May 14, 2005

I was not coping well. One evening, after an unscheduled one-hour cry, I lifted my head to find my pastor holding my hand. Before putting on the collar, he’d been a psychologist. The next day we talked, and I talked with my doctor, and the consensus was that I could use some help.

They suggested I try a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (an SSRI), to assist my brain in maintaining an adequate supply of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which apparently makes you happy. You make it yourself, but your body throws it away. An SSRI says to your body, “Hey, don’t throw that away.”

My doctor recommended Zoloft and said that I would not notice a difference at first, but others would. So when I talked to other people about it, and they asked how I was doing, I would say, “Ask Laurie.” And they did. And Laurie said, “It’s like he’s a different person.”

This new person actually has patience. He does not obsess over things or freak out. His nights are not haunted by anxiety and bad thoughts, and his days are not a series of internal arguments. He does not look for a length of rope whenever life becomes overwhelming, because life no longer seems overwhelming. He also empties the dishwasher, although I’m not sure if that’s a direct result, a side effect, or a coincidence.

As for the side effects, I’ve had them all. After episodes of nausea, sleepiness, dizziness, dry mouth, sweats, headache and diarrhea, I thought to look at the literature that came with the pills. (When in doubt, read the instructions.) In the “Frequently Asked Questions” was “If I get side effects, will they go away?” And the answer, written by someone in the White House, was “In studies, few patients were bothered enough by side effects to stop taking Zoloft.” I would characterize that reply as evasive. In fact, the actual answer is “No. Every day you will spin the wheel of fortune and Zoloft will select one or more side effects, or perhaps none at all, to surprise and delight you.”

During our initial discussion, my doctor also told me that one possibility was “a sexual side effect, in men.” And then, as the sensitive and caring physician that he is, he read the look on my face and said, “It doesn’t happen to everybody… everybody has a different chemistry, you know… and we can take you off it… and try something else… if that happens… if you like.”

As it turns out, that side effect is really cool. So I’ll keep taking this stuff. Laurie likes it when I don’t spiral into madness because the freezer was turned off by a bag of frozen vegetables, and she also likes it when I empty the dishwasher. In fact, she thinks Zoloft should be put directly into the water supply.

Looking back, it seems odd to me to think that my impatience, depression, short temper and paranoia may have been caused by a shortage of a simple chemical. I’d always thought they were character flaws.

May 23, 2012

A lot has happened since 2005, but I’m still taking Zoloft. The side effects are long gone; only the positive things remain. I’m grateful.


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