her words: “My research has shown me that when emotions are expressed--which is to say that the biochemicals that are the substrate of emotion are flowing freely--all systems are united and made whole. When emotions are repressed, denied, not allowed to be whatever they may be, our network pathways get blocked, stopping the flow of the vital feel-good, unifying chemicals that run both our biology and our behavior.”
The walking dead... from suicide to psychosis
The Citizens Commission on Human Rights International (CCHR), an apolitical mental health watchdog, has been active since the beginning of the nineties in trying to raise awareness about the use of antidepressants, including trying to get the FDA to issue black box warnings (i.e. the most serious type of warning in prescription drug labeling) in connection with the homicidal and suicidal side effects of depression medication.
It took the FDA more than 15 years to issue the following statement: "The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today proposed that makers of all antidepressant medications update the existing black box warning on their products' labeling to include warnings about increased risks of suicidal thinking and behavior, known as suicidality, in young adults ages 18 to 24 during initial treatment (generally the first one to two months)."
This article is not about the relationship between Big Pharma and the government; what is important for this article is what the aforementioned CCHR reported in December 2011 (i.e. before the Aurora theater shooting and Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012) that “at least 11 recent school shootings were committed by kids documented to be on or in withdrawal from psychiatric drugs.” For more information about the psychopathic and sociopathic behaviors these SSRIs are creating among depression medication users, please check the website of the International Coalition for Drug Awareness.
There are different ways of healing anxiety and depression naturally, not least of them nutrition, and for this article we will take a brief look now at energy medicine.
The real healing psychotropics
It is very hard for me to even digest, let alone accept, the fact that DMT or the dimethyltryptamine molecule is classified within the same Schedule I of Controlled Substances as crack and certain SSRIs antidepressants are in the USA, or under Class A Drugs and other highest harmful drug groupings in the world. The Schedule I is the top of the five schedules in the States, in which the drugs catalogued in that group bring about the heaviest punishments under the law; according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration: “Substances in this schedule have no currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse.” Schedule I also means that it is illegal to possess, sell, trade or give the Schedule I substance. As a friend used to say to me: “It’s all psychotropics!!”
The DMT molecule is naturally produced by the human body, and it is the primary psychoactive element in the ayahuasca brew because of its conscious impact on one’s mental processes. DMT is not the only shamanic healing substance that is heavily judged against, whose use is prohibited in most places and which finds itself on banned lists next to very harmful, chemically processed drugs of all types.... but the DMT molecule is a healing psychotropic drug. DMT and depression medication based on serotonin, target the same brain receptors, but one is about healing and Divine Consciousness, the other is about self-destruction and oblivion. One comes from the earth, is produced by our bodies and is ingested in healing ceremonies, while the other is directed by Big Pharma, is chemically processed in a laboratory, and is ingested in order to shut down a problem, not resolve it.
At the Takiwasi Center for Drug Addiction Treatment and Research on Traditional Medicines in Peru, Dr. Jacques Mabit and his team treat drug addiction with ayahuasca and other traditional indigenous medicines. The patient suffering from drug addiction to cocaine, for instance, might spend the first week purging and cleansing his body with different herbal concoctions, in withdrawal, alone in an open little cabin. After that week, upon coming out of the cabin, after having dealt with the physical and emotional consequences of withdrawal from the drug, the patient will be in a better position to begin the healing process, from the inside out, and reconcile himself with the coca plant growing behind that purging cabin.
Nature gives us energy, and the fact that our modern life is disconnected from nature has rendered us weak and undernourished as our energy bodies do not get to replenish in nature and under the sun often enough, if at all. Shamanic healing and healing with medicinal plants is conducted in a natural environment in order for us to connect with the energy of our physical world.
The Takiwasi center mentioned above has a high rate of success because they work with medicinal plants that awaken consciousness and with the life force or the unseen energy of life which surrounds us, flows through us and our meridians. It is also known as the prana in India, and the qi or chi in Chinese Traditional Medicine.
Energy medicine encompasses healing psychotropic and medicinal plants, but it also involves acupuncture and magnetic therapy, for instance, and any other healing modalities that goes beyond the physical body’s symptoms, and works with the energy, with what cannot be seen, and yet is connected to All inside out... from our emotions to our spirit, to God, the world and the Cosmos.
