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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Rakel

The Journey to 0mg: How I Weaned Off Antidepressants Through Holistic Methods




April 4th, 2024, marked one year being off of antidepressants, after being on them for 11 years. I spent 10 months incrementally working my way from 150mg to 0mg Venlafaxine, and changed my life in the process. 


Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or health care professional. My journey was right for me, but may not be for others. This reduction strategy suited my lifestyle and my needs. I’m not suggesting this is the way to go about it. Alright, now that you can’t sue me, let’s continue. 


The Decision to Reduce 


When I plopped myself into the cosy seat at Prachi’s ayurvedic practice in April 2022, I came for vanity reasons: to lose weight. 


Before starting my masters in London in 2017, I had gone on my first ayurvedic retreat which changed my life. Having always struggled with my weight, adopting ayurvedic principles helped me manage it and most importantly, helped my mental health, which was the main premise for going in the first place. 


My social life in London exploded and with it my waistline. Once the roller coaster ride of my masters was over, I continued to derail my health with the habits I picked up, eventually using them as coping mechanisms.   


From having previously done two ayurvedic retreats in India, I knew following an ayurvedic lifestyle had been extremely beneficial to me, but I needed regular guidance. So I went in search of an ayurvedic practitioner in Switzerland and that’s how I found wonderful Prachi.


As I spilled the beans on my colourful life, I saw Prachi look at me in a way that made me realise there was far deeper work to be done than my weight. By the end of our first session, we’d set the goal to get off of antidepressants. 


I’d been on medication since I was 20. As I got to the tail end of my years on antidepressants, I started wondering what life would be like without them. Surely dedicating 15 years to therapy must have created some sort of change in my brain (neuroplasticity, anyone?). I felt a deep need to see what my body and mind was like without any sort of medication in my system - which included removing my IUD.


I’d attempted getting off of antidepressants before, but ultimately I never felt my life was stable enough. Ever heard the saying “you will choose a familiar hell over unfamiliar heaven”? That way of living had permeated my life. My nervous system was constantly in a wreck. Working with Prachi was my lightbulb moment. I had to find a way to counteract this hectic lifestyle I was subconsciously seeking. No more waiting for things to be calm or for circumstances to be better. I had to start now. 


Prachi’s first line of prescription was: Stress Management. And it had a ripple effect on my life and allowed me to tune into myself in a way I never had before. 


Setting the Foundation 


My time working with Prachi has been so much more than getting off of medication. It’s been a vast lifestyle change. As she put it last month when I saw her, I’ve been purging. Not just old destructive habits, but people. 


There were a lot of changes to make. From improving morning and evening routines to mindfulness practices, from herb supplements to breath work. For it to be sustainable and achievable, we slowly introduced practices. I’d make a routine out of one new practice, e.g. alternate nostril breathing, before introducing a new one. 


Below is a main list of the lifestyle changes I made, but it is not exhaustive. As you’ll see, not all routines made it into my lifestyle, and that’s okay. 


The routine to implement 

How it started 

How it’s going 

Alternate nostril breathing/ meditations

Non-existent 

4-5 x a week 

Morning routine - getting up the same hours most days

Evening routine - getting to bed the same hours most days 

I hated sleeping because my mind would race. It was hard falling asleep so I distracted myself every evening which made it difficult to create a routine. As a result my morning routine was also scattered-

4-5 x week. Creating a routine has improved my sleep hygiene by tenfold. I can actually sleep through most nights now. Though the next goal is to continue getting up earlier and going to bed earlier….5AM club here I (perhaps) come!

Nasya - oil for the nose (morning routine)

Non-existent 

4 x week 

Tongue scraping (morning routine)

Non-existent 

4-5 x a week

Dry brushing (morning routine)

Non-existent 

4-5 x a week 

Herbs to take in the morning and in the evening to support me in my medication reduction (no longer part of my routine once I finished reducing) 

Non-existent 

Religiously while reducing. 

Electronics off an hour before going to bed 

Non-existent 

4 x week 

Dinner ideally by 6PM

Non-existent 

….still rather terrible here.  

