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In Praise of Zoloft

This is a guest post I wrote for In Good Company in November of 2011.

Shy

When I run into people I haven’t seen in a while they often remark that while I am still myself, I’m so much more relaxed and at ease than they recall. That’s because for much of my life I lived with a base level of anxiety and for me that manifested as: vague constant dis-ease/worry, insomnia, sporadic panic attacks, being overly controlling of others (as a means to soothe myself), and an eating disorder (also to soothe myself). While I had all these symptoms, I was entirely functional – able to hold down a good job, earn my masters degree, and have close and healthy friendships. And while my anxiety was somewhat normal if you looked at TV or movies, it was also exhausting.

So how did I get to today where life feels pretty easy, I’m at home in my own skin – even when life is hard, and to a place where very little overwhelms me?

I sewed a patchwork quilt. One square at a time of information, experience, aides, and awareness. Each person’s path out of chronic anxiety (or depression) is unique and there ought not be any judgement about one’s choices on the journey. No one road works for all and what matters is that quilt square come together to forms something that works.

I released any shame I had about mental illness. (See Brene Brown’s work on shame).

I worked with some talented and wise psychotherapist that felt great to be in the room with.

I attended a 10-month Dialectical Behavioral Therapy skills group. I seriously think the DBT skills should be a mandatory part of public education.

I practiced and pondered mindfulness. I found sitting groups. I read. I got quiet.

I practiced and pondered compassion and loving-kindness. Again, I found sitting groups. I read. I got quiet.

I connected. I stopped isolating myself with the idea that I couldn’t show others that I was struggling. I reached out. I was real with others. I stopped creating a life where I only let my flaws hang out when I was alone. I stopped pretending like I had it all together, because I didn’t and that kind of isolation will kill anyone.

I paid attention to what worked and what didn’t work for me. I learned I have a lot of HSP characteristics. I learned I do better working for myself. I learned that taking long afternoon naps and putting my needs first leads to happier days, happier friends, and happier clients.

I took a hard look at my family. I saw that the parent I shared so many traits with had depressive, anxious, and OCD tendencies themself – markers that I might have inherited some of what I was experiencing.

I started taking Zoloft (generic name Sertraline). I named this post ‘In praise of Zoloft’ because I think my decision to take medication to treat my anxiety is actually the most unique part of my story. While millions of people around the world are medicated for mood disorders, I was an unlikely candidate. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area where there’s an acupuncturist on every corner. I earned my Master’s degree in Holistic Health Education where I took courses in stress reduction and relaxation, Ayurveda, and nutrition. I meditated. I ate greens. I went to yoga class. I was primed to take an all natural and alternative approach to my anxiety.

But for me, several years ago, the floor finally dropped out of my life and Zoloft got me on solid ground. I’m lucky in that I’ve not experienced one side effect from taking it and I feel like myself, only more even keel. I’m still creative. I still feel all my emotions and cry now and then. I still have worries. I think as clearly as I always have, perhaps more so. It’s just that a tiny dose each day makes my life much better. Anxiety and depression are certainly aspects to spiritual awakening and I wish more people would look there first. That said, I had experienced symptoms my entire life and Zoloft has played a significant role in getting me where I wanted to go.

I believe that medication is not for everyone (though meditation probably is). I believe that Zoloft is not the medication for everyone (consult a professional please). I firmly believe, truly, to each their own. But I wanted to share some of my story so others could see that taking advantage of modern medicine isn’t a failure and it won’t turn you into a zombie. And sometimes, it might just give you back your life.

