On Zoloft, Inception Is Real

I’ve been on Zoloft for about a month and though worlds better than the other SSRIs I’ve been on, one of the more intriguing side effects is that my dreams are insane. They are vivid. They are cinematic. They are scary, not like a zombie apocalypse, but like a car accident or a heart attack.

They feel real and realistic, which makes them even more disturbing. They feel like memories, or even closer, they feel like things that just happened.

Sometimes they are Inception-style dreams where I believe I’m awake and then wake up again. In one such dream, I was, in reality, at my parents’ house in Florida but I “woke up” believing I was home in my New York apartment. I got dressed like normal and went about my day in my apartment, only realizing I was still dreaming when I grabbed my perfume bottle and noticed it was misshapen. (How’s that for a totem, Leo DiCaprio?)

It was super jarring to then wake up AGAIN. I wasn’t sure which was reality for a while. During the day, the Zoloft has been, as I put it to friends, “deadening my emotions.” Which, for me, hasn’t really been a bad thing. Stuff that I’d normally bawl my eyes out about, I’m just tearing up or not crying at all. (It’s a little hard to cry actually.) Stuff that would make me flip out or that I’d normally feel very intensely about (so like, career woes or relationship drama) have been relegated to me thinking, “Oh. This is bad” or “This will be okay.” I’m thinking in very simple terms or short sentences like that more and more. Not everything is THE END OF THE WORLD OMG like it used to be. Is this better or is it, as one Google search for Zoloft put it, “a chemical lobotomy?” When the Zoloft started to really kick in, I asked a friend, “Oh, is this what normal people feel like all the time?” Where does my intensity go if it’s no longer there during the day?

When I Googled “Zoloft and dreams,” I found many people asserting that the anxiety they were no longer feeling while awake was manifesting in spades at night. So while the medication works, the feelings have to go somewhere. They dreamed of lost pets, of being in train stations with no ID or money, of missing calls from loved ones. What struck me is that all these are very realistic, typical situations. All the mundane stuff people would normally freak out about in real life was shifting over to be dealt with by the subconscious.

I dreamed about going to the supermarket with my boyfriend without wearing shoes, or that my mom was hugging me in my sleep, or that I was a professional makeup artist but I didn’t actually know anything about makeup application. I’m obviously still worried about humiliation or being unprepared or family troubles. And if I can’t feel it during the day, my brain’s gonna make damn sure I feel it while I sleep.

One of the scarier articles talked about the effects of Zoloft on people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. While they’re awake, the meds suppress their tension, but when their guard is down, that barrier lifts. This results in some totally frightening shiz, including Homeland-esque waking up and bruising your wife because you think she’s an enemy insurgent.

What does this mean? Is this suppression ultimately useless? Is everything just bursting through like water leaking out of a levee? Is the flood inevitable?

As a side note: For anyone also going through this, I can’t recommend the graphic novel Marbles by Ellen Forney nearly enough. It’s amazing. Reading it felt like someone else had written my autobiography — right down the weird detail that during her lowest point mental-health-wise, she could only eat bananas. (Shout out to bananas! Making sure people in the throes of a mental breakdown get their necessary potassium!) TC Mark

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