by Sam White
Medically Reviewed by:
Alyssa Peckham, PharmD, BCPP
by Sam White
Medically Reviewed by:
Alyssa Peckham, PharmD, BCPP
I’ve long been suspicious of Big Pharma, but this medication worked when holistic treatments couldn’t.
I’ve been depressed for as long as I can remember.
But for most of my life, my depression went untreated. My symptoms started in my early teens, but it wasn’t until my late 20s — when my symptoms of depression and anxiety reached their peak — that I was officially diagnosed and prescribed medication for acute depression, anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
The long gap between when my symptoms started and my treatment began was mostly because I lacked access to proper insurance — as is the norm for many of us who live within the egregiously flawed American healthcare system — but also because I personally had a huge distrust of “Big Pharma.”
Truthfully, I think many people believe, like I do, that these multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical corporations are not primarily in the business of healing people, but of making money.
Because of this massive distrust, I spent the majority of my life trying to survive on a myriad of alternatives to help manage my anxiety and depression.
And I really tried the whole spectrum — from extremely self-destructive methods of self-soothing like prolonged substance abuse to healthier approaches like total sobriety, plant-based supplements, a “clean” diet, consistent exercise, meditation, and almost any other natural or holistic method I could think of.
And don’t get me wrong: The healthy things do help. A lot, actually. Even before medication, I felt significantly better when I was regularly doing things that kept me active and healthy.
But what finally convinced me that I need pharmaceutical intervention was when, after feeling like I had hit rock bottom, I decided to take a full year and give it my all. I was (mostly) sober, exercising 5 days a week, eating a super-clean vegan diet, keeping myself completely away from toxic people and situations, and was surrounded by an incredibly patient, loving, and forgiving support system — yet I still felt overpoweringly depressed. How could that be?
Like any other organ in the human body, the brain can get sick and decide to act up at any time, just like the heart or kidneys or appendix.
Mental health is very much a result of physical neurological sickness and, as it turned out, my brain was very, very sick.
I tried everything — from self-destructive methods of self-soothing like substance abuse to healthier approaches like sobriety, supplements, a “clean” diet, exercise, meditation, and almost any other natural or holistic method I could think of.
After exhausting seemingly every method I could think of to ease my depression, I succumbed to the idea that, because of years of unresolved trauma, my brain was physically depleted of serotonin and could no longer produce enough on its own.
I finally understood that what was wrong with my brain wasn’t going to be cured by external factors, because the problem itself wasn’t external — it was internal. The only way for me to live a happy, functional life was to help my brain produce and use serotonin.
So, in February 2021, I hesitantly began my first experience with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) by introducing 50 milligrams (mg) of sertraline (Zoloft) into my everyday routine. And since then, my life has completely, immeasurably, and irrevocably changed for the better.
The reason I’m putting so much emphasis on talking about this kind of pharmaceutical trepidation is because I know there are so many people who feel the exact same way as I did — that if there was anything I trusted less than my own brain, it was the capitalistic pharmaceutical mega-corporations.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m still a huge advocate for remedies of the natural and holistic variety. I’m a vegan who firmly believes in the science behind food being the ultimate medicine, and who is very aware that the insidious, human-made carcinogens in our ultra-processed food and medicine are very, very real.
But at this point in my life, I’m also of the opinion that Western medication is not just good or bad, black or white, one or the other. There’s nuance to all of it.
I am speaking directly to the people who share this hesitation. I am speaking to the people who are still hesitant but may be at the point where they feel like they’ve run out of ideas.
You’ve tried all the healthy lifestyle options, you feel like you’ve done everything right, yet cannot figure out why your depression still lingers. You’ve arrived here, trying to figure out if going on an antidepressant is something that’s safe and can be trusted.
This is why I’m here to tell you: SSRIs are not evil medicines. Zoloft literally saved my life, and I will scream it from the rooftops if there’s a chance that it will help to save someone else’s.
To say that my life before and after Zoloft is like night and day would feel like an understatement.
For some people who knew me, the change made me unrecognizable — but for others, it made me finally recognizable for the first time in a very long time.
My depression has always been constant, but the intensity of it tumultuous. When I go through depressive episodes, I have extended periods of time when I am nearly completely nonfunctioning and barely able to do the minimum to survive.
The years that I worked nights certainly didn’t help. I would stay in bed all day until I had no choice but to peel myself up around 4:30 p.m., give myself a ‘dry shower,’ show up (a very consistent) 10 minutes late, and get through my shift on autopilot, feigning just enough fake happiness to successfully interact with customers before I would go home and collapse with exhaustion.
At that point, I couldn’t make myself do anything other than helplessly watch the time slip by in complete dread before it was time to go to another shift.
In early 2020, I began working from home. I was sure this would be the key to solving all of my mental health woes; not only would it break the toxic night-shift cycle, but also would give me plenty of time to do all the healthy lifestyle things that I was sure would help.
I had time to exercise every day, plan and cook my meals, spend time outside, spend time with family, and even begin going to therapy. But by the end of the year, I had reached a psychological rock bottom that wasn’t at all conducive to the calm and healthy lifestyle I wanted.
My therapist introduced the idea of medication to me in January 2021. I did some research on my own and consented.
I began taking 50 mg of Zoloft that February. All of the sources I’d read said it could take anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months before I’d begin to feel the effects of sertraline — but I felt a drastic change much sooner.
The world felt brighter and lighter. My erratic mood swings, the heaviness, the existential dread were all gone.
It’s hard to describe how amazing I felt during those first couple of weeks. It was as if my brain had been a dry sponge that exploded to life as soon as it felt the first drop of serotonin it had had in many years.
The world felt brighter and lighter. My erratic mood swings, the heaviness, the looming existential dread, were all gone. I felt inspired to do things I enjoyed. I wanted to get up and be productive.
My once volatile and explosive temper was replaced with a cool and collected version of myself that I could barely recognize.
I had never, ever known what it was like to feel this good. It was very clear to me then that I had probably been severely depleted of serotonin for almost my entire life.
I’ve been on Zoloft for over a year (now on 75 mg) and, if I have to, I will take Zoloft for the rest of my life. I once cared deeply about not needing to be dependent on human-made pharmaceuticals to survive, but the thing is, I wasn’t actually surviving before — I was barely hanging on.
If you are in the same boat I was in — scared to be dependent on a drug for your happiness but feeling helplessly out of options — I’m here to tell you that two things can be true: You can be in tune with your body, nature, and healthy living, while also taking medication.
The stigma of antidepressants in the holistic community needs to stop. Help yourself live.
Medically reviewed on April 27, 2022
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About the author
Sam White is a freelance writer and journalist who cares very deeply about writing about the things that matter the most to her — being kind to the environment, being kind to animals, and being kind to other people. Sam has been featured in many different publications both online and in print, such as Insider, InStyle, WIRED, and more. To learn more, you can visit her website.