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Comments

  1. Rachel, I feel like we must be spirit-sisters. Your explanation of “functioning” with a base level of anxiety and still able to “succeed” professionally and obtain your Master’s describes me to a tee (completed by M.A. as one of the highest in my class while also bulimic). But my world has come to the point where it is crumbling a bit and has me wondering what “functioning” actually means – I think we all come to a point where chronic anxiety has to break us down enough for us to examine whether this is something we can truly physically and mentally sustain. I have had panic attacks for the first time in the past couple of weeks and am watching the physical effects of stress take their toll on my body. I asked one of the ER doctors how this could happen to me — I eat healthfully, I exercise. He told me those were just me attempting to control my life (much as my affliction with bulimia was) and that i must surrender. I tried Xanax but did not like the side-effects and while I am not against medication, I would rather find ways to be without it. That said, I am taking SO MUCH from this post and 100% agree that shame does not belong in any of our discussions on mental health. This is why I came out with bulimia and also with my panic disorder — i want to remove the stigmas associated with these things; I wanted others to feel comfortable to say, to announce to themselves and others — “I am struggling.” Thank you for sharing and letting us in so that we may look inward with you.

  2. Marina November 5, 2012

    can I say the words that I felt emerge within me while I was reading this?
    they are: Rachel, I love you.
    thank you. for sharing and being so courageous. it’s as if you’re offering us your hand to take, so that we can walk together through our days.
    xo

  3. Ev`Yan Whitney November 7, 2012

    Hi, Rachel. I am thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing your story with us/me.

    My own story is strikingly similar to yours, down to the fateful decision to take the “little blue pill.” Like you, I tried seemingly everything — breathing techniques, therapy, homeopathy, books, meditation. But the little blue pill was the only thing (the ONLY thing) that took away that incessant feeling of doom, panic, & anxiety (& therefore other side effects, like depression, helplessness, & a low-grade eating disorder). I am forever grateful that I swallowed my pride & that pill. Without it, my current story would be so, so different.

    I do have a question for you, though: Do you have any plans of coming off of the little blue pill? I’ve been on it for about 5 years now, & life is good — so good that I wouldn’t dream of going it without this medicine. I’ve been trying my best to make peace with the fact that I might be on this until I die because that it what it takes for me to live my best, most pleasure-filled life. My ego is not at all very happy about this possibility; it is stubborn & boastfully self-reliant. But it’s for the best ultimately.

    What about you? What are your thoughts on this?

    From one little blue pill taker to another. xx

    • rachel November 7, 2012

      Hi Love.

      Every once in a while this thought crosses my mind. I’m open to seeing about going off it, but it would have to be during a time in my life when I could afford a few months of my body/brain adjusting and, as you know, while you’re building a small business isn’t the time. So, for now, I’m happy to have my daily dose and my stability.

      xoxo to you.

      R

  4. Kristin November 9, 2012

    Wow. This is the first time I’ve come to your blog, and I feel like the universe guided me to this post. I too am someone who has lived with anxiety, insomnia and, occasionally, depression. I meditated, ate well, exercised and was able to accept it as part of being human. I rejected the idea of drugs, at least for me. Until this past month, when my bottom fell out. It felt like overnight that I went from feeling manageable depression to being a sobbing, panic attacking, non-functional mess. I reluctantly tried Zoloft, which had a horrible effect on me and increased my suffering immensely. Based on my reaction to it (and other factors), my doctor told me yesterday that she believes I’m bipolar. I started on new meds immediately, fearing that if I didn’t I would end up in a mental hospital. I already feel better. Sometimes medication is what it takes to save your life–and I’m willing to accept that now.

  5. A November 14, 2012

    I also want to say thank you for this post. I stumbled across your blog for the first time today, and as an anxiety and depression sufferer who has been off medication a long time, I recently made the decision that I wanted to go back on. I am at a place in my life where I feel like I am finally doing the other things (the rest of the quilt!) that I need to do to address my mood issues, and I felt like adding the medication back in didn’t make me a failure.

    I have suffered many side effects from things I’ve tried, and I am scared it will happen again — but I am letting the judgmental part of me that thinks I shouldn’t need medication go, and reading your post and the comments on it have helped affirm this decision for me.

    Thank you so much.

  6. Rene November 18, 2012

    Rachel, I’ve been through the same thing, except I was on Zoloft for two years and then I tried coming off of it. Before I knew it, I was back where I was before but even worse. I’ve been on it 11 years this time and have no plans to come off of it. Thank you for coming out about this!

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