How To Treat Depression Without Taking Meds: What Worked For Me
The first time a doctor verbally diagnosed me with depression, I was 18 years old. My 7-year-old sister had just died in a tragic accident.
It made sense to me that I'd be handed a prescription for Zoloft; I felt emotionally paralyzed, which was somehow worse than feeling sad, but for reasons unknown to me even now, I just said "no" to the meds I was offered.
In his comedy special, "Three Mics," Neal Brennan describes depression as a kind of emotional atrophy. I don't think I've ever heard the experience of depression described so well. I spent most of my life feeling like I was emotionally constipated. I would watch the way other people responded to something and try to mirror their expressions because I would feel nothing.
And to be honest, I wasn't exactly a picture of unbridled joy before my sister's accidental death, either.
The second time I was offered medication for depression was about two years later in college, when I was already self-medicating with drugs and alcohol pretty heavily. I was still influenced by the trauma of losing my sister, and what I really needed was a diagnosis for alcoholism.
To be fair, I sort of was diagnosed with alcoholism at that time as well because when I turned down the anti-depressants due to their interference with alcohol, my psychologist handed me a list of 12-step meetings.
I felt that AA meetings might also interfere with my drinking, which at that time was the only thing I could depend on to feel better, so I respectfully declined.
The last time I was diagnosed with depression was about three or four years later, when I'd quit drinking and was getting sober.
I was about six months into my sobriety, and was struggling to live live without drugs and alcohol. I couldn't show up for jobs, do laundry, or buy groceries. I had to call friends to help me get through the days.
One of them (probably sick of fielding my calls) suggested reaching out to a professional for help, and I did. She offered me medication for depression, and this time I decided she was right; I did have depression.
Still, I declined to take them.
I've stayed sober for nine years now, and I consider that to be a miracle beyond the capabilities of anything human. I consider it a gift.
But what I am proud of myself for is the fact that in that time I have found the help of a holistic psychotherapist who was able to help me release a f*cking wellspring of emotions I'd been holding in my body for over a decade, through practices I never thought would have worked.
It took a therapeutic practice called Bioenergetics to help me with this, a holistic approach to therapy that is based on the idea that emotions can be held in the body.
How Bioenergetics releases emotions through the body.
Bioenergetic therapists work with their clients to release muscular tension they believe is caused by the suppression of feelings. Using physical exercises to release the muscular tension, they simultaneously use language to release the feelings that cause the tension.
So if a client was neglected throughout childhood, a therapist will have a client physically punch a pillow while yelling "LOOK AT ME!" to release the emotions they have kept bottled up throughout their lives.
I started this kind of therapy when I was 25.
How long does Bioenergetic therapy take to work?
It's taken me about seven years in therapy -- four years to discover, and three more -- to release some of those emotions.
Much of the time, It felt like I was literally shaking the feelings out of body, like you would a ketchup bottle. It took doing weird shit like punching a pillow and yelling at my dad in a room he was not sitting in, like a sad role-play for the children of emotionally unavailable parents.
It took adopting a dog to understand what unconditional love really was supposed to feel like.
It took rolling around on the floor and letting out sighs and screams that first came out stifled and awkward, and later came roaring out of me with all the unbridled grief of a child lost at the mall.
It took going places -- both physically and emotionally -- I didn't think I could or would be willing to go to, and it felt like an emotive archaeological dig.
I would leave therapy feeling like I'd gone to the gym; I'd go home and immediately fall asleep.
After years of believing I wasn't able to cry, therapy taught me how cry so hard and so loud that I felt like I'd taken a bath on the inside of my body.
What I feel like now
I now resemble a happy person, or a happy version of myself anyway. I mean, I sing songs to my dog in public, which specifically seems like a happy-person thing to do.
Everyone treats depression differently, and there's no right or wrong way to do it. These things take a lot of time, and I think taking meds to treat a condition that is severely f*cking up your life is a good idea if you feel like it's what you want to do.
However, having made the decision to not take meds by doing Bioenergetics, I feel like I've actually been cured.
I know what it sounds like for me to say that; I know there's no cure for depression, but I feel like I have been. Although I am not a picture of sunshine, I've regained a love of my life and maintained a sense of humor, albeit a dark one.
There are moments when I feel like depression could be creeping back into my life, but it just doesn't really scare me anymore. In my experience, releasing my feelings has caused them to lose all the power they had over me.
Depression doesn't affect me the way it did before. It doesn't even feel like depression, because it doesn't interfere with my ability to live life fully or to take care of myself.
This isn't a way for me to tell people how to deal with their own depression. I didn't choose an easy path.
But I'm happy with the path I took, and I want people to know that there are other options if they want them.