Zolo

I’m feeling relieved and happy. We found a little house to rent. It has multiple bedrooms and a deck and yards. Dishwasher (first time in my adult life I will have a dishwasher, which is good, since I just spent one hour washing dishes instead of playing with my son!). Laundry in the basement. A great deal of storage. Full bathroom. Ceiling fans. Yellow walls. A shed. Great big trees and lots of pretty manicured bushes. It’s a beautiful, sweet, little place with hardwood floors, pre-war era. It is pretty much exactly what we need and I’d be happy living there for a while. It has a good vibe, a family vibe. A home vibe. More expensive that we can afford, but everything is! So I will allow myself one:

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…

Now I have to figure out how to move homes in less than a month while taking care of a toddler!

But that’s not what this post is about, as the title points to.

I wanted to describe my experiences on an antidepressant I will call zolo.

I did not write about this (I don’t think), but when S was 4 months old, I went back on zolo. It was not PPD or PPA, it was anxiety caused by my parent’s situation. I’ve written about it before, and it feels gross to get into the nitty-gritty, so I will just give a short version here: my dad sunk their entire retirement fund, $700,000, into the family business, post-recession, and his plan did not work. And now they have no retirement, and their income is approximately a quarter of what it was before. My mom is working for the first time, for the past several years, as a cleaner at a gym. She will be 70 soon. She has developed asthma from reactions to the industrial cleaning products and serious back problems. My dad finally got a desk job, working partial hours at a low hourly rate selling lumber. It is as bleak as it sounds. When S was four months old, my dad was experiencing health problems that led us to believe that he might die. The enormity of that aside, my mom had no plan for what she would do in that situation, and no money to do anything. There’s a lot more to it, all of it sad, but suffice it to say, I started experiencing acute anxiety. Not panic attacks, but close to it, upon waking. Of course exacerbated by the sleep deprivation and physical pain of pregnancy/birth/c-section-infection recovery. I was miles and hours away from my parents, taking care of a 4-month-old, and I had no way to help them. When we took S to visit them around that time, my dad seemed to be in terrible shape, trembling, exhausted, and having cognitive problems that went along with his medical problems. I saw that if he died, my mom would be in a position past imagining. Toward the end of that visit, I called my OB and asked to go back on zolo, and it was ready for me to pick up when I got back to NY. I took it gratefully.

At the same time, I had to do a lot of interior work. That is their life, this is my life. Those are their problems, I have my own problems to attend to. S is my number-one priority and I absolutely have to let go of any sense that I can do anything significant to help them. (They mostly ignore my advice anyway.) So I did my best to maintain my loving relationship with them while not feeling responsible for their well-being and letting go of my fears that my dad would die any day. I did, however, let them know that I was upset with my dad for taking such poor care of himself and that it was his responsibility to his family to go the doctor and figure out what might be causing his problems. He did do that. And he is feeling better these days. He is still in horrible shape and I still worry that he will have a heart attack or go into a diabetic coma or experience cognitive impairments again that make it unsafe for him to drive. But the zolo helped me turn down the volume on that worrying and helped me maintain my focus on my own life.

In short, it was the responsible choice at a very intense time. As I’ve written about before in this blog, if you are considering taking a pharmaceutical, be it an antidepressant or an anti-anxiety medication or both, or a sleep aid, or…whatever—there is no shame in your game. Pharmaceuticals can be remarkably helpful.

I wanted to take a moment to document what my experience with this drug has been like. I have recently weaned myself off of it, and enough time has passed that I think I can write about being on it, weaning off of it, and being off of it, with perspective.

As I’ve written about, I went on zolo after my sixth miscarriage, which was my first donor egg pregnancy, a normal karyotype boy. His heart stopped beating at 8 weeks. Needless to say, devastation ensued. I lost him in the fall and went on zolo in January. Stayed on it until I was 8 weeks pregnant with S, and when it was clear that his heart was still beating strong, unlike the heart of his brother before him, I started to wean myself off the zolo. So I think I was on it for approximately three or four months. I did many things to heal myself before that pregnancy, and zolo was one of them. For me, at least, it changed me (emotionally, physiologically) dramatically for the better. I was in fight-or-flight mode and had been for years. I didn’t even realize how revved up I was until I wasn’t like that any longer.

