Nightmare hangovers

By Mir
October 21, 2013

I have never actually been an addict of any kind (uhhhh… eating all the chocolate in the house so that there’s not any chocolate in the house to tempt me doesn’t count on that score, right?), so this may be completely off base, but I think the process of going off this stupid medication that never actually worked for me has been a lot like withdrawal. (Maybe. I have no idea, like I said, but hey, I’m a squeaky-clean, middle-aged, middle-class woman who saw Trainspotting once. Or something.)

Basically, you know, I’m fine, and it’s no big deal. Except that while I was taking this med, I was exhausted all the time and had a lot of trouble sleeping. Now that I’ve been weaning down, I’m a lot less tired than I was (though still tired, because hey, WHY NOT), but when I sleep, good lord, I have the most vivid, disturbing dreams. I wake up every morning and from every nap in a cold sweat, trying to discern reality from nightmare, as some horrible scenario gradually fades from my consciousness.

This, of course, means that my doctor said “Go down in dosage this much for one week, then this much for another week, then decrease by half” or somesuch, and after the first few days of heightened technicolor dreamscapes I took the proposed weaning schedule and tossed it in favor of being off the meds in about half the time.

[Do not bother telling me that this is probably making the side effects worse, because I’m pretty sure it’s making the side effects worse. On the other hand, it’s getting it all out of my system faster, hopefully, and all I want is to never be on this drug ever again, thank you and amen.]

The worst part—you know, aside from the exhaustion, weight gain, general blurriness, and the desire to stab my doctor in the face—is that these horrible nightmares often make no sense when I wake up, and so conveying how terrifying they were is impossible. What was bone-chillingly awful while in semi-drugged REM sometimes sounds stupid in the light of day. I’ve given up on subjecting Otto to every sordid tale, because half the time it makes no sense.

Notable exception: the time I dreamed I was pregnant, he was pretty much as horrified by that one as I was, turns out, and I don’t think it’s just because I don’t have a uterus. (“But how did that work, exactly, in the dream? Had you just not had a hysterectomy or what?” “I think it grew back? And that seemed perfectly normal? I TOLD YOU IT WAS A NIGHTMARE.”)

Two months of sleeping like crap can then be made up with a few weeks of tons of sleeping with bonus brain activity! I mean, I hope, anyway. Otherwise I may be in trouble. But either way, I’m now off the Dreadful Med and hoping that things return to normal (become normal?) very soon.

In the meantime, I FEEL very busy, but I realized this weekend that some of that is because of this extensive catalog of dream-activities which aren’t actually happening. I feel stupid writing that out, but it’s true.

Dream activity: Working undercover at a high school where a serial killer is attacking students! Trying to keep the teachers from discovering that I’m a cop and there are guns in my locker! Trailing the perp while trying to remember to turn in my chemistry homework so as not to blow my cover! Accidentally shooting the wrong person! (EXHAUSTING!)

Real activity: Making coffee and packing lunches in the morning. Also: Trying to shake off the lingering ick from the whole dream activity thing that didn’t actually happen. (EXHAUSTING!)

I did manage to take a little road trip with a fellow mom this weekend to watch our kids at an out-of-town event, and that was a much-needed respite on several levels. My favorite part was that for much of the travel time we got into one of those sorts of conversations where you realize that your kids are really a lot more okay (or everyone else’s kids are a lot less okay) than you assumed. You know how that goes, right? One of you says, “Oh, listen, my kid did blah blah blah last week and we were LIVID…” and then the response is something like, “Oh, honey, LISTEN. Let me tell you what MY kid did…” or “Oh, did you hear about this OTHER kid? Lemme tell you about THAT….” None of it is mean-spirited, mind you, more of a friendly “listen, teenagers are all insane” kind of thing.

Misery (or bewilderment, anyway) does love company now and then.

Other than the crazy sleeping stuff, there’s work and kids and laundry and life in general, and none of it actually involves guns or miracle babies, and it may or may not be exhausting, because I’m just exhausted in general.

Not all nightmares remain awful, though. I’ll just leave you with this bit of joy: My darling daughter recently shared that she had a dream (nightmare) in which, according to her, I had ordered “a large box of rats” off the Internet because she is so reluctant to get up in the morning. When I questioned how the rats figured into the morning routine, she told me that in this dream, every time she didn’t get up right when I told her to, I put a rat in her bed and told it to bite her on the nose. Now any time she doesn’t want to do something or is moving a little slowly, that smartass child o’ mine will offer, “You know what you should do? You should get a rat to bite me on the nose. I bet that would help.”

Naturally I am wary of the crossover between the nightmare world and the real one, so instead I settle for telling Licorice to bite Chickie on the nose. She’s having some trouble understanding that “bite” is not the same as “lick,” though. Still, having your sinuses excavated by a small dog with bad breath is pretty unpleasant, so I think it’s a good compromise.


  1. MrsB

    If it was Effexor – then you are right in line with the rest of the world trying to get off of it. Maybe take it a bit slower.
    Makes your brain buzz…..and dreams of wavy grids moving constantly across eye sight – with streaming words that made no sense.
    Terrible stuff.
    Didn’t work in the first place.

