I like to divide my time here on planet Earth into two distinct time periods: pre and post-Zoloft. I would abbreviate the two, but they’re both “P.Z.” To be fair, any human’s life is undoubtedly more nuanced than two large blocks of time, but for the purposes of this article, stay with me.
“Pre-Z” — age 13 up until about a year ago — was a time of rushed meetings, angry car rides, delusions of grandeur, fears of being trapped in small spaces, panic attacks in grocery stores, fears of having panic attacks in grocery stores, and so on and so forth. Pretty dark, eh? Don’t get me wrong, there were some good times in there (shout-out Spring Break Class of ’04 Lake Havasu OMG you guys were the best!!!! JK I didn’t go anywhere), but overall, it was a constant struggle to battle “the noise” inside my brain. While my childhood was generally carefree, spent imitating all of the ethnic Disney princesses and running around like the little tomboy I was and still am, things shifted when I hit age 13.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what happened. Hormones, sure. Parents fighting, sure. But few know the real truth, which is that I actually developed a fear of fainting after one time losing consciousness while exiting an airplane because I ate too many sour patch kids and my blood sugar dropped. It’s actually very funny for me to write out now, but at the time, it was hands-down the most traumatic thing that had happened in my short lifespan thus far. Losing consciousness for a type-A Virgo who is hyper-aware and hyper-vigilant represented a loss of control, a fear of death on some level, and the ongoing sensation that I wasn’t safe in the world. A lot for a 13-year-old to think about, right? But here we go. This event then led to situational claustrophobia and the fear that I could lose control, or faint, in any situation in which I may have found myself trapped.
Combine this with a constant sense of awe at Planet Earth — I’m a natural born stoner without the weed — and an incessant hunger to understand the “why” of existence, and you’ve got a recipe for neuroticism, or pure genius, you make the call ;) It didn’t take long for my thoughts to desensitize me from reality and lead to a spiral of other thoughts that would, as my therapist warned, take me “out of my body and up, up, and away if I wasn’t careful….."
The fear loop, man. I knew it well. I could feel it coming on. I would avoid certain situations where I had panic attacks, and then, of course, that led to fears of many places: freeways, elevators, bridges, tunnels, grocery stores, basically anywhere where I didn’t have an immediate escape. Looking back, I can’t believe this brain was mine. I remember choosing to make videos in middle school when I should have given live presentations because I thought I could better control the circumstances. One time, while working at my first job, the air conditioning turned off in the middle of the summer and I was wearing some pretty tight new skinny jeans. I made the bold decision to go home at lunch and change into a dress, taking off my pants in the car so I wouldn’t suffocate (obviously), but getting pulled over and searched by Secret Service agents who were in town protecting a nearby President Obama. That was a hilarious low point.
Now that I’m on the Z, I can definitely see that I had a chemical predisposition towards anxiety. While hyper-vigilance probably kept me safe as a hunter-gatherer in a past life and successful as an athlete in this life, it ultimately prevented me from learning how to let go. My therapist and family members suggested medication, but I resisted it for a number of reasons. One, I was determined to “figure it out” all on my own. If I could run 10 miles in the rain, of course I could cure my own anxiety! After all, did our hunter-gatherer ancestors have access to Paxil? The answer, of course, is NO Katie, obviously our hunter-gatherer ancestors did not have access to 25 milligrams of the SSRI of their choice to stay calm whilst hunting wild boar. They needed that adrenaline to kill the boar, you idiot! But, on top of that, they also didn’t live in an over-stimulated, fast-paced, and technology-driven capitalist society that continues to place more value on the head than the heart. They were in tune with the moon cycles, man. They literally made rugs from buffalos, and then chilled with that buffalo’s family the next day.
Secondly, I am a natural eater and very careful about what I put into my body. To me, medication represented a synthetic crutch manufactured by the pharmaceutical industry, a business dependent upon the ongoing sickness of the masses for its success. But this isn’t altogether accurate, as I’ll later explain. Instead, I chose to over-educate and intellectualize my ailments, reading book after book on cognitive behavioral therapy, along with spiritual texts to help with the existential angst, usually while jogging on the treadmill. If the juxtaposition of bro-dudes chugging muscle milk and strutting past a sweaty alien on a treadmill reading the Old Testament with The Kardashians droning on silently in the background doesn’t amuse you, I honestly don’t know what will.