I didn’t think I would go on it again but then life happened—the situation I just described above with my parents. This time, there was very little deliberation. I had learned that a) I have a physiological/neurological makeup that responds well to zolo when I am triggered by a crisis situation, and b) choosing zolo at times like these is the most responsible thing I can do for myself and my loved ones.

I have in my extended family and nuclear family people who suffer from a range of things, from depression and anxiety to bipolar manic depression. Using the diathesis-stress model and applying it to my family: In perfect times, we’re fine (and very productive, creative people), but when crises occur, we can experience acute dysregulation. There is some question, now, about whether one cousin in my family who was diagnosed with bipolar manic depression actually had the disorder or whether he was diagnosed due to bias (practitioner learns of bipolar in the family history, sways diagnoses, etc). And now there is some question as to whether my brother was ever diagnosed (long story). But the specifics aren’t really important. What I know is that many in my family struggle with emotional, psychological regulation, and I am one of them. There is a spectrum of struggle, from a cousin who must be on lithium for life (a drug she started taking when six years old) to episodic struggle.

I’ve known for many years now that I am at my best when I sleep well, eat well, exercise, and so on. Who isn’t? But I used to behave in extremes. I would go through these stretches of eating salads, exercising, going to bed at the same time, rising at the same time, etc., and then stretches of indulgent eating, very late nights out with friends or writing fiction in my office, and other fun and/or naughty behaviors. From my mid-thirties until now I have worked at integrating my “good girl” and my “bad girl” (and thinking of it in those terms really helps me). It’s a much saner, healthier way to live.

But I mention this because I used to feel, and still do feel sometimes, particularly sensitive to the least little thing throwing me off-balance. I would get annoyed by how much maintenance it took to stay in a good place. It took me many years to understand that I was more sensitive to shifts and changes than most. (Well, that’s not quite right; I’ve known that about myself since I was a little girl and crying in Miss Dingledein’s 1st-grade classroom because she was changing the placement of our desks for fun. Change where my desk is? Change the person sitting next to me? Eeee, noooo!!! “Your daughter is very sensitive,” Miss D wrote on one of my report cards. “Please try to help her understand that most people are not sensitive as she is.”) More accurate to say that it took me many years to understand that my sensitivity can reach extremes, can be more acute, than is considered “normal.”

I think perhaps in reaction to my sensitivity I have thrown myself into all sorts of interesting situations. I have done some pretty adventurous and risky things that I am proud of. I now like change. I like experimentation. I feel more and more that life is a game that we are playing, a play that we are acting in, and the universe is just wanting to see how we react, what we do and say, and the universe is us.

At the same time, my brain and body react so well to metered living, schedules, stability. So there is this tension.

I am a soul that swings. And swings require that tension.

But I also need to keep myself in a “good place” for myself and my loved ones.

So I have decided that any time I am met with a crisis—like a miscarriage, like my parents’ well-being undergoing serious endangerment—I should not hesitate to ask my doctor to prescribe zolo. I know that it works for me, and it works quickly. It helps me, in these situations, be my best self.

But what about when the crisis period is over? Or seems to be?

I stayed on zolo from the time S was about 4 months old until the beginning of this past January. So about 9 months.

But I did not know if I would go off of it. Ever.

When it started to work, and I started to feel better, I thought: Hey, you know what, I’m a mama now. Maybe I should just always take this, every day, for the rest of my life. People do that. Maybe that is the most responsible thing to do. I’m not going to try to get pregnant again, so why not?

Well, there are plenty of reasons to not stay on a medication for life, if you can avoid it, as we all know. But at the time I was focused on staying as steady as possible for S. Because I didn’t know when another crisis was going to crush my parents and I was kind of living in fear of my dad dying.

