Loving and Leaving Zoloft

Loving and Leaving Zoloft: There are days when I wish Zoloft and me were still a thing, but I also appreciate what my body has done since weaning off. It’s not easy, but it never really is. Parenting is filled with great moments and shit moments, and everything in between. Zoloft helped me see that, and now it feels damn good to still be able to see it on my own.

Hello. My name is Emily, and I love Zoloft.

Or I used to love Zoloft. I don’t know, it’s complicated.

I went on Zoloft six months after the birth of my second child, though in hindsight I probably should have gone on following the birth of my first. I was never officially diagnosed with postpartum depression, but rather a general postpartum mood disorder that left me anxious, irritable, and more often slogging through the day at or below zero.

I spent my days trying to control my temper around my toddler and baby, while wondering how I was going to possibly get from 6 am to 9 pm without imploding, exploding, or suddenly relocating to a distant tropical island…alone.

 

While I loved my children in a deep, primal, profound way, the actual act of mothering never felt natural.

I could feed, clothe, and protect my offspring, but the intricate complexities of the mother/child bond were askew. The hugs, the softness, the unending kindness – they were foreign and confusing to me. Frustration, anger, and guilt were on a constant cycle, with the end result always leading me to wonder why I had become a mother.

I was also haunted by what I now know is anxiety. I was afraid to drive on the highway, afraid to stand too close to the edge of the porch, afraid of loose dogs, and of the building collapsing (the list goes on). Things I knew were irrational but still couldn’t shake.

 

And then I met Zoloft.

The decision to start an SSRI was one of the hardest I’ve ever made, mostly (or completely) because of the pressure I put on myself to “just handle it,” which in hindsight is some world-class bull shite.

I cried for a whole weekend debating on whether or not to start the meds until my husband picked them up from the pharmacy and put one in my hand. It was terrifying and exciting and disappointing and sanguine and sad and a relief.

 

And a week or two in, it was glorious.

My time on Zoloft felt like I could breathe again, like a cloud was lifted that not only let me see more clearly but allowed me to feel hope. It was never a giggly, irrational, pseudo-joy, but rather a calmness, a clarity, and an evenness that took over. For the first time since becoming a parent, I felt like I wasn’t operating from zero, and with this new energy, I turned the looking glass inward.

I could witness my anger and frustration, and pinpoint what was setting me off. I could deal with my toddler’s tantrums and my baby’s fussiness without losing my mind or entering the frustration/anger/guilt cycle. I was organized, content, efficient, and capable of mothering from a place I’d previously never been able to access. It showed me what I was missing, and gave me serious #momgoals that actually felt achievable. I lived like this for a few months and loved almost every minute of it.

 

And then 6 months later, my psychiatrist suggested I try to come off.

My first attempt at coming off was a dumpster fire, to put it lightly. There were tears, self-doubts, worries, questions, and SO MUCH GOOGLING. It was a mess, but the experience ultimately helped me understand what I needed to do to be successful.

Somewhere, in the pits of my failure-induced despair, I realized that literally nothing had changed from when I started Zoloft to when I tried to come off. Although I felt like everything was different, really the only thing different was my brain chemistry. I was still horribly sleep deprived, but I was functioning thanks to my little blue pill.

 

After some introspection, it was clear I would need to replace my SSRI with another S-word: SLEEP.

Before attempting my second try at saying goodbye to Zoloft, I got serious about sleep. We switched up our sleeping situation and prioritized my sleep for the first time since getting pregnant in 2012.

After recouping a month or two of the good stuff, I started to wean myself off Zoloft.

First by a half, then by a quarter, then by an eighth, even though my psychiatrist told me it wouldn’t matter. But for me it did. I needed to know I still had help until I was mentally ready to take the dive. The whole thing took two months, and then one day, that was it.

 

 The weaning process f*cking sucked.

Coming off an SSRI is different for everyone, and if you ask my psychiatrist, I was on too low a dose to have any issues, but DUDE, that shit was HARD.

At every step down (from a whole to a half, from a half to a quarter, etc.) I dealt with brain fog, and brain zaps (a delightful sensation that is jarring, terrifying, and about this close to being painful). For whatever reason, both the fog and the zaps were worse on the fourth day, which would leave me hovering over the pill vial like Gollum with The Ring, coaching myself through each hour of the day until I could go to bed.

