Zoloft Warning

One afternoon just before Christmas, as I picked up the pieces of a plate G had smashed, I felt a sense of great calm. It was the first time all season that it felt like Christmas. Both boys had been sent to their rooms, and they actually went and stayed. I hummed along to Shawn Colvin’s In the Bleak Midwinter as I swept up shards of one of the last remaining wedding-gift plates. For the first time since the boys were out of school, I felt like I could make it to my 3 o’clock xanax.

Just weeks before, we had increased G’s Zoloft because his rages were getting worse. In retrospect, this was about the worst thing we could have done. “It may be that the door to the bathroom is locked from the inside,” I wrote in my journal some time in that last week before Christmas break, “but that hardly matters when there is an enraged 8-year old with a 3 foot metal rod on the other side.”

I gave up on homework and focused my energy on how to get G out of the school building without running up onto the roof of the car, or how to transport both boys in the car without anyone getting injured. My desperation increased with the degree of G’s heated temper and lead me to seek out the help of, not just another professional, but an intuitive healer. When she looked into my eyes and said, “I think he has issues with spiritual possession,” I thought, “Duh. So much for your intuitive insight.”

Daily I found myself with my arms curled around a struggling, muscular child who was doing his best to inflict the greatest amount of harm. One second he would turn his face toward me crying, “Mommy, I’m so sorry!” and then, as I eased my grip, reach around and punch me, hard, in the jaw. I feared he was outgrowing my ability to keep him safe. My biggest fear was that hospitalization was eminent.

Not able to get in to see the pediatric neurologist until June, I went through a series of frantic phone calls to child psychiatrists in the area, all of whom were too busy to see us. In the end we had to wait three days, but we got an appointment with a PA who works with our neurologist as well as some guidance on weaning G off Zoloft. When the blessed appointment finally arrived, and she started with, “Now that I see you (seemingly normal parents)…” I wondered just how frantic my phone calls had been.

G had been on the lower doze of Zoloft for three days at that appointment, and already we started to see a much calmer kid. She recommended keeping him on the lower dose of Zoloft but added Abilify, which turned him into a complacent zombie, for which we were enormously grateful. The Abilify was taking care of the rages, but he was lethargic, not able to pay attention. Somewhere a stimulant was discussed, but we’d already been down that road. They all increased his tics.

Then, through a series of phone calls and e-mail with the PA and late nights on message boards and medical sites, we came to the likely conclusion that Zoloft caused G to go into manic, violent rages. Apparently Zoloft does this in bipolar children–not only causes mania but manic rage. There are “suicide watch” warnings on the label, but nothing about rage.

As the Zoloft left his system, we were able to reduce the Abilify, and we started to see a giddy mania emerge–a welcome change after all we had been through. However, we were now faced with further evidence that our kid might be bipolar.

Life went on. The tics got worse and then better. The OCD worse. The moodiness is still there. This morning he demanded a new brother from behind his closed bedroom door and then emerged 10 minutes later fully dressed, smiling and ready for gymnastics camp. Moody and distracted though he is, the aggression is completely gone.

I’m not anti-medication (God bless 3 o’clock xanax) but now I have to share our story about Zoloft and other drugs in its class. I genuinely feel that we nearly lost our son to it, and it wasn’t the doctor that caught it. It was, in particular, a post from an anonymous bipolar person on some listserv who wrote, “Zoloft is a cruel way to learn that you are biopolar.”

It’s hard to believe that it’s even used with kids who have Tourette Syndrome considering bipolar is not an uncommon comorbid condition. It was prescribed to G by an earlier child psychiatrist–one of the most reputable and well-known in the area–who knew bipolar was already identified as a possible diagnosis.

At any rate, now we know. We will have to revisit medication in the future–to try and help him with the obsessive thinking and the relationship-destroying moods and the tics that will probably resurface, but we will do so much more cautiously.

4 Responses to Zoloft Warning

  1. Lea VanAmberg says:

    I think your blog is a gift. After spending time with you guys last week, I have started down a path of complete acceptance and I have you to thank for that.
    I will look for blog updates often.
    Keep up the awesome parenting. The rest of us need models!

    • Sophia Cairn says:

      Thanks so much, Lea!

      • amy says:

        wow; we have been dealing with adhd and other co existing for years, rage mood swings. was told that son most likely had bipolar he has been in icu for drug interactions recently with zertec and benayrl only 4 pills gave him rage and memory loss. doctor wrote script today for zolof…thank you for posting this my son is 15 and he’s been through so much i could not bear him going thru this again plus the trouble at school it could create

    • Janyelle says:

      Amy, I have sat awake many nights queinsoting our decisions regarding our daughter; are we doing the right thing? are we making the right choices? should we be doing more? less? the list goes on and on. I know you understand about those’ queinsoting nights when your mind just rattles on and on and you just can’t turn it off. I’m so thankful that one doctor was actually hearing what I was saying and got the ball rolling. Thank you for your support. I’m praying that we are on the right track again. I appreciate the hug ☺

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