“In order for me to battle my general anxiety disorder, I had to get out in front of it. Antidepressant medication was the only thing I hadn’t yet tried.”
On May 7th of 2015, I took my first antidepressant pill called sertraline.
My panic disorder had progressed to the point where I was afraid to be alone at night. If I were to describe what this felt like, it would be how I’d imagine our prehistoric ancestors felt when, after a long day of brightness and warmth, night would fall, bringing on total darkness and the frightening sounds of now invisible predators. An immobilizing fear of the unseen and unknown would prevail. When I tell you that for me, the symptoms and effects of GAD brought on that type of base, irrational fear … it’s an understatement.
When our ability to rationalize has disintegrated, we’re left with the primal instinct of self-preservation. Everything becomes black or white, no gray matter, so to speak. And it would seem that our ability to reason is dependent upon the delicate balance of chemicals produced by our own intricate and powerful brains. Once that balance is off, it could seem like you’ve lost a whole millennia of evolution. When I looked at myself in the mirror I saw a wide-eyed, frightened little creature.
For some company, I had arranged to spend the night at a sisters’ home who lived about an hour’s drive away. To get there, I would have to take a large, comfortable coach bus that left regularly from my area every half-hour. My sister and I arranged to meet after work and walk to the bus stop a few blocks from my place. I had filled my prescription for the sertraline my doctor had given me two days earlier, and even though I was hesitant to take it, I brought it along with me in lieu of an extreme situation. Unfortunately, that situation occurred on the bus.
By the time we boarded, the sun had gone down. Once the bus was filled with passengers, the doors shut and we were on our way. The driver, for the comfort of the evening passengers, switched off the glaring overhead lights which made the bus dark.
I was fine for a while but then, in the midst of gazing out the window, I actually “felt” my mind powering down, followed by a familiar prickly sensation that started at the top of my head and raced down my spine. Almost immediately I was overwhelmed by the confines of the bus, which by then was barreling onto the highway that led to my sister’s. As I began fidgeting uncontrollably in my seat, fighting a strong urge to run up to the front of the bus and force the driver to let me off, my sister grabbed ahold of me and whispered alarmingly, “What is going on with you!?”
I tried explaining to her everything that had been happening to me as best I could. Afterwards, she spent the last 20 minutes of the ride assuring me that it was almost over, and praying with me for strength to hold on until we reached her stop. Way in the back of my mind I admitted to myself that I was out of control. I had to do something that would be drastic — for me — and I had to do it soon.
Off the bus, I received some relief, but up in my sister’s apartment, I paced back and forth switching from fear, to frustration, to anger. Against my weakening objections, my sister strongly suggested that I take the pills. She asked simply, “Why can’t you just try it to see if it will help you? If it doesn’t work you don’t have to continue taking it. You can just stop, alright?” I asked her if we could first say a prayer and ask that God keep me safe from brain damage, addiction, poisoning, turning into a zombie, flat-out dying and any other worst case scenarios I could conjure up. Afterwards, she brought me a glass of water and I took it. For the rest of the night, straight into the morning I remained awake, bracing myself for the worst.
“Sertaline (the generic name for Zoloft) is a class of drug known as a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors or SSRIs and is widely used to treat and prevent a variety of anxiety disorders; generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) . The drug works by blocking a receptor in brain cells that reabsorb the chemical serotonin, allowing more of this chemical to be available to “amplify” its ability to send messages between nerve cells. Brain circuits that “run” on serotonin messaging are known to influence mood, but the exact way SSRIs, improve depression isn’t clear. SSRIs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat depression, with their generic names followed by brand names in parentheses, include: Citalopram (Celexa), Escitalopram (Lexapro), Fluoxetine (Prozac) and Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
Source: WebMD, Antidepressants: Myths and Facts About SSRIs
What you can expect to feel after taking an SSRI is an amplification of your GAD symptoms along with a few new ones. Some of the more common side effects of which I personally experienced were; depression, more frequent panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, memory loss, decreased sex drive, blurred vision, chronic headaches, apenea (a term for suspension of external breathing), shortness of breath, confusion, stiff and sore muscles, tremors of the limbs, nausea, nervousness, exhaustion, constipation and an acute sensitivity to light and loud noises.
It would take more than 4 weeks for me to feel even the most remote improvement in my condition.
Look for my next and final installment soon: The Break Down: Losing Control, Pt. 4