The Tunnel of Horrors-An Account of My Effexor Withdrawal

“This is a diary I kept of my Effexor withdrawl over a year ago. I finally feel ready to share it with people. The experience was agony, agony, wholesale agony.”


This is a diary I kept of my Effexor withdrawal over a year ago. I finally feel ready to share it with people. The experience was agony, agony, and wholesale agony. While I was on the drug, I felt so sleepy all the time I was almost non-functioning, was constipated, and had wildly violent hypnologic jerks as I was falling asleep. It was the fatigue that made me begin cutting back, and when the savage withdrawal symptoms appeared, I knew the drug was evil and I had to get off of it immediately. I never fully recovered from the effects of the drug and am still struggling with its implications, which I describe at the end.

Wednesday, 12/13/00 Evening

I had decided to try cutting back on my dose to see if I could restore any of my energy while not compromising the therapeutic effect of the Effexor. I was only taking 75 mg. a day anyway; I wasn’t even sure what effect, if any, such a small dose was having, besides helping me sleep. It was making me sleep too much; all I ever wanted to do was sleep; that was my problem. My energy level was so low I couldn’t even get out and exercise any more, and I was gaining weight. Every day I had to take a long nap, often as long as three hours. I had become a caffeine addict in an attempt to counteract the sedative effect of the drug, yet still slept excessively. So this night I cut my pill in half and took a 37.5 mg. dose.

Thursday, 12/14//00

I began to have withdrawal effects, even though I had only cut back on, not stopped, my dose. I felt somewhat nauseated and experienced the electric shocks in my head. This seemed really ominous, a sign that this substance was really poisonous. There was clearly something WRONG with this medication, and I decided to go off it cold turkey.

Friday, 12/15/00

The withdrawal horror began this day. I was repulsively nauseated, had increasingly frequent and violent electric shocks in the head, felt bouts of dizziness, felt overall sick, in pain, and drained. I slept a lot. I also became alarmingly bloated. My breasts became enormous and incredibly tender. They felt like they were going to explode. Also my anus was, inexplicably, incredibly sore. What was there that didn’t hurt? Jim wanted me to stay with him as long as the withdrawal lasted so that he could “keep an eye on” me. He felt it was unsafe for me to be alone because this withdrawal was turning out to be so volatile. The one positive sign was that I immediately began to have normal bowel movements. The Effexor had always given me mild constipation and strange, hard, ball-like stools that were hard to pass.

Saturday, 12/17/00

The withdrawal symptoms became even more violent today. I had dry heaves, especially in the morning. The electric shocks were truly horrible, sometimes causing me to lose my balance momentarily and/or my vision to blur. The smell of Jim’s body and clothing was repulsive to me. I couldn’t concentrate sufficiently to read. So assaulting was this withdrawal it completely drained me. I slept a lot and when I was awake wished I was asleep because the pain was so horrible. I also decided to give up coffee today because as long as I was suffering this much I might as well rid myself of all addictions at once, rather than save some pain for later on. This was all so horrible Jim suggested I go back on the Effexor and try this again another time, but I replied that there was no way I was going to go through this again. It had to be now, no matter how awful. At Mass Jim situated me near the hallway so that if I needed to run to the bathroom with dry heaves I could. I did.

Sunday, 12/17/00

More of the same. Brutal withdrawal. A headache was added. I was totally incapacitated. It just went on.

Monday, 12/18/00

Jim and I went to the grocery store and I was so dizzy I nearly fell over several times. I had to go out to the car and wait for him.

Tuesday, 12/19/00

I woke up this day with a screeching, splitting horror headache. I took a lot of Ibuprofen and hoped for the best. It didn’t help much. Despite Jim’s protests, I went back to Pittsburg. The drive was very difficult. I almost fell asleep behind the wheel a few times, I was so exhausted. The withdrawal just continued. In the evening I felt it begin to let up just a little bit. Just a little, little bit. I got on the Internet, typed in “Effexor withdrawal” and discovered all the web sites, learned about what I was going through. It was helpful to know that others had experienced what I was going through and found it thoroughly UNACCEPTABLE! The medical establishment was wrong to allow this substance to be prescribed! I also discovered that my determination to “white knuckle” it, rather than go back on and try to eliminate it gradually was pretty brave.

