What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
Eight years ago, my husband got a new job. It was a big opportunity for him, for us. So we eagerly accepted and moved with our two young children out of Philadelphia and into rural Delaware.
As a lifelong city girl, I felt I was ready to experience life in the country. At first, it was everything I dreamed it would be. Our house sat on the edge of a bird sanctuary, with green fields all around, acres of woods to explore, a swampy pond in back. We had stunning views and a front-row seat to various migrating flocks who stopped by to rest and refresh themselves. Considering my only previous bird-watching experience had been pigeons in parking lots, I was charmed. I was very happy — at first.
But as the months went by, the peace and quiet started to feel like a deathly silence. My husband’s new job was not what what we thought it was going to be. We had to sell my car to stay afloat, so now I could only venture into the outside world — the real world, as I came to think of it — when he was home, which was less and less as we struggled to make ends meet. I couldn't even get a job to help without access to my own car.
The stress was eating us alive, and I was eating to alleviate the stress, so naturally, I put on weight. I began to feel like a fat, useless, helpless nobody stuck in a sea of emptiness with no better company than some stupid birds, who crapped on everything, including us.
It was in this frame of mind that I went to see my doctor. He prescribed Sertraline, a generic form of Zoloft, and the benefits were almost immediate.
I still remember how it felt that first week. The heavy, dark cloud I’d been laboring under suddenly lifted. I felt free, and, for the first time in a long time, wonderful.
We moved back to civilization shortly after I started on antidepressants, and our situation vastly improved, but I kept taking the pills. I had come to believe that they were a miracle drug. I’d never felt so up, so optimistic — and the side effects I’d been warned about by everyone I told seemed a figment of their imagination.
But gradually, over time I did begin to notice some. For the first few minutes after I lay down at night, I’d get unbearably hot and sweaty. I didn’t even connect it to the pills at first and wondered in some confusion if I was going through menopause decades early than expected. When the frightening, often bizarre dreams began, I finally made the connection. I knew it was the pills causing both.
I was distant — with my husband, my family, even at times my children. It’s hard to describe that distance. It was as if there were a space between me and everyone else — a space filled with static. I felt no desire to bridge that gap most of the time and was content to live on one side of it — to live inside myself.
Our sex life evaporated. We went from once or twice a week to once or twice a month. I had no interest in foreplay, no interest in my own gratification. I was stiff and unresponsive whenever he tried to loosen me up. I treated it like a chore and was very businesslike in my approach. As if cleaning the house, I wanted it done quickly, with as little effort as possible on my part.
But I kept taking the pills. At the time, I felt the benefits still outweighed the drawbacks. With them I could stay calm, unruffled in any situation. I was never disturbed, rarely upset. Not quite serene because serenity only comes with happiness, and what I felt could not be called that. I was always just even, and that consistent evenness was a powerful draw. I cared about the trials and tribulations of life, I was OK with not doing anything about them.
Then a cat we had for years disappeared. My sons were devastated, and I should have been too. I loved that cat. While the boys scoured the neighborhood and put up posters, I watched TV or read a book. When they begged me to help, I told them I would. But I didn’t. I even lied to them about it. I told them I would drive around searching while they were in school. And I meant to — I really did. But I couldn’t be bothered.
I was in a state of disconnect so profound I simply didn’t feel enough for them, for our pet, for myself. When they did finally find her, I was not really happy or sad. Just blank.
It was then I realized I had to get off the pills.
I consulted the doctor who prescribed the pills, but she said since I was on such a low dose (50 mg per day), I shouldn't have any problems getting off them. She seemed unconcerned about side effects or withdrawal, so I wasn't either. At the time I knew very little about antidepressants, and I trusted that she was giving me accurate information.
So I just stopped taking them. The symptoms of withdrawal, extreme mood swings, sleeplessness, nervous tension, feeling too much too suddenly came as a total shock and made it very difficult for me to function.
When I told her about it, the doctor was somewhat dismissive, as if I were overreacting; I even thought she might be right. That's when I went online and learned that I was not alone, or even all that unique. I read a lot of different stories from people who had the same experience and learned about weaning off of the pills.
In the doctor’s defense — she was very nice and very thorough other than that part of my experience — she might have been unaware that even a low dose can be difficult to stop. People tend to think that doctors know everything about the drugs they prescribe, but I found out the hard way that's just not always the case.
My first two attempts ended as soon as withdrawal kicked in. That’s hard to admit because I’ve always been a strong, no-nonsense person, and I thought the decision to stop would be enough. But the withdrawal was much worse than I anticipated. Feelings blunted or gone entirely for seven years were suddenly sharp and crystal clear. It was too much. Overwhelming. I immediately got back on.
Finally I did some research, took the advice of those who'd done this before me, and weaned myself over a period of three months.
Gradually easing my psyche back into feeling for itself, I found it was difficult to be patient for that long — but well worth the effort. I’ve been antidepressant-free for over a year now. The bad dreams and night sweats are gone. I’ve become adept at handling my emotions — even raw ones. My family and I are close again.
My husband and children are happier now, and so am I. The drug-induced wall between us is finally down. My sex life is back on track. I’m happy to say that my needs are again on the list of important things. I think I'm stronger now, having gone into the long, dark tunnel of dependency and come out the other side. For me, depending on myself was always the better choice. Always.