I Love You, Effexor, But I Think I Hate You More

When you’ve got ongoing depression and anxiety issues, you learn to take the good with the bad – especially as you muddle your way through finding a medication that works to calm the self-loathing thoughts and doomsday paranoia (at least for a little while). I was on a relatively low dose of Lexapro for years; I found it helped clear the dust in my head allowing me to get some good work done in therapy and to experience occasional pangs of what’s called “joy.” But a couple years ago, coinciding with a death in the family and zombiefying work fatigue, I began to see signs that my trusty Lexapro wasn’t cutting it anymore. I was having depressive episodes that would sideline me for days at a time and I was finding it easier than ever to anxiety spiral. What’s the point of taking a pill everyday if one weekend out of every month is going to be spent under the covers trying to shut out whatever it felt like was currently crushing my soul?

So, my shrink weaned me off Lexapro while easing me on to Effexor, a selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SSNRI) used to treat anxiety disorder and depression. I noticed an almost immediate difference in my mood, energy levels, and ability to stay present and rational, but it took about eight months before we landed on what I hoped would be the right dosage for me. As with anything that fucks with your brain chemistry and lines the pockets of Big Pharma executives, there are some downsides – downsides that I must admit are becoming more acute and less tolerable than I thought. Less tolerable than life without Effexor though? I dunno about that.

Effexor has done a pretty good job keeping my head above water, especially these last few months as I’ve transitioned out of my comfortable, longtime position as Editor-in-Chief of this website into a full-time freelance role. But holy shit, I kind of hate the stuff too. And after complaining about it on Twitter and getting a chorus of “ME TOO” replies, not to mention reading an essay in Melissa Broder’s So Sad Today about Effexor withdrawals that was a little TOO real, I realized I am not alone. Effexor is a miserable little lifesaver.

On one hand, the great news is that I haven’t randomly spent an entire weekend in bed, weighed down by a duvet cover of sadness for absolutely no discernible reason in, like, six months. (Well, there was one bad weekend in December, but it doesn’t count, because I did have reasons I could articulate for feeling like a scumlord, and it wasn’t like the Effexor failed me so much as certain circumstances did.)

But the bad news is, the time I do spend in bed, you know, sleeping, often involves SWEATING SO PROFUSELY I wake up looking and feeling like I just walked out of a strenuous SoulCycle class instead of a dream about attending an antique shopping party at Blake Lively’s house.

Effexor night sweats are INSANE.

I keep thinking I can outsmart them, that I’ll be able to figure out exactly when I should take my 225 mg. dose in order to have a dry night’s sleep. At first, when I was starting with the lower dose of Effexor, the night sweats only happened on those rare occasions when I missed a pill for some reason and my body was starting to go into withdrawals. The sweats came along with the anxiety dreams, where I’d wake up in the middle of the night with my heart racing, my body stiff and still but with an inexplicable surge of adrenaline pulsing underneath my skin. No matter, I thought, I’ll just have to be much more careful about never missing a day.

But then the sweats started happening more often, and totally at random, as all of my attempts to track some sort of pattern came up short. It doesn’t matter if I take my Effexor first thing in the morning, at lunch, in the late afternoon or at night – when I go to bed, I can’t be sure if I’m going to wake up at 3 a.m. with my skin not just moist with perspiration, but actually beading on the surface of my skin. SLIPPERY.

I feel like I need to be more emphatic about just how sweaty these night sweats are. When I wake up during an attack of the night sweats, the first thing I notice is how compacted my sleep position is, usually curled up into a tight ball, fully underneath the covers. Then there’s the visceral awareness that I am damp, SO DAMP, and I’ll bring my hand up to my chest to touch the skin. It’s always slick with wetness, like a windshield after a heavy downpour. A brief patdown reveals that whatever it is that I’m wearing is actually soaked through – a long nightgown, pajama pants and a tank top, an oversized T-shirt, it doesn’t matter, the night sweats will make any sleepwear its musty, sopping bitch. Imagine putting on laundry that’s been sitting in the machine since the spin cycle finished three hours before, and you’ll have an idea of just how wet I mean.

