UnMedicated Me

mamamac“I think I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue!”

Remember that line from the movie Airplane? One of my favorites and sums up my feelings right now.

Recently, a friend of mine was talking about struggling with her son’s OCD and asked a group of moms, “How do you hold it all together?” About ten of us chimed in, almost in unison, “WE DON’T!”

We don’t have it all together.

When my son was diagnosed with autism, I cried on the phone to my mom, “Now no one will ever want to be me.” My mom wisely answered, “Honey, that woman who looks like she has it all together. The one everyone is jealous of… she’s really lonely. You don’t want to be her.”

She’s right. That woman with the perfectly-straightened Teflon-smooth hair, size zero $175 jeans, whisking out of Pilates/Core class into her perfectly clean car – looks slightly terrifying to me. No one can remain that tightly wound forever. I don’t want to be around when that unravels.


This fall I took a leap of faith and slowly tapered off an anti-depressant I’ve been on for ages. I didn’t stop because I felt fantastic. I took myself off the medication because I stopped believing in it. I organized the taper with the help of my doctor and a book called The Road Back which I found very helpful.

Admittedly, doing this right before the holidays wasn’t my brightest move (hence the Airplane joke), but I’m hanging tough. As a trusted friend said, “If you can handle this now, you can handle it anytime.”

The taper went pretty smoothly with a few rough moments. Aside from the aggravation of insomnia and unsettling brain zaps, the worst of it was really the feeling that the other shoe would drop, that the worst was yet to come, the doubt that I would be ok without the medication.


So, what do I feel now? Raw and very present — a bit too present at times. I fully get why I took this shit for so long. I don’t feel depressed; I do feel very sad at times and really angry too. Actually, I felt more depressed on the medication using the classic description of depression; apathetic, fatigued, shut down, flat.

I’m definitely not shut down any more. Someone stole a parking space from me just as I was turning into it the other day. Medicated me would have just thought, ‘what a jerk’ and gone off to find another one. Turns out un-medicated me does not back down quite so easily. Not my finest hour. As Nick said at the time, “Mumma got loud.”

In the afternoons, my son likes to repetitively watch videos he’s recorded of the squeakiest MBTA Green Line trains turning around at Park Street Station in Boston. The screech is indescribable. Then if I’m really lucky, my 13-year-old daughter will start yelling at him to “turn it down.” On a banner day, they’ll really get into it. Unmedicated me is having a hell of a time with this.


I’ve battled depression since my 20’s with a sharp increase after the Hep B series I was required to take as a state social worker in the late ’90’s. I didn’t equate the uptick in depression or the other horrible physical symptoms that emerged with the shots at the time.

Depression runs through my family and autism isn’t the only hard thing I’ve been through, so I just figured it was my cross to bear in the same way others battle migraines or a bad back. About six months after the Hep B series, I got scared. The depression got very dark, so I began taking an anti-depressant. The first one made me worse immediately and I was off it within two days, instructed to try a second that worked on a different mechanism. The second med was a better fit and the darkness went away.

I was on an anti-depressant when I was pregnant with Nick, assured that “the risk of depression was greater than the risk to the fetus from the SSRI.”  If only I had read the actual research myself, I would have seen how muddy that safety profile really is.  Nick was born one month early. Did the Prozac have anything to do with that? I don’t know.

When Nick was six weeks old, I felt the baby blues kick in and panicked that I was in for a full-scale post-partum depression, so my medication was raised. Nick was nursing through all of this. It didn’t occur to me or anyone that I reached out to to point out that as an adjunct professor in a Master’s program, I had no maternity leave, so I was working too hard too close to the birth of my child. The absolute inflexibility of my husband’s very corporate work environment meant that he could offer little extra help. But most importantly, I am positive that a basic blood panel would have revealed how depleted my system was. I am certain supplementation and nutritional support was what was really in order: omegas and vit D, perhaps testing for anemia. Instead, I soldiered on nursing Prozac into my son, grateful not to feel the anxiety and sadness.

As can happen, Prozac pooped out on me about two years into Nick’s autism diagnosis and the hell that was our lives. I can’t say for certain if the med just stopped working or if it was the Chardonnay I was leaning on pretty heavily in those days. Needless to say, I became very down. One February vacation, trying to meet the needs of a very sick Nick and a bored and antsy 1st grader amidst horrible weather, a depleted bank account and no help, I stared from the bottom of the stairs one afternoon and thought ‘I don’t think I can make it to the top of these stairs.’