Wednesday, 12/20/00

I woke up this day with even more piercing of a screeching, splitting, horror headache. Took lots of Ibuprofen, which didn’t help much. Yet, I began to feel a little better still. Not so many electric shocks. Not such profound nausea. There were waves of badness, but also periods of betterness. The bad dreams set in at this point, as some of the Internet community mentioned happened to them. In the evening the symptoms worsened again, like the way a cold worsens at night. I had some trouble sleeping at one point in the night.

Thursday, 12/21/00

Today, for the first time, I began to feel substantially better. The Light at the end of the tunnel of horrors came into view. The piercing headache was gone. Instead I felt that sort of congested, tight feeling in the head that feeling like your nerves and blood vessels are all congested and squeezed. The bloating and breast tenderness remained, as did the fatigue, but I didn’t need a nap today. There were still occasional electric shocks in the head, but they were infrequent and not so severe. Occasional, very mild waves of nausea, but nothing that bad. I still felt sick, but so much better than before. I was happy that there would eventually be an end to all this. It was only the next day, though, that I realized that had, on this day, entered into stage three of the withdrawal drama: the demented rage phase. I got an e-mail from my brother, then responded with one of my own which, I only realized later, was an insane rant. It was a tornado of inexplicable wrath. Later that evening, I called Jim, whom I was not mad at (yet) to rant at him about how furious I was with my siblings. I wouldn’t have even known that this was a withdrawal symptom had I not read about it first on the Internet. I would have thought it was a sign that my mental illness was returning!

Friday, 12/22/00

Today I actually realized that I was in the demented rage phase. The night before I even dreamed that I was enraged; Steve was the last person I spoke to before going to sleep and I dreamed that I was walking beside him as he made his way to Church and was screaming at him and hitting him. Jim called a few minutes after I woke up and everything he said made me so irritated and confused I just felt like exploding at him. I decided to cancel our plan that I come out and stay with him the weekend. I had to remove myself from the population until this phase had passed. The physical symptoms were letting up; the electric shocks, though still occurring, were infrequent and relatively mild. I felt tired and fragile, a bit headachy, but the only real nausea I felt was for a few moments now and then throughout the day. I even rode my bicycle to Mass, the first exercise I’ve gotten since the ordeal began. A lot of my energy to do this came from my wild, flailing rage. I took a two-hour nap. In the evening I felt some lightheadedness. I went on a food binge that lasted all afternoon, evening and night until half past midnight. I got a call from Jim about 10 p.m. and ended up getting into a quarrel with him, hollering at him and then crying uncontrollably. Had several large bowel movements throughout the day.

Saturday, 12/23/00

I didn’t sleep at all the previous night, nor did I feel tired at all this day. If anything, I was wired, to the point of being shaky sometimes. The electric shocks in the head continued, actually more frequently today than the day before, and more often my vision went slanted for a second as they happened. My intestines were tied up in crampy knots. To clean myself out, I began the Master Cleanser Fast (lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup in hot water; laxative herb tea; etc.). Like the day before, I had enormous bowel movements once every four or five hours. It’s like seventeen years worth of stuff backed up in there suddenly started coming out. In the evening I realized that attempting to fast on Christmas was a dorky idea, and decided to begin it the day after Christmas instead. The good thing is that in all this mania, I had a major creative breakthrough. That moment I always wait so long for, when all the disparate elements swimming through my mind that have no hub to pull them all together in an artful, purposeful way suddenly find it, and they coalesce, and it all makes sense, happened all at once in the early hours of the morning. The flash of enlightenment this time?

It’s a play!

I’ve been trying to see it cinematically (brainwashed on a lifetime of movies and TV), that’s why it couldn’t find itself. It’s a play, and with that understanding, it all makes sense. Scenes, people, dialogue are appearing where dark, blank spots were just yesterday

Sunday, 2/24/00

The night before this day, I slept twelve hours straight through. The electric shocks increased again, but they weren’t so strong as to really bother me. Some short bouts of nausea. I felt groggy and a little headachy all day.

Monday, 2/25/00, Christmas Day

Because of staying up for midnight Mass in Oakland with Jim, then not getting back to Colma until 2:30 a.m. and intending to go to 7:00 a.m. Mass back out in Pittsburg, which is about an hour drive, I just stayed awake the entire night again. There were a few, mild electric shocks, and I was a bit weak, but otherwise I felt remarkably well. Even Meghan remarked on how well I seemed. However, my feet were so swollen I could scarcely fit them into my dressy pumps, which normally fit very comfortably. Wearing them was agony and walking in them was a joke, but I grit my teeth and endured it. Jim’s bodily smell and breath smell I still found utterly offensive. It’s very hard to be near him at all. In the evening the electric shocks became more frequent but they weren’t particularly a discomfort. More of an interior audible experience.

