“Being “Zoloft free” has allowed me to see the negative side effects not easily seen while on the medication.”
I am a 28 years old and currently residing in Michigan. I most recently was studying as a graduate student in Cellular and Clinical Neurobiology Ph.D. program at Wayne State University located in Detroit, Michigan. However, I recently learned I would no longer be allowed to continue the program due to my poor performance in each of my enrolled classes during this, my first semester as a graduate student. Since learning, a month ago, about the termination of my appointment as a graduate student, I have reasons to believe my performance in the courses was influenced greatly by a medication I was taking. Two years prior to my entering the graduate program, I had a rather distressing situation in my life occur. So distressing was this particular situation, I found myself unable to sleep well at night, nor study for upcoming exams in the classes I was attending at my undergraduate institution (Brigham Young University). I chose to see a school physician. After hearing of my condition, he suggested I begin taking a medication called Zoloft (Sertraline) and didn’t hesitate to write me a prescription. I later learned this medication belonged to a family of medications called Serotonin Selective Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs).
Another factor, which I’m sure influenced my physician’s decision to prescribe Zoloft, was that I had been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) about 10 years prior to this incident. My physician suggested I begin with a 50mgs/day dose and increase the dosage in 50mg increments weekly until reaching a maximum dosage of 200mgs/day. Admittedly, some of my OCD symptoms decreased, however, over the course of time, the side effects would soon greatly outweigh the benefits.
I began taking Zoloft during the last three weeks of my second to last semester at Brigham Young University (BYU). I needed only to finish two courses to graduate, which I took the following semester. During the weeks beginning Zoloft, my physician wanted to visit with me at least once a week to follow-up on the Zoloft’s affects. During these visits I was consistently told what a wonderful medication Zoloft was and how much of a decrease in my OCD symptoms and anxiety I would see after a few weeks. The before mentioned distressing situation, which involved a disheartening ending of a relationship with my girlfriend, would virtually disappear my physician told me. In fact, my physician went so far as to say my OCD was likely the cause of my breakup with my girlfriend and that once the Zoloft helped me gain control of my OCD, I would most likely decide trying our relationship again. Looking back now, nothing is further from the truth. I think because of this positive rhetoric about Zoloft’s acclaimed benefits, I naively began believing I was experiencing a reformed and changed self, freed from the bonds of OCD and able to finally be “normal”. However, after two years of being on the medication, getting C grades in my final two classes at BYU, and most recently, kicked out of my graduate program, I’ve learned the harsh reality that Zoloft has only served to make things worse than before.
I want to make clear that I’m not an irresponsible student nor am I lacking in intelligence. I graduated from BYU with a 3.4 GPA in Pre-Physical Therapy. Some of my classes included Inorganic Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physics, Medical Physiology, Anatomy, Genetics, and Calculus. The competition for good grades at BYU speaks for itself. The average GPA and ACT scores for the incoming freshman class last year were a 3.7 and 27 respectively. There are very intelligent students at BYU and the competition is fierce. My respectable graduating GPA of 3.4 clearly demonstrates my ability as a student. Remember, only two of my classes at BYU were taken while on Zoloft, both of which I received C grades.
Since my arrival here in Michigan, I’ve been seeing a psychiatrist. Interestingly, she is a member of the department (department of psychiatry) I belonged to as a graduate student. She specializes in mood and anxiety disorders. It is interesting to me that while I was struggling so hard to study, concentrate, and deal with other issues (what I know believe to be the side effects of the Zoloft), she didn’t once suggest I discontinue the Zoloft to see if my condition would improve. In other words, it’s very ironic that psychiatrist in the Department of Psychiatry at Wayne State University (considered a “prominent” research institution) couldn’t help one of the departments own graduate students who was dealing with a condition in which their department claims they specialize in for research. How remarkable that a research scientist in psychiatry, working at a prominent research university, specializing in mood and anxiety disorders did not think to ask the question, “maybe the Zoloft is the reason for this young man’s problems”. This is clear and conclusive evidence that medications such as Zoloft have not been thoroughly studied or tested.
Since discontinuing the Zoloft I’ve noticed some remarkable discoveries. I began tapering by 50-mg increments. I decreased my dosage to 150mg beginning November 2, 1999. I then tapered down to 100mg beginning November 5, 1999. I then went down 50mgs every nine days (November 5-14: 100mgs; November 14-23: 50mgs; November 24: 0mgs). During my first week of tapering (around November 4th or 5th), I had an experience were I was driving down the street I live on after school when I noticed a group of teenagers in the middle of the road. There was about five of them walking side-by-side spanning from one side of road to the other. For some unknown reason, I became extremely mad about this situation. I was mad these teenagers felt they could “hog” the whole street. During this fit of anger I stepped down on the accelerator and speed up. I remember I had a burst of rage, which I would say was uncontrollable, come over me. I thought the teenagers would hear my car accelerate and move out of the way, thus I would scare them good. However, I didn’t slow down in time enough and the teenagers didn’t move fast enough. My anger had impaired my rational judgement. I ended up clipping one of the teenagers with my right front bumper, knocking him to the ground and just about running over a second teenager. I ended up backing up my car and scolding the teenagers for walking in the road. However, during the rest of the drive home, I was dumbfounded about what I had just done. This kind of anger and uncontrollable rage was very unlike me. What was I thinking? I came inches from killing two teenagers. The experience really shook me up. After thinking about what had just occurred I could only attribute this rage and anger to my tapering of the Zoloft. I decided from that time forward, I would pay special attention to controlling my anger until I was completely off the medication.
