Angela Arsenault.

She called me one day and said that her shower vision was that the two of us would write a book. I myself rarely have shower vision because I am rushing through it so quickly to get it over with. I have walking vision, car passenger vision, and fuck I wish I were sleeping vision.

Nonetheless, I was excited to be part of her shower vision even if it had to do with writing. a. book.

In addition to being a good friend she is an incredible (and real) writer. Like, people pay her to write.

Instead of writing a book. (Hard, conclusive, deadline-y) we decided to write some mutual posts. Letter style. We tried a podcast, and had loads of funny, relevant conversation, but the technology won and we went back to wordpress where everything is pretty easy. Except spacing. And editing. And adding media.

In any case we want you guys to chime in. School us, ask us, answer us. Just don’t ignore us.

Here goes:

ALL GREAT LOVE AFFAIRS MUST END, RIGHT?  ANGELA ASKS

I love Zoloft. I love it because I hate panic attacks, and for the past seven years Zoloft has helped me to be relatively panic free. That’s in stark contrast to the seven years before Zoloft during which I had crazy awful panic attacks, kind of on a daily basis. For seven years. I’m not joking when I say that it was bad enough to give me PTSD. What kind of bullshit cycle is that?!

So – I love the Zoloft effect. And I want to stop taking Zoloft.

I want off this incredible ride that’s been incredible mostly for its non-ride-ness. There have been delightfully few ups and downs (of the extreme variety, anyway) and I’ve felt more like myself with each passing year. Without daily panic attacks, I’ve made decisions that are based in truth versus fear, I’ve flown across the country several times in peace versus agonizing anxiety and I’ve birthed two babies without thinking that I would surely die. That’s something.

And yet, I want to get rid of the Zoloft.

I was extremely resistant to medicine as a form of treatment for my panic disorder. Not for anyone else, mind you, just for myself. I had friends and sisters and roommates all taking some type of SSRI for panic or depression or general anxiety and I encouraged their daily ingestion of the wonder drug. But I was irrationally hell-bent on “kicking” my problem with talk therapy alone. Well, talk therapy and yoga, but certainly not with a little pill that was cooked up by a pusher masquerading as a multi-million dollar pharmaceutical company. And I’m not even political.

The truth is, I was terrified of what might happen once I swallowed that pill. I couldn’t quite handle the fact that once it entered my esophagus the whole experience was out of my hands. This fear was made possible by the stunning amount of magical thinking that I did pretty much every single minute of the day. If I call my Dad before he gets on a plane, the plane will certainly not crash. As long as I pay very close attention to my heartbeat, there’s no way I can have a heart attack. My Mom will live forever if I tell her to eat the right foods. And on and on. I had myself sufficiently convinced that I could control death – beat back the reaper on my command – as long as I was vigilant in every possible way. Surprisingly, swallowing some mystery concoction that was designed to effect my brain did not pass my vigilance test.

Luckily, shit got so bad that I had to admit the therapy wasn’t enough. I could discuss all the time in between, perhaps in another post, but for now I’ll just say that I got the prescription, I took the pill and then I had two of the worst days of my life. Anxiety that was off the charts, freak-out dreams of epic proportions and tears that would not stop. Like, would not stop. It fucking sucked.

And then things evened out, and I stopped having panic attacks. Problem solved, right? Yes.

As is the natural course of things in this life, solving one set of problems creates a new one. In this case, the new issues were so much less terrifying than having panic attacks all the time that there wasn’t even a decision to make. Deal with the intense drowsiness and decreased sex drive and inability to drive a car more than two hours without falling asleep instead of constantly fearing that I would die in the very immediate future. Yes. Do that.

But did I ever think I’d be doing that for the rest of my life? Not really. I stayed on Zoloft during both of my pregnancies and the subsequent years of breastfeeding, despite the little yellow sticker on my prescription bottle telling me that might not be the safest route. I’ve stayed on Zoloft even after moving from the panic-inducing environs of New York City to the peace and stability of Vermont. I’ve stayed on Zoloft . And now I want to get off.

