Being a long-time user of a number of different anti-depressants, I thought I’d list some of the most common questions here regarding them that I know I can answer with confidence. Keep in mind that everyone reacts to anti-depressants completely differently, and relying on someone else’s experience on them is almost useless.
However, there are some general questions I feel I can answer that would help people.
Just a reminder that I’m not a medical practitioner and always consult with your doctor on all of your questions as well. These answer are not intended to be medical advice. I do feel my first-hand experience being on these medications and getting feedback from multiple doctors along the way myself may be able to help people feel more at ease.
Q: How long does Prozac (fluoxetine) take to work?
A: It takes a while (at least a month) to get the full therapeutic effects. I found that many people who have used Prozac, including myself, notice something on the first day or two of taking it, and I feel this is not likely due to a placebo effect, as none of us were expecting it to work in any way immediately. This isn’t to say its full effects are taking place right away, but that it may begin to start helping in some way.
Q: Does Prozac treat anxiety?
A: In general, SSRIs tend to be helpful for anxiety. This is because anxiety and depression are said to be two sides of the same coin, so to speak. They both stem from a combination of either chemical issues in the brain and/or consistent negative thought loops, and involve distorted ways of thinking. They also often exist together.
When you treat anxiety with an anti-depressant, it often takes the edge off of the anxiety and it makes it easier to deal with. Prozac in particular really almost entirely muted my brain’s tendency towards obsessive thinking, which in turn made it that much easier to get out of any thought loops that were perpetuating an anxious (or depressive) response.
Lexapro or Zoloft did not affect my obsessive thoughts quite in this way. You can feel when you take different anti-depressants that they tend to all work a little differently.
SSRIs can also give you a buffer on your emotions, so your tendency to overreact is lesser as well.
Lexapro (escitalopram) is said to be an SSRI that targets anxiety really well, which for me was a plus since my main problem tends to be my anxiety.
Q: How long does Prozac take to leave your body?
A: I don’t actually know the answer to this, except I do know that Prozac has a longer half life than many other SSRIs, so it stays in your system longer. If you happen to miss a dose, you likely may not feel anything. I used to accidentally miss my Prozac doses all the time and not feel any different, but if I miss a Lexapro dose, I do feel a difference.
For this reason I think that Prozac can be easier to get off of than other SSRIs, as it will leave your system more slowly than others.
Q: Was it hard for you to get off of Prozac?
A: It wasn’t. Even though I was on it for 9 years, I tapered off slowly like you should do. Everyone’s experience in getting of the drug may be different, primarily because the nature of their problem(s) may likely differ from others’.
I did notice some things as my brain was getting used to not being on the drug anymore (primarily a bit more aggression in my personality — not to a bothersome degree). It may depend on how long you’re on Prozac, but I did notice that it took a few months for my system to feel completely back to normal after being on it for so long.
Also, since I’m someone who has a chronic problem with anxiety, things that would normally induce anxiety in me when being off of medication did start to do so again, which resulted in me going back on medication eventually. This likely might not be the case for someone going through something more temporary.
Q: Can you take anti-depressants for life?
A: The simple answer is yes. If you really need them, then the pros of being on the medication long-term will likely outweigh the cons. I know many people in my family who have been on them most of their lives with very little issues.
On the other hand, if you feel you aren’t someone with a truly chronic problem, it would be worth trying to get off them at some point and work on exercising regularly, paying attention to your nutrition, meeting with a therapist, and so on. You cannot underestimate the power of that. There are a great deal of variables that can affect why you feel anxiety and depression, and it takes a lot of trial and error before you can really determine whether it’s something that your brain has a tendency towards naturally, versus something situational or circumstantial that can be worked out over time.
Q: Should I be on an anti-anxiety drug for my anxiety, or stick with an anti-depressant?
A: This is also a difficult question for me to answer as it likely depends on the nature of your anxiety disorder. If you are someone having panic attacks every once in a great while and this is a relatively recent occurrence, you may benefit more from taking an anti-anxiety drug only upon the onset of a panic attack, and not daily. Many anti-anxiety medications such as Ativan or Xanax are very strong drugs and very addictive (along with unpleasant long-term side effects), so it is something you’d ideally only want to take only occasionally and not daily.