Back to the psychiatrist I went, and I was changed to a new heavy-duty anti-depressant that worked on two neurotransmitters instead of just serotonin. The only hitch was a black box warning about alcohol, something about liver failure. Could I stop drinking that day? Yes. And I did. That, in and of itself, may be the reason relief came so quickly. People don’t talk about autism and sobriety very much in our community. Perhaps we should?

So the years went on and Nick has gotten so much better. At one time Nick was on five medications, but what we’ve found is that he has always had a more meaningful response to natural interventions. After I took Nick off of his last medication about a year ago I thought, ‘My turn next. I want the last pharmaceutical drug out of the house.’

We know that Nick’s autism is iatrogenic. He was damaged by too many medications, interventions like anesthesia, and vaccines too early and his immune system crashed. My anti-depressant was at best a band-aid, and at its worst destroying my gut, the birth place of the all of the mood enhancing neurotransmitters I was so short on, thus ensuring I would never be able to restore my mood. Nick’s regression and his healing both began in the gut. It looks like mine will need to as well.


So what does that mean for me at this point? I’m just beginning to put the pieces in place. I can tell you that as a gluten-sensitive person, I could cheat when I was medicated but if I do now my mood is dark the next day. I have to get an hour of serious exercise every day. When my husband sees me down he just hands me my running shoes. Yoga, Reiki, homeopathy and the Healing Codes are my go-to supports plus lots and lots of supplements.

The show Modern Family hits the spot for me right now. I’ve been watching lots and lots of Modern Family. The only character I can’t relate to is the mom, played by Julie Bowen. My husband and my daughter giggle quietly with each other when I suggest that perhaps I don’t like her because she reminds me a little of myself.


So, yeah… don’t have it all together. I realize I never will. This messy, neurotic, raw person that I am re-introducing myself to is who I am. But, the really cool part is that the messy emotional stuff is also the Velcro that attracts all of us to each other. It gives us something to attach to. Sometimes we are the ones needing comfort, and sometimes we are the ones doing the comforting.

~ MamaMac (Alison MacNeil)

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16 Responses to UnMedicated Me

  1. cg says:

    Why don’t you try some of the biomedicals we use to heal our children to heal yourself b12 omega 5htp etc Healing andPreventing Autism by dr kartzinel is a good primer. These things can do wonders for depressed parents.
    Best Wishes

  2. Aimee says:

    Beautiful, brave, funny, realistic, full of great info without being preachy. <3

  3. Dawn Loughborough says:

    Refuge has its place. All is well. Everything has its time and place. Glad you can be vulnerable, real and let life show up exactly how it is and exactly how it isn’t. And from there you get to c r E a t e… Sending love and light to you! You are beautiful!

  4. Mary Pulles Cavanaugh says:

    Love this blog! You are so genuine Allison. I love the journey you are on!

  5. Nicole says:

    Thank you for mentioning the trigger of all of this for you was the Hep B vaccine. It was mine as well. I had some serious autoimmune and digestive issues arise. And then my son ended up with sensory issues and allergies for my daughter. Have you ever considered doing CEASE therapy to detox the Hep B vaccine out of your system? I am planning on doing that once I am done nursing my new, healthy, unvaxed baby:-) Wishes of health to you and your family.

  6. Diana says:

    Thank you for sharing. Your story is eerily similar to what I’ve been through. I too used the plan from The Road Back to get off Zoloft. I had been on that and any number of other drugs for years before finally realizing that it was never really just depression I was dealing with, but adrenal fatigue. I’m now disabled due to it being so severe. I look back and see all of the factors (unnecessary surgeries, antibiotics, poor nutrition choices, vaccines, stress etc…) that contributed to where I am now, the psych meds certainly being a big part of it. I was also told to take it throughout my pregnancy, which we know now is terrible advice. I found it rather ironic years after being on this stuff, that upon testing, my serotonin levels were abysmally low. And yet, I wasn’t depressed. But my body was trashed. Recovery is going to be long and difficult for me, which is why I think it’s so important to tell our stories so that others can avoid some of the damages we have have suffered, and seek treatments and habits that help, not hurt. Now I’m off to scour the link on SSRI’S and confirm what I always knew in my gut. Pun not intended.

  7. Maureen says:

    Wonderfully honest! As as one who has avoided the meds, I understand each feeling you have. I never thought I would be that screaming psychotic mother, but I am and working through it. Wishing you one day at a time! You have accomplished so much and will do so much more. You have the strength.