No meat or fish for dinner (I’m pescetarian)

Eating 3-4 x a week for dinner

5-6 x week do not eat fish/meat for dinner. 

Fasting 

Sometimes 

1-2 x a week. 

Homemade digestive tea mix with fresh ginger in a flask each day.  

Non-existent 

I’ve been pretty good at implementing this into my life but when it comes to buying all the herbs and grinding them I can get lazy. Eventually I become a grind wizard in my kitchen and make the herb mix. 

Oiling - heating oil then massaging it into my body then showering 

Non-existent 

…I did it like 3 times. It’s so messy and not something I felt was vital to implement. As the other routines have become more…well, routine…I’d be interested in introducing this more often. 

Chanting 

Non-existent 

Did it like 5 times. Breathwork and meditation work better for me. I felt like an idiot sitting on my meditation pillow chanting for 10 minutes knowing my walls are paper thin and neighbours could probably hear me (I know, the irony of being a singer). I’d revisit this at some point, but I decided it wasn’t vital for my health journey for now. 




I spent some time getting some of these practices in place before committing to reducing my medication. Then on June 9th, 2022 (on my brother’s birthday) I started reducing. 



The Way to Zero 


Through breath work, meditation, mindfulness, herb supplements and monthly check-ins with Prachi, we achieved my goal.


Throughout the 10 months of reducing, I took a herbal supplement Prachi had specially made for me. I had to mix 2 tsp with boiling water each morning and evening. It tasted rather earthy and horrible. This herbal supplement was to support me as I tapped out of medication. Once I’d hit 0mg, I continued taking it for a couple of months before stopping with these herbs as well. 


Some might crinkle their nose and be suspicious of the effectiveness of natural supplements. But the more I learn about gut health and food as medicine, the more convinced I am that we can have a profound effect on our health physically and mentally, simply by changing our diet. 


Supporting myself with herbal alternatives to medication was only a small part of the equation though. Introducing breath work, meditation and routine played a huge role in helping to regulate my nervous system. 


Slow and Steady Wins The Race


To prescribe the new doses, I had to meet with a doctor. The doctor I saw, suggested we cut my dose in half, from 150mg to 75mg, and that I stay on that dose for two weeks before going to 0mg….11 years of being on medication undone within a month….maybe it would have been fine, but that seemed pretty drastic to me. 


For those unfamiliar with antidepressants, when you start, you incrementally increase the dose until you find your “sweet spot”. I’ve been on medications where the side effects have been rough, so I then incrementally had to decrease the dose to 0mg before starting the whole process again with a new medication. It’s not as simple as just taking a set dosage - everyone is different and will need different doses and the process takes time. So when the doctor suggested this quick timeline, I kindly explained that I was in no rush. “How about we start with a 37.5mg reduction?”.  


One pill of venlafaxine is 37.5mg (at least the brand I was taking). So I reduced by this much until I got to zero.


Starting point: 150mg

First decrease: 112.5mg

Second decrease: 75mg

Third decrease: 37.5mg

Final: 0mg 


Timeline: 10 months


Why So Slow? 


Given that the goal is to stay off of medicine, Prachi and I agreed there was no rush in getting to zero. Everything we’re doing is to foster permanent change. It had to be done in a sustainable manner, which to me meant going slowly. I also genuinely wanted to fully adapt to each new dose, to feel my body’s reaction. At the same time, my private life was in shambles - there was a lot of difficult moments to deal with, so I didn’t want to rush out of my pill crutch. 


Could I have done it faster? Probably. But going slowly made me feel like each reduction was because I was ready, not because I was rushing. 



How I Responded 


Reducing my medication resulted in feeling my emotions more. It was liberating in an artistic sense, like a veil was lifted. Writing began to come easier and lyrics started to flow more. But the slight uptick in sensitivity, also meant doubling down on my holistic practices and digging into my psychological toolbox. I definitely felt with each reduction, that there was a stabilising period, but nothing drastic. A big part of this journey was actually learning to accept feelings and sitting with them, not running from them and giving them space to exist. Meditation and breathwork became vital tools to calm my nervous system and counteract anxiety. 


