This happened like 19 years ago. It was a bad time in my life. I decided to see what would happen if I took a month’s supply of Zoloft in a day or two. I thought I would, theoretically, get to experience very intense daydreams. Needless to say, it was crazy bad. Don’t do it. I almost died at least twice, from tachycardia and from intestinal poisoning. The tachycardia actually felt nice, so I would’ve died with a smile on my face at a Jesus Lizard concert like this one, which would have been just horrible. I have not been able to find much information about people who’ve survived this sort of thing, so I thought I’d share my experience.
I took 100 mg every hour, or more, starting on a Friday afternoon. After 300 mg I felt sick, left work, puked, shit, and collapsed in bed for an hour. When I awoke I felt weird, but better. I began taking the 100 mg pills with water every hour, smashing them and then washing the powder down with a tall glass. Each pill was a day’s worth for a 275 lb. man, a friend of mine whose psychiatrist gave him all sorts of stuff to help him deal with schizoid episodes that were upending his ability to get a job, act sane, and stay out of jail. Since he was losing on all fronts, he figured it might disappoint me as much as it had him, so he told me to knock myself out, laughed, gave me the bottle and checked into a crack hotel for a weekend of debauched self-loathing.
I read some medical journals at a university library and decided to experiment. I didn’t enter into this experiment lightheartedly. What I was doing was risky, unknown territory ahead. I treated this as though I was going into a rough place for a few days, wilderness training. I secured my responsibilities, planned my window and got down to my serotonin exile.
I had to abstain from eating, that’s all I figured out. The body could absorb only so much of the drug, only produce so much serotonin. Associated with the SSRI is a two-week adjustment period before plateauing, the productive, sustainable (and addictive) phase of the drug. I thought I’d gang rape my chemistry and kickstart the plateau with a small overdose. There wasn’t much available to the public about adverse effects of SSRIs at the time. However, there was a broad consensus on food and drug interaction. Other drugs could produce harmful or diminished affect. Metabolic processes kick-started by calorie intake could cause a cascade of bad reactions that could result in coma, death or permanent damage. So, I decided to fast for the weekend, drink juice if necessary. A couple of hours after taking my first dose and falling out, I went to a concert and, about an hour into the show, I felt as if someone had inflated a balloon inside my rib-cage, as though my diaphragm had expanded like a helium balloon. I felt like I would ascend. I felt that. Every few breaths, the feeling of weightlessness, a tickling like a feather under my sternum (probably tachycardia, but it felt nice). My senses sharpened. I wadded up some paper and jammed it in my ears. I didn’t drink any booze. I didn’t want the interaction, I was fearful. The show was loud and weird. I kept to myself at the back of the room.
I went home, not tired. The fluttering vertigo went away. The sense of clarity accompanying my awareness brought no extraordinary dimension to my thoughts. I just felt like sleep was impossible, and most likely a problem I might have solved once and for all. Nevertheless, I made myself lie down in bed for six hours. It felt ridiculous. I just lay there next to my sleeping girlfriend – nothing remotely sensual about it – and tried to breathe slowly, matching her breathing. I felt calm, like an android in the dark, powering up every hour with a 100 mg tablet.
By Saturday morning I had taken the first two weeks worth of Zoloft. I was hungry. The pills would take away the hunger. My eyelids felt peeled back with pliers. That afternoon I began to feel the first bits of weirdness. I was sitting on the porch and thought I could hear the buzzing of a transformer on a nearby telephone pole through the air in the rain, like someone speaking through spinning fan blades. I could hear the buzzing, but was aware of the distortion coming through the falling rain drops. I felt like I could feel a latent current in everything as well. And then things went weirder. The buzzing had a musical quality. I thought I was listening to reggae. I had begun to have auditory hallucinations. Also, I felt sort of drunk. Colors were bright. Where was the serotonin going? Was my brain building receptors elsewhere?
I went inside and decided to lay off the pills, but didn’t. I was hoping to catch a bit of sleep, but knew it was going to be impossible, so I plowed ahead with a mulish stupidity, continuing to take the pills. I looked worn out and felt sort of grimy though I’d showered twice to cool off. I felt hot, feverish. That evening, late, I got the feeling that I could see a heat cloud around people who was causing some slight light refraction, like waves in a mirage, things around people shimmered when I looked at them. I could hold out my hand and see distant objects shimmering in the heat waves emanating from my body. Attenuated to such small nuance of my visual field was interesting, but not entirely pleasant.
I hazarded two cups of apple juice and felt a bit better. I began to hallucinate more strongly. I’d pulled all-nighters before and chalked it up to fatigue. But, like when you close your eyes and can visualize things, events, freely, that quality was available with my eyes open, but like from a tap. I could turn it on and off. I visualized things, incredible designs, objects, figures, richly detailed and fabulous. I had a spatial control over these objects I’ve never experienced before. I studied drafting in school, so I was really blown away. I could create and wipe them. I lay down that night with a pill to pass the time. I closed my eyes. Aside from the hour-long nap the day before, I hadn’t slept since Thursday night. I was hungry, but the pill took the edge off.