  8. nivchek says:

    Neurotransmitters: Anti-depressant drugs all work by messing with your neurotransmitters in one way or another. I found the book The Mood Cure extremely helpful because it provides safer, more effective and non-permanent ways of recovering your neurotransmitter function. The supplements it recommends are also excellent for many aspects of ASD and safe for kids in the proper doses.

  9. Christine says:

    Alison thank you for sharing this. I am in exactly the same place right now (with annoying OCD videos playing on my iphone and all). I went on an anti depressant after back to back life changing events (including my son’s ASD dx). I am titrating off now. All of the issues I have been holding down the last few years are now surfacing. I was eating and drinking to self medicate when I was suppressing these emotions. The anti depressent does not make them go away; it just pushes them down. Rhodiolia in the AM is helping me a lot during the titrate. My husband and I have not really had an argument in years. The medicated me can ignore almost anything and put on a happy face. Now he has to watch his step!

  10. Sue says:

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. Your story sounds very similar to mine. I still don’t know if I can get off of my antidepressant or the meds that help me sleep. Maybe someday I’ll feel stronger that I can try to do that. Its not right now. But, I applaud you for your courage to do it, as I’ve only dreamed of it so far. I’ve never found the right doctor for me that I can trust can help get me there. But, the one question that struck me with your story is that you mentioned the antidepressants were destroying your gut. I can’t say I’ve ever heard that before. Is there proof of that and I just haven’t seen the studies? I’m interested if you are able to share anything with that. Thank you for your courage to share and live out loud. I think you are helping a lot of people not feel like they are the only ones!

  11. Sara M. says:

    I appreciate your article, and agree with you wholeheartedly. People are too quick to go to the doctor and get a pill for a quick fix. But that is often only masking the symptoms and not fixing them. Diet and nutrition are at the root of many of our nation’s health issues. I have become more reliant on therapeutic grade essential oils, and that has helped me tremendously. Perhaps that could help you or others too? So many of the health issues that we as women face also have to do with our hormones, so that this definitely something to be tested. I have been using a natural progesterone serum for a while now, and feel a TON better.

  12. Hanna says:

    I’m really sad that it goes to this. I’m glad I grew up in a neighborhood that never even heard of the notion that you can eat something and then feel ‘happy’. There are always friends and neighbors to talk to, plus a pretty healthy (healthier, at least) diet.

    The only one I can think of is my mom who used to take an anti-deppresant because of the anti-convulsant she was taking. What a coincidence, the only one taking an anti-deppresant is also a ‘westerner’ (my mother). I can really see the difference in perspective.

    Though now, 20 years later, the cities are changing and I’m afraid I’m going to see more people taking these happy pills :(

  13. Jodi says:

    Excellent! I love it when you say all of you chimed in when asked how do you hold it together and the answer was, “WE DON’T!” We have an 18 year old non verbal autistic son who has major OCD issues. It has been a long journey and just keeps going on and on. I feel for you on all aspects!!! Hugs…

  14. Sylvia says:

    Kudos Alison. Taking care of ourselves, properly, is hard work and requires effort and dedication. Because our sick children require so much, it is hard to find the energy and time to focus on oneself. For some of us, it is only as our children improve that it becomes possible to dedicate some of our energy to ourselves. But it is worth the effort. As a psychiatrist who treats peripartum woman, your approach has support in science. With regard to psychiatric symptoms, like depression and anxiety, the data about the efficacy of exercise is unequivocal. Meditation practices have measurable changes in brain function that strongly link to symptomatic improvement. The data about the relationship between gut health and brain functioning is exploding. My own practice patterns have changed enormously since I got a second education thanks to Autism and all those in our community who have pushed me to think outside the boundaries of my conventional medical training. Alison, thanks again for being a leader in our community. We appreciate your honesty and all of you efforts.

  15. Donna Powers says:

    My favourite quote? I used to be a really nice person (at least in my own mind), until I had children. Funny how ugly can be transformed into compassion, grace, forgiveness of self, acceptance…and boy! when we get that for ourselves, everybody around us heals too.
    Hang in there! You have friends, family and even support from people you have never met. We’re here…we’ve been there…and we are still learning. Some days gracefully, some days not so much.
    If you do have a sobriety group, let me know. That kind of support would be welcome.

  16. Jan says:

    All I want to say is THANK YOU for sharing your story. I guarantee you have helped a ton of people today. Now I’m off to e-mail this to lots of friends and family.

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