Sleeping Wide Awake


When I was a kid, my mum would push the bedside drawers against the bed to act as a barrier because I tended to roll out. I eventually outgrew that, but it was a sign of the sleeping troubles I would always have.

In my twenties, I had bad insomnia. I grew tolerant to sleeping tablets. My GP tried a range of other medications where drowsiness was a side effect. For a while, I had success with an antihistamine, but once I grew used to those I went back to (one set of) sleeping tablets and briefly grew addicted.

The thing with the sleeping tablets is I liked the way they made me feel the next day – drunkenly relaxed, if not euphoric. Everything felt better. Even smoking – I smoked at the time – tasted better.

When I had bad panic attacks again as a 25-year-old, the sleeping tablets actually produced anxiety. It was like they shut down whatever part of my mind was my defence, and with it gone the anxiety could march through unimpeded and explode.

At 30, I was prescribed Aropax (or “Paxil”, as it’s known in the US) when I had sudden (and unexpected) resurgences of anxiety, OCD, and depression. The Aropax knocked out the anxiety and OCD, but produced a plethora of side effects. It became a case of what was the lesser of two evils? Deal with the neurosis, or deal with the side effects?

One of Aropax’s side effects (for me) was the parasomnia – I would wake up and find myself on the floor in the corner of my room. That became a common occurrence, although I started becoming aware of it happening – one leg would emerge from bed, then the next, then I’d slide to the floor, then I’d be sitting against the bed. Eventually, I could stop myself from these excursions. But sleep remained restless. I’d wake (very) early morning, then lapse in and out of sleep for the next few hours until I had to get out of bed.

I went through various tests and was told my parasomnia couldn’t be a legitimate parasomnia because I was too aware of these episodes happening. The psychiatrist I saw said it was probably a result of my anxiety. Funny that – it had never happened until I got on the Aropax.

About five years into my Aropax issues, EX said to me that she understood if I had to be on something, but why this? It was a good point (and probably the best one she ever made). I decided to wean off it.

It was one of the worst things I’ve experienced, and I’ve been hit by cars, broken bones, and damaged nerves. I read somewhere many years ago that going off Aropax is rated worse than going off heroin.

Among my (many) withdrawal symptoms: I barely slept over the first month; for months I had brain zaps like a jolt of electricity was bouncing around inside my head; I lost motor coordination until I became clumsy; I was overly emotional, often crying, or flying into rages; and often, when I was speaking or writing, I would experience a block, like I didn’t know what my next word was meant to be, even when that was word was as simple as “the”.

I went online to see if anybody else was experiencing what I did. Oh boy. I found a community dedicated solely to Paxil users, and the issues they had withdrawing. It was horror story after horror story.

This is the world of meds: everybody responds to them differently, which is why it’s folly to believe any single med will be successful with one-hundred percent of the people.

Years after Aropax, I was sent for more sleep-related tests and diagnosed with sleep apnoea. For laymen, that’s when you stop breathing, so the brain panics and rouses you. It means you never get into a deep, restorative sleep. I was having 47 episodes every hour. One of the sleep techs said it was surprising, given sleep apnoea usually occurred in people who were overweight, which I wasn’t. During another test, another sleep tech said that I kicked a lot in my sleep, which he thought might confuse the readings.

I told another sleep tech during yet another test that the worst of my sleep problems began when I started the Aropax. She said it sounded like the Aropax had altered my brain chemistry. I’m sure some medical expert or big pharma rep would tell me that’s impossible. Um. Okay. Just like when I found that online forum, I’ll believe what real people open to sharing are experiencing.

Aropax changed a lot of things about me when I was on it – becoming almost sociopathic in my concern for my own well-being, suffering stomachaches and digestive issues, dizzy spells, hot flushes, finding it harder to write, sexual issues (where things just went far too long – not as fun as it sounds), as well as messing up my coordination and balance.

Here’s an aside: there were huge class suits against the manufacturers of Aropax because so many people had issues on it. It’s still on the market, though.

Over eighteen years later, pretty much all my side effects remain to some extent – the sleep the worst of them.

They are the reason I have an innate wariness of any medication. If I ever had any illnesses or injuries, my GP always knew he could only prescribe medication as a last resort.

When I was in hospital with the broken leg, I tried to refuse the cocktail of painkillers (OxyContin, some nerve painkillers called Lyrica, and also Panadol; together, they binded my stomach so I needed to take a laxative, which then caused nausea so I then needed to take anti-nausea tablets; then there were also blood thinners) just two days into my stay, but the nurse told me it was important to keep the pain managed – if I let it back in, it would be harder to shut back out.

Once I got discharged, I ditched the regular dosages and only took them as needed.

The last time I had a sleep test just a few years ago, the neurologist said he could find nothing more out of the ordinary. He wanted to prescribe me what amounted to medicinal speed to combat the exhaustion. I begged off from that.

My mind doesn’t need to be any more manic than it is.

And it definitely doesn’t need any more shit.