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When Natural's Not Enough

—  found in  Well-being  —

Part of my job over here at Joyous Health is to answer reader questions. If you'’ve emailed Joyous Health, or commented on the blog or social media pages, you’ve probably spoken with me at some point. Interacting with the Joyous Community is one of the favourite parts of my job, but there'’s one question I have a tough time with, and it usually goes something like this:

“I have [health concern or condition] and I’m absolutely determined to treat it naturally, but my doctor says I need medication. What should I do?”

Another variation I see a lot goes like this:

“"I'’ve been taking [medication] for years, and I really want to come off it, but my healthcare team thinks I need to keep taking it. What should I do?”"

You might be wondering why I find this so challenging. Well, here'’s the thing, I’m a big fan of taking charge of your own healthcare and being your own best patient advocate. And I’'m a big fan of holistic and complimentary healing modalities. I’'m also a woman who takes prescription medication designed to alter my brain chemistry to deal with a specific medical condition and I have no plans to come off it in the immediate future. I’'m okay with that, and despite some of the feedback I’'ve gotten from the holistic health community, I do not feel that my comfort with taking prescription anti-depressants in any way conflicts with my interest in treating things holistically.

While I was in school, I remember a teacher telling us how she had just found out her dad was diagnosed with cancer and that he was undergoing chemo. She told us how angry she was that she didn’'t have the chance to give her dad natural options before he had to start chemo. I remember getting angry too, but I wasn'’t angry the way she was. I was angry that she’'d presume to think she knew more than her dad about what he needed. After all, it was his cancer, and he had the right to decide what he wanted to do about it.

Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder. My fantastically supportive friends and family tried to help make sure I ate right, socialized more, went to therapy, exercised, meditated, and all the other things depressed people are supposed to do.

But I didn’t get better. In fact, I got worse.

At some point in our lives, most of us are going to face a health concern that all the green juices and yoga can’t fix.

If left untreated, almost any health issue has the capacity to develop into something life threatening. While I could write at least a dozen posts on dealing with anxiety and depression, those are stories for another day, because for these purposes, you could take anxiety and depression and replace it with any other health condition. It just so happened that severe clinical depression was my healthcare Waterloo.

So I went back to the doctor, and several different prescriptions and dosage adjustments later, things started to get better. I felt that sharing my story might help do a tiny part to dispel some of the stigma around mental health issues, so I slowly started to share my story. Most people were happy for me, but I did come up against a minority in the holistic health community who felt like my decision to take anti-depressants was some sort of betrayal of the values of holistic care. Here’s a a sampling of conversations I’ve had with various Well-Meaning People:

Well-Meaning Person 1: “I was depressed once, but then I went on this yoga retreat ...

Kate: “Yeah, I don'’t want to take away from your experience, but I don’t think this is the same thing.”

WMP 2:“But you’re planning on coming off them soon, right?”

K: “Why would I want to do that when they'’re still working?”

WMP 3-14: “Oh, you don’t need those, you just need to take [probiotics, fish oil, other supplement du jour].”

K: “Thanks for your advice, but I'’m really not in the mood to rock the pill-taking boat right now.”

And my personal favourite:

WMP 99+: “You know anti-depressants are linked to weight gain, right?”

K: [in my most sarcastic voice possible] “Oh yeah, ‘cause being skinny and too depressed to eat is making me so happy right now.” [eye roll]

As frustrating as this experience has been, it has reinforced my firm belief that holistic health care is about balance, and that includes balance between the natural and the pharmaceutical. Opting to take a prescription medication that makes you feel better does not kick you out of the holistic health club.

If I could share one piece of advice from my journey as a patient, it would be this:

You are the boss of your healthcare team, with the right to hire and fire any members as you see fit.

The most important thing when you’'re trying to decide if a healthcare practitioner is right for you is not that they’'re the most “natural” option for you, but that no matter what their stance, designation and training, they are qualified for the position they'’re looking to fill on your team, and that they listen to you and respect and meet your physical, mental and emotional needs as a patient.

30 Comments
krista O'Reilly-Davi-Digui   •   November 29, 2015

Thank you for sharing your story. A while back, I shared about (some of) my journey through depression /anxiety. I take meds for Hashimoto's and have felt that there can be judgment in the holistic health realm for that, too; I am a Holistic Nutritionist. My anxiety and overall symptoms pre-meds were so horrible and I am very grateful for my meds but also take many natural measures to support my health. While I respect everyone's right to choose and will have the back of anyone who chooses anti-depressants for themselves, I have suggested before (to a sister and a friend) that an individual give themselves a chunk of time to TRY nutritional changes, get some blood work done (ex TSH, sex hormones), do some counselling, etc. to see if these will get to the root issues- often doctor's do not even explore these options before offering an anti-depressant. If not, the meds are still an option.

