• author
    • Debra DeAngelo

    • October 7, 2012 in Columnists

    Be warned (or not) – this is what ‘crazy’ feels like

    by Debra DeAngelo

    “I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind… There was something so pleasant about that place… Even your emotions had an echo in so much space… And when you’re out there, without care, yeah, I was out of touch. But it wasn’t because I didn’t know enough… I just knew too much. Does that make me crazy? Possibly…”

    That’s how Gnarls Barkley’s smash hit, “Crazy,” begins. I loved it the first time I heard it. And then one day, it came true. All thanks to a little pill called Lunesta.

    The Food and Drug Administration recently ruled that warning labels for sleep medications like Lunesta must be improved. Apparently “sleep-driving” is a problem for some folks taking these drugs. Others have allergic reactions. And some of us just go crazy.

    The back story: Last fall, I was losing my lifelong battle with insomnia. Waning midlife hormones had exacerbated the problem. Perimenopausal insomnia is bad enough if you normally sleep 8 hours daily. If you only sleep 5 (and that’s on a good day), it’s hell.

    About seven years of this new and improved hardcore insomnia, and I was psychologically threadbare from exhaustion. Chronic insomnia isn’t merely an annoyance. Eventually, your body will make it clear that if you don’t do something about it, it will. And not in a way you’ll like. A heart attack, maybe? Stroke? What’ll it take to get your attention?

    I tried this, I tried that, nothing worked. So, my doctor prescribed Lunesta. And it worked. I slept 8 hours the first night. Felt a little weird the next day, but hey, maybe that’s what “rested” feels like. Great stuff.


    “Do not take Lunesta with alcohol,” the label says. I interpreted that as “Don’t wash Lunesta down with beer.” And I didn’t. A week later, I had a couple drinks at a party with my sister, nearly 20 hours after my last dose of Lunesta. I thought I was following the directions.

    I didn’t go mad-dog-in-the-midday-sun crazy. It was more insidious. My negativity filters dissolved. You know those filters in your brain that halt negative thoughts from coming out your mouth? I no longer had them. My brain steeped in Lunesta, my sister started doing those things that normally make me grind my teeth and plot my escape. For the sake of preserving the dysfunctional family dance, I usually keep a tight lid on what I’m really thinking.

    Not this time. A couple cocktails, and that lid popped right off. Decades of carefully suppressed annoyance erupted. And I reemphasized everything the next day in scathing emails. Not that she didn’t have it coming. Not that every word of it wasn’t true. Not that, on some level, it wasn’t an immense relief to get it off my chest. But, in retrospect, there might’ve been less volcanic ways of doing so.

    Another week later, out with friends, just two glasses of wine and I became so verbally abusive that my wide-eyed friend gently took me home, later telling me, “I’ve never seen you act like that.”

    And the days in between? I was sucked into a quicksand of depression. I wanted to quit my job. I wanted to break up with my boyfriend. One morning, while jogging, tears streaming inexplicably down my cheeks, it all became crystal clear: If I killed myself, all my problems would be solved. The thought came to me completely devoid of emotion, like solving a mathematical equation. But in the back of my brain, I was screaming, “You don’t really feel that way! Your problems aren’t that bad! What the hell’s the matter with you?”

    As serendipity would have it, the answer came while flipping through a magazine later that same day. There was a Lunesta ad, the warning worded slightly differently: “Do not use alcohol while taking Lunesta.” Click.

    This prompted me to check out Lunesta’s website. Buried way down the list of possible side effects, I found this: aggressive or strange behavior; agitation; increased depression; suicidal thoughts. That wasn’t on the warning label.

    Should they revamp the labels? Ya think?

    Long story, short ending: I flushed the Lunesta and soon felt normal. Now I’m using relaxation CDs and behavior modification for insomnia, with some success. But I’ll never forget my brief trip down the rabbit hole. The most alarming thing was that I felt utterly sane at the time. Completely aware of my every thought. I just knew too much. Did that make me crazy? Possibly…

      • Matt Najmowicz

      • October 7, 2012 at 12:31 pm
      • Reply

      They are finding similar things out with Ambien. Rhode Island’s own Rep Patrick Kennedy, son of Senator Ted Kennedy, had a much publicized accident where he had an altercation with a TSA agent, pretty much he was giving her a hard time. Then after that he was pulled over and was given a DUI. he wasn’t drunk, he was under the influence of Ambien (sleep) and Phenergan (motion sickness). Pills that doctors prescribe can sometimes be very very dangerous. At least the FDA is looking out for me.

    • I had that reaction while on Prosac for 6 weeks. I wanted to take people out in the street while driving. I found a winning combination with Paxil and trazadone. I sleep like a baby with no effects with alcohol with either one. Been on Paxil 20 years (low low dose) and Trazadone for over a year. No agression, no feelings of weirdness and sleep like a baby.

      • Kelvin

      • October 8, 2012 at 10:36 am
      • Reply

      Thank you for this. Been down this road…I don’t even want to mention what happened. I’m that guy that has the “rare” side effects to medications.I think a lot of people are walking around thinking and doing things that are out of character for them and they’re not even drawing the connection.

      • Jesse

      • October 8, 2012 at 11:44 am
      • Reply

      A is for Ambian. Am bian bad.

      I like your interpretation of the labels… Don’t take with alcohol means don’t wash it down with alcohol. HA!

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