It was 2AM and I had just gotten out of bed for the fifth time to pee. I didn’t turn the lights on, maneuvering my way through my tiny, pitch-black apartment by memory. I walked three feet and turned left, walked four more and turned right. I knew the way because I did it the last night, and the one before that, and every night since I had moved in six months prior. I had learned over these long months that it was important not to walk too fast. If I got my blood pumping even the slightest bit, I would lose the woozy pill feeling and with it my only chance at #sleep.
I made my way back to bed. But this night was going to turn out differently. A few hours before, I had taken my prescribed dosage of 50mg of Trazodone. It hadn’t helped. Three hours of lying in bed later, panic stricken by the approaching dawn, I took three Benadryls. An hour after that, only mildly less alert, I took two shots of whiskey. It lingered in my throat and sloshed around like a boat on the bay. I stumbled to the toilet and forced myself to vomit, the bitter taste of pills coating my tongue as they left me from the same place they’d entered. I dry-heaved for another thirty minutes, and then I stayed on the bathroom floor, finally able to sleep with a stomach filled of nothing.
It all began when I made an appointment with a doctor after I slept through work, the result of having been awake for a full 48 hours before. “No, I am not stressed. Yes, my family and friends are supportive. No, I’m not worried about my job,” I told the doctor, before she prescribed me Trazodone, an antidepressant used to treat sufferers of PTSD, major depression, and on occasion, #insomnia.
I started to lose sleep in my late teens. My college nights were spent mostly awake, roaming the halls of my dorm and reading articles about insomnia remedies. I would find sleep during the day between classes. This pattern continued into my 20’s, until I was averaging about 3 hours of sleep a night, usually from 5AM – 8AM.
The first time I took my prescribed pill, I woke up at 4PM the next day to 14 missed texts and 6 missed calls from friends asking where I was. I had slept through all of our plans for that day.. The rest of the evening felt like treading water and I had no idea how to spend my time and nothing I desired to do, so I took my next dose and went back to bed. And I did the same the following night, and for the rest of the weekend.
I was 23, and had recently moved to Brooklyn from my small suburban Philadelphia town. I was casually seeing a man I liked, and aside from sleepless nights, extreme fatigue, and spurts of irritability, I was enjoying City life. But I was sleeping through work, and needed a fix, hence the doctor and the prescription. When I started taking the pills, I stopped wanting to go out for drinks or art exhibits or movies. One night, I couldn’t have sex, despite the best efforts of the guy I was seeing. I tried drinking wine, he tried more foreplay, but my libido had diminished with every pill I took, a common side effect of Trazodone.
“Everything okay?” he asked.
I shrugged, dressed, and left, allowing ambivalence to speak for me. Our texts became infrequent after that and within a few weeks he told me the chemistry just wasn’t there. The irony was not lost on me.
I spent most of June in my non-air conditioned, one windowed bedroom. The heat sucked away any energy the pills missed.
Pretty soon, the daytime fatigue caused by my sleeping pills caught up with me. I couldn’t keep my eyes open at work, but I didn’t want to stop taking the Trazodone. I was sleeping, albeit too much, but I was told it’d take a month or so for my body to get used to the effects, so I stuck with it. Desperate, I bought Adderall on the black market, from friends of friends still in undergrad, paying an average of $5 a pill to keep me awake, and I sat with burning eyes at my copywriting job.
But pills to stay alert meant more pills to go to sleep. Unable to increase my Trazodone prescription, I improvised with over-the-counter meds and alcohol. That jarring 5AM morning, as I lay by the toilet on the bathroom floor dry-heaving, I realized I had become a shell of a person. I had a choice: I could live life without enough sleep and mostly awake, or pilled-out and half dead.
After two months I stopped my Trazodone prescription cold turkey, as well as the Adderall. It took me five more to wean off the habitual cocktail of whiskey and various OTC sleep medications.
Now I am lucky if I get four hours of sleep a night, but it’s easier to function without various hangovers. The drugs have left me with a lingering after affect, a calling card I can’t shake. Now I have violent #nightmares and vivid dreams that I haven’t experienced since childhood, unconscious thoughts the drugs had been so heavily clouding that I never knew I had until now.