Ruben Krueger

An Unfortunate Experiment.

Photo credit to me and my Canva skills

If you or a loved one is having thoughts of self-harm, there is help. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255

To write these words is to challenge a belief I hold close to my soul: that language can express the full depth of the Human experience, and in particular, my own as I suffer the withdrawal symptoms of sertraline, a medication to which I became dependent on to soften the torments of my never-ending anxiety. Words have always failed me when I try to explain why my anxiety leaves me unable to function, and why this anxiety is not caused by anything I’m thinking about. Yet this episode leaves me to conclude that when describing the insides of my head, words are inadequate.

I wish I could say that my breakup with sertraline was a protest against the pharmaceutical industry or a detox from all mind-altering substances. Yet this is not the case. A lapse in health insurance coverage (entirely due to my oversight) caused me to stop taking the drug. As a result, I am discontinuing sertraline without a doctor’s approval; and because of my temporary lack of insurance, no doctor to confess my withdrawal symptoms to.

While my experience is common for those who stop taking sertraline — it is known as SSRI Discontinuation Syndrome — I did not anticipate such a diverse and weird set of symptoms over the past few days: upset stomach, fever, headache, fatigue, malaise, decreased appetite, and most peculiar of all, a zapping sensation in my brain. (Notice, though, a lack of anxiety; my mind must have a sense of humor.)

Sertraline (brand-name: Zoloft) is a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI). A neuroscientist will explain that this means the drug will increase the levels of serotonin in the brain, hopefully improving mood and other symptoms. A clinician will explain this drug is used to treat depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other afflictions. And I will explain that these descriptions are a poor exercise in intellectualization: my mind feels like a cauldron of capricious chemicals, upset by stochastic processes unbeknownst to myself, and that I resent Science for failing to provide more answers.

It has been five days since I stopped taking my anxiety medication. Because I have not had a relapse of the debilitating anxiety which led me to start taking it six months ago, I have decided to continue this experiment. I do not know when the withdrawal symptoms will end. Nor do I know when our society will treat psychiatric conditions with the same respect as somatic ones. Regardless, I hope both come soon — for my sake as much as yours.

In short, dear reader, do not stop taking your medication without talking to your doctor. You may end up feeling electricity course through your cranium without your consent.


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