Xyrem is a really weird drug, so I figured I’d write a post about it. Even among narcoleptics, Xyrem gets mixed reviews — it’s a miracle drug for some, for others it causes unbearable side effects, and many (if not most) narcoleptics are afraid to take it at first! Because it’s a scary, weird medicine!
Xyrem is sodium oxybate, aka GHB, aka the “date-rape drug”. There’s a lot of clickbait-y shock value when it’s introduced that way — “You’ll NEVER Believe Why THIS Girl Takes the Date-Rape Drug EVERY NIGHT” — which is annoying because Xyrem isn’t a date-rape drug, it’s medicine. But the shock value is useful, I guess? All awareness is good awareness?
Anyway. The way it works is you mix Xyrem with water (it’s a liquid), you drink it (it’s disgusting), it puts you to sleep and you stay asleep until it wears off. Because the body metabolizes Xyrem so quickly, it’s necessary to take a dose at bedtime and a second dose 2½ to 4 hours later, and Xyrem works best if you take it at the same time every night. This generally requires a strict sleep schedule and an alarm clock.
Note that alarm 1 is set for 2:30am. Also note that my alarm clock tells me the phases of the moon.
“But WAIT,” I hear you saying. “Narcoleptics take this drug to go to SLEEP? Everybody knows that narcolepsy is when you sleep way too much all the time! What’s the point of Xyrem, then?!”
Let me educate you. Narcoleptics sleep all the time because they are incredibly sleep-deprived. Having narcolepsy means that you can’t get enough restful, deep Stage 3 sleep because your brain is too messed up. Xyrem allows narcoleptics to reach that restorative Stage 3 sleep and stay there. Getting deep sleep at night relieves the daytime symptoms of narcolepsy — it reduces daytime sleepiness, cataplexy, hallucinations and sleep paralysis. Many narcoleptics who take Xyrem say it’s given them their life back.
But Xyrem is a real commitment. It’s not a medication you can take casually, because it requires some major lifestyle changes.
Here are some of the things you have to do on Xyrem:
- Take it twice a night every night for the rest of your life or go right back to narcoleptic square one.
- No drinking alcohol, ever, to avoid a certain undesirable side effect called death.
- No eating for at least two hours before taking Xyrem.
- Titrate up slooowly or you’ll regret it!
- Pick up a new shipment of Xyrem every month. The pharmacy that makes Xyrem ships your month’s supply overnight directly to your house or another secure, approved location and you have to sign for it.
And last but not least,
6. Endure months of weird side effects and strict lifestyle changes coupled with the fact that everyone expects you to be feeling better but you don’t really feel that much better. In fact, you might actually feel worse.
I knew I had been sleeping way too much pre-Xyrem, but it seemed like as soon as I started taking Xyrem I could feel just how tired my body really was. I couldn’t sleep the day away anymore thanks to Xyrem, so my mind was more awake, but my body felt like it was made of lead. I felt like a zombie — technically awake, but without the energy required to actually get up and do stuff. Is that an improvement? It’s hard to say.
It was only once I titrated up to taking 3.5 grams twice a night (a process that took me 6 weeks) that I started feeling better. And I still don’t feel “normal”, but I do feel okay. And I think that with time (and patience!) I’ll get closer and closer to “normal”.
So, is Xyrem a miracle drug?
I’d say yes. But it’s not a flashy, instantaneous miracle. It’s a quiet miracle, full of little moments where you stop and say, “I couldn’t do this a year ago,” and “I can’t remember the last time this happened,” and “I’ve never been able to do this before”. Your life comes back slowly, piece by piece, and then you keep going.