Such A Pill

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.

 

 

Published by

Anna Palmer

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.

18 thoughts on “Such A Pill”

  1. Can a neurologist chime in here? The pill is not altering your brain pathways. That just doesn’t happen. I understand the desire not to take a pill but the likelihood of relapse is very real given the prior history. These pills save lives and quality of life. The side effects can be unfortunate but there are ways to deal with them. SSRI holidays for a weekend to increase sex drive. A different pill not as bad for weight. I have seen too many people try this self-experimentation and come out the wrong end. Be happy we live in a time where you can be treated as opposed to years ago. Don’t feel stigmatized by mental illness. Vitamin Z was made with the best intentions and thank goodness for it.

    1. Thank you. As you could probably tell from my response I think Angela should stay on the medication. Glad to have an MD perspective…its always nice when science happens to align with my gut response.

    2. dr. siddiqi – thank you, sincerely, for taking the time to offer your thoughts. i guess part of my problem (for lack of a better word in this moment) is that i’ve known a few people who’ve gone on an SSRI for panic and then gone off a few years later with incredibly positive results. i want to know if that could be me… i would never attempt to write my own de-medicating-prescription (did i just invent a term?). i’ve spoken with my physician (who is not a psychiatrist) about a few possible paths that would take a very gradual approach and could be abandoned at any point if things weren’t looking good. that’s the only way i’d even consider this experiment.

      i respect what you’re saying, and i am so very thankful for the overwhelmingly positive changes that Zoloft has made or helped make in my life. i also wonder what my life would be like NOW without it. does that make sense?

      1. That makes perfect sense. I am comforted that the plan to do it would involve a gradual approach with a way to deal with things if it did not go as planned. I understand your desire to not take a medication if you think there is a chance you could do without it. At the same time, there is absolutely no shame or “weakness” in taking medication for mental well being. I think this is something that needs to be reframed in the public eye. If we were talking about severe allergies that required daily medication we would be talking about coming off of medication in a different way. People have a hard time getting around the fact that the brain can be equally vulnerable to illness and needs treatment like any other condition. This is part of the stigma. I believe in the healing power of the body as well. However, there are times it needs help, and that is okay. I support whatever decision you make. I would just ask that you do not blame yourself that your brain acts this way. It is not your fault. Also, if you end up needing medication, there is nothing wrong with that. If you don’t end up needing meds great as well. Good luck with whatever you decide. You have a great support system in place which is the most important thing.

  2. I used to have something I guess would be akin to panic attacks. It would mostly when I was really overtired and over analyzing. I also had a terrible eating disorder, at that time. I went to a clinic for eating disorders. I got worse because I was in group therapy with people with different kinds of eating disorders and we all kind of got ideas from one another on how to get even worse.

    I then added a whole nother eating disorder to my eating disorder and went from pretty bad to really worse.

    Eventually I heard of a new group experience. A small Cognitive Behavior Therapy group at the eating disorder clinic. I signed up. I was the oldest one in the room. I believe I was even older than the woman in charge.

    Week after week, myself and one young college woman would show up. We were the only consistent participants. I did every single thing this woman told me to do. As did the college student. One day the woman in charge recommended an anti-anxiety medication to me. I adamantly refused on the grounds that I cannot, cannot, cannot stand my body to be in some altered state. I don’t drink for the same reason. I don’t and never have done drugs. Same reason. I don’t even take Advil or Tylenol.

    The college woman took the medication. She spoke each week of feeling calmer, of being in a better place of decision making, etc.

    I nearly caved, several times, but I have this incredible belief in the human body and it’s ability to heal itself.

    The college woman healed her eating disorder. As did I. She was certainly in a calmer place than I was. For sure.

    After some time had passed we graduated from the program. I think it was six months? Once a week for six months, maybe.

    At any rate, I healed. I tossed the eating disorder and faced my demons.

    Slowly, slowly, slowly, slowly, I began to poke away at the things that made me the most anxious. Flying was a big one. I would literally have a panic issue IN FLIGHT.