I, however, have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and my anxiety, when it hits, tends to be nearly constant for sometimes months. I also have recurring anxiety and depression without necessarily having a trigger. In other words, it’s not the trigger itself that really sets me off — it’s how my brain handles these triggers in the first place (a trigger for me could be something like big life changes of any sort, or anything that my brain is perceiving as a threat at the moment). For me, it makes more sense to have something that regulates my brain chemistry on a daily basis. I believe that people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder can do really well on SSRIs.
Q: Does being on a low dose of Prozac (10mg) or Lexapro (10mg) do anything?
A: This will depend on you and the nature of your issue (and your own body’s reaction to things) — but for me, it certainly does. I’ve been on 10mg and 20mg doses of both Prozac and Lexapro. I found 20mg Lexapro to work better for me. I feel that Prozac is a stronger drug and a 10mg dose of Prozac affected me more than a 10mg dose of Lexapro.
Q: How is Lexapro different than Prozac?
A: I wrote an article on my experience with both here. In a nutshell, Lexapro can be more effective for anxiety than Prozac is, for some people. Prozac seems to be a stronger drug, and can also treat OCD. If your primary problem is generalized anxiety and/or mild depression, maybe you can start with Lexapro and see how it works for you.
It really is a matter of trial and error to see what works best for you. A couple doctors have told me that Lexapro tends to be better tolerated, and I would agree that I have had less side effects on Lexapro than on Prozac. However, I also know a few people who have been on both and preferred the Prozac.
Q: Can Prozac or Lexapro make you anxious?
A: If you find yourself MORE anxious on Prozac or Lexapro, it could be a few things. Either:
1) you just started taking one of the medications and your system is getting used to it, and the anxiety will go away after a week or two.
2) You are nervous about what the medications are going to do to you, and it’s creating anxiety while being on it, or
3) your system isn’t reacting to the medication well. You’ll have to determine what is causing the anxiety and switch to another med if needed.
Q: What’s the best time to take Prozac?
A: Prozac tends to be an energizing drug for some, so for those it is best taken in the morning. I did not get any energizing effects from Prozac and took it in the early evening with no issues. You can start by taking it first thing in the morning and see how that works.
Q: What’s the best time to take Lexapro?
A: Lexapro (as it states right on the bottle) may actually make you drowsy, but I didn’t feel this from Lexapro myself. But for that reason, many medical practitioners will advise to try taking it in the evening first.
Q: I’m having really insane dreams on Prozac. Is this normal?
A: Yes! This is a very common side effect of Prozac. Doctors have suggested taking it first in the morning to potentially help with this as well. I did not have this side effect myself, but I have heard that the crazy dreams can subside after a while of being on the medication.
There you have it — some of the most common questions I see about taking anti-depressants. If you have any other questions or comments, feel free to reach out to me (email@example.com). I may add more questions and answers to this article over time to make it even more complete. Best of luck and hang in there!
I was on anti-depressants for about ten years for generalized anxiety disorder and only went off once for about a 6-8 month period of time. Now I’ve been off of them for about one year. My experiences being on Prozac and now being off of it have shown me some very visible pros and cons about being on this drug.
First of all, I think Prozac is a good drug.
Everyone might react to it a bit differently, but overall, this was one of the anti-depressants that I had the least amount of side effects with and it really did its job: it reduced my anxiety by making it more manageable and definitely reduced depression that I had. My anxiety did not disappear, but I didn’t expect it to. I did have a few mild side effects that got better after a few weeks of taking it.
However, one of the reasons many people quit anti-depressants is because it’s hard to tell exactly how it might be affecting you – how it works in the brain, exactly – and it’s generally not fun or beneficial to be on a drug long-term unless the benefits truly outweigh the negatives. But overall, I’ve had both friends and family members go on Prozac with good results.
The Difference Between Life on Prozac and Life off of it
It wasn’t until I went off of it long enough that I really started to feel the difference between life off of Prozac and life on it. Mind you, I wasn’t even on a high dose. In fact I alternated between the lowest dose (10mg) and 20mg, but even a low dose has a very noticeable effect on the brain. Especially when you learn to recognize the differences of not having it in your system.
