Life on the Other Side of Medication

I remember telling my doctor about our move to Denver, and she optimistically replied, “When you’re all settled in and find someone new, you might consider slowly coming off your meds.” Was she insane? I’d been taking Zoloft for a year and convinced myself I could never live without it. For once in my life, my spiraling anxiety and debilitating depression were under control.

… and they still are.

It’s been one month since my last day taking Zoloft. For context, my dosage journey was 50mg to 100mg to 50mg to 25mg to none. It was actually the aforementioned doctor visit when I asked to go from 100mg to 150mg, but she didn’t think I needed it, reminding me that anxiety is normal. How validating that I was apparently handling it much better than the first time we met.

By the time we moved to Denver, I knew I wanted to come off my meds, and luckily my new doctor had no qualms with this. It’s really the timing of life events that put me to the test. My appointment to go from 100mg to 50mg was scheduled in March 2020, right before the pandemic started, but I was determined to see it through. Surprisingly (and thankfully) it was a seamless transition with minimal side effects.

It was the final 10-day shift from 50mg to 25mg then completely stopping that I never want to relive again. Coincidentally I’d gotten a new job in the midst of these 10 days, and my head spins, thinking about the record-breaking nausea, exhaustion, and irritability that accompanied the stress of a new job. When the fog finally cleared, I felt like riding a bike for the first time without training wheels–wobbly but increasingly confident.

Lessons Learned on the Other Side

For my new job, I was hired less than a month before running a four-week engineering leadership summit. I’d never felt so stressed in my life, and I kicked myself for the poor timing of coming off my meds. Though I couldn’t listen to most of the talks, I caught a quote from Ashton Kutcher that was everything I needed to hear in that moment:

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is a choice.

My brain had been plummeting down a rabbit hole of negativity that week, so that quote shut me up. It was exactly what my doctor in San Francisco was trying to tell me. Anxiety is normal, but you don’t have to succumb to it. You can strengthen your coping tactics and dig yourself out instead. On a related note, believe it or not, I’m getting a tattoo of this quote on December 1, 2020.

And yes, I did get to meet Ashton one-on-one. Our chat made me realize that he’s shy, but I’m incredibly skittish when I’m nervous… Go figure.

Now that this four-week summit is over, I’ve concluded that I feel most comfortable in dark places. My Zoloft journey gave me the confidence and mental strength to occasionally emerge from darkness and see the light, but I like having the option of calibrating my own levels of dark and light. I’ve also become less anxious and my spirals are shorter in the face of challenges. When I do get anxious or depressed, my brain can more heathily discern its purpose and process accordingly.

In conversations with friends, family, and strangers, I’ve been met with various reactions towards therapy and meds. Some are curious because of their own anxiety. Others are shocked because they see me as an emotionally-infallible extrovert. What’s most important is that I’m lucky to be surrounded by friends who are similarly open about their mental health experiences and make life worth enjoying on the other side of medication.

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