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The Pill Diaries: Zoloft + Vyvanse

Battling anxiety, depression, and very dark thoughts, one woman took a winding journey to the right Rx. But a new ADHD diagnosis means more trial-and-error.
As Told To

In the mental health world, a debate persists: to pill or not to pill? For some, prescription meds can be lifesaving; for others, they’re not a preferred treatment method. In “The Pill Diaries,” we’ll be telling your stories in your own words. The goal: End pill shaming, bust stigmas, and promote understanding. After all, each person’s journey to better mental health is uniquely their own. 

“My battle with my mental health started my senior year of college, when both my parents were diagnosed with cancer six months from each other. After my mother, whom I had a soul connection with, beat cancer twice, she then unexpectedly passed in 2018. I was immediately put on Valium short-term, then switched to Lexapro for the long term.

“I remember the turning point when I realized I wasn’t myself and needed help. I was in Boston on a work trip in 2019, and I remember looking at the empty hotel closet and thinking, If you wanted to kill yourself, you could hang yourself in that closet, and then I would cry that my brain was even capable of building those scenarios because I had no desire to do that. For the next three years, I had thoughts like that rush my brain like a tsunami in the ocean.”

Mental Note: If you are having suicidal thoughts or experiencing a mental health crisis, text or call 988, the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, any time day or night to speak with a trained counselor.

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“I spoke to my therapist about the thoughts I was having and how it scared me because she and I knew I didn’t want to die. I questioned why I felt this way, because I had a great life, great job, and great community; how could I be this sad and not have a desire to enjoy life? She assessed me and told me that she didn’t think I wanted to die, but that I was depressed and I didn’t know how to escape the weight it brought me.

“Through weekly meetings with her, we have spent hours unpacking these feelings, but therapy alone [was not enough for] my wellbeing, but also the journey of finding the right SSRI and dosage. The Lexapro stopped working, and we increased the dosage but when that stopped working, too, we switched to Zoloft. This is my third attempt at trying medication and dosage in a little over a year to find what works for me.

“Through the team of my therapist and my daily 25 mg of Zoloft, my life has changed for the better. The sun is a little brighter, I experience joy again, and more importantly, I’m looking forward to the days ahead while enjoying today. This transformation would have not been possible if it weren’t for Zoloft. I am not ashamed to tell people I am prescribed medication and rely on it because it is part of who I am and my story. I take that little blue pill, not only for myself, but for those who surround me because they deserved to see the best version of me.

Zoloft is a brand name for the prescription medication sertraline, which belongs to the class of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Zoloft, manufactured by Pfizer Inc., is primarily prescribed to treat depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Mayo Clinic. It’s long been believed that SSRIs work by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin—often dubbed the “feel good” chemical—in the brain, leaving more of the chemical available. A recent study cast doubt on this long-held belief, suggesting the exact mechanism isn’t fully understood.

Vyvanse is a brand name for the prescription medication lisdexamfetamine. Vyvanse, manufactured by Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited, belongs to the class of drugs known as stimulants and is designed to improve attention, focus, and impulse control in individuals with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Vyvanse may also be prescribed off-label for binge eating disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic. Vyvanse works by raising the levels of the chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine in your brain.

Combining Zoloft (sertraline) and Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine) requires medical supervision. Both drugs affect brain chemistry, which can potentially cause side effects like jitteriness, nervousness, anxiety, and racing thoughts, according to Drugs.com. It can also increase your risk of developing serotonin syndrome, a rare condition caused by excess serotonin in your brain, according to the Mayo Clinic. Consult your doctor, preferably a psychiatrist, who will assess your specific needs, medical history, and potential interactions. Never adjust or quit mental health medication without consulting your doctor.

“I’m 27 and just got diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed Vyvanse. I have been diagnosed by my PCP, my therapist, and a psychiatrist. Even though I have incredible insurance, due to the approval steps for Vyvanse [vs a generic version of it and because of potential abuse of it], I paid out of pocket because I was desperate. The first two days I took it, I cried tears of joy because my mind was so clear and I didn’t know the battle I was fighting my whole life could be cured.

“I got a higher dosage and the approval process started over, and I paid out of pocket once again. Six hundred and sixty dollars for two months. I am extremely privileged I could do that, but my thoughts were, What about those who can’t [pay] and need this medicine to function?

“I just got the notification that my doctor is switching medications for me due to the fact it can’t be approved. I can afford to not be reimbursed and know that the pill I take everyday is valuable. But what about those who can’t afford it, and how come I found a medicine that works and has changed my life but I can’t take it due to the fact insurance won’t cover it? Excuse my language but that’s fucked up.”

MENTAL NOTE: A medication one person takes may not work for another and may have different side effects. Always talk to your doctor before trying or switching psychiatric medications. The photo on this story is not representative of the actual pills discussed. The views expressed in this story are solely those of the author or source who requested anonymity.

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