Oddly, they say it takes a few weeks or maybe a few months for Prozac to fully get out of your system (in particular after being on it for so many years), but each time I’ve gone off of Prozac, I actually felt exactly the same until at least around six months past that point. Then, suddenly something would be triggered that caused anxiety that maybe normally wouldn’t have, or I started to feel my thoughts becoming more obsessive. This same thing would happen to a best friend of mine that had also been on it long-term and would go off for a number of months at a time.
Stabilizing My Brain
Upon going off of Prozac for good, I thought to myself, “I’m really going to need something to stabilize my brain in this process, as it re-adapts to regulating its own serotonin.” I took a number of natural remedies and vitamins, but it’s difficult to say which helped, if any. The main help was that I was at a truly happy place in my life when I stopped, and had come a long way in developing my own mental tools in dealing with my anxiety after all these years.
Once I had been off the Prozac for a few months, I noticed that the world just seemed so colorful to me. This sounds positive, but it was really not a positive nor a negative thing. I just noticed that everything was more pronounced – my perceptions as well as my emotions. I also temporarily became a lot more aggressive and assertive in my personality. Aggression can be a sign of a lack of serotonin in the brain, which I don’t doubt was the cause after being on a drug that regulated my serotonin for so long.
To top it off, I also have petit mal seizure disorder, and researchers have found that those with a seizure disorder very often also have mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression due to abnormal brain activity. So in general, a tendency towards anxiety and obsessive thoughts was in my nature and not usually circumstantial.
My Brain’s Obsessiveness Kicks Back In
Prozac is approved for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which can overlap with anxiety disorders. So, Prozac is particularly good if you have a tendency towards obsessive or intrusive thoughts.
Many months later after going off of Prozac and after the aggression subsided, I felt myself balancing out a bit more chemically. But here is when I noticed a definite difference in my thought patterns. I would now easily obsess over things, and this was something that being on Prozac I didn’t really notice myself doing. I was picking and prying things apart, not letting things go as easily, and investigating things thoroughly anytime I thought something was wrong with ANYthing. I was sometimes blowing certain situations out of proportion that I viewed as threatening, out of fear. I still do this, as I think it’s the natural way of my brain. However luckily I’m much more cognizant of it now and have tools for defusing it.
My memory is also sharper now. I FEEL much sharper. I felt so fuzzy while on Prozac in comparison. My brain was just dulled somehow and I wouldn’t have realized this simply while being on it because it was so subtle. I had to see the comparison after going off for a significant amount of time.
On the upside, I felt a general stability while having the Prozac in my system. It was like I was living within invisible walls and I had a buffer for my emotions and thoughts. However, this turned out to be a double-edged sword.
Prozac Dulled My Creativity
I realized that this very buffer that was keeping my emotions and thoughts stabilized, also stifled my imagination (which is overactive by nature, I might add). I’ve always been a creative person, and this dulled my creativity. It muted what I consider the part of me that I really feel at times makes me different, that comes up with unique ideas; the part of me where a little bit of genius might be able to shine through. It makes sense, though, right? The genius in me can also be my madness if put to use in a way that isn’t productive but rather goes after itself incessantly.
The crazy thing is that all of this was so subtle that it was nearly impossible to see while being on it. That’s why I’m writing this post. It took years of experience of being both on and off of it to really be able to feel and see the difference, and some people may not ever detect the difference if they aren’t listening or watching themselves closely enough.
So…Should You Go on Prozac Despite the Downsides?
If you have been prescribed Prozac or even another anti-depressant and are still unsure about taking it, my short answer would be yes, try the Prozac, IF the following conditions are true for you:
You have a chronic, recurring issue with anxiety or depression. You can tell that it’s something that is more of a product of how your brain works, how it’s “wired,” rather than one life event that triggered your only bout of anxiety/depression to date. Chemical versus situational.
If you are barely functioning at the moment, OR
If you have been steadily miserable for a long time despite trying other things.
On the other hand, if you feel your anxiety or depression is mild, it might be OK to go on it short-term and see how it helps you, but it’s kind of a pain in the butt going on and off meds. My first suggestion would be to try other things. Not just one – a combination. Look into cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which has proven to be very effective. Or, if you can’t afford therapy (which many can’t), look for some CBT workbooks you can do yourself on Amazon. Make your attitude about learning to master anxiety. Become a student of it. A proactive attitude will win the battle. Fearing it and trying to escape it will never allow you to fully develop the tools that are so essential in keeping it under control.
