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 recognize that, and now it feels damn good to still be able to see it on my own.