In June 2016, I went to the doctor in utter despair.
I cried all the time. I had panic attacks on a regular basis, and they were getting worse every day. Despite an outward appearance of “having it all,” I couldn’t remember what being truly happy and unconditionally loved felt like. I was tired and felt hopeless. Broken and lost.
I needed help, and I didn’t care what anyone else’s opinion was–I was going to get it where I felt like I needed to get it from.
I went to a local doctor’s office I’d visited years ago upon a good recommendation, and I met the loveliest woman who I now explicitly see as my primary care doctor. I talked. She listened. She saw ME. I felt like it was the first time that had happened in a long time. I sobbed. She was going to help me.
Her recommendation for me was 50mg of Zoloft. We decided this was the best treatment for me at the time. In addition, I was given .5mg Ativan pills to take as needed to assist me during my frequent and more intense panic attacks. I had hope.
What is Zoloft?
Zoloft (Sertraline) is an antidepressant belonging to a group of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Sertraline affects chemicals in the brain that may be unbalanced in people with depression, panic, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive symptoms.
It is commonly prescribed and used to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). (More: https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-35-8095/zoloft-oral/sertraline-oral/details)
While SSRIs are considered safer than similar functioning drugs, they are still dangerous chemicals introduced into your brain that should be closely monitored for unwanted side effects and unhealthy behavioral changes.
What is Ativan?
Used to treat anxiety, Ativan (Lorazepam) belongs to a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines which act on the brain and nerves (central nervous system) to produce a calming effect. This drug works by enhancing the effects of a certain natural chemical in the body (GABA). (More: https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-6685/ativan-oral/details)
I was officially diagnosed with general anxiety disorder (GAD), but I can tell you that I also most likely suffered from undiagnosed depression, panic disorder, and OCD. Not surprising considering OCD runs in my family. And, who knows, I perhaps had a touch of PTSD and post-partum depression from the rather traumatic birth of my son and the months that followed what should have been a truly joyous event (stories to be told another time).
In summary, we’ll just say I was a hot mess emotionally–and it’s no wonder considering the events I’ve experienced in my life.
Did you know 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. has a mental health condition?
–National Institute of Mental Health
I didn’t. That statistic is staggering.
Adjusting to the Drug
With what I saw as my salvation in hand, I began taking my prescribed dose and gave my body permission to integrate the drug into my system.
I don’t think it was easy for me to acclimate–after all, it’s an unnatural substance “correcting” the way your brain currently functions–but I do think it was a relatively smooth transition. I experienced dizziness, drowsiness, dry mouth, loss of appetite, increased sweating, and insomnia. I had periods of time where I felt mechanical and out-of-body. I slept a lot and then I didn’t. All in the range of “normal” as my body continued to adjust.
How SSRIs Work
SSRIs ease depression by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is one of the chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) that carry signals between brain cells. SSRIs block the reabsorption (reuptake) of serotonin in the brain, making more serotonin available. SSRIs are called selective because they seem to primarily affect serotonin, not other neurotransmitters. (More: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/ssris/art-20044825)
Strength to Move Forward
After about two weeks, I was feeling clearer than I had in years. There were already major life changes in progress, and Zoloft and Ativan made it possible for me to move forward and function despite the upheaval. My medication wasn’t a magic wand waving all my problems away. It was like a cast supporting me while I healed myself.
The Dark Days
Make no mistake, there were still many days I spent on the floor of my bathroom appreciating the cold, hard tile on the floor. I wished life wasn’t so hard. Living was painful to me. Sometimes, I didn’t think I wanted to do it anymore. I still felt alone. My soul cried out for relief. But, I endured because I had support–my family, my friends, my medication.
Amplifying the Effects
What I failed to understand at the time, was that I had already begun to walk towards my higher calling. The process of shedding energies that no longer served me had already begun (a trickling, really). However, I had gotten a taste of what happiness felt like and it felt GOOD. I wanted more because I was so starved for it. I appeared to be functioning better, too. But, as I hinted at earlier, there were some intensely difficult things happening simultaneously in my life that I was still struggling to navigate. Every time I felt I had it all together, it was like I was thrown back into an emotional abyss where I couldn’t tell up from down.
I returned to my doctor to talk about it, and we decided to turn my Zoloft up–doubling it to 100mg. We also turned up my Ativan to 1mg to enable me to increase my dosage if needed depending on the severity of my panic attack (or take half a pill to maintain the same level of relief that had already been available to me).
Freedom from False Light
In my mind’s eye, it’s been a long road…
728 days to be exact.
This is how long I’ve been medicated.
This is how long until I won’t be.
