SSRI withdrawal, sleep paralysis, and pseudo-alien abduction attempts

As I’ve learned more about prescription meds I have re-evaluated the disastrous health symptoms that led me to switch to a gluten-free diet 14 years ago. At the time I had just stopped Zoloft after 18 months. I knew nothing about SSRI withdrawal except that it could make you feel briefly worse if you didn’t lower the dose carefully, but since I had always been on the smallest dose available, I thought it didn’t apply to me. For more than a decade I assumed that the seizures, insomnia, memory loss, etc. were the culmination of 30 years of malnutrition caused by undiagnosed celiac disease. I still am not entirely clear on what was due to what, but I did learn recently that two bizarre experiences I had during that time are not uncommon in SSRI withdrawal.

The bizarreness: early one morning I had a vivid dream in which I was lying on a bed, unable to move, while a goose slowly approached my head from the left. I knew that I really, really had to wake up because he was going to go for my eyes. With what felt like a Herculean effort I woke up, but I still couldn’t move. I once spent eight hours straight doing yoga at some extreme-yoga conference that a friend tricked me into attending and that I’m still a little bitter about, but that was nothing compared to what it took to get my limbs and lungs to respond.

After a very long 15 seconds? 30 seconds? I got everything moving and I thought, that was odd. However, so much other wacky @&#! was going on — did I mention the time I lay in bed trying to sleep for 45 minutes before I realized that my eyes had been open the entire time? — that this was just another thing.

The next week it happened again. This time the creature approaching the bed was a small dog. Possibly a spaniel. Once again I forced myself to wake up and then had to struggle through invisible cement to get my body to move. At that point it dawned on me that I’d actually wakened before my body had unparalyzed itself from sleep mode. But, again…whatever.

Over the next 13 years I made some interesting discoveries about what I shall now refer to as Paralyzed Abduction by Short Squat Creatures (PASS-C).

“Sleep paralysis” and its accompanying nightmares or hallucinations have been reported for hundreds of years. PASS-C is one subset of the hallucinations, and includes Irish faeries, German elves, and aliens. Another subset involves someone sitting on the chest (SSOC). Some experts believe that alien abduction experiences are misinterpretations of sleep paralysis, as described in this New York Times article. There is something circular in their logic but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

PASS-C accounts — elves, aliens, faeries — are all pretty similar. A short, squat figure approaches you while you’re reclining, you can’t move, they cart you off, they move through walls and windows, they take you to a featureless room or ship or cave and run tests on you. The aliens are the newest addition to the hallucination roster; they didn’t show up until the 1950s. The faeries and elves are much nastier than the Disney versions we’re used to. See Graham Hancock’s Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind. Yes, I read it. I will read anything by Graham Hancock except his fiction.

PASS-C can be induced by tinkering with the body’s level of DMT, an LSD-like substance produced by the pineal gland. Dr. Rick Strassman was investigating the link between DMT and the near-death experience when his DMT-dosed subjects — who were wide awake and conscious, by the way — started reporting the short-guy-approaching-the-bed thing, among other serious weirdness. See his book DMT: The Spirit Molecule. FYI DMT can be concocted from local plant life and has been for thousands of years by shamans and, of course, college students. Recipes can be found online.

Sleep paralysis and alien abduction attempts are common experiences with sleep disorders and SSRI withdrawal. Like DMT, SSRIs affect the pineal gland, which is a big serotonin user. Some speculate that the pineal gland connection is a red herring and that aliens are targeting psych med users for experiments because they are less likely to be believed by anyone.

A few years ago I had two more experiences, nowhere near as alarming or intense. I was going through a sleepless patch. It is possible that it was during the six days I tried Trazodone as a sleep aid, but I can’t remember for sure.