I saw a healer, a hypnotherapist, a life coach, and even a shaman to try and cleanse my ancestral lineage and any past trauma that might have led to this tendency to over-think. As it turns out, people sternly telling you to “meditate!” doesn’t really solve anything if you’re already living in a tangled web of thoughts. Today, I love to meditate and my body actually craves it, but it took a lot of work to get here. Zoloft helped me short-circuit the fear response and give me a more poised perspective to start re-building a healthier and stronger brain.
In spite of the “noise,” I always pushed myself to do things. I managed to get a scholarship to play Division 1 lacrosse, I got several jobs in the real world, and I woke up every morning and kept my eyebrows impeccably on fleek (and then proceeded to scream in horror at the crushing weight of existence… you know, the usual). I would impress those around me, building up the “idea of Katie Felber” and acting incredibly serene when shit was goin’ down inside. I once worked on the 15th floor of a building and exclusively took the stairs, sometimes walking up to 60 flights a day. Ya’ll wonder how I get this body, huh? It’s not that simple. You think you know, but you have no idea: this is the diary of a fucking psycho.
I used to have these elaborate ideas of how people or society should be, largely grounded in theories that I studied in college at Berkeley and naively thought should manifest themselves in the real world. Again and again, although I could see that the world was different than the picture in my head, I was idealistic, and perhaps a little delusional, and refused to believe it. I delayed adulthood for as long as I could, adopting the Millennial stance of “I literally need to get paid for my passion otherwise I’m not living!!!” I dated a lot of men but ultimately felt alone. I was alienated from my soul, drifting, guided only by ideas in my head and an intense longing for something “more.” Then I tried drugs! Just kidding (not really).
The day that “Pre” came to its beautiful and tragic peak was on May 20th, 2015 — the day I wrote in my journal: “I think I am sick.” I had quit my job, moved back home with my parents, and spent my days watching The Waltons on loop. What a time. Enter: Dr. Davis, a chill, overly-communicative experienced psychiatrist, who prescribed me with 25mgs of Zoloft, the lowest possible dose. There was nothing I hadn’t tried up until then, aside from medication, so I decided it was time. For those of you who have seen my YouTube video chronicling the first 2 weeks adjusting to said dosage — it was, indeed, a roller coaster. But in the best possible way. I can only describe it as going from feeling like a complete and total alien visiting planet Earth, to feeling like less of one — maybe a legal alien by way of marriage and a green card. Yes, I married Zoloft. Zoloft is now my husband we’re gonna have really cute kids/pills.
There was a psychiatrist and author named John W. Perry who once wrote that psychotic experiences are like the “breaking, or the crumbling, under the weight of seeing too much.” Fortunately, I was never schizophrenic like many of the cases he chronicled, but up until a year ago, not a day would go by in which I didn’t feel like my brain was about to pop off (and not in a “turnt” way). I had no filters. The world moved me more than I moved it. Everything “Pre” appears as a giant foggy mess, scattered across my early to mid-20s like shards of glass after accidentally dropping a mason jar filled with a dumb salad I attempted to create from a Pinterest post one night while stoned.
Put another way, before I married Z, it felt like I had an unavoidable, and often painfully loud, soundtrack of heavy metal music blasting in the background of my mind. An open tab on Spotify, if you will, that was connected to an aux cord and plugged into a bluetooth radio that was installed in my Toyota Corolla for free by a random guy off Tinder who is now married with a baby on the way. (Wait, what?). Now I have a nice jazz quartet situated in the center of my cerebral cortex. It’s amazing.
It’s hard to imagine that I’m at the year anniversary of Zoloft. When I look back to last May, I remember sleepless nights spent googling the American southwest, specifically the Annunaki, who I was convinced visited our ancestors and continue to live amongst us, and countless trips to health food stores to buy magnesium supplements in an attempt to cure my 6-month eye twitch. I carried bags and bags of food with me “just in case,” one time even smuggling greek yogurt into a club, simply to distract myself from…. from…. loneliness? Fear? Hard to tell. I actually have no explanation for the alien thing — it’s still fascinating to me. But it is hard to decipher why I did the things I did. While anxiety is often closely intertwined with depression, it’s difficult to isolate which came first, the chicken or the egg. In this case, I will say that the egg of anxiety came first for me and created levels and waves of depression I hadn’t known before. My appetite got messed up and I was never truly hungry, but I would make sure to eat or carry food with me so that I wouldn’t faint. As an athlete, this greatly affected my workouts and often left me exhausted after what would’ve been a very easy sesh.
