RxISK Stories: Night of the Living Cymbalta – B’s story

This blog post has first been published on the RxISK.org website. If you would like to comment on this post, please do so using this link.

I myself had been on and off a long series of antidepressants, but never had really dramatic withdrawal symptoms until I stopped the SNRI inhibitor Cymbalta. It started when I tried to step down from 120 mg per day, back to the standard 60 mg dose. From simply feeling depressed and tired, I shifted into full meltdown mode: crying uncontrollably; unable to concentrate; simultaneously groggy and agitated. At this point I realized the drug was part of the problem, and resolved to try going drug-free, for the first time in years.

Cymbalta nightmares.

That’s when the strangest withdrawal symptom hit me: Cymbalta nightmares.

I can only describe them as a “highlights reel” of all the worst Hollywood slasher/horror movies ever made. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?  Night of the Living Dead? I don’t really know –  I’m the type who refuses to see those movies because I can’t handle the images. Yet there they were – crazed killers, spattered brains, severed limbs, the whole nine yards. In godawful living color, and even with a smell of blood I could clearly recall on awakening. That was another curious thing, because I usually don’t have vivid dreams; I’m doing well to remember them at all. These dreams were incredibly vivid.

I was VERY lucky in one sense: by this time I began hitting the Internet and discovered that this was not coming from my own mind, but from drug withdrawal. Lots of others had experienced gory nightmares that were startlingly similar to my own. Recently I checked a website called www.cymbaltawithdrawal.com. Here are a few comments:

‘… horrible nightmares. My husband woke me from a few last night. He said I was talking in Latin. My family is Catholic but the only Latin I know is from Lent at church which I haven’t been to in 10+ years. I took a nap a little while ago only to wake up crying from some Exorcist-type dream … Is anyone else having crazy, vivid religious dreams?’

‘… I have had the worst dreams of my life as well. Nice to know I’m not alone. I had no idea my dreams could be so horrible!!! Not religious but sexual, and in a bad way.’

‘… completely horrific. They are in HD, widescreen, surround sound, full colour and Smell-O-Vision … in other words, a real horror film in my head every night. What’s worse, they’re repetitive. I’ve had some of them more than 50 times. How many times can you put up with your zombie mother climbing out of her grave and lurching around your front door? That’s just one of my nightmares. I scream in my sleep and wake everyone in the house.’

‘… I never imagined that anyone else suffered from this bizarre withdrawal symptom. I eventually made the connection and it scared me and had me feeling ashamed that such brutal creations could be a product from within my brain. My nightmares vary greatly but always involve unfathomable slayings, terror, bloody massacre, dismemberment. Pretty much the most terrifying, disgusting & sad images I’d ever thought possible.’

‘… Weird. I am having terrible dreams which I can only recall parts. One of them involved an invisible being who spoke a language I didn’t understand and I was afraid of. Once in the dream, I accepted it in my mind I started to understand it and try to convince my wife (in the dream) to accept it/him too. Looks like a movie plot.. freaking out.’

‘… Each time we’ve tried to wean off Cymbalta, my sister and I have both experienced awful nightmares that are not like anything we’ve ever known. I’ll be honest, I’m a Christian and I had some long talks with God about the dreams because they were so disturbing..’

too much for some to take

The first thing that strikes me is that this side effect needs to be taken seriously. Even those of us who knew we were experiencing drug withdrawal felt some fear and shame to think, as one woman put it, “that such brutal creations could be a product from within my brain.”  To have these nightmares without any inkling they were drug-induced could be too much for some people to take. It might be much worse for those who had survived real war or other extreme trauma, or for those who held strong religious beliefs about Satan or Hell. People may also be at risk of being quickly misdiagnosed as psychotic, treated with more powerful drugs, and seen as “crazy” by those closest to them.

One of the oddities is that even the FDA recognize there is an issue, but likely few doctors who give this drug to people ever warn them about this problem. The label of the drug gives no hint.

where do they come from?

