A Very Positive Outcome From ZoloftI guess everyone's situation is unique. I'm a 34 year old female and I've had a panic disorder all my life. Sometimes it's been manageable, other times it has made normal functioning impossible. I have been prescribed prozac, aurorix and valium before with no positive effects but lots of negative effects (dizzy spells and increased anxiety). I have tried various forms of counselling also without any real benefit. The only drug that has helped is xanax and I'm reluctant to take that regularly.
About three months ago my anxiety reached a new peak. I know it probably sounds impossible, but I ended up having a panic attack that lasted for three days, It was the most terrifying experience of my life. My whole body was completely flooded with adrenalyn and my thoughts were haywire and frightening, of course I couldn't eat or sleep and I feared that it would never end - that I had gone mad and that my life as I had known it was over. I have a job I love, a partner I love, a supportive family and all kinds of other blessings. It felt like the most terrible waste imagineable.
I went to see a doctor on the third day and he suggested zoloft. I googled it when I got home and read a thousand terrible stories - people who had gone from a normal weight to obesity in a few months, become zombie-like, become suicidal etc. As stupid and vain as it sounds, the scariest thing for me was the idea of weight gain. I'm a little bit obsessive about my weight and I felt I couldn't bear the kinds of weight gain people were describing. But I was desperate and I began to take zoloft, the lowest dose.
At first it just made me sick. I started with tiny, tiny doses as my doctor advised and it still gave me chronic diarrhoea and nausea and I couldn't sleep. In a sense I think this was a good thing as it forced me to rest (I was feeling terrible about getting so little work done). It didn't seem to affect my anxiety one way or the other - it was still awful. During that first week though I started doing some drawings of my anxiety attacks and then changing them so that,in the drawing at least, they were overcome. My psychologist had asked me to picture a devil and an angel on my shoulders. She said I was only listening to the devil, telling me terrible things about myself and my future, and that I needed to try listening to what the angel had to say. Even though I couldn't follow her advise in my mindset then, I began to draw myself over and over again when I was having panic attacks with the angel on my shoulder getting brighter and brighter. I'm still not sure why, but it really helped. After a while I started doing drawings where the yellow light behind her drifted all around me and protected me from the devil on my other shoulder. Does this all sound crazy? I think I was a bit crazy, but this really helped me through that rough period before I felt any positive effects from zoloft, so I thought I would share it too. There was also a book by Dr Claire Weekes that helped me enormously, called Self Help for your Nerves.
I think it took about a month for zoloft to begin kicking in, and I coped through reading Claire Weekes, drawing, guided meditations and taking more rest than I usually would. I did see a psychologist through this time too, but I'm honestly not sure this was very helpful in my case. My anxiety features a particular kind of horrifying thinking patterns, but I didn't find talking about them or reasoning with them or trying to expose myself to them very effective. This could be for all kinds of reasons though - I don't think my psychologist was very skilled, I think my thoughts might be more symptomatic of my body's health rather than any personal history or issues. I have huge respect for these kinds of professionals, but in my case I'm not sure it helped, apart from the angel/devil image which was hugely helpful.
At this time I was also weighing myself obsessively. I am 5'4 and am generally about 103lbs. I lost a couple of pounds when I initially started zoloft but my weight stayed pretty stable, at 101lbs through the first month. I made sure I was walking a few times a week and paid some careful attention to my diet. I am vegetarian and my lifestyle is very hectic, so my diet/exercise isn't always the best. I began to make some changes like making sure I had a really good breakfast, was having enough iron, protein etc. I was still having panic attacks most days through the first month of zoloft, but I think it was becoming more manageable.
A big change I began to make during the second month was to do with my periods. I realise now how lazy and ridiculous this sounds, but I had never even known when my period was coming! It took me by surprise every month! So I began noticing that, trying to figure out when I ovulate, when my pre-menstrual phase might begin etc. Knowing a bit more about these hormonal changes made me realise how much my lack of balance was wrapped up with this cycle and it's been so interesting and reassuring to make myself really familiar with it all. In fact I think this has been the biggest and most healing change for me - learning to expect and work with my pre-menstrual feelings and to plan my workload around times when I will best be able to manage it, and allowing for lots of rest at the times of the month I most need it. I also joined a women's circle, which I'm loving.
I think it was during the second month that the effects of zoloft were really kicking in and for me it felt like a kind of safe, cocooned feeling. My sleeping pattern regulated. I didn't feel at all zombie like (my job requires me to be intellectually switched on all day and I was coping well) and I was at least as creative and productive as I would normally be. But that sense of being in a safe cocoon - feeling physically comfortable and adrenalyn-free, sleeping deeply and well, feeling safe but not in a confused fuzzy way, more a sense of empowerment to enable myself to feel safe - all of this made it much more possible for me to heal myself I think. I was kind of restoring myself from the inside out.
So by my third month on zoloft, by which time the panic attacks had pretty much stopped, my lifestyle had changed a lot. I was (and am) meditating three times a day using guided meditations I found free on i-tunes, my diet is excellent - lots of nuts and seeds, fresh fruit and vegies especially green leafy ones, fish (this is a big step for me...), I'm going to bed an hour earlier and waking up an hour earlier, using the extra morning time for meditation, journalling, drawing, reading etc, I'm exercising really enjoyably. And I find myself able to think through the kinds of worried that triggered that terrible anxiety experience without falling apart - I can stand at a distance from the ideas and assess them and see them for the confused kind of thinking they really are. This is huge progress for me - not just a step forward from my three-day-attack, but from my mental health for all of my life. In terms of side-effects, the only ones I really experienced were a loss of libido and really strange, heavy night sweats. Neither was a big deal and the pay off was great.
At the beginning of the fourth month I decided to wean myself off zoloft. I would much rather not be on any drug and I felt that I had re-rengineered my life to such an extent th at I was apable of managing without it. I didn't consult my doctor about this, which I know you're supposed to do, but I don't have a huge amount in faith in doctors and throughout this experience I have gained a lot of faith in my own judgement. So then I terrified myself for a week or so reading about withdrawal - about rubberband-like snapping sensations in the brain, unmanageable anxiety attacks etc. I cut down very slowly, literally shaving bits off the pills to make the withdrawal as gradual as possible! I have no real idea whether this was effective/necessary, but I didn't experience any withdrawal effects at all.
After a couple of days I did feel the cocooning effect falling away and I was a little sad about that. It's quite a special feeling and I was sorry to lose it. After a couple of weeks my libido returned, which was nice! And now, a month after stopping zoloft. I'm still feeling really good. I have kept up all the changes I made - diet, exercise, meditation, 'mindful menstruation' :), extra sleep, my women's circle, drawing, journalling etc.
So for me, I don't think zoloft exactly cured my anxiety - it's more that it gave me the opportunity/space/relief to rebuild my life so that I could heal myself. This time four months ago I had no physical or mental energy or motivation to do anything to help myself and I had arrived at a stage where I really couldn't see any light at the end of the tunnel at all - just despair. I had even thought of suicide - not because I wanted to be dead, but because it was feeling too difficult to go on living. I can honestly say now that I love my life. I have never been able to say that before - a good week for me has tended to be a week with only one or two major attacks. I haven't had an attack now for two months.
I know the timefr