Help me! I think I'm losing my mind (literally!)
May 26, 2006 7:01 AM   Subscribe

My dreams and memory loss are starting to get out of control and I'm scared.

Some background: I'm a 30 year old male, taking Effexor XR (225mg) for major unipolar depression for almost 2 years now. Prior to that, I had been on Celexa for almost 3 years, which I quit because it just turned into a sleeping zombie.

For almost 4-5 months now, I've been having problems with my sleep (dreams actually) and my memory.

Memory first: I used to pride my self on having an above average memory and normally never had a problem recalling facts, names, words etc. But now, I think my short term memory is just shot to hell. The right at the tip of your phenomenon? I'm experiencing it a little to often for comfort. I also notice that I lose my chain of thought completely in that I'll think of an idea while doing something and if I do not write it down immediately, I'll lose it within seconds and it's impossible to recall it, without going over the entire chain of events in my mind again (like replaying the tape in mind). I know depression does affect memory, but this is getting ridiculous!

Now the dreams: Maybe it's the Effexor or who knows what, but I have the most vivid, violent and eerily surreal dreams possible. Add to it the fact that of late, I've started talking loudly, so loud that I wake myself up and a few days back, managed to smash my hand into the headboard of the bed, so disturbing was the dream. I have a hard time now figuring out if my memory of an event is real or if it was something I had just dreamt about. Like I said, I feel I'm literally losing my mind.

So this is the predicament I am in. Has anyone experienced anything remotely similar? Is this something I should be really worried about? Are these signs of a deeper malaise? I did speak to my doctor about it and he gave me something for the night sweats but didn't have explanations or medication to help with the dreams.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
(I am not a medical anything.)

Oh, Effexor can do all sorts of loopy things. (Gave me crazy dreams, for one thing; lots of pills do that for people.) Talk to your doctor about this in more depth. (And I can't imagine the answer is MORE medication, or a sleeping pill; lots of times people need to take brief breaks, or transition medications, or the like, on the guidance of their physicians.) Are you going crazy? Nah. Not at all. Have you been on meds for years? Yup.

If your doctor doesn't take these symptoms/side effects seriously he's not the doctor for you.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:18 AM on May 26, 2006

As someone who doesn't take anything, I can offer that I go through spells of nightmares, often lasting months. I thrash about, talk, wake often, etc. It's fscking awful. My wife keeps threatening to get her own bed - the only defense I have is that I don't have any control over it.
posted by unixrat at 7:21 AM on May 26, 2006

Yeah, seriously, it could be the Effexor. My short-term memory is shot all to hell after taking it. Don't have the wacky dreams, though.

When you talk about your doctor, do you mean a gp or a psych? Because if it's not a psych, find one. They specialize in this, you know. And they should take your concerns seriously.

I hope this allays your fears -- I think memory loss is common. I had it worse when I was on Paxil, and especially when I was getting off of it. There are books I read that I just don't remember, at all.
posted by sugarfish at 7:25 AM on May 26, 2006

I had really fucked up dreams while withdrawing from Effexor, though it didn't happen when I was taking it consistently. If you are skipping doses or taking it at a different time each day you could be experiencing the same. IANAD of course but I would imagine introducing a new medication or changing your sleep schedule might trigger a similar response. Regardless, Effexor is some really nasty shit. I agree you need a doctor who takes these things seriously.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 7:30 AM on May 26, 2006

Effexor did all sorts of nasty crap to me. Wicked bad dreams (even now, a few months after stopping I have some doozies) and some really rough memory problems (I have to write everything down now) and restless leg syndrome like nobody's business. You don't mention if you drink (even a glass or two of wine with dinner) but I found the hard way that even a drop of booze made everything worse. Check with your doctor, esp. if you have been on the same dosage for a while -- you may be developing an immunity to it (or whatever it's called) and need a dosage change or a new drug all together. Good luck -- Effexor is a rough one.
posted by macadamiaranch at 7:32 AM on May 26, 2006

I've experienced strangely vivid dreams--usually nightmares--on most SSRIs/SSNRIs, though usually the phenomenon has gotten better once I've gotten used to the medication. As far as I know it's not a symptom of anything bad in and of itself, it's just a pain in the neck because it makes it hard to awaken refreshed.

Just a thought because it can't hurt: do you take the Effexor XR at night or in the morning? It may help to take it in the morning.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:36 AM on May 26, 2006

(Note to anon and to visitors in the thread: When your doctor prescribes anything to which there are medical alternatives - Prozac instead of Wellbutrin; Cipro instead of amoxicillin - ask why you are getting drug X and not drug Y, and listen for an answer that makes sense. All too often some hot blond will drop off some free samples, notepads, and paperweights with some logo on it, and that spikes the number of prescriptions for that drug for the next month or so. Then when that drug "works" (i.e. keeps you out of the hospital) the default is just to order a refill of whatever you were on for a particular chronic condition. Ask, ask, ask. Don't accept the default.) The More You Know... doo doo doo dooo.....
posted by Saucy Intruder at 7:36 AM on May 26, 2006

It's the Effexor. Check out Philadelphia Weekly writer Liz Spikol's blog, in particular her "Special Effexor" series.
posted by desuetude at 7:37 AM on May 26, 2006

Also, perhaps the memory problems are caused by the sleep. And additionally in the realm of "can't hurt, might help": tips for improving "sleep hygiene." Even though your problem isn't with -falling- asleep, perhaps some of the tips about having a routine and detaching from the day's events would help you be calmer during sleep.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:42 AM on May 26, 2006

Well, for what its worth, I'm not on any anti-depressants, and my short term memory is total crap. It's gotten noticabley worse in the last few years, to the point where, like you said, I feel like I spend too much time in my day trying to remember what the hell I was just going to say or do. It's irritating, to say the least. Post-it notes have become my best friends.
posted by geeky at 7:58 AM on May 26, 2006

I have a hard time now figuring out if my memory of an event is real or if it was something I had just dreamt about.