“Western industrial societies, and all those cultures around the globe that increasingly seek to emulate them, teach us to venerate above all else the alert, problem-solving state of consciousness that is particularly appropriate to the conduct of science, business, war, and logical inquiry, and to such activities as driving cars, operating machinery, performing surgery, doing accounts, drawing up plans, accumulating wealth, etc., etc., etc. But there are many other states of consciousness that the amazing and mysterious human brain is capable of embracing, and it appears to be a natural human urge, as deep-rooted as our urges for food, sex, and nurturing relationships, to seek out and explore such “altered states of consciousness.” A surprisingly wide range of methods and techniques (from breathing exercises, to meditation, to fasting, to hypnosis, to rhythmic music, to extended periods of vigorous dancing, etc.) is available to help us to achieve this goal, but there is no doubt that the consumption of those plants and substances called “drugs” in our societies is amongst the most effective and efficient means available to mankind to explore these profoundly altered states of consciousness.” Graham Hancock in “The War on Consciousness”
The Western medical system does not treat the root of the disease, but rather its symptoms. It is a system premised on our being the victims, in that we are not taught to take responsibility for our health and body. That is why most people in the West and other countries following what is called conventional medicine, rush to the doctor as soon as they feel “bad” and want a prescription for some pills to fix the issue. There is no attempt on their part to try to feel a little bit what is going on with their temple, i.e. their body, and become conscious on their own of what is happening to their body.
In Shaman Healer, I quoted a Kichwa shaman I interviewed who said that ayahuasca for a shaman is like an X-ray for a medical doctor. The medicinal plant allows us to See inside of us what is unseen but can be felt through our emotions depending on our consciousness levels. In order to work with energy medicine, one must be open to the notion that a disease can be invisible to the human eye. And what is depression, or even clinical depression, but something that is not necessarily physically obvious apart from certain symptoms?
The topic of medicinal psychotropics, AKA psychedelics, is a controversial one, and there are too few scientific studies about the subject-matter. Part of the problem is that healing with ayahuasca or magic mushrooms is not only holistic and sustainable but it costs next to nothing, while antidepressant therapy is expensive and profitable to the pharmaceutical industry which has yet to be able to process and compress the shamanic healing plants into pills for sale. Simply put, there is no money in healing with plants or self-healing without a pharmaceutical crutch, and therefore it is highly unlikely that we are going to hear a lot of positive reviews from the “leaders” in the medical and scientific fields about the benefits of a simpler, more natural approach to treating depression, addiction, etc.
In the movie “A Beautiful Mind”, we are told that Nobel prize winner John Nash who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, was taking “new medication” at the time of his getting the Nobel prize in 1994, thereby implying that depression medication had cured his mental illness. In reality Dr. Nash stopped taking medication in 1970, as he was not able to focus on his work and was physically exhausted all the time. He recovered at some point in the 80s’ as he learned to reject the voices he heard in his head; according to Nash his healing resulted from his decision to think rationally. Point being, he healed himself without the meds.
There is so much more to write about this topic, and that is why I am working on a new section of this site, Energy Healing. For the purpose of this article, suffice it to say that there is an alternative to depression medication; it is pretty simple and yet obscure to most people: FEEL YOURSELF. To feel ourselves is the only way that I know of---healing psychotropics being a support for but not the core of our self-healing--- to let go of that dense part of our mind that controls our perception of everything, including our depressed state, and hence it controls our life. Whether you believe in the existence of a bioenergetic field, an aura or you think energy medicine and alternative medicine are questionable therapies, apply yourself and learn to FEEL your depression soberly, on your own, in a safe space.
Life is a series of new beginnings
Energy comes before matter, and so it follows that if your energy is centered positively, you will manifest good in the material world. In order to get to have an energy that is focused positively, we need to feel our pain, traumas and denials. Healing starts from inside of us. There is a great quote that is at times attributed to anonymous and other times to Jim Kwik:
"If an egg is broken by outside force, Life ends. If broken by inside force, Life begins. Great things always begin from inside."
Living life can be really hard and scary, but we need to keep in mind that no experience defines us in stone, including depression. Everything passes, and everything passes well when we are conscious of what is passing inside of and in front of us. Yes, there will be emotions, thoughts and states of mind that we will not want to be conscious of because of their negative content, yet we must apply ourselves and try to slowly but surely stay present in those moments. Circulation is KEY to our well-being, and by dealing with our very energy in its ups and downs, we are letting the blood flow into the brain. I love a friend of mine’s description of our brain on Prozac: “It felt as if I had Saran wrap on my brain.”
Choosing the escape route time and time again, and getting zoned out on depression medication will start with plastic wrap on the brain and end with losing our ability to feel, love, and live.
Having a serotonin deficiency is not a joke. Serotonin, AKA 5-hydroxytryptamine, is both a hormone and a neurotransmitter in the pineal gland, the digestive tract, the central nervous system, and blood platelets. The body produces it naturally, and when one is serotonin deficient, this can lead to anxiety, negative thinking, intense mood swings, chronic pain, masochism and strong sugar cravings among others. Certain foods can help boost serotonin in the brain and body, including and especially avocados, nuts, seeds, fish, and grains rich in vitamin B.
Suggested Readings:To Body Healing, an intro