And if You’re Already on Prozac…Should You Stay on It?
If your side effects get to the point where they are changing your personality (even if maybe you can’t tell that they are, but other people are noticing) or consistently hindering your quality of life, then it’ll likely be time to make a change. For example, Prozac muting my emotions to the degree it did became unacceptable because it led to other things, such as reduced ability to feel compassion and empathy, which then led to having a shorter fuse with people and less ability to relate to the world. That’s a big deal.
If you barely have any side effects and are just tired of being on an anti-depressant, then I’d talk to your doc. You’re VERY lucky if you take an anti-depressant and it not only works but doesn’t give you many or any side effects. However, it can be impossible to gauge how you will feel off of them and it will depend partly on your personal history with anxiety and depression.
I can’t stress this enough: the downsides/side-effects really will be different for everybody. There are certain listed side-effects of Prozac that will be more likely to happen than others, just based on how the drug works. But there won’t be any solid answer that will tell you what is or isn’t going to happen. It’s such a trial an error process – a jumping into the mystery of the unknown, and having to deal with that in regards to medication pretty much sucks.
Also, many people still do not truly understand anxiety disorders, depression, or anti-depressants. So do not let what other people think of you being on meds sway your decision. It’s not weak, and yes, some people really do need them. Do what you feel is best for you. I at one time in my life was barely functional due to my debilitating anxiety. I could barely sleep or eat for a long time, and I had school and work to plow through. That level of anxiety or depression is where these drugs can be honestly life-saving and totally worth it.
Work on Developing Your Mental Tools!
If you don’t feel you have great mental tools in dealing with the anxiety or depression just yet and tend to on external sources to ease it, you can maybe stay on the Prozac to take the edge off, but work on developing those mental tools. For example when anxiety comes, work on keeping yourself and your mind busy. Exercise more (this is a HUGE one!). Work on eating a healthier diet, and being mindful of your thoughts – it is a constant practice. But these are the things you are going to be able to rely on (and will NEED to rely on) if you don’t want to be on medication forever and if you want to dramatically reduce your anxiety and depression. There is no shortcut or easy way out.
It’s pure hard work and dedication to working on being observant and rising above your thoughts when they do not serve you well.
If you have been on it for a while and aren’t sure if you should go off, you can still try to go off for a period of time and see how you feel. A couple of things to note here though, it’s best to do this when you don’t have a lot of stress or general instability in your life.
If you’re experiencing anxiety, depression, or have any questions for me regarding my journey on and off anti-depressants, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below. I am here to help and support you!
Anyone who has experienced insomnia in any form can relate to the fact that it’s one of the most difficult and maddening things you can go through, depending on its severity. It can interfere with EVERYthing in your life.
Last year I went through my first bout of insomnia, which was really bad for a few weeks but overall only lasted a couple months. I already have an anxiety disorder and had more or less felt as though I had mastered having anxiety during the day by just learning to keep myself occupied and not give power to anxious thoughts (easier said than done, I know).
But then, there came a few nights where I just wasn’t sleeping well. I could not get to sleep until about 5 am each night, and I had been off of my anti-depressant meds for a few years. Most people without mental issues might not even think twice about a few sleepless nights and naturally would return back to normal. But for me, it kicked in a vicious anxiety cycle, causing me to start to fret about not sleeping. So of course, I wasn’t able to sleep. At its worst, I went about 2.5 nights without sleep. On top of that, the idea that I couldn’t use my typical anti-anxiety strategies to beat this one made me feel defenseless.
Naturally I started trying to figure out what I needed to do to overcome it. I ordered about 4 books on insomnia, I read about strategies on the internet, I tried to play phone games at night to get me to sleep, taking baths at night, journaling, podcasts, and so on.
Just to go into a little more detail, here are some of the things they recommend doing if you struggle with insomnia (and these are some of the ones I tried):
Establish a bedtime routine. Try to get to sleep at the same time every night, and wake up at the same time each morning so your schedule isn’t all over the place.
