What You Should Know About Niacin and Depression
Everyone needs to know the truth about niacin and depression, and how it can save someone's life.
The link between niacin and depression
I sat in my chair staring at the flames that danced in the fireplace. My mind was racing through my options. Do I call my doctor and admit how I feel? Do I beg my husband to come home? What will they do if they find out? Do I give up and embrace the emptiness? This is my last chance. If this doesn't work, I quit. I give up.
When it was really bad
In December of 2015 I had a crushing, but eye-opening realization. I was depressed and had been for a long time. There had been minor highs and lows along the way, but it had been constant. No one knew. Not my best friend, not my husband, not my family. If anyone suspected, I guarantee they had no idea how bad it was. I didn’t know how bad it was. I hid it very well, even from myself.
It started seven years ago when our family had a major upheaval. My husband got a different job, we moved across the country, and away from my family, friends and support system. We moved four times that year before we moved into our house. I had no friends during that time, and even once we moved into this house, it was about 8 months before I had a friend (yes, singular), who moved a few months later. I had 5 kids under four when we left, and I was alone a lot. I was lonely a lot.
Right as this first move happened, my health took a dramatic downturn, and I had a whole slew of health problems I didn’t understand. Life was hard. I cried a lot. I used to talk to my husband about the difference between who I was when I was younger and who I was then. I used to be vibrant, friendly and engaging. I had a powerful positive energy. Now I didn’t want to talk to anyone, be around anyone, or be noticed. I stopped talking. I wanted to disappear. When I went somewhere potentially social, I went, I sat, I left. I avoided contact with anyone. I didn’t go to any extra activities unless forced to.
Three years ago it got much, much worse when a series of really awful events happened. Two friends died suddenly, my best friend moved, my son nearly died, my health took yet another dramatic downturn, all in a 3-month period, and it didn’t end there. That was the worst year of my life, and I’ve had some bad ones along the way. That’s when life got way too hard. I retreated even more. I felt like I was drowning. I used to be a much better mother and wife. I used to be able to handle and enjoy the life that was now crushing me. I used to cope with the challenges and push ahead. I didn’t recognize myself anymore, and I didn’t like myself anymore. I felt like a burden and a dark cloud everywhere I went. I mean, I WAS the dark cloud everywhere I went. My energy was still powerful, but it was a negative energy. I could feel it seeping out of me, filling every room, and as hard as I tried to hold it all in, it couldn’t hold it at all.
In December when I finally realized that I was depressed, I mean really depressed, not just having a really long, really hard time (which is what I thought), I thought it would resolve soon because my doctor had been trying to balance my wonky hormones and work through several of these health problems for quite a while. I felt like I was on the brink of solving the great puzzle of my body.
what depression felt like to me
Unfortunately, with the new year came an even heavier cloud of depression. I started to feel like human poison. I felt toxic. I could hear my angry words coming out of my children’s mouths to each other, and I knew they came from my mouth first. They were struggling emotionally. I could feel the detachment between us, and I didn’t know how to bridge the gap. They were angry and felt abandoned, and I knew it was my fault. They started having meltdowns and behavior problems at school, which had never happened before.
I was at the bottom of a very deep, dark hole, and everyone I knew was up at the top with a shovel. Every request that I couldn’t fulfill, every need I couldn’t respond to was a shovelful of dirt thrown down on me. I was being buried alive.
I began to believe that I was meant to be alone in life. I thought that if I could be in a cabin on a mountainside, all by myself, no one else would be hurt by my presence. That image cascaded into the idea that my husband would be so much happier with a better wife, and that he could definitely find a better mother for my children. This woman would meet their needs when I was so clearly failing. I really was failing them. This wasn’t a figment of my depression, it’s true. I couldn’t help anyone, including myself.
Before long, I started praying every single night that I wouldn’t wake up the next morning. That seemed like the easiest thing. I prayed that I could slip away in my sleep into oblivion. Not to heaven, or wherever this landed me. I didn’t want to be there, feeling like this, because I would only be bringing hell with me.
I wanted to not exist anywhere. I was sure if that happened then my family could find a replacement who would give them what I couldn’t. Dying was all I could think about, and it seemed like the perfect solution. I decided I was replaceable, and the replacement would be so much better. After the initial shock they’d all be better off.
I kept asking permission to leave, "You wouldn't cry at my funeral. You never cry," I said to my husband several times. "If I died, how long would it take you to remarry?"
The lowest point
When I was at my absolute lowest, a song came on the radio called, “You Should Be Here.” He’s singing to someone who is gone and how he wished they could be there for these really important moments. It felt like a call for me to stay, to endure. I cried and cried and begged to be able to leave. I was certain that those moments to come would be better if I weren’t there.
Flashes of my children’s future moments came to me. I saw my girls on their wedding days, smiling but with tears in their eyes, that empty spot beside them. I saw my boys graduating, big, tall men in suits, but still devastated little boys because someone was missing. I reasoned that they were young enough to forget me and latch on to another mom who could be better than I was.
I cried for two days about that song and the conflict between that call to stay and my desperation to leave. The song kept coming on the radio over and over as I drove the kids back and forth to school and activities. The call to stay was constant. The lyrics wouldn’t leave my head, “You should be here.”