The second thing is that we might learn a lot from side effects like these if we tried. At first I wondered if there was a place deep in our limbic system full of gory images left over from our caveman past. Or could we really just be remembering gory movies? Probably not – after all, I hadn’t even seen these movies. Most likely “horror movie” is just a shorthand way to explain the dreams to others – and to distance ourselves from them. In any case, how could a chemical cause so many very different people to dream practically the same dreams?


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Comments

  1. christinebell says:

    Hi

    during the seroxat withdrawal I have had frightening nightmares and the odd thing is that I remember them in the morning Have thought I could do a horror story book.

  2. My dreams last night were worse than horror movies(at least those are fake). Mine were holocaust atrocities! Real people, real horror!! It was awful.

  3. I am so glad I did some research on this. Although, I am not going thru Cymbalta withdrawls because I am still on it, I have the worst nightmares. I think what makes them even harder to take is that I cannot wake up from them. It is like I am stuck. I have gone so far down the rabbit hole of dreams that I just can’t bring myself up and out of them.

    Holocaust, Apocalyptic/post-Apocalyptic, horrific sexual rape/beatings, guns/shootings, and the list goes on. They are more real than real life. I try to stay awake as long as I can because I actual fear going to sleep now. With Fibromyalgia, depression, et al and taking various meds I thought it might have something to do with them, but now what do we do???? I cannot keep living like this, but if I do try to 1/2 my Cymbalta dose I am a blubbering bag of booooooo’s and crying at the drop of a hat.

    Oh and I sweat something horrible. I will be 1/2 sweating and 1/2 freezing. It is winter and I can sleep in a t’shirt and a light blanket and still wake up in a ball of sweat.

  4. So glad I’m not the only one going crazy! I accidentally forgot my 60mg cymbalta, and had an experience I will never forget. The Cymbalta nightmare. I couldnt wake up from it, and when I finally did, i was so dehydrated I couldnt move. I thought I’d had a stroke. I kept falling back to sleep and the nightmare would just pick up where it had left off. What makes this worse is that I always remember my dreams. I often become lucid while dreaming (know you are dreaming). I have been this way since i was a child. This cymbalta nightmare was horrific, and I didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t. Now Im awake, terrified to fall asleep again, and petrified of this drug my brain is dependant on. Do I go cold turkey, or take my next pill knowing what this drug has done?

    • christinebell says:

      Please take your next pill and then come off slowly. The nightmares are normal when you stop taking drugs, and they can be really horrific and the odd thing is that you remember them so well.

      Good luck

  5. I’ve been taking cymbalta for 4 months now and I really like the results I was having! My doctor and I recently felt like I was emotionally stable to stop taking my antidepressant since I was only needing it temporarily; stopping it cold turkey is NOT the way to come off of cymbalta. For the past 3 nights I have been tossing and turning, almost feeling like I might suffer from restless leg syndrome, but when I finally do fall asleep around 3:30am I have horrible, vivid and morbid dreams. And I can’t wake up. I witness people I know in real life being shot in the head and then I’m being asked by my professors to shoot my classmates. I wish I would have done research on this sooner..

  6. Oh my gosh! Thank God I found this site. I, too am experiencing these demonic like horrific dreams… And if I wake up in the middle, I try and stay awake because I know as soon as I fall asleep again, the dream would just start where it left off… I tried to explain this to my husband. How long will this last?? I have never been able to remember dreams like this… Plus I never ever watch anything scary… So I don’t know how my mind is coming up with this stuff…. I need help ASAP =(

  7. This weekend I thought I was losing my mind! I ran out of my Cymbalta the other day and thanks to a very hectic holiday schedule I haven’t had time to pick up my refill. I don’t even know how to explain the dreams I have had the past couple of nights. They were extremely detailed, lucid, and just crazy. Saturday night they woke me up several times during the night. In my dream I was trying to get my husbands attention for various reasons like I was falling off of the bed and I needed him to catch me, but I couldn’t talk. I woke up freaked out and gasping for breath. At one point I woke up drenched in sweat wearing nothing but underwear in winter. I was so freaked out I had to turn on my flashlight on my phone and put some calming music on because I was laying in bed and I could hear and see things. Last night I had a crazy vivid dream about Transformers.

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