I couldn’t drink caffeine, alcohol, or eat anything sugary without making the zaps noticeably worse. I had to re-learn how to access my patience and my calmness, as well as recognize when my anxiety is controlling my actions. Most challenging of all, I had to learn how to give myself grace as I regained my balance, in a Zoloft-free world.

 

It’s been three months since I took my last dose of Zoloft.

Zoloft, for me, wasn’t a cure but rather a tool that allowed me to identify the problem, and come to a solution with an organized, calm, and balanced mind. It showed me that I’m a capable, natural, loving mother when I get sleep, and highlighted how important self-care is.

Coming off was way harder than I thought it would be, and took a lot of time and planning, but ultimately going on Zoloft was completely worth it because of what I learned during our courtship.

There are days when I wish Zoloft and me were still a thing, but I also appreciate what my body has done since coming off. It’s not easy, but it never really is. Parenting is filled with great moments and shit moments, and everything in between. Zoloft helped me see that, and now it feels damn good to still be able to see it on my own.

 

Related: Suffering From Depression: The ‘You Should be Happy’ Myth

Topics:Motherhood
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10 Comments

  • I’ve heard the time you’re on it is what it takes to get off it. I’m glad I was on it but not sure what I’d do if I have a second because the process off it sucks. Great article showing pills help but can be addictive. Sleep would have helped me too instead of doing pills but so much is dumped on us moms.

  • Thanks for this. I recently started taking Zoloft after my mom passed when my sons was o my 8 months old. I have a lot on my plate and a lot on my mind and grieving while trying to be a good mom is so hard. It is helping me to deal with the anxiety and to not verbally beat up my husband on a daily basis. I had a lot of fear in taking the first pill as well and almost didn’t. It’s nice to know there is a future where I won’t need it again.

    One question if you don’t mind sharing. You mentioned a low dose and that your psych said you wouldn’t notice the effects as you weaned. Can you share the dosage amount you were taking?

    • I’m so sorry about your mom. Dealing with loss and adjusting to life with a baby is an awful lot on your plate. I was on 50mg, but I’m sure the experience varies between people. Sending you lots of love while you navigate this part of your life.

  • Thank you all for sharing your stories and comments. I would like to add that there is a small subset of women who are genetically inclined toward neurotransmitter imbalances. These women generally demonstrate depressive or anxious symptoms throughout their lives, including during and after pregnancy. Such women may need long-term or even permanent SSRI treatment, and not because they are “too weak” to wean from the drug. For the majority of women who are able to end SSRI treatment successfully, that is wonderful. For those women who have been advised by doctors to remain on the medication, do not be ashamed! You are doing what is right for you and your family.

  • I’m going in for an evaluation for PPD in a few days, and this article gives me some hope. I’m deathly afraid that I’ll be “hooked” on an SSRI and have to take it for the rest of my life, which is why, like the author says, I’ve tried to “just handle it.” But, that’s not working — not for me, not for my baby, not for my husband… not for us as a family unit.
    Thank you for this. <3

  • Great post!
    Honestly the internet is so full of how great anti depressants are but never talk about the down sides.
    I was on meds for almost 6 years and coming off was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done (the brain zaps are REAL and AWFUL). It took over 6 months and I had to completely relearn how to deal with my children without the barrier of medication.
    Anti-depressants are great and they got me through a rough time but between the weight I gained while on them and the struggle to come off I definitely have a love/hate relationship.

    • Those zaps!! Aaah! The more I talk about it, the more I realize how common they are. Love/hate for sure. Thanks for sharing your story too. 🙂

  • After years of struggling with depression, I finally consented to go on an SSRI. I was appalled at how dramatically it changed my life. It made my insistence on treating my depression med-free seem like an exercise in self-flagellation instead. I eventually went off of it, but I consider myself at risk for PPD. I’m 7 months now, and if I need the med, I’ll go on it. Thanks for your frank and honest story – too many misconceptions and taboos about this type of thing. We are all doing our best.

    • Thanks for your kind words. I like knowing I have it as an option too, and also was strangely insistent on coming off. Hard to sum up fully, but I’m glad you understood where I was coming from. Congrats on your soon-to-be newest addition!

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