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Kate McDonald Walker   •   December 3, 2015

Amanda Laird   •   November 29, 2015

Thank you for sharing your experience on this important topic that needs to be discussed more in the holistic world. "Conventional" medicine isn't an enemy to avoid at all costs.

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Kate McDonald Walker   •   December 4, 2015

Claudia   •   November 30, 2015

Thank you so much for this story and I just want to give you a digital hug. Thank you.

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Kate McDonald Walker   •   December 1, 2015

Tanya   •   November 30, 2015

Thank you so much for sharing this. I also suffer from GAD and started to take prescription for it. I am a strong believer in natural and holistic life, however with a disorder like this, it was the only way to go. Thank you again for sharing.

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Kate McDonald Walker   •   December 1, 2015

L   •   November 30, 2015

Finally! This is great to read. I am very into the natural remedies world and am planning to go to school for holistic nutrition- and I am on anti depressants. I have tried two times to come off of them and got so severely depressed I went right back on. Sometimes we need something stronger than natural. I believe in integrative medicine where sometimes pharmaceuticals and western medicine are beneficial. I always try natural remedies first but sometimes they just don't work. I would love to come off anti depressants one day and I may try again at some point but In the meantime they help-a lot, and I don't want to be scolded about that because until you've been severely depressed you have no right to tell me how I should handle my own health concern. Really good to see an article about balance and that sometimes you just don't have any other choice, and being happy is ultimately more healthy than anything in the end.

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Kate McDonald Walker   •   December 1, 2015

Ellie   •   November 30, 2015

I just have to thank you for sharing your story! I've moved over to treating almost everything holistically, however I still take antidepressants, and the same as you - I have no intention going off of them anytime soon as I've tried all the alternatives and still ended up absolutely consumed by anxiety and depression. It's hard because I still sometimes feel guilty about taking them, even though I've seen what the alternative is and that is no way for me to live life. Thanks again! xx

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Kate McDonald Walker   •   December 1, 2015

Alison   •   November 30, 2015

Thank you so much for sharing this! I’m sure it has been no easy road, to not only find a treatment that works for you but also to find the support you need from the community. I agree wholeheartedly that holistic health is about ALL types of balance, including seeking pharmaceutical help when and where necessary. And I fully agree that you have to be your own advocate for your health, including telling well-meaning people that you appreciate their concern but fully intend to continue on the path that you feel is right for yourself based on the conversations you’ve had with your medical/healthcare team. Taking medications doesn’t mean a person can’t still practice holistic health in other realms of their life. And living a healthy, balanced lifestyle will only help the efficacy of the drugs you do take. Bravo and good luck on your journey!

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Kate McDonald Walker   •   December 3, 2015

Loretta   •   December 2, 2015

This is not everyone's experience though, depression for me was caused by being neglected and unloved by family members but when I found true friends that really cared about me it did lift my depression. That's just my experience. I didn't have something wrong with my brain just never experienced love and trust. I would always choose a natural route. What I am bothered by is that people take like 12-30 drugs to counteract the side effects from the other drugs and the problem is still not solved. They are still as depressed as they were before. I wonder sometimes if the person is treated as a whole and I believe that their is a lack of love in our society. I also think that problems in the brain are real and not made up, so if a medication is working than that person has the right to decide for themselves if they are able to function with the help of medication.

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Kate McDonald Walker   •   December 3, 2015

Bev   •   December 2, 2015

I also suffer depression and on anxiety pills. How do I make the change the holistic route. I've been on pills almost a year and feel it's time now to make the life change. Thanks for posting definitely making me re think my life paths.

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Kate McDonald Walker   •   December 3, 2015

Louise   •   December 2, 2015

Brave post. Bravo! I've been a fan for a long time, and was sorry to read what you've gone through. Glad your immediate entourage is supportive. Interestingly, I had a very small scale situation of the same kind today. UTI, despite taking all the precautions, ugh! I'm holding out and trying super doses of Vit C, Oil of O, and a bit of baking soda....but if it's not gone by tomorrow, antibiotics it is! Sometimes the medicine is necessary, period. Stay healthy my dear, Louise

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Kate McDonald Walker   •   December 3, 2015