Tuesday, 2/26/00

I felt even better today, almost back to normal. Better than normal actually, because I’m not weighed down by the fatigue the Effexor used to create, nor did I have to take a nap today. I slept well, overslept actually, and fully made up for the missed sleep of the night before. It used to be that I couldn’t sleep at all without a sedative or the Effexor. Today I started the Master Cleansing Fast, and other than a few bouts of mild nausea associated with an empty stomach (another withdrawal symptom, increased nausea when my stomach became empty), it went fine. I wasn’t even hungry (perhaps an effect of the maple syrup in the lemon-water drink). I was still immensely bloated, though; no change there. My breasts were still the size of dirigibles and shockingly tender.

Wednesday, 12/27 and Thursday, 12/28

My breasts were still so enormous and tender they felt like they were going to explode. Jim remarked that when he put his arm around me, I felt harder but not in a muscular way, rather like the bloat was filling me up, straining against me. Other than that I felt great. I had more energy than I’d had in ages and slept BETTER than when I was on the Effexor! I didn’t need to take a nap either of these two days. Halleluiah.

Friday, 12/29 through Monday, 1/1/ 01

Still tremendously bloated with a few mild electric shocks in the evenings. On Friday I became too famished and went off the fast. Began my period on Sunday. I generally felt pretty good, slept very well indeed, but became a bit impatient and crabby on Monday and a little depressed Monday evening.

Friday, 1/4/01

By this day the bloat was gone, flushed out along with the normal drop of water weight I get when my period finishes. At this point I was experiencing maybe one electric shock some time in each evening.

Tuesday, 1/8/01

Almost completely better. Still maybe one electric shock in the evening some time.

Saturday, 1/20/01

Checking in here after almost two weeks, I have no electric shocks and none of the other symptoms, except that though I’m exercising almost every day now – jogging or hour-long walks – and not eating more, my weight is climbing. Going off the drug seems to have confused my metabolism in some way. It’s like when I went off smoking many years ago and gained weight despite increasing my exercise. That weight came off by itself back then after about four months; I’m hoping that will be the case here.

Post Script 2/16/02

My weight has not returned to normal since I went off of the Effexor. It seems to have permanently deranged my metabolism and I have struggled incredibly to stop my weight from climbing. I’ve dieted and exercised, sometimes to the extreme, to little avail. Sometimes while falling asleep I hear/feel a strange “zapping” sound in my head. Sometimes I feel a burning sensation inside my cranium (a symptom too weird to be attributable to anything except the Effexor damage; my doctor had never even heard of it). It seems that Effexor either permanently damages your physiology, or else it accumulates in your cells and stays there, continuing to poison you.

Post-Script to “Tunnel of Horror” – 6/19/02

For the record, I am still experiencing lingering physiological problems from having taken the drug, with no apparent lessening. I wanted to add this post-script because there’s one thing I didn’t mention earlier because I was too ashamed. After taking the Effexor I developed, inexplicably, without precipitation, an eating disorder, specifically bingeing.

I’m mentioning it now because maybe other people are experiencing this too and haven’t related it to the drug, and/or are too ashamed to talk about it. I never had anything like this previously, and when a binge comes on it feels like a neurological short-circuiting in my brain and body. I lose all sense of reason, my mind functioning becomes tunnel-visioned, I lose a sense of reality and control.

This sounds suspiciously Effexoresque. Chronologically, the cause and effect relationship is pretty vivid. I’ve tried everything to cure it: counseling, hypnotherapy, acupuncture, O.A., the Geneen Roth method, every blood-sugar balancing, protein-boosting, sugar-addict-busting, blah blah diet out there, and prayed to every saint (including St. Maximilian, the patron saint of the eating disordered!) all to no avail. It causes me anguish I can hardly describe. It doesn’t seem to be psychologically-based at all.

Has anyone else experienced this phenomenon since being put on, or going off, the drug? I’d really appreciate hearing from anyone who has. Thanks.

Barbara Powell



This is Survivor Story number 41.
Total number of stories in current database is 48

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