It is now day 42 since completely discontinuing the Zoloft. Being “Zoloft free” has allowed me to see the negative side effects not easily seen while on the medication. While on the medication I saw a significant decrease in the quality and quantity of my sleep at night. I began to see large dark circles under my eyes. I was also quit lethargic during the day. I remember sitting in my graduate school classes and fighting very hard to stay awake. I remember looking around the lecture room and asking myself why the other students were not as exhausted as I was. Before beginning Zoloft I would exercise about 3-4 times/week. Since beginning the medication I struggled to exercise once or twice a week. I began to develop a rather severe chronic muscle pain in my neck and shoulders. This pain became so great I would avoid studying at times because of the position my neck and shoulders would have to be in for long periods of time. This neck and shoulder pain persisted even after two months of physical therapy. Not long after beginning Zoloft I noticed fungus infections underneath a couple of my fingernails.
However bad the physical side effects were, they couldn’t compare with the mental side effects of Zoloft. After beginning Zoloft, I noticed a significant decrease in my motivation to accomplish goals I had before set. I noticed a significant decrease in my ability and desire to concentrate. I also noticed a significant increase in my forgetting things such as appointments, where I put things, names, and other information people had told me. I noticed a very significant increase in addictive behaviors. I became addicted to the Internet, video games, sugary foods, sex, and highly stimulating activities. All of these behaviors were completely unlike me. So why didn’t I discontinue Zoloft much sooner than I did? Because over the course of several months my physician had coached me about the positive side effects of Zoloft. After listening to his counsel I believed I would never function at complete normalcy throughout life without the medication. Therefore, I attributed any bad effects to my own personality and not to the medication. That conclusion, looking back now, is far from the truth.
The side effects that interfered most with graduate school, were the increase of my addictive behaviors, decreased motivation, and my decreased ability to concentrate. These side effects combined to virtually eliminate my ability to take notes, study from the texts, or study for exams. As stated before, I attributed these side effects to being my own personality. I began to believe my personality had become flawed in some manner and that I needed to learn more self-control or self-discipline. Since being off the medication, I have learned I didn’t develop a inherently flawed personality (comparing how I was in graduate school to how I was during my undergraduate school years). I’ve learned the difference in my personality was due directly to the effect Zoloft was having on my mind. Unfortunately, I didn’t discover this until just before being terminated as a graduate student.
Since discontinuing the medication, every one of the before mentioned negative side effects has been reversed. My sleep has improved significantly, both quantity and quality. The dark circles under my eyes have virtually disappeared. My neck and back pain have improved greatly. In fact, I often times forget I ever had neck and back pain. The fungus under my fingernails began clearing up immediately after my discontinuing the medication. My energy level during the day has greatly improved. I no longer feel lethargic. I am back to exercising about 3-4 times/week. I’ve seen, at least, a 40% improvement in my motivation to accomplish goals. My ability to concentrate has increased significantly. One of the biggest improvements has been my ability to remember appointments, where I put things, peoples names, and other extraneous information other people tell me. My addictive behaviors have decreased significantly. I no longer crave sweet foods, the thought of playing a video game makes me sick, I rarely spend time on the Internet. I still struggle with some sexual addictions I developed while being on Zoloft, but even those are far more controllable now. Unfortunately, I discovered this information too late to reverse the consequences Zoloft had on me and my ability to retain my graduate student appointment
I am writing this letter to express my frustration and disappointment about a FDA approved medication that has had such a profoundly negative effect on my life. Something needs to be done so others aren’t mistakenly given treatments, which result in negative consequences. Or even worse, treatments that have potentially devastating consequences because of a pharmaceutical company’s agenda to push a particular drug through the “research red-tape” to get it out to market and make a “buck”. During the difficult time I had with my girlfriend, had one of the health care specialists said, “maybe the problem is that the girl you are dating just isn’t the right girl for you” and encouraged me to stick it out, I wouldn’t have to withdraw from my graduate program. Then again, maybe not. Looking back now, it’s easy to see the girl I had been dating was not the right girl for me, I didn’t need medication to have a relationship, and in retrospect, I didn’t need medication to make a decision either, just someone to help me work things out. In fact, the medication only served to make my life, in a more global sense, worse.
Years 2000 and Prior
This is Survivor Story number 74.
Total number of stories in current database is 96