In my previous post, I told you about my ongoing issues with sleeplessness and how a doctor prescribed the sleep aid Ambien in an effort to help me get some rest.
When we last left off, I was telling you about how I tried dyeing my eyelashes in my sleep, as a result of taking the drug.
I would love to tell you that that episode marked the end my relationship with Ambien, but sadly, I continued to take it.
To recap, I knew I was taking more and more Ambien to get the same effects at night. And now I realized that I was getting up during the night and doing crazy stuff in my sleep that I couldn’t recall the next day.
In fact, when my daughter saw me covered with black eyelash dye, she told me that she had noticed me doing wild things too, but she figured I was awake.
One night, she said, she had watched me rub Tiger Balm all over my feet and then over the rest of my body. If you’ve ever used this stuff, then you know how astonishing this is. Tiger Balm is very potent--just a dab on your temple when you have a headache will give you a real sensation of warmth. And here I was, spreading the stuff like frosting on my skin. And that wasn’t even enough to wake me up or make me remember it.
But in spite of all of this, I continued to take Ambien. In fact, I couldn’t wait until my next dose. Looking back, I was obviously hooked on it, but at the time, I didn’t want to believe that I was addicted to a prescription drug. Other people had that problem, not me. I talked myself into believing that it was a harmless medicine that was helping me sleep. That thinking, which I now realize was completely wrong, is what kept me able to justify taking Ambien everyday.
Another issue that I was dealing with while taking the drug was what I called “tanking and hitting the wall.” Every day, right around 4 p.m., I would completely bottom out both physically and mentally. If a friend or co-worker asked me a question I felt like it took every ounce of mental energy I had to answer. The simplest tasks took me forever to do. I could no longer think. It was as if someone pulled the plug on my brain. I could no longer function. Period.
This wasn’t just some mid-afternoon dip in my energy level—the kind that I know many people have (and the reason the lines start to form at Starbucks again late in the afternoon). It’s not like a cup of coffee got me back on track for the rest of the day. At 4 p.m., I was done.
But it wasn’t until the serious physical problems began that I really started to wake up and smell the coffee about Ambien.
For example, I began having tingling sensations in my arms and legs (and no, it wasn’t the day after I had slathered Tiger Balm all over myself). That scared me, but I wasn’t ready to admit to myself that my beloved Ambien was at fault.
Then right around that same time, I went in for my annual gynecological exam and during the breast exam, my doctor found a lump in my left breast. I was sent in for an ultrasound, and my doctor found two more—a second one on the left side, and one on the right.
My doctor said we needed to watch the lumps for the next several months to see if they changed in anyway. One lump in particular concerned her the most. I told her that I didn’t want to wait—that if a lump needed to be removed, to go ahead and schedule a time to do it.
I left the office and my head was spinning. I remember thinking to myself “I have a big problem, and I need to figure this out.”
I don’t know if it was a higher power talking to me or my own intuition or what, but all of the sudden, I decided to drive to the Safeway pharmacy where I picked up my Ambien.
When I got there, I told the pharmacist “I need you to give me what the side effects are for Ambien. Not the list that you give to your customers, but the list that the drug company gives you.”
Bless his heart, he didn’t question me. He went back, retrieved it from the box and handed me this booklet filled with extremely small print, detailing the side effects of the drug.
Please keep this in mind as a tip—always ask the pharmacist for the insert that the pharmaceutical company gives out. Then, if you ever have side effects, you can check the full list for information. The pharmacists seem very willing to give them out, so make sure you ask.
As I read through the side effects, I felt sick to my stomach.
Tingling in arms and legs. Breast tumors. Brain function completely gone. Sleepwalking.
Everything that I had been dealing with was on those pages. Never, not once, did anyone warn me about these particular side effects.
The following week my husband Ed and I traveled to Europe for a vacation. While we were on a sail boat, I took my bottle of Ambien and threw it over the side into the water.
Ed turned to me and said “Thank God—I might get my wife back now.”
Bless his heart, he had never said a word to me about it until then.
I will remember that moment for the rest of my life.
Of course, quitting Ambien cold turkey was not exactly easy—I pretty much didn’t sleep for the rest of our vacation. But as the days went by, I could feel the real me coming back. Within 2 days, I got my brain function back and no longer hit the wall at 4 p.m. The tingling went away. The sleepwalking ended. And although I did opt to get one breast lump removed, the other 2 completely went away on their own, and looking back, I bet the 3rd one would have gone away as well.
My husband got his wife back. And I got myself back too.