I still have anxious thoughts, to be sure. But the Z has helped calm my physiological fear response so that I’m better able to think through, and ultimately detach from, said thoughts before they catapult me into full-blown survival mode. Because, as I’ve learned, we ARE NOT OUR THOUGHTS! We are so much more…. like our tweets! Come on, I kid. You know it’s all about Instagram. Technology does have this new and interesting way of creating unintentional records of our minds. During the hardest two or three years of my life, I charted my sadness, frustration, and anxiety with the entire human species on the public walls of Facebook for all my “friends” to see. And now, here I sit, on my damn yoga mat, with my ankle wrapped and elevated and the creative juices a-flowin….charting my damn ascent into happiness for the first time in years. Dude, where’s my heart? That’s what I thought: it’s been here the entire time.
This “Post Z” brain also helped me focus more closely on each singular moment. I began to see the world for what it is, rather than what I often feared it would — or would not — be. It is astounding. I don’t know if I am no longer “sick”, or if I’m becoming “healthy” again, or if, on the other hand, if I’m becoming “sicker” by becoming “too healthy” and “too normal” now, but life is a thousand times more manageable. I had my first real relationship since college this year! Granted, I got dumped on Valentine’s Day, but I bounced back from that shit like a champ. I went from having a nonstop eye twitch and daily panic attacks, isolating myself in my room, recording unintelligible (but kinda genius), poetry on my laptop and snap-chatting* myself onto various farm animals, to having a new job and running a successful weekly comedy show. *Edit: I still definitely snap-chat myself onto farm animals, and you should too. It’s very grounding.
I sometimes wonder if madness is superior to the sane mind. Do you? I’m sure Foucault would have a lot to say about this. My pre-Zoloft life has informed who I am, and I continue to be that person, deep down. I still have a myriad of thoughts (hence my over-use of parenthesis, are you sick of it yet?) — but I feel like they work with me now, rather than against me. The beauty of the world no longer saddens me — rather, it energizes me. You guys? I think I just drafted the starting lineup of thoughts for my adult brain. And Houston? We’ve got some power hitters.
Bringing it back to my Berkeley brain, I will take this opportunity to quote Nietzsche. I believe it was Twilight of the Idols in which said, in so many words, that the quality of our lives lies part and parcel with our ability to say yes, or no, to all of life’s offerings. Are you a yes-sayer, or a nay-sayer? Are you going to let your thoughts work for you, or against you? This is a very Judaic idea as well. We all have the ability to create heaven — or hell — here on Earth, with our thoughts and actions. The “joyous affirmation” of the world (sorry, I have no page numbers for you damn Millennials) colors our immediate experience and may, in fact, lead to the humbling realization that we are all, always, constantly in the process of “becoming” with the world.
Zoloft has helped me grow up enough to realize that I want to choose “yes!” — I want to operate from a place of love, and I can! My brain is stronger, more alive, and, interestingly, better equipped to experience real emotion. I forgot who said that “anxiety is the avoidance of suffering,” but it’s ironic because while that premise is true, anxiety actually leads directly to suffering. Zoloft has helped me to build the armor to exhale into actual suffering, and then…detach.
I still meditate. I still go to therapy when I can, and, of course, practice yoga. I still believe that we are spiritual beings having a human experience on this planet. But sometimes our genetic wiring can spiral out of control, and the benefits of these holistic approaches are difficult to fully enjoy without a little help from our friends (drugs) which, by the way, were created by man/woman, whom also happen to be creations of Gd/The Universe, etc. So it’s all good. And while the “Millennial Dilemma” still weights strong on my mind and I’m not entirely sure what my ultimate “passion” or voice is, I find myself excited to keep developing it, allowing the world to shape me now as much as I shape it.