my first semester of college, i was diagnosed with stress-related acute insomnia and prescribed 50 refills of heavy sleeping pills. the pills worked, and so did i, and that was super awesome for the time being. i barely drank at parties, as you can’t mix ambien with alcohol, and didn’t dream again for six months.
i’ll never be quite sure what the health center doctor was thinking putting an 18 year old on sleeping meds for the rest of her life, but alas. there it was. ambien requires 7-8 hours of sleep, so i was constantly counting eight hours ahead to see when i’d be able to wake up the next day. got home at 1am? okay, 9am it is. oh balls, you need to wake up at 6am for marching band practice? i guess you’re not sleeping at all tonight.
when i could take the pills, i suddenly felt a lot like a narcoleptic, dropping down into sleep within 20 minutes of taking it. most nights my roommate received silence from the other side of our dorm room as i’d passed out in the middle of our conversation. one particular night, as i was dozing off, i glanced over at her as she laid on her side, head folded onto her arms.
“your arms,” i told her. “they look like bread. like a Subway sandwich roll.”
and then i was gone.
sleep on pills feels like some kind of cyber-sleep, where you close your eyes, open them again, and it’s magically 8 hours later. you feel well-rested, but in a plastic kind of way. it all happens so fast that dreams aren’t a thing, and if they are, you don’t remember them whatsoever. sleep on pills is the black behind your eyelids, and then it’s morning.
i’d never been a slave to any kind of drug before. i probably could have tried sleep without them, but i was just too afraid to try. that was, until i googled my dosage of ambien and read stories of people taking pills and going on sleep-driving adventures, sleep-eating adventures, adventures that they didn’t remember. one man tried to prepare a meal in his sleep and cut his fingers off. that was it.
the first time i came home for winter vacation, i lowered my dose, taking halves of pills and eventually nothing. the worst part of insomnia for me is the total fear of not being able to sleep, causing the insomnia in the first place. but somehow, i retrained myself to fall asleep naturally, mostly reading books until my eyes got tired.
almost three years later, i still worry about my sleep. most nights are easy, i crawl into my bed already gone. but when i do have more stress, it manifests itself most in the moments leading up to sleep. ironically, as i write this from my parent’s house on the east coast, i’ve been experiencing difficulties with sleep, though from what i presume is the time difference, not stress.
and yet, the frustration of wanting sleep so badly still sets in, whatever the reason for the insomnia that night. not being able to sleep feels like failing at life’s simplest task, at something so innate that children do it all day long. it makes you mull over the other things you’ve failed to do, whether it’s take out the trash that day or eat some fruits and vegetables or just be the best self you can be. this state of mind makes me remember what it felt like to loathe the nighttime that first semester, and i realized i never really wrote down how it felt.
mostly, it felt like my friend’s arms totally looked like bread. so, that was kind of fun.