Turn off all electronic devices an hour before you sleep. Staring at a screen can actually disturb your body’s natural production of melatonin and can keep you awake.
Try writing a sleep journal before bed, with positive affirmations about sleeping and yourself, to combat any negative thinking.
Put off any important subjects your mind wanders to — think of another time during the day you can go over them in your head.
Limit consumption of caffeine
Try natural sleep aids (melatonin, chamomile tea, etc).
Try taking a warm bath before bed as part of a calming night time routine.
No naps during the day (can mess up your sleep schedule).
And here’s what actually ended up working for me the best:
Nothaving a fixed bedtime routine designed for getting me primed for sleep. The reason for this is that the more that I tried to ready myself for bed, the more thought and power I put into the idea that I needed to do something special to get to sleep. This isn’t the mindset we want to cultivate if we want to be able to effortlessly fall asleep — as we often did as kids.
Not going to bed too late — and try to keep your schedule consistent.
Knowing that if I absolutely can’t sleep, I can take sleeping pills as prescribed by my doctor. However, being able to train yourself to sleep without depending on these if you are able is absolutely essential. But just the idea in itself that I have something as a backup for worst case scenario made a HUGE difference.
Listening to the Sleep With Me Podcast to get to sleep. Seriously, I cannot tell you how amazing this guy is at telling these often nonsensical stories that help you sleep. I am forever grateful. I was able to reduce the amount I took sleep meds by a lot because of this podcast.
Using slight sleep deprivation to make me tired enough the next night to be able to easily fall asleep.
Working on your attitude (see explanation below).
The Trick with Insomnia
The trick is that insomnia is that it often works like anxiety does — and you can call it a form of anxiety. It makes you feel like you have to do something special to get over the problem, when in reality, you just need to go back to not even thinking it’s a problem.
Just like when you’re having a panic attack, you often don’t want to do what the panic is telling you to do, you want to abandon the thought processes entirely that are causing you emotional pain, and ultimately calm down.
I know this can seem like the hardest thing in the world. But it feels harder than it actually is.
Most of the time insomnia boils down to just fear, and fear that the fear will keep you awake.
So, one of the best things you can do is working on trying not to care if you don’t sleep. Try not to let yourself freak out about the bad things that might happen to you if you don’t sleep. You really have to learn to just accept whatever comes with not sleeping and deal with it, rather than be threatened by it.
What You Tell Yourself Matters!
Try to tell yourself positive things about your sleep that will help to dispel your fear. Here are some things I told myself:
“Even if I can’t sleep, I will still get through the next day simply because I will have to. Nothing bad will happen.”
“Worst case scenario, I’ll just take a sleeping pill if I have the work the next day.” (I rarely ended up even having to take these. The idea is tricking your brain by reassuring yourself you CAN do it if you have to).
“I’ve gotten through sleepless nights before just fine, even if they suck.”
And lastly, I also wouldn’t do what I initially did — buy a bunch of books, try to establish some special night time routine, etc — because this all adds to the idea that you’re no longer “normal,” or that you have a bigger problem than you actually do. This can make it feel like the problem is bigger than it actually is.
Hopefully this was helpful to you, and if you are struggling with insomnia and want someone to chat with, feel free to reach out to me via email at email@example.com.
Scouring the world of anti-depressants is difficult and daunting, because you never know how you’re going to react to these medicines, and most of us might be a little disappointed that we even need anything at all.
You might be in one of the most trying times of your life and just want something to help already, yet we all know that finding the right medicine can be an exhausting process of trial and error.
That’s why I write these blog posts. I want to do my best to help others since I am now on my third antidepressant after battling generalized anxiety disorder and mild depression basically my entire life.
That being said, everybody reacts to medications differently, so I can only document my own experiences and what I’ve read based on research, as well as what doctors have told me. You can take that for what it’s worth.
Also as a side note, think about why you’re going on the medication. Do you suppose it’ll be short-term or long-term? All of that depends on whether your problem has been chronic and more based on your brain chemistry or genetics, versus a set of circumstances that has caused your anxiety and/or depression. I think anti-depressants are great for the former; if it’s something you’ve battled with time and time again. Otherwise, I think other measures should be pursued first (exercise, healthy eating, etc).