Trouble is: I’m scared as hell. It can be really tricky getting off this shit. There’s a tapering plan and nutritional supplements to ease the transition but your brain can still be like, “what the fuck are you doing to me?!” and go all drug trip on your ass. Yikes. And of course there’s the possibility that the panic attacks will return. Awesome.

Still, what if I follow the plan and things are a little wacky for a few days but then they even out (again) and I stop feeling so damn tired all the time and I can drive my kids to my parents’ house five hours away without worrying that I’ll fall asleep and kill us all? What if I stop taking Zoloft and my libido returns? What if I discover that my brain has actually been re-trained and those old neural pathways have been shut down and I’m not a fearful, anxious version-of-me-that-I-don’t-like anymore? That would be wonderful.

So I am once again standing before that giant trade-off scale of life. The aptly named weighting platform is ready for my input:

PROS:
1. increased energy, decreased insane drowsiness
2. return of a measurable sex drive
3. admittedly irrational yet very real and important feeling of victory over fear (as long as the panic attacks stay away)

CONS: (note: these are all potential cons, and probably temporary)
1. weirdo fuzzy brain feeling
2. dizziness
3.hallucinations
4. increased anxiety
6. panic attacks

I suppose if all hell breaks loose when I stop taking the Zoloft, I could always go back on it. But it’s the interim I worry about — specifically because I would be a really terrible mom if all those things happened. And worrying about being a terrible mom might actually be enough to cause me to have panic attacks. I’m fucked here, aren’t I?

Damn it, I might be an even better mom if I got off the stuff, though. And if I don’t at least try, that’s just another fear-based decision – exactly the thing that I want to move away from.

The scales seem oddly balanced to me right now. I need some help to tip them.

ANNA SAYS:

I too am on vitamin Z. I was on other stuff that I liked better but then I wanted to get pregnant and this was supposed to be safe so I switched. And it costs four dollars. And I want to stay alive. I also was hesitant about starting medication, it seemed like cheating. A short cut to happiness and whatever was unique and edgy and interesting about me would be muted. But like I wrote about here, I realized that things were really pretty bad a lot of the time, and edgy didn’t trump paralyzed.

My totally biased response is…its working, why would you stop?

Is there evidence that your neuropathways have been/could be retrained?

You say your lists are balanced but I know you want to try to go off, look at the caveat next to your “cons” list. And if pro #3 isn’t so than there is nothing to talk about at all. (3. admittedly irrational yet very real and important feeling of victory over fear (as long as the panic attacks stay away)

For me I tolerate a decreased sex drive, weight gain, and tiredness all so that I want to quit life less. I am depressed and Zoloft helps me stay opt in most of the time. You tolerate similar side effects, and although you don’t list weight gain I think it is probably a symptom as well. Of course you wish them away, but remember the feeling that every heart beat was imminent death. Elevators, planes, total system failure? I don’t know your particular demons, but I really do think fearing fear is the only legitimate fear. Zoloft is your weapon against it. I can’t THINK myself out of clinical depression. Maybe you CAN think yourself out of  panic disorder?

I’m not a doctor…but maybe try a different medication or a lower dose or no change at all?

I vote yes to vitamin Z.

It is brave brave brave to admit that you have a mental health problem, to seek therapy and treatment. I don’t mean to insinuate that you will never be cured, but I am wary of the “the medicine is working so lets stop it” instinct that is common with mental health problems.

You are wonderful either way.

 

 

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Anna Rosenblum Palmer is a freelance writer based in Denver, CO. She writes about sex, parenting, cat pee, bi-polar disorder and the NFL; all things inextricably intertwined with her mental health. In her free time she teaches her boys creative swear words, seeks the last missing puzzle piece and thinks deeply about how she is not exercising. Her writing can be found on Babble, Parent.co, Great Moments in Parenting, Ravishly, Good Men Project, Sammiches and Psych Meds, Playpen, Crazy Good Parent, and YourTango. She also does a fair amount of navel gazing on her own blog at annarosenblumpalmer.com.

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