As someone who has valued dreams greatly since childhood and has had mind expanding experiences while exploring the world of lucid dreaming in my late teens and early twenties, I was devastated when a period of mania and subsequent psychosis landed me in a psychiatric hospital, where I was put on a significant dose of antipsychotic medication. This medication, while helping bring me back to consensus reality, effectively wiped out my dream recall, along with other aspects of myself that I valued, such as my emotions and creativity. In the two years since this event, I have finished a degree and started another. I have had many dreams and a handful of lucid dreams (about a month’s worth when compared to before this event, while not on medication!).
Being on antipsychotics and trying to recall dreams has been interesting. I often wake with the vague recollection of having some epic adventure, feeling frustrated and even teased by the rate at which the memory of it fades. I’ve found it much more difficult to hold memories of scenes and dream details in my mind on antispychotics, something which used to come quite easily. I understand that this is the medication doing its job, but dreaming was not at fault for what happened to me. I learned a lot about myself, the nature of my mind, consciousness, and reality itself through dreaming. This seems to me like a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Because it was so difficult, I lost interest in actively remembering my dreams and trying to become lucid in them. I became immersed solely in waking life (and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that). As I lowered the dose of my medication, a very slow taper over many months, it became more and more possible to remember my dreams, though it still felt like running and jumping with heavy weights strapped to my body. Nevertheless, I was getting close to where I once was. I felt that once I decreased my medication enough, my emotions and excitement toward life would return, along with my dreamlife.
The trouble with antipsychotics (and other classes of meds I’m sure) is that it is not only difficult to come off them given the experience of withdrawal symptoms and all, but the pharmaceutical companies make it very inconvenient to do so. The available doses are often not conducive to tapering. This is a separate issue, but one that rouses strong indignation in me – perhaps it is a flaw inherent to a capitalist society/mindset rather than malicious intent – thinking through this lens, why would a pharmaceutical company consider enabling a plan to help people get off the drugs they manufacture when it is much more profitable for them to create a lifelong dependance? I digress, but why I bring this up is I got to the point in my tapering where the next available dose down was half of what I was currently taking. I decreased the dose. First night, I had a feverish dream – a kind of cyclical nightmare that got me stuck in an infinite loop of though until I awoke. I felt more awake and present during the next few days however, and at night, my effortless dream recall began to return. All in all, my sensitivity increased. I felt more exposed, for better or for worse.
Zyprexa, the antipsychotic I’m taking, makes me feel like my thoughts are cushioned. External events also don’t impact me as much as they normally would; they slide off readily, like I have a Teflon coating. My girlfriend says I seem more quiet and distant while on the higher dose. I definitely notice the emotional flattening too. My mood is very stable. I can reliably be in a pretty good mood each day, though my mood is more like a gently rolling hilly terrain than a plain. Cognitively, I am able to function pretty well also, taking a full course load at university, playing music and sports, and reading and writing often.
When I decreased the medication (going from 5mg of Zyprexa to 2.5mg), after about a month of feeling better than average (though not hypomanic), I had an off day. I was at work and started feeling pretty anxious, which impaired my ability to function. I got through it just fine, but that night, I was not able to get to sleep quickly and I worried I would not be able to function well the following day if I happened to sleep poorly. With a big day of work coming up, I decided to go back up to 5mg that night. Rather conservatively, the following day I decided that I’d rather not risk having the odd off day, since it is very important that I am fully functional/present consistently in the line of work I’m going into, nursing. I was willing to go back up to 5mg for the next year, but not willing to put dreaming aside in the meantime. Why couldn’t I just try harder, practice more?
I want to try different methods and techniques of remembering dreams and attempting to become lucid in them while on antipsychotic medication. Despite the odd forum post here and there, I haven’t yet found another person who has documented their explorations of dreams while also taking psychotropic medications. Finding more posts from people experiencing vivid nightmares and wanting to take more medications to alleviate the bad dreams, I was dismayed by the apparent lack of people wishing to experience the healing potential of dreams while also on medication recovering from/managing extreme states of consciousness. I hope to shed some light on the issue in the posts to come. This blog is intended to motivate me to stick with it, and to help fellow dreamers who may or may not also be taking psychotropic medications for various reasons.