I considered calling my doctor and asking for an emergency appointment, but I know from others that finding the right medication and dosage can take a long time, and the side effects can be awful. I didn’t have that much time. I needed help now, NOW, but I was afraid to tell anyone how I was feeling. What would they do?
What saved me
Suddenly I remembered a snippet of a health/food documentary I had watched a few years ago called, “Food Matters”. I love to watch stuff like that. I hadn’t liked this particular one, but I very clearly recalled the interview where Dr. Andrew Saul talks about using niacin (code name for vitamin B3) to treat depression. I looked it up and watched that portion again. I watched it a few times. On my labs it repeatedly showed I was very low in all the B vitamins, and my doctor had put me on Vitamin B12 shots for a while.
I did a Google search and read some personal accounts about niacin and depression, and that it worked quickly, like within a week. I read reviews of different brands and then ordered one with next day delivery. I started with a 1,500 mg dose the very next day when it arrived.
A few days later I felt a little lighter and brighter. By the end of the week I felt like someone had turned the light on. It was like I woke up from a nightmare. I felt so much better. I didn’t think about dying at all. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay. Those thoughts were GONE, and they haven’t come back.
I gradually I upped my dose to 2,500 mg, and five days later, I felt like myself for the first time in YEARS. I felt good. Everything felt possible. I didn’t lose it over every little thing. I could cope with life’s normal events and challenges. One of my kids breaks a dish, which sets off the alarm system, and I have to dash out of the shower to take the call from the alarm company so they don’t send the cops, and my husband is out of town. That did get my heart moving a little, but not a big deal. Once it was handled I went and finished my shower and went on with the morning, no problem. I'm normally a very even tempered person, but the depression had me on edge, and every little thing set me off.
Why I had to share about niacin and depression
I felt so very, very strongly that I needed to share my experience, even though it is excruciating to expose such a personal battle and dark place. At first I shared it on my personal family blog, because that was the only platform I had. Now I feel like I should move that to this blog because I need to reach a larger audience. This is important. Niacin saved my life. Literally. What if it could save someone else?
I’m an intensely private person. Showing weakness, imperfection, frailty, or any chink in my super shiny, well-polished armor feels like a failure, even though it shouldn’t. Sharing private things is so hard for me, even with my husband and those closest to me. The moment I do, I want to pull it back inside of me and hide it. However, I can’t let go of the fact that this could save someone else’s life, or at the very least release them from a dark, isolating prison. It could turn on the lights for someone else who is hiding the darkness.
One of the lyrics to the song I mentioned above is, “You know if I had just one wish, it would be that you didn’t have to miss this. You should be here.” Even though I technically was here those years, I was missing it. I was missing all of it. They were missing me. I was missing them. I can’t redo that time, but I can be here for the rest of it.
Shortly after I started feeling better, one of my sons, the child who has probably felt the most distanced from me, picked a handful of purple flowering weeds, put them in a cup of water and brought them to me. He said, “These are for the most wonderful mom in the whole world!” and he gave me a big hug.
We haven’t had a moment like that in such a long time. Before I would have thought, “I’m the worst mom in the world, and I don’t even deserve a cup full of weeds.” That day I felt like I could accept the flowers, the accolade, and the hug. That same evening one of my daughters told me about a hard experience she had, and I was able to listen to her, hold her, reassure her and tell her how wonderful and special she is. I’m so grateful for that day. I got to connect with each of my kids for a moment.
My husband and I returned from a trip a month after I started the Niacin, and my 2-year-old kept saying, “I missed you Mom.” I missed you, too. “You’re here.” Yes, I’m here, and it’s good to be back.
Side effects of Niacin
Niacin has one side effect called the niacin flush, or as I call it, the supernova. It’s like burning up from the inside out. Maybe this is what menopausal hot flashes are like. It feels like a terrible sunburn, your skin hurts and feels like needles, heat radiates from your body, your skin gets red and flushed. The more empty your stomach is, the sooner it happens. It lasts about 15-30 minutes for me. This one side effect is absolutely worth it.
But wait! I have good news! If you take it at bedtime, you can sleep through the supernova. I occasionally wake for a nanosecond and feel my face burning and drift off again. If you’re not one to drift off to sleep quickly, have a bedtime snack so it delays the release.
There is a no-flush niacin product, but what little I’ve read indicates it’s not as effective. The flush is how you know it’s working. I like this brand. I’m sure there are lots of brands that are effective, so don’t feel like this is your only option. I haven’t done the research to find out why this works, because right now, I don’t care how it works. I’m just grateful that it does.
Talk to your doctor
I’ve done all this without medical supervision, which I don’t recommend. I’m not a doctor or a nurse or even a CNA. THIS IS NOT MEDICAL ADVICE. I’m not qualified to give medical advice. I am sharing a personal experience. If this interests you, gather your facts and go talk to your doctor about it. I acted rashly because I was desperate. I was going to die.
If any of this resonates with you, if you recognize yourself in any of these words, tell someone. Call your doctor and make an appointment now. Right now. Tell your significant other, your friend, your family. Admit it to yourself. You can climb out of the dark hole. If you recognize someone else in these words, talk to them. Share this post. Don't give up. You should be here.
More to come
This wasn't the end of my journey. I ultimately found out the true source of my depression and how to prevent it. I will share that next week in the hopes of shining a brighter light on a dark subject.
This topic is so important. Please share with everyone. You never know who is silently suffering in the dark. This could be the way back for someone you know or love.
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