Coming off Anti-Depressants A personal account by Father Dave

I was on anti-depressants for about a year. And now, as my head emerges from that dark cloud, I look around and discover that so many of my sisters and brothers have walked this same path. And yet, so of us good Christian people want to admit that we’ve been on anti-depressants! I thought I’d break the silence.

I was standing at the door of the Youth Centre office, smiling and laughing. In the kitchen, alongside me, were a dozen or so of our girls doing a ‘stomp’ dance, and it was like nothing I’d ever seen.

We’ve been privileged to have some volunteer girls from the US join us at the Youth Centre – students who have been studying creative arts at a local Christian college – and one of these girls, an African-American girls named, Stephanie, had told me how she wanted to teach our girls to ‘stomp’.

Up to that point I had only associated ‘stomping’ with the activity of bikie gangs and other hoon elements in the area, but what Stephanie showed me was closer to the Bavarian slap-dance that Chevy Chase performed on European Vacation, with jerky movements around the floor interspersed with rhythmical slapping of the thighs and trunk!

I would not have occurred to me that any of our kids would be remotely interested in joining Steph for a stomp around the Youth Centre, but sure enough, within a remarkably short time, she had a whole troop of girls rhythmically slapping and stomping their way around our kitchen, all with very serious looks on their faces, while a small entourage of boys looked on from a distance with both eyes and mouths wide open.

I don’t know if it was the rhythm, the creativity of Steph, or just the wonderful mixture of black and white and Asian girls that were dancing there together, but the moment struck me as absolutely fantastic, and I couldn‘t contain my joy! I laughed and clapped my hands, and then it struck me: ‘I haven‘t enjoyed myself like this in ages. In fact, I haven‘t laughed like this in about a year – not since I started on the anti-depressants’

I had been taking Zoloft for almost exactly a year, and had just stopped taking the tablets completely. It had been my third attempt.

The first two times, I came off too quickly – cutting down from 100mg to nothing overnight. I became ill both times. This time I’d cut down gradually over a space of a month – first down to 75mg, then 50, then to 25. By the time the stomp class took place, I’d been Zoloft-free for almost a week!

I laughed, and it felt good, and over the coming days and weeks I found I laughed and felt good a whole lot more, though of course my sensitivity to pain returned too.

For people who have never been on anti-depressants, it’s a bit like neutering your cat. One minute you’ve got an uncontrollable tom, getting into fights and making a nuisance of himself, and then, in the twinkling of an eye, he’s transformed into a meat-loaf sitting in the corner, quietly putting on weight.

All your life-drives go down, and I don’t just mean the obvious ones. They all go down. Everything slows down. Energy levels go down. Life continues as usual, and everyone you know is still there, but something of the colour is drained from those relationships. The people you live and work with are less threatening, less aggravating and all round a lot less trouble, but then again, they are less exciting too. It’s a trade off.

Those who don’t share our battles here may be wondering, ‘why on earth would Father Dave need to go on anti-depressants’? In truth, I can’t go into the details at this point because it concerns too many other people.

Let it suffice to say that it was a pastoral matter in the church. And let me add that in the past I had managed to get through the death of both of my parents, the breakdown of my first marriage, and the near-death of my daughter, all without chemical relief.

But this one broke me. I’d been under a lot of pressure for about six months, and thankfully I did hold it together until we had pushed through the epicentre of the storm. But once the immediate crisis had passed, my body just shut down. One night I drove back home after a long day of work and found I just couldn’t physically get myself out of the car.

Anti-depressants had been recommended to me during earlier crises in my life but I had always resisted them. They’d seemed to me a sign of weakness – unmanly, the easy way out, the solution of a spiritual weakling, etc. I now see these pills as a great gift from God to those who have past breaking point

All those who have suffered depression know what I am talking about. Lots of us have been there:

  • Where you can’t talk to your friends without wanting to cry
  • Sitting up all night, incapable of work and yet unable to sleep.
  • Fighting off constantly-recurring thoughts of self-destruction.
  • Doing three and four hours straight, playing ‘minesweeper’ on your PC,
    trying to keep your emotions on ‘simmer‘, lest they boil over and wreak havoc.

As I say, once the anti-depressants kick in, things slow down and loose their colour, but in truth, they become manageable again! I remember lying in bed one morning, reflecting with my wife on some of the ongoing struggles in the parish and saying, “I should feel really terrible about this, but I feel fine!”

It’s amazing that a little pill can take the emotional edge off our struggles, but they really work! Thanks to the medication I was able to continue doing what I had to do. I was able to stay at my job. I continued to function as a decent father and husband. Indeed, I kept all the balls in the air – the church, the Fight Club, the Youth Centre, the campsite, the websites and the family – even though I didn’t get much emotional satisfaction from any of them.

So now I’m drug-free again, and it’s important that I am. I’m trying to preach to others about avoiding the use of drugs to control your emotions, and I need to lead by example. At any rate, I’m enjoying life again – the colour has returned to my relationships and my energy levels have come back. Indeed, in my first Zoloft-free month, I think I organised more crazy events in that time than in the whole year previous, and I enjoyed them all!

Even so, if things go downhill again, will I consider getting back on the pills? Absolutely! Because it’s not about me!

It’s not about whether I get the most enjoyment out of life. It’s not about me being happy or not being happy. It’s about me being able to continue to function in the capacities in which I need to be able to continue to function, so that I can fulfil my responsibilities towards my partner, my children, my church, and towards my friends.

As my hero, Confederate General Robert E. Lee put it, “’duty’ is the most sublime word in the English language.” Being able to do what you’re called to do – that’s the main thing. If you enjoy doing it, that’s a bonus. Anti-depressants are a wonderful gift from God in that respect, because they help you to carry on with doing your duty, even when you’re in the middle of a battlefield.

I do pray that God will preserve me from having to fight in any more battles like this last one, but if He does see fit to throw me back into the maelstrom, I won’t hesitate to take whatever assistance is on offer, in order to get the job done. In the meantime, I hope to get in as much laughing, clapping and stomping as time allows!

Rev. David B. Smith

Parish priest, community worker,
martial arts master, pro boxer,
author, father of four.


About Father Dave

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four
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