The Walking Dead

To read more about Ambien, check out “The New Yorker” magazine, December 2009, “The Big Sleep” by Ian Parker.   

Everyone knows the TV show “The Walking Dead”, right? Zombies killed by a virus but not in heaven, instead walking the earth half asleep, half dead. I totally relate. Everyone knows “The Jimmy Fallon Show”, and the games he plays with his guests, always funny. In Maryland, Fallon comes on at 11:35 pm., followed by news shows or more late night comedy. I know late night TV schedules by heart, as I used to be awake then. I’m not a vampire, but I once was half dead from lack of sleep. For 10 solid years, I suffered through hellatious insomnia.

At first I blamed it on my love of caffeine. Not coffee, but Coke Zero. Or a lovely iced tea with lemon. I don’t have many vices, so I allowed myself caffeine at night. But only drinking two 8 ounce glasses a day cannot create 7 days of insomnia.

Deep down, I knew my problem was stress. My husband and I had recently lost a great deal of income by growing old and being laid off. Infertility, money, jobs where raises didn’t happen, dogs dying, money, the education of our child, his extracurricular activities, money, me unemployed, money. In the worst way, I wanted at least naps to escape my stress. I wanted a soma holiday more than a trip to Aruba.

I heard about an herbal remedy that sells at GNC. You actually eat small pieces of melatonin which is what puts normal people to sleep. It took 3 of those suckers to ensure three hours’ sleep. A little help is better than none, but not to endure a 9 hour work day.

In year 11 of insomnia, when I mentioned to my primary during an annual exam that I couldn’t sleep, he said, “Have you heard of Ambien? It’s a sleeping pill. I’ll write you a script. A lot of my patients take this.”

A lot of his patients had already been prescribed Ambien? I felt bereft. Out of the loop. A sleeping pill? A real, live sleeping pill? Other than Tylenol PM which took 12 hours to wear off, I’d never known there was a REAL sleeping pill! How long had Ambien been around? Was it new? Was it addicting? Most important of all, would it work for me? I filled the prescription right away, and swallowed 7.5 mg that night. I remember nothing after ten minutes. Getting up to use the toilet during the night, I got lost in the bathroom and hit a few walls repeatedly. In the morning, I felt fully refreshed.There was no Tylenol hangover. No headache, no feeling of being on edge, no leftover fatigue.

Ambien, known to many users in its generic form, Zolpidem, was co-created by a French lawyer and chemist by the name of Louise Pelus-Kaplan. He never got the patent on it, and years later, Merck, who by then had bought the recipe from Kaplan, tried to improve the drug so that it would have less side effects. The drug had originally been created as a recreational drug, never intended to cure anything. Some of its side effects were feelings of euphoria. But for insomniacs, Zolpidem, a narcotic, put its users under a hypnotic slumber within 30 minutes after swallowing. It’s similar to an anesthetic in that literally “knocked people senseless.” Think of a giant green light that goes off, and all thoughts, worries, and stressors inside one’s head are blocked so that sleep, or sleep-like hypnosis, comes barreling in.

In my teen years, I never did drugs. I didn’t smoke cigarettes. I didn’t learn to swallow pills until I was 30. I didn’t like anything but an occasional half glass of white wine. I hated weed, especially when baked in brownies. I didn’t try LSD, Heroin, Ecstasy, or Meth. My mother tried to feed me a Valium before an exam and I got hysterical when the pill wouldn’t go down my throat. I only drank beer in college to find a boyfriend, and even then, I faked being drunk, because it was easier than being the real thing. Drunk and silly. I was a straight egg.

Insomnia, I found out recently on FOX News can cause death if you go totally sleepless for two weeks. Two weeks? I came close, I swear. Right now the FDA has prevented refills of Ambien for more than 30 at a time. I used to take up to 20 mg a day, approved by my doctor. One for a nap, one for bedtime. The FDAs new ruling has me on edge.  Before Ambien I was a twirling dervish as though I were on speed. I’d get migraines behind my eyes, and go temporarily blind. I’d crave sugar and suffered from constipation. Stress was my middle name.  At work, I was a super power, but at home, I blamed my husband for all my faults, for lost keys, unfrosted dinners, for the color of the sky. I was a total bitch, and I truly could not help myself. My husband has never been sleepless. He never once heard me cry into my pillow in utter frustration.