    Over time I addressed this as well.

    I guess, for me, in response to Angela, I’d say go for it.

    Why not? Trust yourself. Your desire to find out how it would work out seems like enough of a reason to move towards the idea of it.

    Self-talk is always an option, right?

    Certainly whether or not I am awake on a plane, the pilot is still the one flying it. That is what I tell myself. My personal chant on a plane is “The pilot is flying the plane. The pilot is flying the plane.” (In other words, it’s not in my hands and I have to trust someone other than myself. Which is why I go with the airline I trust the most, JetBlue. I trust them. They fly me. We get there.)

    I think that, for me, that is what produces my anxiety. My concern that maybe the other person or thing in control is not good at their job. Or that they need me.

    I have recently learned that this is a very egotistical (of me) point of view.

    If everyone needs me, then I must think I’m some pretty Hot Poop.

    The more I recognize that the things that create anxiety in me are more about control and my need to let go of it, the funnier it all seems and the better I can self-talk.

    (At this moment, I will stop typing, hit the submit button and take a chance that I have not over-shared, or, if I have, that you won’t hold it against me. Please recognize how poignant your writings are, that they stem this much internal thought for me. I appreciate your willingness to put yourselves out there and am grateful for this space, below, to do the same.)

    1. Annie, although in this case you and I are of opposite opinions I am so so grateful that you write here. This is exactly what Angela and I want…a place for people to “overshare” although I think there is no such thing as oversharing. Particularly in Shelburbia. If someone has clicked through to the post and the comments the should damn well expect sharing. And swearing.

    2. thank you, annie. i agree with anna that there is no such thing as oversharing. not in this forum, anyway…

      and i appreciate your support. i think i feel an extra amount of freedom to experiment with going off the medicine precisely because i know how great it is and that i could go back on it if quitting made me feel like ass.

  3. Oh! By the way, I have moved my websites to Weebly (www.weebly.com) and find it to be a much more user-friendly, for me, place that WordPress. No offense to the WordPress people, who kindly housed my websites, before.

  4. As someone who just had to up her dosage of her own little pill yesterday, I wish you the best of luck in whatever you decide. Personally, with my un-/under-medicated anxiety/depression still so fresh in my mind, I plan to keep taking it as long as it’s working. Working meaning that it gives me days of inner peace during which I can truly enjoy the time I spend with my child, husband, and living life, in general. That’s not something I ever want to give up. Life’s too short to live with constant worry/fear. If it makes me weak, so be it. At least I’m happy…and, more importantly, so is my family.

    1. Kim – I don’t think taking medication is weak. Quite the opposite, I know from experience that it takes a special kind of strength and determination to live a better life – which is ultimately a gift to yourself and everybody you love. My curiosity is mostly just that: I’m wondering if my panic issues have, in any way, been “cured.” If not, I’d vote to medicate in a heartbeat.

  5. As a person who tried twice to go off the meds unsuccessfully I would say you should absolutely try it. I think it’s something everyone who is on meds for their mental illness should try. For some terrible reason being on medication for panic or depression or any other mental illness is something that no one wants, but if one has a non-functioning or over functioning liver then OF COURSE they would take meds their whole lives because other wise it would kill them. Not taking Lexapro would literally kill me, I believe. I have had great and happy times where I thought I could go without it because wouldn’t it be great to be strong and proud and not sweat at night because I’m not taking psych meds?!?! Oh wait, turns out when I stop taking the meds I become depressed and have major panic attacks within weeks and then have to taper back up and the time between not having the life saving drugs in my system and having them in my system feels like years even though it’s only a couple of weeks.

    I encourage you to try it because if it works and you are “cured” then great! If not, you will have some very hard times as you taper down and taper back up and you likely won’t do it again. I am scared for you because you aren’t talking to a psychopharmacologist about this. I am scared because your PCP is likely not armed with the same level of information on this subject as a specialist is. When you decide to do this I hope you will consult an expert on the matter. Someone who, while you are tapering down can help you manage the panic, if it comes back. I am scared for you because people with mental illness almost always want to go off their meds when they feel better and it rarely turns out well.

