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I made a promise to myself when I first started on Sertraline (which seems like an eternity ago!) that I would write my story when I felt "good" on it & "back to normal."
My journey started in December 2017- I had never suffered from Anxiety or Depression but after a misdiagnosis (I was originally diagnosed with a serious, lifelong condition but it transpired that this was incorrect!) I struggled to come to terms with things and started to suffer from what turned into a 3 day solid anxiety attack. I could not eat or sleep, I felt absolutely terrible to the extent that I ended up at A&E one night to be told that I was suffering from a prolonged panic attack. I recovered from this pretty quickly but after a few weeks I had a recurrence (my main issue this time being horrible recurring thoughts which, as much as I tried to ignore/get rid of, kept coming back) - this started to severely impact my family life (I am married with 2 young children) so I made a GP appointment to discuss ways of treating this. I was referred to a psychiatrist who prescribed me Sertraline (starting does of 50mg)- at the time of prescription, I was not made aware of the (long!) list of side effects but was told that the drug can take up to 2/3 months to really start "working."
The first night on the drug was an absolute nightmare, I had terrible stomach pains, a constant headache and, as much as I wanted to sleep, my mind was racing at 100 miles an hour. The next day was not much better, I felt exactly the same and actually told myself that I couldn't take another night of this- thankfully the following day got slightly better & I managed to get 2/3 hours sleep. Whilst this was going on, I came across Patient.info & I really started to do research into the drug. I quickly decided to take it early in the morning to allow it to "get into my system" during the day, thus allowing me the best chance of having a decent sleep at night. I also started taking it with food to properly line my stomach and to avoid the sickness that was accompanying it. I also drank 6-8 pints of water a day to keep as hydrated as possible- because I wasn't eating much this was really important.
The first week was insanely hard, not helped by the fact that it was over Christmas. I tried to put a brave face on it for my kids but, looking back on it, I was obviously not much fun to be around! My treatment plan (set by my psychiatrist) was to get to 75mg after 2 weeks and then 100mg the following week after that. The move up to 75mg was fine and I didn't have any major issues with it which was surprising as I was expecting it to be similar to when I started the drug. Moving up to 100mg put me back a bit and I did suffer from sickness, insomnia and heightened anxiety but this passed within 5 days.
My side effects during the initial stages on the medication were as follows:
Severe abdominal pain
Heightened sense of anxiety
Loss of appetite (and almost 2 stone in weight over a 2 week period!)
When I first started taking the medication, I would search this forum almost hourly to find a story of hope to cling on to- I just wanted to feel like what I was going through was not "unique" and that there was light at the end of the tunnel. Two of the most disheartening things about Sertraline are 1). That it can take up to 3 months to start working for you and 2). It does not work for everyone. Each day that went by the "3 month goal" seemed so far away but slowly I started to feel better and better. It started off with an hour where I felt "normal" again and then it would be a few hours the next day etc. There were obviously downs during this time as well (I did not experience consecutive days of "progress" for at least 3 weeks) but I at least felt like I was taking forward steps. By the 5 week mark I was at a stage where I felt 70% back to my normal self and had periods of the day where I was 100% myself/anxiety free! Again, downs did come but they went just as fast. I am almost at the 4 month stage now and I can safely say that I am 95% back to "my old self" & Sertraline has played a big part in this.
When I was at my worst I felt very alone as I firmly believe that GPs/Psychiatrists don't appreciate the full effect these drugs can have on people. What I have learned (although this may not be right for everybody) is as follows:
-Sertraline (or any SSRI for that matter) can (and will for most) help with anxiety or depression but talk therapy (CBT/Mindfulness in my case) is a great help. I look upon Sertraline as a crutch to get through the initial stages of my anxiety whilst I look upon CBT as the tool that will eventually arm me with the tools required to "cope" with any future anxiety I suffer from.
-Making sure that you have a Dr/Psychiatrist that you trust & that you get on well with. I actually changed GPs during this whole process as I felt I wan't being taken seriously by my initial one. Trust/understanding are 2 massively important parts of the process & getting well again.
-I read a lot about sticking to the same brand (manufacturer) and I decided that I would do this (AUROBINDO). I simply went to my chemist, explained the situation and they were very understanding. I am not sure if this makes a difference but my thinking was that, because the first brand I was prescribed "agreed" with me, that there was no point in risking a setback by changing to another generic.
-Don't automatically assume 100% as your benchmark for recovery success. I fell victim to this often- I wanted to get back to feeling 100% "back to normal" again, it drove me crazy feeling that I didn't feel like I was quite where I was before I started suffering from anxiety but after a conversation with my wife, I quickly realised that no one is ever 100% for a sustained period of time. Life is not a smooth ride and it's ok to be 60/70/80% - that is something Sertraline helps you to achieve over time.
Talk- I am in my early 30s and I would never have dreamed of talking to my friends about feeling anxious for fear of them laughing at me. I made the decision to meet all of my mates, individually, and tell them what I had been going through. Without exception, they all were brilliant and I would say that 75% of them admitted to having either suffered from depression or anxiety in the past- that was shocking to me but it just goes to show how many people suffer in silence.
Persistence- After the first 48 hours on the drug I was ready to pack it in as I simply couldn't see any light at the end of the tunnel. Looking back now, I am so glad that I did persist. I cannot tell anyone what to do but I tell you that things did get better for me (although it seems like an eternity at the time) pretty quickly and each day that passed saw me getting that bit better/stronger.
Blood results- I was told by my GP that Sertraline does not affect organs etc but, after a routing blood test 3 weeks after starting on the medication, my liver function was quite elevated. I was referred to a liver specialist who told me, in some rare cases, people can see short term liver function fluctuations and to have the test again in a few weeks time to see if things have calmed down- I am thankful mine came back to a normal level during this period.
Plan- Make sure that between yourself/your GP/psychiatrist there is a care plan in place- knowing when you should up your dosage/bring it down is important, as is knowing roughly how long your care providers want you to be on the drug for.
Coming off- I don't have a concrete plan here (I am going for a review in May) but I have read some horror stories where people come off without medical advice to do so or up their dose without instruction to do so- I feel that the safest bet is having a plan in place (which can of course be edited should it be required) which can be followed with the help of a medical professional.
Even if the above is found useful by only 1 person I will be delighted as I understand how hard things can be on this medication. I am more than happy to chat to anyone who has questions or to anyone who just needs to have a chat about how they are feeling.
Good luck everyone, it's not an easy path but just remember what you are aiming for and that it is 100% achievable.
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