With the lights out the shadows were really shifting on me. Zoloft erased another night’s rest. I closed my eyes and practiced deep breathing. I could hear all sorts of things in the room, moving around. A dog with a hat, a banquet hall, some waterfalls, a couple of lectures in a foreign language. I kept chewing a pill up on the hour. Supply was running low.
At some point I experienced something of an epiphany, like I had stuck my head into a river of beautiful images, encyclopedic in scope and variety. There was an endless procession of images, places, artistically rendered images, some real, some abstracted. It wasn’t like dreaming. The imagery felt invasive. I felt as if I knew but didn’t know them. I don’t usually experience anything vivid like that. It went on for about three hours, like I had been thumbing through a vast catalog, an exquisite bestiary of images and things beyond my scope. It felt like I was looking at an entire history of a parallel world through its artwork. Then I almost fell out of the bed. Light from the next room coming from under the bedroom door seemed to cross the room. It happened again and I had to hold onto the bed. I realized my eyes were jerking around, but I wasn’t aware of them moving.
I went into the living room and the experience continued. Every few minutes I felt like I had leaned forward to the side of a mirror placed down the center of my face and, with a single eyes facing still forward, the other was looking at a reflection of the room at an extreme angle with the other. I couldn’t feel my eye move. I had a couple of pills left and I took one by 7 am, Sunday morning. I felt petrified, totally scorched, like an ember. I was weak. I was wide awake and exhausted from it. Before I took it I felt myself shaking, but afterwards, I felt better. I knew I was crashing, maybe sick, probably sick. The eye thing was a big nope. I started to worry that I had maybe had a stroke or had caused permanent damage. I started shaking again.
My girlfriend was worried when she left me alone to go to work. I assured her I was okay, and she told me to stop doing the eyes thing. That made me worry more. I felt really grimy, filthy. The clock seemed to tick backwards. I felt like I was going backwards in time. I had one pill left but I wanted to see how bad the crash was. I might need it to break my fall from the massive amounts of Zoloft charging. Whereas on Saturday my apartment was perfectly neat, OCD neat, I was now having trouble keeping coherence. I was hallucinating. People and animals were appearing and disappearing. I felt my heart racing, and I got feverish. I called poison control and the tech told me I should be dead, go to the hospital. What else would she say? My skin felt alien and I wished I could just push it off my muscles and relax.
So, I went to the hospital. I sat next to a skeletal man who kept screaming for a pillow for his ass. He was bones and in pain on the wooden chair in the waiting room. I checked in. They put me in a chair (I was swaying, unaware) and rolled me onto a ward. This was Grady Hospital in Atlanta. Its pure chaos. Two guys on gurneys passed each other, high-fived, mentioned something about killing someone, congratulating themselves. I was strapped to a gurney and left in a hallway. Interns came by and read the clipboard and took turns telling me they were my friend and I was going to have better days. I asked one of them what my clipboard said and he told me it said I was there for attempted suicide, OD on amphetamines. I spent an hour in a hallway strapped to a gurney getting old man pats and assurance. My eyes kept doing the weird hyperjumps. The place was like a loud, horrible circus backstage.
When a RN came by I told him what I’d done and he pleaded with me to stick to cocaine like normal kids, gave me a 32 oz bottle of grape charcoal emulsion and told me I had 15 minutes to down it or he’d pump my stomach. He unwrapped my restraints and let me sit up. I chugged it. I almost threw it back up. I felt it push its way down into my guts with an agonizing urgency. Trailing my cloth restraints from the wrists, I unsteadily made my way to a bathroom right as a gigantic woman in a gown walked out, dripping urine down her legs and gown. I went into the bathroom.
The floor was filthy. Standing puddles of urine. I noticed the wraps on my wrist were trailing into the urine and I struggled to loosen and free myself of them before a hydrant of black shit erupted from my ass, but was unable to. I didn’t have time to even crouch over the dirty toilet. It just flew everywhere. It splattered all over the wall, toilet and floor. I shit so much it was like a ride. I was yelling “woah!” I wiped my lower body off, soaped up and cleaned up myself the best I could. I threw the restraints into the garbage. Suicide, my ass. I felt loads better.
I went back to the gurney and waited for the nurse. Staff tried to admit me to the psych ward, even took me into the unit, but I was able to leave because I’d arrived at will, and chose to leave at will, coherent and courteous the entire time. The nurse who saw me out said the charcoal cleared me, and I was lucky most of the pills probably had been lying inert in my intestines, and a meal would’ve killed me, but I was okay to eat. Overloaded with all sorts of patients, they were happy to lessen their workload, and I left in my own clothes. I caught a taxi home.
I felt like I wanted to become a monk, I tried to put myself back together. I felt subhuman. I ate and drank and called a friend to come over with a joint and chill me out. He called a couple other friends over and we talked about the experience. While I had been at the hospital, my girlfriend had called a couple of friends of mine and told them what I did. They dropped by to check on me. The scrutiny was welcomed. I needed personal interaction very badly. I descended through degrees into a stupor. Monday was a holiday, so I just slept in. My entire body was sore, like I’d been thrown out of a moving car. The next three months I experienced a very charged existence. I liked doing art and I put out a lot of stuff. I almost died, and I used the euphoria I’d experienced upon recovery to channel a lot of energy into some art projects and hell-raising. I felt like I had risked my life needlessly for inspiration.