This is basically me:

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I tend to sleep on one side of the bed, a habit that turns out to be quite convenient now, as I routinely soak an Amelia-shape into my sheets and am relieved to have a dry side to lay on the remainder of the night. Thinking I just need to cool off, I’ll pull my arm out from under the covers and immediately regret it the second the air hits my skin, because without fail, as sweaty as I am, the room itself always feels freezing. If I can’t get comfortable in my sweaty clothes laying atop those sweaty sheets, or if I’m conscious enough to recognize how DISGUSTING it all is, I’ll change my clothes, including my underwear. The only thing that would make the night sweats worse is if they gave me regular yeast infections. Oh, and when I wake up the next morning, I’ll have soaked through those clothes too.

Needless to say, I’m doing a lot more laundry these days.

It’s difficult to predict when my body is just going to decide my bed is its own personal sweat lodge, which means any overnight guests also risk soaking overnight in my sweat bath. So far, no man has come into contact with this oh so attractive quality, but then again, I only recently emerged from a long dry spell. I’ve already warned my new regular situation (a term even less committal than “hooking up”) that I never know when my still, supine body will decide to sweat like it’s going especially hard at an EDM festival. I mean, no one likes surprises, right? Especially if they smell slightly sour and glisten in the moonlight.

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If the night sweats were the only issue with Effexor I’d probably just look at the bright side and characterize this unfortunate side effect an effortless way to get rid of excess water weight – and in fairness, it might actually be accomplishing that goal, as I haven’t had any of the weight gain some associate with the drug. Alas, a newer side effect, or at least one I didn’t notice before, has reared its ugly head and it’s worse than waking up in a pool of my own marinade.

Just as minor snafus and temporary stresses are impervious to good ol’ Effexor’s Zen-like resistance, keeping my anxiety attacks at bay, the drug is having a similar impact on my VAGINA’S ABILITY TO FEEL. Seriously, you could take a weedwacker to my clitoris and I’d be like, “Eh, I guess it kinda feels like maybe I have to pee.”

Basically, Effexor stole my goddamn orgasm.

Okay, steal might be slightly unfair. But Effexor has absolutely kidnapped my orgasm and is rather rudely holding it for ransom, only allowing me access to it if I am EXTREMELY FUCKING PERSISTENT. Like so persistent that I’m inclined towards giving up, and in fact, often do. It’s not that my sex drive has taken a hit — I’m in peak shape as far as arousal and all of that funky stuff in concerned, but when it comes to coming, well, like I said, I basically have to beg. I ain’t to proud to do just that, but Effexor expects me to prove myself worthy of my orgasm by practically burning off my clit to achieve it. I’ll be honest: there is something vaguely humiliating about ransacking the house for new batteries at 2 a.m. because I’ve been masturbating for an hour and my stupid vibrator puttered out and I WAS SO GODDAMN CLOSE THIS TIME, SERIOUSLY, NOT MUCH LONGER NOW. In truth, I had practically gone numb.

And that’s when I’m alone! Listen, I mastered my own domain, so to speak, at age 12 with the help of V.C. Andrews, The Woman’s Body and a pillow, and I’ve maintained a nearly perfect batting average ever since. But having an orgasm with a partner has been much more difficult historically — and this latest wrench isn’t helping. Which sucks! Because I’m having really fun awesome sex right now! Sex where the distractions and inhibitions that usually trip me up have been really minimal! Sex that feels honest and free and silly and wild and life-affirming!

AND YOU ARE MISSING IT, CLITORIS, YOU ARE MISSSSSSING ITTTTTTTTT.

I don’t want it to be this way! I suppose I could just be all brave and communicative and be like, “It’s not you, you’re great! It’s the medication I take in order to be a mostly functioning human being, so if you like me, you’d better be okay with the fact that such a thing doesn’t come quite so naturally to me. Also, it would help if you find excessive sweat sexy and treat cunnilingus like a marathon, not a sprint. Make that a triathlon. An Iron Man even.”

That might be TMI for a new regular situation to handle, and besides, this is about me, not him. I could tweak my meds again, perhaps seeing if taking my dose down a bit frees my orgasm from Effexor’s clutches and returns my resting body temperature to something cooler than the 8th circle of hell. I will likely discuss that with my shrink, once I get the courage to say the word “orgasm” in front of him. (He is very awkward.)

Mental health issues are a complex, ever-changing beast and there’s never just one simple perfect solution. I mostly shared these frustrations because I bet more than a few of you could relate to the struggle with negative side effects, no matter what pills you pop to stay sane – and if you do, feel free to vent too. I’ll just be over here, changing my sheets again.