  2. CIndy

    My doctor put me on an SSRI once and I had a similar experience. (Minus the whole baby thing which is interesting for the dual nature of miraculous AND creepy) I didn’t always remember my dreams but every single morning, I had this overwhelming feeling of doom and dread and BAD THINGS. I just don’t seem to do drugs well in general. Pain pills make me vomit and not the regular kind either but projectile, like I am two years old. Or break out in massive hives. I had a horrible case of strep throat once and went to an ER where they gave me some kind of pain med intravenously. It causes all my veins to turn bright red. And man, you have a lot more veins than you would think. I looked like I’d had a whole body tattoo of a roadmap. SEXY.

  3. Sharon

    Sure hope the meds are out of your system soon and you can catch some restful zzzzzzz…

  4. Mary K. in Rockport

    Oy. Just oy.

  5. Chuck

    That undercover at the school nightmare sounds like it would make a pretty interesting story, actually. Hope you feel better soon! I am recovering from recent-life blahs but I’m trying to get back in the swing of things myself.

    • Cathy

      I would definitely watch that movie.

    • Wendalette

      I would read that book (and watch the movie).

  6. Sarah B.

    I get those dreams even when I’m *not* medicated, which just goes to show how messed up my mind is. I hope those go away for you soon. They aren’t fun at all. Love the rat/dog scenario, though. Very cute… as long as you aren’t the one whose nose is being attacked!

  7. not supergirl

    Oh yeah, I’ve been there. And for me, it was Effexor, as mentioned above by MrsB. Effexor (and Pristiq) tried to kill me whenever I’d forget to take it. That didn’t happen often, but it did happen occasionally, so I dreaded quitting it. And then I quit cold turkey, because I was having a completely unrelated problem that was hard to figure out, and i thought that maybe there was a possiblity that it was caused by Effexor, which had been helping me.

    Spoiler alert: No. The Effexor wasn’t related. That was stupid.

    Anyway, yes, the super vivid nightmares were incredible. If I ever doubted that these medications do have an impact on how my brain works, well, I stopped doubting it then. I also so hated the world that I can remember kicking things, like my car, when my family members were running late for a baby shower. Because that’s really something that requires a temper tantrum? No. Also stupid.

    Basically, quitting that drug made me temporarily very stupid, and to be honest, that’s another of my nightmares.

  8. Lucinda

    I went through a period of time years ago where I would have the most disturbing dreams ever (Hey, I think I was on an antidepressant at the time now that I think about it. Hmmmm). The kind of dreams where I was disturbed the my brain could even produce those kinds of scenarios (think extreme violence). It was scary but also exhausting! I was tired all the time because I felt like I had worked so hard in my sleep. So, yes, it makes complete sense to me that you feel tired from doing so much when mostly it’s been dreaming.

  9. exoboist

    Hey, I hope it isn’t Effex0r. I know getting off of it can be hard, but that’s my one true med, the one that worked when I’d tried all the others. Ser0quel, on the other hand, was the one that had me turning off the morning alarm and planning a nap as soon as possible. Anyway, it’s just odd how these meds have such different effects on us and they never seem to know which one will work.

  10. Jessica

    Oh my gosh I’m tired just reading this, you superhero, nightmare-haver. I would totally do the same thing, ignore my doctor and suffer through the consequences of getting off the meds fast. Hope you’re feeling better and sleeping better soon and that you are not growing a second uterus.

  11. Brigitte

    It kinda makes me laugh, because that’s supposed to be a side-effect of being ON the meds I take, but since I’ve always had nights full of dreams like that, I don’t notice any difference. The worst nights leave me logy and disoriented all day, with the refrain from Strawberry Alarm Clock’s “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night” ringing through my head.

  12. ML

    It took all of my effort to keep from laughing so loud I would wake up the baby at the mention of the box of Internet rats.

  13. Jenny

    Mir, whatever you were taking, I hope you feel better soon. I can’t believe how many people are also familiar with Effexor discontinuation syndrome. It’s been years since I came off it and I am still very frightened of making med changes.

  14. Jen

    I went cold turkey off Lexapro two years ago, as we were doing the very last final packings and preparations to move cross country. Holy hell in a hand basket, that was a nightmare. Never ever ever again.

    And where did you say you found that box of rats? ‘Cause I have a 12 year old WHO WILL NOT GET OUT OF BED RIGHT NOW. Ahem. ;)

  15. Wendy

    Ahhh. Yes. I am a “vivid dreamer” (read–sleep disorder). That’s my life almost every single night–and I’m on both Zoloft and a sleep medication. I’ve been this way since I was a child. It’s crazy when you can wake up completely terrified, and then tell someone else about the dream and realize that it is JUST. SO. STUPID. I quit telling my husband, too, because he would either roll his eyes or get confused and start asking questions, which just irritated me because why couldn’t he follow the crazy storyline? Men.

  16. Pip

    I’m on sertraline (Zoloft) for my anxiety, and I get withdrawal symptoms quite frequently because one of the things I get anxious about is picking up my prescriptions.

    The vivid dreams are exhausting, it’s very hard to maintain any sort of body temperature, and the pins and needles and dizziness drive me mad. Don’t like it!

    I have now discovered I can get my repeat prescriptions online. Hopefully no more cold turkey for me.

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