Zoloft – a personal experience



I have talked a few times already on this site about how Celexa (citalopram) has been known to cause weight gain. Recently I received this interesting email from someone who has used Zoloft (sertraline). If anyone has anything else to say about their own experiences with drugs like these, particularly on the weight loss or weight gain issue, I would be interested to hear from them and happy to publish it here. Here’s the mail:

"I was prescribed Zoloft two years ago for anxiety issues.  It took care of my anxiety, I felt great, but I gained 18lbs!  I was a mess and was very unhappy about it.  It seemed to me that the Zoloft took away my ability to focus on my diet ( previously I was very strict about sugar restriction etc ).  Since I weaned off of the Zoloft, for the past year, it has been extremely difficult to lose the weight.

Unfortunately, I am having a severe depressive period due to a sibling committing suicide and I have fallen into a pit of despair so my doc has just prescribed me Celexa.  I am very very nervous about starting this med since I don’t want to gain any more weight.

But it’s a catch 22….I want to feel better, less depressed, and I need to keep my weight neutral.  Am going to try the Celexa and keep in my mind that my cravings for food are probably due to the fact that I am feeling better and want to eat….and I will try to stay weight neutral."

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Therapy Shopping – the scams and the dangers


For anxiety and depression there are endless alternative therapies on the market. They are called alternative because no doctor would ever prescribe them and I refer to them being "on the market" because they are definitely sold as a business, not prescribed on a basis of needs analysis.

Bookshops are full to the brim with self-help books on anxiety which make extremely brave claims about how effective their techniques are, and how quickly and easily they work. In our compensation culture it never ceases to amaze me how they get away with making such outlandish claims.  You would have thought that trading standards officers might get involved.

But how does it work? How do therapies and their celebrity founders get so big despite the fact that they are selling completely unproven, unscientific and, more often than not, useless products to vulnerable people.

People that suffer from anxiety and depression are very easy targets. They want something badly (to recover), they are willing to part with what money they have, and they are desperate for an easy way out. In plain, they want to believe it.

When you want to believe something, or you want to check its validity you look for evidence. If you are taking a prescription medicine for anxiety or depression you do so safe in the knowledge that the drug has passed rigorous trials and had its efficacy demonstrated by research published in peer reviewed journals. Despite many opportunities alternative therapies are rarely subjected to this kind of investigation and seldom prove to have any value.

Instead, the celebrity "pioneers" of these new techniques prefer to publish books aimed at sufferers where their techniques are "proven" just by giving examples and testimonials. Although they claim the examples come from real life there is no way of knowing. Typically they go something like this: "Jane had been suffering from severe anxiety since her early twenties….after reading this book/doing this exercise/drinking this/taking that pill she hasn’t had an anxiety or panic attack in two years!". But who is Jane? More often than not they claim that Jane is not a real person but an amalgamation of real people the therapist has treated. We can never prove it. And in fact, I know from personal experience that what we often tell our therapists about our progress isn’t true!

Strange as it may seem I have caught myself many times exaggerating my progress to a therapist I paid good money to see on the basis that I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. I should have sacked them. I think, maybe, that wanting others to be happy is a common symptom of both anxiety and panic, as is putting other people’s needs ahead of our own. But in truth we should not spare our therapists blushes, under any circumstances.

I must add that this kind of qualitative data is not a bad thing per se. In fact I would like to see drug companies and scientific journals using much more of this kind of research to help qualify the statistical data they have collected. After all, knowing that for example 60% of participants’ depression improved over twelve months of taking such and such a drug doesn’t actually tell us much about the improvement a patient is likely to feel. Only extensive qualitative research is likely to tell us that.

There is a side to all this gimmickry which in my opinion is the worst of all. It effects not just anxiety sufferers or people with conditions like depression, panic disorder, SAD, GAD and social anxiety, but also people who are suffering from a range of serious medical conditions as well, from arthritis to HIV and cancer. Authors of these books seem to get together and swap personal testimonials. For example one "guru" describes another authors work as "a tremendous breakthrough" and in turn that author quotes heavily from the "guru’s" own work in his book. The result is a merry-go-round of famous authors blowing sunshine up each other and completely artificially creating an illusion that a therapy or technique is effective and respected, even though it has NEVER been shown to work and the respect it has gained is purely commercial.

I hope someone stamps down on this kind of behaviour soon, for all our sakes!


Cure Social Phobia?

Social Phobia (sometimes called Social Anxiety Disorder) is a nasty label to be given and one which I think is counter productive. It is much better to think of yourself as someone who can be shy, even very shy, rather than someone who has a lifelong condition as an inherent part of them. Social Phobia, like all phobias is eminently treatable…dare I use the word cure? The label given to very shy or nervous people by the medical/psychological status quo might be helpful for their administration and organisation, but is not at all helpful to your condition.

So how is it treated? Well, of course there are the drug therapies and the ubiquitous CBT which I talk about elsewhere on this site and in more detail. But what of something new, which as time moves on seems to become ever more likely as a cure or at least a very useful tool in the fight against the feelings that I refuse to label Social Phobia?

There has been much talk in the media lately of online worlds where people can meet new friends, run businesses and do almost anything that can be done in the normal world. I must admit that in my opinion these secondary worlds are completely pointless and a rather sad indictment of what our societies have become. But as these worlds advance and technologies move forward it did strike me that there is a a good use for them after all – treatment of Social Phobia!

The online world technology could be harnessed to allow people who are extremely shy or feel nervous in social situations (and have therefore been classed as social phobics) to create social situations which are entirely under their control. They could then experiment with different outcomes and watch the unfolding events either through their own eyes in first person or as an outside observer.

For a long time flight simulators have been used to help people with a fear of flight bridge the gap between imagining flying and actually getting on a plane. These online worlds could make a similar experience for social situations. But they would be better because they are cheaper, can be accessed from home, are more malleable and less daunting!

Here’s to the future!

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How to have a happy 2008

I just wanted to very quickly quote from the UK’s Guardian Newspaper which had some great advice for leading a happier life. Struck me that it would be useful for anxiety and depression sufferers, as well as anyone who is just a bit stressed out.

The advice basically came in four parts.

The first was entitles "Give yourself permission to be human" and can be summed up as allowing emotions to come out. Get over the stigma in our societies against people who show negative or too much emotion. Blocking our emotions doesn’t help us, and tends to make us feel more anxious and depressed. Accept how you feel.

Secondly, one should simplify life. Don’t take on too much or try to do too many things at the same time. Focus on doing fewer things with more quality. It is much more enjoyable!

Thirdly, take regular exercise. I have talked on this blog before about the benefits of exercise when it comes to anxiety and depression. Basically though, for some people it is as good as or better than taking an anti-depressant! Read more in this post on exercise, depression and stress.

Lastly, focus on positive things and make an effort each day to be grateful for what you have got. The article suggests making a list of good things which have happened each day. Seems to work for me!

Happy and peaceful 2008!