I had this exact side effect on Effexor (I took it for just over a year, I think) and it drove me absolutely crazy. I also had the short-term memory loss. Obviously, drugs affect everybody differently, but I think you can be pretty sure that these are side effects, you're not going crazy.

Other than that - what Saucy Intruder said. My doctor told me that it's really a question of trial and error, finding the drug that's right for you with minimal side effects. YMMV, but it seems like good advice to me.
posted by different at 8:06 AM on May 26, 2006

Warning - don't just STOP the Effexor on your own if you think it's what's causing your problems. Effexor withdrawal is NASTY. If you do it, you want to do it in a controlled manner, so talk to your doc.

I'm on Effexor, and I have very vivid and sometimes disturbing dreams when I forget just one dose, or take it at a different time of day than usual. (I also have more dream issues during certain times of the month, but obviously that wouldn't apply to you.)
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:12 AM on May 26, 2006

Sleep disturbances/dreams is a common side effect for Effexor.
It might be wise to try something else, I know that transitioning drugs is a killer but you need to find something that works and presents minimal side effects. These drugs cause substantial changes in the brain and not a whole lot is known about the mechanisms that make them work, so you have to get something you at least tolerate. This is tangentially related but some findings indicate that depression may have to do with not only chemicals in the brain but physical changes as well.
Good luck
posted by edgeways at 8:34 AM on May 26, 2006

I'm on effexor, and while it works fantastic for my depression, i do find myself getting the night sweats and some weirdo dreams. I dont think the dreams are being caused by the drugs so much as that I'm more likely to remember them when i'm taking meds. i find that if I take the time to really think about them, why i find them distressing, and what they may be telling me (yes, i know i'm not freud, but somtimes dreams can be revealing) they are less likely to reoccur or last as long. good luck!
posted by gilsonal at 8:38 AM on May 26, 2006

I was on Celexa for about 3 years. During the first year, my dreams were extremely vivid. I also found that when I was tired, I began to see reality in a sort of dreamlike state. I described it as the line between my dream life and my waking life was breaking down. Then sensation eased over the next couple of years, but so did the positive effects of the Celexa.

I have been off all anti-depressants now for about 2 years and my dreams - and waking life - are normal.
posted by eperker at 8:46 AM on May 26, 2006

What supersquirrel said: make sure you take the effexor at the same time each day, and/or, ask your doctor if you can break it down into two doses/day. Effexor has a very short half life in the body and you need to be very vigilant to keep your blood concentration stable. Swings in the blood concentration could be giving you the dreams, and certainly can have odd mental effects (being, in effect, a chronic state of partial withdrawl).
posted by Rumple at 9:31 AM on May 26, 2006

Someone in my family had almost unbelievable memory problems while taking Effexor. Her very sharp mental abilities returned when she stopped taking that drug.
posted by wryly at 9:45 AM on May 26, 2006

I've been taking Paxil for years. When I forget for a few days, for whatever reason, I get all sorts of withdrawal effects - including extremely vivid dreams and nightmares. At first, it freaked me out a bit, but I soon came to understand that it was a function of the medication and nothing more.

And so, I echo the sentiments of other posters: you're not losing your mind, you're just experiencing some side effects. Do some research and talk to a qualified doctor about some alternatives, etc.

For now, rest assured that you're not going crazy and that these symptoms won't last forever. When I figured this out, I was able to sleep a lot better - even with the nightmares, etc. Good luck!
posted by aladfar at 9:47 AM on May 26, 2006

I recall similarly weird dreams and frantic, vocal awakenings while on Efexor. At 225mg I also experienced a big spike in my anxiety levels, which led to an increase in dodgy dreams, probably because at this dose the noradrenaline starts to kick in. I found beta blockers helped a lot, but I came off venlafaxine pretty quickly after that.

eperker: Sounds like depersonalisation.
posted by Freaky at 10:06 AM on May 26, 2006

> eperker: Sounds like depersonalisation.

Yeah, how great is that? Although I don't begrudge people taking drugs to deal with suffering (I did) I really don't think these drugs begin to treat the source of the suffering. They are band-aids and strange band-aids at that. They all have side-effects and sometimes side-effects that don't seem worth the benefits. I enjoyed my vivid dreams. I even got a kick out the mild depersonalisation, if that's what it was. But I became complacent about many things in my life, less interested in sex and I gained weight. No depression, per se, but no risk. I began to live comfortably in the existential reality that caused my depression.
posted by eperker at 12:09 PM on May 26, 2006

The really difficult thing about antidepressants is that they level some things out but not others. Since I've been on Celexa I've had a harder time recognizing and identifying natural cycles in my behavior/sleep pattern/energy level because my familiar emotional cycle has changed. That said, while both vivid dreams and memory loss are possible side effects of Effexor they are also natural responses to experiences and changing physiological cycles. They're signs of getting older, too. I guess what I'm getting at is that no matter what equalizing drug you're on your body will react to the world in ways you don't always understand. If your doctor thinks it's a good idea, change medication, but don't count on that as the easy, quick-fix solution.
posted by yogurtisgenocide at 2:23 PM on May 26, 2006

My ex-husband had serious memory loss while on Effexor, as well. I'll add my voice to the "see your doctor about changing meds" chorus, and add, be very good to yourself while you're making the change/until the right dose of the new med gets in your system, and keep remembering that it does get better (the worst part of depression is feeling like there's no better way to feel).
posted by Cricket at 3:32 PM on May 26, 2006

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