Lise   •   December 2, 2015

What a perfect way to remind us that to be "mental" means to be "human" and that conventional medicine is just that: conventional. Everything you have listed above, I have also heard in one way or another. Both my daughter and I experience depressive disorder. It has taken me 30 years to find the right combination of medication with many, many failures. It has taken my daughter two. My own education has helped her immeasurably, because...the medication combo that works for a parent, typically works also for a daughter or son. Genetics play a major role in mental health; it follows that response to treatment would also be similar. The wonderful thing about natural medicine and nutritional therapies is that there ARE answers. You can't access them, though, until you are no longer depressed and have achieved some balance! 1. You don't care. 2. You don't have the energy. 3. You can't concentrate. 4. You can't retain new information. 5. You can't execute even the things you desire most. And, 6. If you are also anxious, the amount of information out there will completely overwhelm you and make you want to hide. Through reading and referrals, I found an "integrative M.D." who helped ween me off SSRIs and replaced them with 5HTP. (You cannot take both at the same time because 5HTP does the same thing that the pharmaceutical does, thereby increasing your dosage.) The Xanax I took for anxiety has been replaced with GABA. And, my diet is nearly devoid of processed sugar. In addition I still take medication, but I take two, not four. And, I take nothing to help with side effects such as sleepiness, yawning, dry mouth, constipation, low (no) libido - because I don't experience side effects anymore. There are both conventional and alternative answers. In the case of mental health, conventional is the way to start to get better. When you are ready, you can look elsewhere. Good luck to you, Kate!

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Kate McDonald Walker   •   December 4, 2015

Shelby   •   December 3, 2015

Great post and oh so true! You've got to do what you see fit FOR YOU and sometimes natural methods just are not going to cut it (as much as I wish they would). Sometimes I feel the same way about the hollistic community but it doesn't have to be all or nothing and not every solution works for each individual.

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Kate McDonald Walker   •   December 4, 2015

Sheryll   •   December 3, 2015

I am so glad you posted this piece. I find myself doing the same balance between conventional and holistic approaches and I truly believe that the answer often lies somewhere therein between. I went through chemo and radiation 8 years ago for breast cancer and felt so conflicted going from my Holistic Dr. to my Conventional Dr., both with completely opposing (and often sarcastic/harsh) views of the other. Why can't East meet West?!!! There are extremes with both. Thank you so much for posting this and for taking care of YOU without feeling the need to compromise the care you needed.

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Kate McDonald Walker   •   December 4, 2015

Say No to Shingles   •   December 6, 2015

Hi Kate! I am very interested to your blog. I agree to your one piece of advice: You are the boss of your healthcare team. Absolutely Yes! You are the one who decide about what you really need to your health.

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Nancy   •   January 28, 2016

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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Clare   •   April 4, 2016

Hi Kate I'm new to the Joyous health website. I found this article you've written interesting and somewhat reassuring I guess. Im really struggling at the moment. I was diagnosed November last year with possible psoriatic arthritis. I've always been very healthy and passionate about nutrition and optimising your own health, so i was absolutely gutted and shell shocked to find myself with a possible auto immune disease. I had spent much time trying to prevent such a diagnosis like this ever happening in my life through addressing diet and lifestyle. I continued to look further into what i could do to help myself and amazingly over a month my symptoms got much better. The rheumatologist was impressed, said id gone into voluntary remission and didn't need to prescribe me anything. However 2 1/2 months later in the depth of winter i had a flare up. I thought i'd control it myself with the help of a naturopath. Things were mild but frustrating. Then suddenly i found myself feeling inflammation in other areas and i got scared. Inflammation wasn't going down. I'm still not taking any medication as I haven't seen my rheumatologist again yet as here in England on the nhs it takes a while to get an appointment. However what I'm saying is, no matter how committed i was to eliminating toxins from my body to heal myself, and adopt a positive approach to holistic healing, restricting my diet to an extremely anti inflammatory one, i find myself facing the most dreaded prospect of going down the conventional route I hadn't wanted to, and accepting i may need medication to help prevent the progression of my auto immune condition. I feel I've failed in some way, and especially as i had signed up to start a nutritional therapist course. I feel i can't join that "group" now despite the fact i'm not totally giving in. I will always approach my life using holistic principles via diet and lifestyle, alongside any medication i might need to take. It's very scary when you have young children too that depend upon you day and night to be the strong supportive parent when you feel less than strong when suffering pain and extreme fatigue. I DO believe, medical research has brought us a long way.There are medical specialists who DO know their stuff, more so than, say, a naturopath. I'm sorry to say that, but if things are out of hand and symptoms escalating, like they are for me at the moment, despite my utterly committed holistic approach, then it would be a mistake to not consider what conventional medicine has to offer, even if it's just to get back on track.

Reply
Kate McDonald Walker   •   April 4, 2016

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