Check it out!!!
In March 2018, I decided that these unnatural substances could no longer call my physical body home as I walk my highest path. I also don’t need them anymore anyway. I can generate my own light now. The medications helped me reignite the fire that had gone out so long ago. Today, I easily keep that fire burning, and I KNOW it will never be extinguished again.
UPDATE! As it turns out, I never even finished those 11 days… didn’t need to! Throwing those last few bits into the trash was THE best feeling in the world.
Upon making my decision, I gradually began to cut down my dosage. I hadn’t needed to take an Ativan in over a year so that was a non-issue. I took my 100mg Zoloft pills and started cutting 1/4 of the pill off; effectively, reducing my dosage to 75mg/day. I did this for one week.
I tend to go all out on my decisions (I don’t recommend this, btw), so my intention was to detox as quickly as humanly possible (bahahaha!). After my week was up, I was still feeling great! No side effects. So, I started cutting my pills in half, reducing my dosage to 50mg/day. Go me! Not so much…
A week later, I hit a detox wall. Most people are aware how ugly detoxing can be for people addicted to hard drugs. Detoxing from antidepressants doesn’t look like that, thank God. It can still have unpleasant side effects though, and should absolutely be done under the advisement of a professional. Oops.
After a gentle yet strong reprimand from my loved ones, I slowed down my detox process and plateaued at 50mg/day for a total of 4 weeks. Then, I decreased my dosage to 25mg/day. I will have taken this dosage for a total of 4 weeks once the process is complete.
I’ve recently visited with my doctor and all is WELL!
A True Reflection
I’ve experienced MASSIVE physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual growth over these past few years. I can confidently say (and many can confirm) that I’m not even remotely the same person now that I was before this journey began. And, every moment I spent on the floor was WORTH IT.
I’m incredibly grateful to the medications that assisted me through one of the most tumultuous times in my life. I would not have handled these situations as well as I did without them (and by “well,” I mean sometimes I still totally lost my shit). I also needed to make adjustments to my medications as my life became more difficult to manage on my own. However, medication is NOT responsible for the changes in my life. It merely enabled me to start living my truth and making the necessary changes aligned with it. I let medication drive the train when I couldn’t… but now I’m more than ready to be back in the driver’s seat. There will still be dark days sprinkled in amongst all this sunshine, no doubt, but I now know that I’m strong enough to navigate any emotions and mental strain that may come from even the toughest hurdles. I can overcome without the assistance of foreign substances. You might say, I’m finally more comfortable standing in my own power.
Today, I SHINE brighter than I ever dreamed possible. This isn’t bullshit; it’s TRUTH. I’m undeniable proof that no matter what is swirling around you–trying to pull you back down into the mud–that you CAN stand up. If you want to. When you’ve had enough. When you’re ready. And, it’s okay if you need a helping hand. You can do it on your own, but you don’t have to. You may find yourself quite taken aback by the people in your life that will gladly step forward to help you if you only ask.
In fact, I’m here, too. What do YOU need?
Sharing Our Pain
I think it is so important to share our stories with each other. You may be reading this thinking you could never share your own story, and that I’m some sort of brave wayshower you only aspire to be like. But, I’ll respectfully have to disagree. We are ALL wayshowers. Sharing our stories with each other is one of the most important ways we can prove we are not alone in our trials in this life. And, we create joyous space to celebrate and support each other’s triumphs!
“But, lots of people have stories like mine. The world doesn’t need another.” Ummm, stop it. We absolutely DO. Because your story is YOURS. It’s your unique perspective and journey. Many struggle with mental illness, but what we struggle with, how much we struggle, how it manifests–that’s all uniquely OURS. Our feelings are unique. Our actions are unique. And all of it leads to a unique experience. You may resonate with all or part of my story. I look at it as a sacred duty to share your own story for others that may resonate with all or part of YOUR unique journey.
“Stigma shames people into silence.” –National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) https://www.curestigma.org
With time and your help, mental illness will be empathized and understood rather than stigmatized and masked in silence. The societal perception of mental illness won’t change if we don’t take action to change it.
I encourage you to share your own stories–whatever they may be–to release pain and create space. I know I’d love to read it.
Shine bright, loves. Even on the dark days, there is ALWAYS hope.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness – https://www.nami.org/
- StigmaFree Campaign – https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Take-the-stigmafree-Pledge
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America – https://adaa.org/supportgroups
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance – https://secure2.convio.net/dabsa/site/SPageServer/;jsessionid=00000000.app204b?NONCE_TOKEN=46CD9476D9051B88E0F05820F4C92298&pagename=peer_landing