Lexapro vs. Prozac — What Are Some Differences?
So let me tell you first about my experience with Prozac. Overall, it worked for both my anxiety and depression. Especially for the depression. I still got anxiety sometimes (I didn’t expect any drug to completely eradicate that), but it “took the edge” off of it, so it was easier to manage. It also helped prevent anxiety because it prevented obsessive thoughts from occurring, which is why this drug works really well for those who also have OCD.
It did have a number of side effects that I didn’t like, and these were primarily mental side effects. I am an extraordinarily empathetic person, but Prozac literally muted my empathy. There were also the famous sexual side effects that people report on anti-depressants, but those went away after the first few weeks, and didn’t bother me anyway.
My concern with antidepressants was always a matter of how it’s affecting my brain in the long-term. How is it affecting my personality?
Prozac muting empathy or emotions in general, is an issue. Because that causes a snowball effect. Once my empathy was muted, I was of course less understanding of others which then shortened my temper. I became less patient as a result, less able to relate to others’ circumstances.
Also, being less in touch with your emotions gives you less “data” so-to-speak about how you feel regarding your surroundings. You don’t realize how important emotions can be, just basic emotions, in giving you information about your natural reactions to things. It gives you more insight into why you are the way you are. Muting this is not a good idea.
After nine long years, I went off of Prozac. That’s when you can really see the contrast of you on anti-depressants vs. you off of them. My life became more colorful, more pronounced, and I got my empathy back.
A few years later though, I entered in another really bad stint of depression and anxiety, with no obvious trigger. My brain just DOES this crap.
I fought it for months. Exercise and even marijuana products (since I had a medical marijuana card), bright light therapy, etc. Anything not to go back on an anti-depressant.
Then right in the middle of all of this, my dad became so ill that he was nearing death and eventually died. At that point, I gave in and decided to try Lexapro because nothing else was working well enough.
I was very nervous, because who knows what side effects I was going to be dealing with this time. Maybe I’d get some relief of my issues, but was I going to become fat and emotion-less in the process?
Lexapro — A Great Drug for Anxiety
I had heard multiple times from doctors that Lexapro was one of the anti-depressants that targets anxiety really well. It also seemed to me that it might be possibly a milder drug for me since it is approved to treat only depression and anxiety, whereas Prozac is used for a number of things like bulimia and OCD as well.
During the time I started Lexapro, I had had sleeping problems and a sickening mixture of depression and anxiety all at once.
Then a week or so after taking Lexapro (because it seems to kick in quicker than many other anti-depressants), I began to just feel normal. Like myself again. Instead of the drug muting my emotions, instead I literally felt like I was back to how I was supposed to feel. My normal self, with appropriate emotional reactions to things. It was incredible.
I hardly felt anxiety. Likely even less so than if I had gone back on Prozac.
I literally had no side-effects. No sexual issues, no weight gain thus far, no confused feeling about my emotions, no personality changes, etc. I felt that it completely targeted the issues I was having, with no big mental repercussions.
I found something that really works for me and I couldn’t be more relieved.
So Which Should You Try…Lexapro or Prozac?
Unfortunately, this still isn’t a question I can answer. There are so many variables involved, not to mention that the response to each drug is so individual. We all want answers…we all want to know how something is going to affect us. Unfortunately we really just cannot know unless we try it ourselves.
But what I can say is this: If something like generalized anxiety and mild depression is your primary issue, I would try the Lexapro first, solely based on the fact that it is known for being a better-tolerated drug among most people.
If your issues tend more heavily on the OCD-side and/or severe depression, you may want to try Prozac first.
If your issues are mild in general and do not recur often, then maybe think twice about going on anything! There are SEVERAL tools that can help you, and I still think that exercise is one of the best anti-depressants there is.
What keeps me mentally healthy? Exercise, social interaction, eating well, striving for optimism, and sometimes the extra aid of 10mg of Lexapro. 🙂
I like to write about fear because so many of us are riddled with it in a myriad of different ways. Often we just push it aside or barely are aware that it’s there, lurking behind our actions. Here’s a quote I received in my email inbox from a newsletter recently that falls in this subject:
“Thinking about interior peace destroys interior peace. The patient who constantly feels his pulse is not getting any better.” — Hubert van Zeller
That’s a good quote for the hypochondriacs. Does this sound like you? I’ll tell you it certainly sounds like me! At any rate, I don’t know if this is correlated to my going off of Prozac about a year ago now (after being on it for about ten years), but recently I hit a time in my life where I felt I had so much fear over things that haven’t happened yet.