Of course Narcotics have a bad rap. My immediate family wants me to cease and desist, so recently, I did, and made it three full nights without Ambien. I was proud of myself, but anxious all day that I would not sleep that night. But on the 5th day, preceded by the 4th night, I laid wide eyed and twitchy, and at 2 am, downed 15 mg of Ambien so I could interview for a job the next day.

During full moons, things get worse. Even with Ambien, I sleep erratically. I panic. I up my dosage. I dream vividly, practically full novels, sometimes waking up screaming in fear.

I found out at my most recent job that everyone in a directatorial position takes Ambien. My former boss for whom I worked 12 years, admitted to take it, but switched to an herbal remedy. Another teacher told me I was turning myself into an addict, and I had to just flush the pills down the toilet, and go cold turkey. Comparing myself to her, she had a husband with a lifetime job, took 2-3 trips abroad every year, and I doubt had ever experienced the kind of stress I do. On a radio talk show, people called in and admitted to the world what affect Ambien has on them. It sounded like they were reading out of the pharmaceutical warnings pamphlet. Binge eating at night. Sexual cravings. Night walking. Night driving. Conversations you have after taking the pill but can’t remember the next day what was said. QVC binge buying.

Fortunately, the worst I’m guilty of are dialogue I absolutely don’t remember. And, talking on the phone while under the influence, and having to be reminded of the call by my husband so I could call the person back so I could ask what had transpired. I wish I could say I was HOT in bed, but at least binge eating I’m grateful never to have experienced.

I’m very good at hiding my feelings. I’m upbeat, personable, friendly, compassionate, love to meet new people, and do not show my stress. I am passionate about things that interest me – writing, tennis, travel, friendships, chocolate, and sleep. When I haven’t slept, I’m still outwardly happy, but inside I have a belly full of knots.

A year ago,  I started my own business at age 62 since the job market is for the young. I love what I’m doing and do it well. I’m busy but not stressed. It takes lots of flexibility and organization, walking dogs, and spending nights away from home caring for others’ pets. I’d like to be busy every day of the year.  I want to do this job for another five years. But I need Ambien more than ever to turn off my mind at night to start each day anew.  Obviously, I can’t take on the FDA.

In addition, the public was not helping, bragging about how much they shop binged on QVC at night. Radio shock jocks got involved, offering a call in session asking Ambien users what bizarre things they did while under the influence. It was funny, especially the woman who bought 200 pairs of sandals in yellow.  After all, Ambien isn’t medicinal, it’s  a prescribed recreational drug. Like weed in CO is medicinal, and makes everything funny, how much worse is Ambien? Another caller said she drove to work with her eyes closed, not fully awake until halfway downtown. Still another caller said he’d put on 40 lbs but couldn’t remember what he was bingeing on. A young woman admitted going grocery shopping at 1 am in her nightgown.

PTSD today is treated by a plethora of sleeping pills, anti depressants, anti anxiety pills, weed, and anything a psychiatrist can throw at a suicidal vet to keep him calm. There’s a study being done of the effects of taking Ecstacy while suffering from PTSD. In many case studies, it’s proven more successful than talk therapy and Black Market pills that vets got hooked on while out in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nowadays, Ambien and I are still on good terms. I still take Soma holidays so I can have alone time. Six days a week I play tennis on 4 teams. I’m the boss and I never let my clients down, two legged or four. I love dogs because that’s all they want from humans. Unconditional love. Not Excel spreadsheets with pivot doors. Not 3,000 room keys audited every week. Or, 30,000 invoices processed in two weeks’ flat. Patience and understanding is not present in the working world. Ambien makes me a happy person because I get a full nights’ sleep. I didn’t purposely turn to the drug  for consolation, but it certainly helps.. Maybe someday I will give up Ambien for more than three days. I no longer walk in my sleep, and everyone knows not to talk to me post Ambien swallow, unless, of course, they like having the identical conversation twice in one day.

I don’t consider myself a narcotics addict. I don’t steal drugs, or use bogus prescriptions, or frequent pill mills. I am in a much better place with Ambien than I was over a two years ago. I lost 35 pounds during one 6 month bout of trying Lunestra.

Because I’m writing this article to you at night, there’s no guarantee I am not on Ambien and tomorrow, will remember a thing I wrote. But at least I can pull it down from the blog and start again.

2014-05-05 10.59.11


1 thought on “The Walking Dead”

  1. Good one…and there’s nothing wrong with an Ambien (prescribed) every night. I take one Advil PM every night…if not, I’m up by 2:00 a.m. for hours.

    Happy Easter!


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