With each reduction I kept on waiting for an earthquake- like reaction - something to prove that I had made the wrong decision. Something to hammer home that there was something fundamentally wrong with me - but it never happened. The earth wobbled a little, but then with routine, mindfulness, meditation and breathwork, it stopped. 


During my reduction phase, I decided to lean on my support system more. I started calling family members and friends more often to vent. It’s not that I haven’t had super depressive and anxiety fuelled eras while being on my medication - in fact I’ve had many. And I’ve always wondered how much worse they might have been if I hadn’t been on medication….or was the medication actually making a difference at all? With hindsight, I think my lifestyle habits were the culprit here. 


As I became more vocal, I realised it was being misinterpreted as “Amanda isn’t handling her reduction”. It wasn’t uncommon for family members to pause and after a while ask “how low is your dose now?/how long have you been off of your medication?”. I know it came from a good place, but as my therapist said, it invalidates your feelings. 



Be Selfish With Your Energy


Our external environment has a huge impact on our well-being. Part of my journey has meant being more mindful of how I spend my time and who I spend it with. I’ve always been the type of person who feels utterly depleted if I schedule too many social appointments. I really value the calm and restorative nature of my routines, which I can’t really implement if my calendar is too full. I’m getting better at honouring that just because I have time, doesn’t mean I need to make time for someone. 


We cannot underestimate how others affect us. Romantic relationships, family members, colleagues, friends, the rude shopkeeper, the kind shopkeeper, all impact our mood. My success in getting off medication meant reducing time with people who agitated me. Part of me knew some relationships weren’t working. Our values were so misaligned, I would leave social get-togethers feeling more frustrated than fulfilled. It was a sign I needed to step away. At the same time honouring my new routines and not undoing them by being too available for the people I love, was also a balancing act I needed to master. I’m still getting the hang of it. 



12 Months Later: Main Takeaways and Next Steps


My biggest lesson throughout all this work has been practising patience. It took me two years to get to the routine I have now. I introduced practices very slowly. For example: in the beginning I did 3 minutes of alternate nostril breathing, once a week. Now I do it 5 minutes most days and often supplement or swap it with a 10 minute meditation. Had I tried to do everything at once, I would have failed. 


Patience is also key when riding the waves of emotion. When I reduced and could feel my anxiety increase, it would have been easy to give up and conclude it’s not working. Instead I granted myself a lot of kindness and patience as I navigated a new normal and used other tools to calm myself. 


On the whole, I feel more vibrant, more bubbly, more alive. I hesitate to say that’s solely due to getting off the medication, rather it’s probably more in thanks to adopting holistic practices. 


When embarking on health journeys, it's important to remember that there will be blips: bad days, weeks, months where you feel you derail your progress. The important thing is to keep on going. My healing has not been linear - it never will be. Sometimes when I have a shit day, wine and chocolate are far more appealing than doing breath work. I'm human. But the important thing is that I keep returning to my practices.


Another factor I cannot emphasise enough is wear metaphorical horse blinders. Don’t pay attention to how others are living their lives, don’t get distracted by other people’s way of living. Of course we can take inspiration from each other, but at the end of the day you need to tune into yourself and ask “what works for me?”. 


I never question whether I made the right choice in ditching antidepressants. If anything, I’m inspired by how much you can accomplish with breath work, diet, meditation and establishing routines. My mind is calmer for it and I’m handling my anxiety better than I ever have.


My journey is far from over. There are many areas where I can still improve. For example, I want my practices to become daily, not just 4-5 times a week. When I first met Prachi we set diet to the side as we focused on other stress management tools. Ad hoc we’ve looked at my diet, but I’m now so far in my journey, that this is the next point we’re tackling. And I'm really excited about it.


For some, medication is the right path. It was for me for a while. But sometimes we forget that it’s okay to change our minds, to change our stance and perspectives. I felt a deep need to try and become medication-free, and it’s one of the greatest journeys I’ve ever embarked on. 


Last disclaimer: Please always consult a health care professional before adjusting medication…100% looking at my friends who have taken measures into their own hands and just quit from one day to the next or taken matters into their own hands. I say this with so much love: DON’T! 



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