Not necessarily your paranoid, hypochondriac-fueled fear (although there was that, too), but fear over things like loss, and change. These are normal things to feel fear about — such as the loss of a loved one, fear of the unknown (that’s a big one for me), and especially fear that stems from the feeling of loss of control. But, it was strange because it was such a subtle feeling that was just always sitting with me in the background, and I don’t know what triggered it, if anything.
I kept telling people I’d talk to, such as my best friend and people in my family, and I’d say “I just have so much fear. I don’t know why.” One of them said, “well at least you are aware of it and addressing it now.” While I agreed I was aware of it, I wasn’t sure I was necessarily addressing it just by acknowledging it, but I was hoping that it’d go away on its own. I did know that much of the fear was a general feeling out of control; as though acknowledging my place as a tiny pawn in the universe, and the universe could pull me any direction it wanted without me being able to do anything.
Fast forward til a month or two ago, and I was faced with a situation that made some of my fears feel more real. As though some of what I had feared was about to come to fruition, but it hadn’t quite yet. It was more like just a threat. But it made me take on the experience and contemplate it entirely; almost make myself live the reality of it in a sense (my brain off Prozac is good at putting myself in situations and living them out as though they were actually happening).
What this did for me though, was put me in a place where I had to actively deal with my fear. I had to think about it and come to terms with it. To practice letting go. I meditated on just that idea. I pictured myself being released into the vastness of space, over and over again. I also contemplated on the situation at hand and what I had feared for a few days, and then one night for a number of hours. I ended up crying really hard during this time, but it felt like such a release.
Ever since then, I’ve felt no “in the background” fears like I did before, whatsoever. Like it all disappeared. I suppose the key was realizing that it wasn’t one specific fear I had, but a general fear that manifested through many different things.
If you’re experiencing something similar, try meditating on letting go, and meditate in such a way that works for you. If you aren’t used to meditating or haven’t done it before, you don’t really need to do anything special. What’s important is getting in the mental time every day to deal with your issues. Just pushing them aside will only make it worse.
As someone who has suffered from anxiety pretty much my whole life as well as being born with petit mal seizure disorder (either that, or developing it super early on), I always felt that my anxiety was due to how my brain was “wired” – as opposed to a vitamin/mineral deficiency, nor from just a passing phase or due to something entirely circumstantial (also obvious due to the consistency of it that I have experienced over the years). I also had thought that it was possibly linked to epilepsy because of other people I had met and research I had done that showed me a large number of people that had both. And, I’ve frequently experienced a “brain fog” and “out of it” feeling throughout my life which I have attributed to the epilepsy, especially when I was much younger when my epilepsy was much worse (throughout elementary/jr. high/high school). To top all of this, there are a number of people in my family that have suffered (or still do suffer) from either anxiety, depression, or both, so there was that too.
Not too long in the recent past, I also went through a phase of a few years of getting migraines regularly. I couldn’t tell what they were caused by. Oddly, after a few years of having them, they went away for the most part. The only thing I had changed was that I drank more water, adopted a healthier diet in general, and ate less wheat, dairy, and gluten. I can’t say whether the combination of all of these, one of these, or any of these at all had an effect on my migraines – although I am sure eating healthier and getting regular exercise in the very least helped.
MTHFR mutation and Its Link to Several Disorders and Diseases
So with all of this past history of mine, in my research I recently came across a potential genetic link in people with anxiety disorders – those people testing positive for what they call a “MTHFR” gene mutation. But certainly not only applicable to anxiety disorders, research is showing that this gene mutation may have an influence on epilepsy, migraines, depression, brain fog, fatigue, ADHD, and many other things – depending on which form of the genetic mutation you have. That’s why this research caught my attention. So many of these issues are issues that I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember and that I’ve always suspected were linked, in some way or another. On top of that, it has shown to be extremely common for patients that have been tested to actually end up having a mutation on this gene.