    All that said, I think you need to try it. You will know one way or the other pretty quickly. If it goes well and you are cured I’ll be thrilled for you. If it goes poorly and you need help dealing with daily life then I will help. I have walked in your shoes and it went south for me. I hope your path goes another way.

  6. It sounds like you need to if only to put the question to rest and no longer have to wonder – but with a bottle at hand to go back on if you need it, friends to call on, and knowing that if you decide/need to go back on there is no shame in that, as others have said.

    I was on Zoloft once and had similar problems (for example, that sex seemed like a totally bizarre monkey-like behavior – why would someone want to stick a body part in someone else??), and eventually switched to Lexapro. I don’t remember any issues with the switch, but I tried to get off Lexapro several times, carefully tapering over three months (three months!!) only to give in and go back on around the 5ml mark. I could feel in my blood that something was wrong – my veins buzzed, my head buzzed, I was inexplicably rageful and desperate feeling. It terrified me. But I went back on not because I thought I needed it (it was clear to me that it was withdrawal doing it and not an indication of the need for the drug itself), but because I was afraid I’d get fired during the taper. It was that bad.

    Fast forward a couple of years to when I was pregnant with my first. My OB told me I should go off if possible because it’s linked to breathing problems in infants. And I wanted to go off anyway. This time, my family doctor told me to take huge amounts of Omega 3s (both flax seed and borage oil – I think 200mg of each but I can’t remember). So I did that and actually did a very quick taper (one month) and it was absolutely problem free. I don’t know if it was the Omega 3s or the pregnancy, but it was painless. So I would do that again if I needed to taper.

    I have been off ever since and it’s been a wild ride. I have had many high highs and many low lows, but I also had two kids and lost a father. So life has had a lot more highs and lows. I’ve also been in pretty intense therapy for the past year trying to slay some pretty big childhood demons. So I’m trying that first but am open to going back on if I need to at some point.

    I agree with Anna, Maura, and Omar that there is a bit of a stigma to it and there shouldn’t be. If you need it, you need it and you should take it.

  7. I love this forum – two fantastic bloggers back-and-forthing, in a highly readable way, about important topics. Yesterday I told Angela just this. Lame, given that I shared nothing. So I’m back.

    I have close experience with conflicted feelings about using medications to deal with panic attacks but it’s not mine to discuss. What is mine to discuss is that I used to take Concerta to address ADHD. It was diagnosed by my therapist, also a PA who could prescribe. I absolutely agreed with his diagnosis. That said, many of my friends and family thought I was being silly, or just trying to pack more productivity into my day, so the whole four years I was on meds I felt conflicted. Clearer, calmer, less anxious because I wasn’t flitting from thing to thing without finishing the next, but conflicted. When I forgot to refill my birth control pills six years ago and decided we might as well start trying for a kid, I also stopped bringing the paper-prescription refill in (it’s a controlled substance). I haven’t been on meds since. I feel like there must have been some good hormones that helped my brain balance associated with being pregnant and nursing (I actually pulled some research on this and it might be so) but now that my boys are 3 and 5 I have days when I really feel like I need medication. For some reason, though, I don’t feel like I am able to go that route unless I do all of the “lifestyle” things that help my brain first: run every day, sleep more than 5 hours, set up rules that help me to quit accumulating clutter, etc.

    Anyway… that’s my two cents. And a bit more on why I love this initial A/A co-blog.

    1. nicci – you just articulated exactly how i felt about going on meds in the first place. like i shouldn’t go that route until i was positive that all other remedies had been attempted. should come as no surprise that reading it from you, i feel inclined to tell you to just do what you need to do to help yourself – including going back on medication. but in the very next second, i’m thinking, “if those lifestyle changes could really work, that’s better than medication.”

      conflicted, indeed.

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