So I had to work on this: You can’t live in fear of your dad dying and abandoning your mother to an untenable situation. You cannot think like that. First of all, she will be okay. She is not helpless. She has proven that she can adapt and take care of herself. Secondly, it is not your place to be their savior. You are their daughter, not their rescuer. Yes, you have put yourself in the position of being their advisor for a long, long time, but that has to stop, now. You can help them in whatever ways are feasible, and they can accept that help or not, but other than that, there is nothing you can do to turn around their situation.

And then I realized: I am staying on zolo, now that the crisis is over, not because it is the responsible choice but because of this fear I have that I cannot handle what is going to happen to my parents.

But also: DH kept saying things to me about how he thought we were getting along better since I went on it. He noticed a difference in my level of fire, when we had disagreements. But I felt that we were more or less having the same level of/quantity of arguments.

On top of that, the side effects were getting worse. An interesting thing in my experience of this drug: At first, I experience side effects, but then they go away. That’s what happened when I was on it for 3-4 mos to help get/stay pregnant with S. What I didn’t realize was that the side effects, at least in my case, and this time around, can come back. (This is certainly not only case specific, but depends upon what is going on in the person’s life, at that particular time.)

I could not lose weight to save my life. At first, I blamed it on not breastfeeding and not exercising enough. But no matter if I ate a lot or ate a little, I maintained the exact same (overweight) weight.

Also, my stomach became highly acidic. This is common. I’ve read of other zolo-takers who often feel hungry at night because of the higher acid content in their GI system. I used to feel that I must eat something tummy-coating before bed, yogurt/milk, cereal, toast, butter, banana. Which doesn’t help with the weight issue. And I would often wake up in the middle of the night with that acidic feeling and wake up in the morning feeling slightly ill. And my stomach was very basketball-like (due to acid?) and became so large during my period that I had a hard time looking at it.

I couldn’t take zolo during the day. I tried that many times, and it was more or less awful. That zombie feeling increased my depression, I was sure (as did my weight). So taking it at night was the best option. For the first few months, this helped me sleep, and I was grateful. But eventually, I started waking up at 4 a.m. with that acid-stomach. This early waking and struggling to get back to sleep was still better than going around in a subdued, zombie state. (I should mention here that I was on 50 mg of zolo, the lowest dose, so this wasn’t a high-dose problem. It’s just that for me, at least this time around, zolo was a nightttime-dose only drug.)

All of these factors came together—my thinking about my relationship to the drug, when and how to take it in my life, and the side effects—to cause me to wean myself off of it. I took 25 mg a day for a week, then 25 mg a day every other day for a week.

What it’s like to wean off of, and be off of, zolo

The first thing I noticed was the difference in my face. It felt as though it were thawing. My facial muscles felt looser. I realized that I had been clenching my jaw a lot without knowing it. Throughout the day, I would find myself massaging my jaw, my brow, and it felt strange but good.

At the same time, I felt like I was free-falling a bit. Like I was being let go.

I suppose that is exactly what was happening. The drug was letting go of me, and I was letting go of it.

“It’s as if someone had been bear-hugging me for a long time,” I told DH. “When you’re crying and extremely upset, it feels really good if someone bear hugs you. But you don’t want to go around for nine months with someone bear-hugging you. After a while, you want them to get off of you.”

The other way I described it to him was similar: “Being on zolo is like being held. Held up high, like a tree holding up a treehouse platform that you are standing on. Or like having your hand held. There is this sense that some force, some thing, is right there helping you be in place. And when you go off of it, you are not being held any longer. You are by yourself. Your legs are wobbly, but you start walking again.”

The thing that surprised me most of all was how much the drug was keeping my emotions in check when it came to S. Anyone reading this blog knows that I have had no dearth of intense emotions for my son. But I did not realize how much the zolo was keeping me from, say, teariness—you know, the good kind of teariness, when you are all filled up with love. It happened a lot, sure, but just not as freely as it does now. I am definitely more labile. But that lability feels so good right now.