As intriguing as it is to be part of this ancient, sort-of-communal experience, I wish there was a do-not-call list, because it really isn’t fun. Also, I saw The X-Files episode “Duane Barry.” He was a multiple abductee and ended up on the wrong end of a SWAT team. I have enough problems, thank you very much.
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Illustration by MRhea

8 thoughts on “SSRI withdrawal, sleep paralysis, and pseudo-alien abduction attempts

  • Treavor Lautner

    This is the first time I’ve read about other people experiencing these things. I’ve been taking venlafaxine for about the last five years, and have very rarely had sleep paralysis. I have to say, I’ve never had more out-there crazy dreams since I’ve been on it. About four days ago I ran out of my script (was in between doctors). I’ve never felt so strange in my life. Literally every time I would move my eyes to look at something the sides of my head would feel as if they were pulsating. Probably beehive head mentioned in the last post. Every time it seemed as if I were really about to fall into a regular sleep I would wake up probably a minute or so after paralyzed and frightened. That lasted for three days, happening literally every single time I would try to sleep. Luckily I got my prescription yesterday. Haha I wish the doctor would have told me this is what would happen if I went more than like one and a half days with out it. :\

    • Marjorie

      That is one heck of a side effect. Out of curiosity I looked venlafaxine up on the only user-generated side-effects database I can think of, crazymeds.us, which describes an effect of “wearing an electric eel for a hat.”

  • Stephen

    This used to happen to me chronically due to stress.
    I found help on the internet, that’s why I’m responding after all this time, for the next sufferer.

    When it happens be calm do not fight with your whole body. Take your bodies “cursor” and move all of your focus to a single finger (or toe).
    Wiggle it with all you’ve got. You’ll find it’s like a spider web and you will incrementally free your hand, arm, etc.

  • Does this stop eventually and how long does it take? I’m really struggling been on fluoxetine for last 5 years highest dose and went cold turkey as I moved county and had none left and no doctor yet. It’s been a month cold turkey and I feel crazy. The paralysis is making me terrified so I avoid sleep in the night as it’s demons coming for me and I can’t move. Finding myself sleeping all day due to this and it’s ruining my life I have two young kids and feel like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel

    • Marjorie

      Sinead, that sounds horrible. My exposure to psych meds was so different that I’m not sure I’m qualified to say. The paralysis seemed to occur only during the time I assume the drugs were making their way out of my body. I’m guessing a larger, longer dose would take longer, but I don’t know if cold turkey adds another dimension to the problem.

      I hope you are able to get access to a doctor soon. From what I’ve read on Monica Cassani’s blog Beyond Meds, sudden withdrawal can be an unholy and dangerous bitch.

      You’ve probably read elsewhere by now that people plagued by sleep paralysis are advised to not panic (!) and concentrate on moving a little finger or big toe, rather than mentally thrashing around your entire body, which is what I did. They say subsequent episodes will be easier, and then taper off.

  • Austin

    This just happened to me. I stopped taking lexapro 20mg (maximum) about a week ago. Ever since, I’ve had some crazy dreams. These dreams arent like other, I remember every little detail. They are very vivid. I’ve had some where burglars break into my house and kill all my family. Then I ran outside and taunted him, explaining that he didn’t kill me. He was on a motorcycle, turned around and chased me into my neighbors yard. Then he pulled out a large .500 sw and shot me in the head. Right then I woke up. I could go on and on about the crazy dreams, but another new thing that just happened is I was just trying to take a little nap when I felt my who body go ‘numb’ and I couldn’t move anything but my toes. My head felt like a raging beehive, also. After about 30 seconds of trying and trying to regain control I could move my leg and slowly gained movement up to my head. This was my first experience of this happening

    • Marjorie

      That sounds awful. I’ve heard about the raging-beehive-head and the exploding-head sensations, but never had it myself. I hope you get back to normal sleep soon.

      Addendum 2/10/15: FWIW I’ve since had the shotgun-shot-to-the-head dream. I can’t remember exactly when — a year ago? Not sure if I was experimenting with anything at the time. — MR

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