Around about 5 years ago I had a routine medical check-up, nothing stressful, but at the time I was knee deep in the type of life that nobody wishes to have.
A bitter divorce, I’d handed over my house to my then wife to soften the blow of the loss of the family unit (to ensure the kids were shielded from the storm), debts were rising and income was dropping. I was in a state but ever the optimist, I’d figured it’d be ok in the long term.
I was coping remarkably well given this constant pressure.
So, the medical. I was clear and in passing I was asked if there was anything else. ‘Could do with something to pick me up’ I said.
Then the next moment I was prescribed 100mg of this nasty, disgusting, life changing drug, and I didn’t know a thing about what it would do to me.
Now Sertraline (Zoloft in the US) is an anti-depressant, like Prozac but much, much cheaper, hence its widespread use. And widespread is a massive understatement. Widespread mis-prescribed more like.
It is also incredibly difficult to remove yourself from it dreadful grip.
I can state right now that if you react to Sertraline like it did, and there are thousand that have, then YOU WILL NOT BE THE SAME PERSON. It is simply like you are a zombie with no clear vision of what’s happening around you and with absolutely NO JOY in your life.
It’s that serious.
And at this point I’d like to apologise to two people, Kirsty and Emily. Products of this beast that I’d become at times when trying to come off the stuff, occasionally you were in the firing line for which I am truly ashamed. It was never either of you, it was all me.
Kirsty, not knowing why I’d have bouts of depression and paranoia, short but intense bursts of anger, and so on, once asked ‘have you taken your pills today?’ Little did she know that she’d smacked the nail right on the head.
It wasn’t until Em came along, a very knowledgable medical person, was I told that should I miss ONE tablet, then three days later I’d fall into this pit.
And I was falling into lots of pits.
I was missing the odd tablet to try to ween myself off and in the process, every three days I was killing the chance of keeping my promise to love someone.
My dose also, it seemed, was not helping me either.
Sertraline is given to people who have been severely affected with mental health issues. For example, Post Dramatic Stress Disorder sufferers start at 25mg doses, finish at 50mg and are weened off slowly at the 10 month mark.
I started at 100mg, double a poor suffering soldiers dose and was stuck on it for 4 YEARS wondering what the hell was going on with me.
What Sertraline does is to reduces the pain you feel in your life, it irons out the peaks and troughs that life throws you, it makes you neutral, neither happy, nor sad, not feeling pain nor true happiness.
The list of side effects is huge and looking at it, I had most if not all.
- Sleepiness YUP
- Nervousness. YUP
- Severe Paranoia. YUP
- Average 2 stone weight gain. YUP
- Irritability. YUP
- Loss of libido. YUP
- Constant Dizziness. YUP
- Constant Fogginess. YUP
- Nausea. YUP
- Constipation. YUP
- Constant Headache. YUP
- Skin Rash. YUP
- Inflamation of psoriasis. YUP
- Continual Thirst. YUP
- Irregular heartbeats. YUP
- Serious alergic reactions. YUP
- Worsening of Depression. YUP
- Decreased Liver Function. MAYBE
- Suicidality. YUP
- Prolonged Sweating. YUP
- Prolonged Irrationality. YUP
- Memory Impairment. YUP
- Sleep Disturbances. YUP
- Manic Thoughts. YUP
- Anger. MAYBE.
This is not the end of the list I can assure you.
There was one low point (in retrospect amongst many) that signalled the end of my association with Sertraline.
I’d been to London, just 2019, summer of last year, middle of the day. I’d had a really good day and upon driving back I sunk into what I’d describe as a tunnel, a tube of despair. I was sliding slowly down this long dark vertical tube, just wide enough for my shoulders to fit, down below was a dense blackness that I hadn’t seen before, leading to who knew where, it was incredibly frightening, I looked up and the sky, just a round hole, it was getting smaller and smaller as I slid down.
I had no choice, I couldn’t move my arms, I was just slipping down. At one point I looked ahead of me through the windscreen, and thought, ‘let’s get the car up to 90 mph and find a wall, let’s get rid of this forever.
But then, from absolutely nowhere, after 15 minutes, I fought it, really really hard. I told it I wasn’t to be beaten, that whatever was happening, I will stop it. I popped on a playlist I have named Jon – Happy (it’s a playlist that makes me happy because I can actually SING all of the songs), I suggest you all get one because 10 minutes later, I was back, I’d come back after years away.
I’d made that decision and had felt happy for the first time in ages. I phoned my best mate Annie, and told her. Said that if you’d have spoken to me 10 minutes earlier, you’d be very concerned for me.
This was the turning point, this was the start of the fight back.
So, what did I do from there?
Sertraline has a pattern to it, it needs to feed your brain with calming chemicals and your brain depends on them to survive, so coming off immediately won’t work, going cold turkey will hurt you and hurt all of those around you. Kirsty in particular knows this.
And you, you don’t know this, you feel blah but you don’t know why. People get upset with you, and you don’t know why, you feel low, but to others witnessing your actions, you are an animal.
And you don’t know why.
So, with Emily’s tutelage, I gradually shaved a little off each tablet until I’d finally returned back to a life I once lived.
Each 100gm tablet was shaved to 75gm, I ran that for a month to 6 weeks. Then to 50gm (that didn’t’ work and I had to go back up the 75gm again for another month), then 50gm for 2 months, 25 for 2 months, then cold turkey for 6 weeks.
At each point I had warned everyone close to me that the drop was happening. I seemed that every time I’d gone down a level, the effects wouldn’t be seen for around 10 days. Mr Hyde would not appear for another 10 days, so I timed it that on the 10th day, I’d lock myself away from my family and climb the wall on my own.
It was appalling, the scene in Transpotting where our hero is locked in his room by his parents is, I can say, pretty accurate and not for the faint hearted.
But here I am, I eventually got through it, I’m now 1 month free from the stuff, so what’s happened?
I have joy, I can see the joy in the world. I can see see pain unfortunately, but it is at least an emotion that had been lost to me for some time.
I enjoying running again, and actually I’m getting the runners buzz from it that lasts for days. I love that now and a realise what I’d missed so deeply.
My weight has started to drop, this morning, I have weigh 10 pounds less that I did a month ago.
I am clear of head, no fog, I’m the most focussed I have been in 10 years and I’m sleeping through each night.
So to summarise:
Sertraline is a criminal drug, if you are on it, you are not living a happy life. Coming off it will give you hope but coming off gradually is most, most important. If you feel you are dependant on anti-depressants and need to continue, insist you go onto Prozac, it has fewer side effects and is easier (still not easy) to ween yourself off should you need to.
We live in a world where too many people are having issues with mental health, suicide levels of my gender and age group are at an all time high and Sertraline, being cheap, is the first port of call for anti-depressants.
Is there there a correlation?
Having lived it, and having my now clear brain affected by it, I can honestly say…