The other interesting difference: the length of an emotion. All emotions were of shorter duration on zolo. They didn’t last as long, temporally, as they do now. There wasn’t as much sinking into the meat of an emotion. Zolo held me up, slightly above the surface of an emotion, often.

But I was irritable on zolo. Not raging, sure, but uncomfortable, irritable. Gastric upset will do that. Basketball gut will do that.

Zolo was tapping into some pain-receptor circuitry in my brain and changing the way I experienced bodily pain by muting it. I definitely feel more bodily pain now. I feel more…aged. But it is difficult to explain the relief of that pain. One way to describe it is, again, a sense of bodily thawing. I feel more pain, but I feel it more loosely, and there is a sense of relief in that.

Now that I’ve been off of it for a while—I hate to say this, because I hate to deter anyone from taking zolo when they need it, and this might be real turnoff—I am feeling infinitely more creative and sexual. I am writing children’s songs every day, making plans to create a children’s album with my friend. I am thinking about sex more often. I am feeling sexier and prettier.

Losing a few pounds helped. Yep. Once I started weaning off of it, pounds started flying off. The relief I feel when I look down at my tummy cannot be calculated.

I write all of this more as documentation of an experience than anything. I want to remember what this has been like. Maybe I will go on it again in the future when I feel that I need help managing a crisis, and I’m okay with that. But for now, I am enjoying this thaw.

 

 

 

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10 Comments

  1. Wow you have such insight into your feelings before, during, and after the drug. It’s so interesting to read that you notice so much about the subtle differences and can actually put them into words. Family matters can stress us out so much. Oh and happy for you that the weight is coming off. :)

    Reply
  2. I love this post. Your honesty is truly refreshing. As one who has been taking an antidepressant for many years, I understand what you are saying. (And love the easy way you talk about it!) I’ve never gone off my pills. I take it mostly because it helps me deal with the precarious health situation I live with. I’m a kidney dialysis patient three days a week for 3.5 hours each treatment day. It’s sort of a roller coaster ride. Anyway, the antidepressant helps me deal with that and the fact that my mother, who is 87, lives 2500 miles away.

    Well, didn’t mean to write so much. Just felt I had to let you know that I was touched by this post.

    Wishing you a smooth and stress-free move to your new house and continued good physical and mental health. 😊

    Reply
    • I’m so glad the drug helps you! it is impossible to know what you are going through. I had a coworker who went to treatment on about the same schedule. Yeah I have friends and an uncle who take antidepressants for life and it’s so helpful for them!

      Reply
  3. This was so interesting to read. I went on an SSRI a few months ago for the first time. Fi’s health has been very precarious and the whole situation has been extremely stressful (traumatizing even). So it’s a situational thing for me as well. Meds have been so helpful and I feel like I can handle things now without going into a full panic. My main observations at this point is I generally have an emotional flatness. My therapist said that could be just how I’m coping with trauma but I think it’s also the meds. I’m kinda scared of going off it now. I’m scared of a flood of emotions I guess. It’s funny you mention creativity because I’ve been experiencing a major creative burst while on these meds. I was pondering the other day if there could be a connection. I’ve been making all kinds of art anytime I have a bit of “me” time. Anyway sorry to write a novel… I’m kinda jazzed to compare notes with someone.

    Reply
    • Little Fi…I’m so sorry to hear that. Not okay. Poor all of you. But so glad you have some SSRI help! Last time I went on it, right before pregnancy, I had a wonderful creative burst, too. I made art a lot! But I will say that the art itself was different—it was neater, cleaner, more precise than what I usually do. Isn’t that fascinating? This time, I had some major cleaning bursts at first. The flattening can be so comforting and peaceful. Going off is a little scary but after a week that freefall feeling goes away.

      Reply
  4. Okay now I have to research this. It must have to do with the effect of more serotonin in the brain…the ability to concentrate, focus, complete details. Yes, as opposed to expressionistic, fast work. Globs of paint. The same here! When I compare my art sketchbook pages on Zoloft to what came after I can’t believe they are from the same hand. So interesting!

    Reply

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