Throughout my struggle with mental illness and my experimentation with medication, I’ve noticed that it’s very difficult to find detailed information about how different drugs affect different people. There’s lots of info about people experiencing the more uncommon, severe side effects, but very little chronicling of the day-to-day changes in mood, or information about how long things take to work.
Everyone’s different, so psychiatrists will never tell you “this is when you’ll begin experiencing results.” And that’s perfectly fine. But I’ve found that just knowing a handful of other people have had a similar experience to me calms me down significantly, and allows me to weather the rough process of adjusting to a new medication. So without further ado, here is some information on how my experience as a patient under the care of a psychiatrist taking Sertraline (a common Zoloft substitute) has been.
Relevant facts: My diagnosis is PMDD, GAD, and chronic depression. I’m 25, have two X chromosomes and am about 5’3″ and 155 lbs. I take 50 mg Zoloft daily in the morning and continuous birth control (LoEstrin) to suppress my period.
1. It took me about 5-6 weeks before I felt any benefit. I started on 25 mg for the first six weeks, then increased to 37.5 mg, then increased again to 50mg. I felt better for about a week right off the bat and then I felt MUCH worse until it kicked in around 5-6 weeks. That was really scary, but looking at online forums assures me it’s a fairly common experience.
2. The Zoloft REALLY helps with my anxiety. I get “trapped in my brain” a lot less, even at my original (25mg) dose. The depression lessened, too, partially because anxiety contributes to my depression, and also the lack of anxiety caused me to be able to do more things, like go out and see friends, that help with my depression.
3. The side effects have been mostly that I’ve gained a little weight (about five pounds, and that could just be winter weight), and that my sex drive has decreased a little. I can still have orgasms, but I want to have sex less frequently and it’s a little harder to come. I also notice that I’m kind of irritable sometimes, especially in the evenings, but exercise helps that a little. As does positive thinking/breathing exercises. I have a little bit more trouble sleeping, and I’m a little more tired, but getting regular sleep and exercise helps. I didn’t notice the sleep effects until I began taking 50mg.
4. Meditation and positive thinking are MUCH easier on Zoloft. I have much more luck with behavioral modification and relaxation.
5. My birth control is unfortunately not doing enough to suppress my period, so although I’m not bleeding, I’m experiencing the hormone cycling (and cramps, grr) which exacerbates my depression and anxiety. The Zoloft helps a little with that but not enough.
6. Upping my dose on Zoloft was *horrendous* mentally. I felt hopeless and dark, and my brain THOROUGHLY convinced me that my girlfriend was about to leave me. However, again, apparently having a rough time at dose increases is pretty common, so I stuck it out. It took about a week for the worst effects to decrease, and I felt gradually better after that. Now at three weeks out, I feel pretty stable.
It’s my hope that sharing this information will help at least one person feel more informed and less alone. I’d love to hear about others’ experiences on Sertraline, or even other anxiety and depression medications in the comments.