After being an Ambien advocate for one year, I happened across an article in a waiting room about how the drug came to be invented. For recreation. Simply, for recreation. A people pleaser. Instantly, the drug was an instant sensation for incurable insomniacs. And, this was in the 50s! My birth decade. The article I was reading came from “The New Yorker”, December 2009, and is called “The Big Sleep.”
Everyone knows the TV show ” The Walking Dead”, right? Zombies killed by a virus but not in heaven, instead walking the earth with one small part of their brain intact. The part of their cortex than prevents them from dying, instead becoming carnivorous zombies. 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 by heart, as I used to be awake then. I’m not a vampire, but I felt half dead from lack of sleep. For 10 solid years, I suffered through chronic sleeplessness.
At first I blamed the condition on my love of caffeine. Not coffee, but bubbly caffeine in a can. Or a lovely iced tea with lemon. I don’t have many vices, so I allowed myself caffeine morning, noon and night. But only drinking two 8 ounce glasses a day should not have created years of insomnia. Even my primary agreed, eventually.
Yes, I was stressed. Who wasn’t? Unemployment, unending bills, a boss from Hell, the diagnosis of Diabetes. I needed naps after work, a 30 minute soma trip. I couldn’t last until bedtime, unless that was at 7. And most nights, I was at the gym, trying to lose weight. In the worst way, I needed to be dead to the world for at least a few hours a day. I wanted respite. Instead, from 11 p.m. until 4:00 a.m., I and my digital clock played the blinking game. Many mornings, I’d cry in the shower. But I never called in sick.
The migraines came as a result of fatigue and stress. Tylenol PM failed to work because I overused it. Besides, I wasn’t really in pain. I heard about an herbal remedy at GNC. You actually eat small pieces of melatonin which is what puts normal people to sleep. It took 3 of these suckers to ensure three hours’ sleep but only in half hour bursts. That procedure made me more tired than ever.
One day, 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.”
I almost kissed his feet. A 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? Or, was it newly FDA- approved? Most important of all, would it work for me? I filled the prescription right away, and swallowed 7.5 mg that night. I remembered nothing after ten minutes. My husband said I fell asleep with my glasses on, magazine in my hand. Getting up to use the toilet during the night, I got lost in the bathroom and hit a few walls repeatedly. In the morning, however, I awoke fully refreshed, ready to seize the day, no hangover from the drug.
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 fewer 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, lucky for insomniacs, Ambien, a narcotic, put its users under a hypnotic slumber within 30 minutes after swallowing. It’s similar to an anesthetic in that it literally “knocked people senseless.” Think of a giant green light that goes off and with it, all thoughts, worries, and stressers inside one’s head are blocked so that sleep, or sleep-like hypnosis, comes barreling in. I loved it. I only had a few side effects in the beginning. I bought $100 worth of prescription drugs over the phone and had no memory of having done so. I sleepwalked to the kitchen and back again, steered by the dog away from the fridge. My husband and I had bedtime conversations that I repeated again, in totality, the next morning. He has since grown used to it.
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 or a social beer. I hated weed, especially the odor. 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 was a straight egg.
Insomnia, I found out recently on FOX s no sleep for two weeks can cause death. Death?Two weeks? I came close, I swear. Right now the FDA has prevented refills of Ambien for more than 30 at a time. If so, I’m in trouble. I take up to 20 mg a day. One for a nap, one for bedtime. The FDAs’ new ruling has me on edge. Before Ambien I acted like a twirling dervish 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, undefrosted 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. He is a saint. He’s also never lost sleep, or risen red eyed in the morning. Those who have not missed one night of sleep for days in a row cannot begin to relate to how crippling it is, emotionally, mentally, and physically.
My husband and son and friends who know I use Ambien think I’m playing with fire. Narcotics? Not my wife, not my mom. They want me to stop, and I did recently, for a full week, trading Ambien for Hydrocodone following rotator cuff surgery. I was proud of myself, and I probably could stay off Ambien forever. But, never sleep again? I’m not ready. And while my doctor continues to prescribe, why shouldn’t I put the pill to good use?
Didn’t Tiger Woods crash his car under the influence of Ambien after fighting with his former wife? How many pills had he taken? I do not drive under the influence, but at mealtime I eat more than I’d planned. Now my straight laced friends who reprimanded me for taking the drug, borrow a few from time to time. I believe that after 11 years of nearly no sleep, I deserve 12 years of the reverse. I wish I could say I’d had hot sex in bed but that never happened. My health care plan pays for Ambien now, and I’d drive to Canada if I had to get my fix, but other than that, it’s a cheap habit to have. I have no vices. I don’t abuse any other drugs, alcohol, don’t smoke, have no weight problems, no teenage lovers, don’t hang out on street corners. There are lots of worse things I could do. During full moons, things get worse. Even with Ambien, I sleep erratically. I panic. I up my dosage. I dream vividly, and wake thinking the dreams had come true.
I found out at my most recent job that everyone in a directatorial position took Ambien. They all claimed no side effects.
I’m very good at masquerading my feelings. I’m upbeat, think positively, am personable, friendly, and compassionate, love to meet new people, plan group luncheons. I am passionate about things that interest me – writing, tennis, travel, friendships, chocolate, and sleep. When I haven’t slept, I’m still outwardly upbeat, but inside, I’m dead. Numb. Looking back, I don’t know how I survived wakefulness as long as I did.
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved naps. So does my son, my husband, my dog. My father napped, my mother napped, while my sister sat under a sheet reading by flashlight. Was she insomniac and we didn’t know it? In college, I napped there too, because I was a nighttime partier, dancing, eating crap and making out. The naps stopped when I became a new mother, but once my child went off to school, I’d return to bed in the afternoon for a few minutes. It amazed me how rested I could feel after a 15 minute shut eye.
For awhile, I put my insomnia to good use. I’d work at a paying job all day, and then write all night. I’ve always been more creative at night anyway. I published two novels in this fashion. I taught myself how to format, edit, create a jacket, and hired an editor and artist for the cover. Sales for me were dismal as I worked both without a distributor and agent, but the fact remains my books were sold on Amazon and at B&N.
Shock jocks on the radio had a call in session one morning asking Ambien users what bizarre things they did while under the influence. It was funny, especially the QVC binge buyer. After all, Ambien wasn’t medicinal; it was 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’d eaten. A young woman admitted that she’d ordered 100 pairs of Zappo’s in every single color. It took UPS two hours to unload her shoes!
Vets who’ve returned from war and suffer from PTSD are treated by a plethora of sleeping pills, anti depressants, anti anxiety pills, smoking cigarettes, 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 Ecstasy 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. Ambien is legal, and if it helps vets, I highly encourage them to keep using it.
Even though Ambien is a narcotic. I don’t consider myself a narcotics addict. I don’t steal drugs, or use bogus prescriptions. I am in a much better place with Ambien than I was over a few years ago when I was taking OTC crap promised to help me sleep but useless.
Just one warning: because I’m writing this article to you at night, there’s no guarantee I’m not on Ambien now, and tomorrow, will remember a thing I wrote.
Nightly night, all.
- In D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” the narrator suffered from insomnia as did many of his characters he met that night he left boarding school.