MTHFR stands for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, which is an enzyme that activates folic acid by adding a methyl group to it. Basically, people with a mutation on this gene are unable to activate folic acid (which is actually synthetic) and process it into a type of folate that your body can use. The process that your body uses to convert folic acid to methylfolate is called “methylation.”
The specific name for activated folate (the form your body is able to use) is 5MTHF. This, along with other nutrients, allows your brain to create immune cells and process hormones, as well as process neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine.
By the way, folate is required to make every cell in your body, so if your body is not able to activate it properly, there are naturally many problems that can be a result of this.
Sources of Folate
One of the best natural sources of folate is in uncooked spinach. However, many multivitamins and B-complex vitamins contain folic acid, instead of “folate” or “methylfolate”. So luckily if you do have one of the mutations of this gene, you can supplement with just folate itself (and eating more spinach!) – and look for vitamins that list folate instead of folic acid. However, it really is best to consult your primary care physician or naturopath, as supplementing with folate or 5MTHF is something that can cause noticeable side effects and in most cases you will want to start a small dose and work your way up. What you’ll need is also dependent on your specific body’s makeup and which type of mutation you actually have. Many nutrients and processes can/will be affected upon supplementing with methylfolate, so it’s especially essential in this case to be careful and not just take things carelessly without understanding how it may be actually affecting your body.
Testing for Mutations on the MTHFR Gene
One cost-effective way you can test for this is to order a DNA test from 23andme.com, and you will receive raw data from that test that you can then upload to an online tool such as Promethease or Genetic Genie that will help evaluate whether you have mutations on this gene. There are also doctors who will offer consultations to walk you through the data once you have it and help you interpret the information you receive. I don’t have any personal experience with doing it this way, but rather just found out online that it was a possibility and am passing on the info.
Doctors may also naturally end up testing for any mutations on this gene upon seeing from a lab test that your homocysteine levels came back high, as this can be one sign of having one of the many types of mutations of this gene. Which leads me to the next section…
MTHFR Mutation Types
While there are many types of mutation on this gene, the most well-studied (and what appear to be the most common) are the MTHFR gene mutations that are found at position C677T and/or position A1298C on the MTHFR gene. Having genetic mutations on one of the other will produce different side effects. If you have mutations on both positions of the gene, it is more serious and you will likely have side effects from both.
Depending on how many genes are affected will be classified as such:
Heterozygous Mutation: The most common and least severe of the mutations, this basically just means you have one normal gene and one mutated gene, either on the 677 or 1289 position. In either case, your MTHFR enzyme will only run at around 55–70% efficiency.
Homozygous Mutation: In this case you have two affected genes, and the MTHFR enzyme will only run at around 7–10% efficiency.
Compound Heterozygous Mutation: This is one mutation on the 677 position of the gene and one mutation of the 1298 gene. This is more serious as mentioned above as you will potentially have issues as a result of both of these types of mutations.
Links Between the MTHFR Gene Mutation and Autism
There has also been a great deal of research done at this point on autistic children and the MTHFR gene mutation due to the fact that folate and methylation play such an important role in neurologic development. The research has shown that there is a significantly higher frequency of mutations on the 677 position of the gene as compared to the control population. Increased folinic acid during pregnancy may help offset any risk for mutations on this gene for the baby (see this study to read more on the link between autism and the MTHFR gene).
There is so much more about this particular gene and its potential mutations than I could go into in this article. As with anything in the human body, it gets enormously complex and can be difficult to digest in one sitting. I’d encourage you to do some research on your own (and make sure they are from reputable sources); a few great links that I have pulled information from are below.
All in all, I’m grateful that we have found out what we have about this gene and that it may possibly help me to understand my own conditions. We are beginning to find out more and more about this through the science of genetics that will allow us to understand our own individual genetic profiles and be able to find a relevant treatment for all of the symptoms we might feel but haven’t been able to yet quite find the right diagnosis for (or a diagnosis at all). I am personally excited to continue to find out more about how our genes have a play in what we feel and experience, and how we might be able to successfully find treatment for symptoms, disorders, and diseases that are keeping us from fully enjoying our everyday lives.