For the past year, I’ve slept only 3 to 4 hours a night, and not in a row. Needless to say, my nerves were shot and I was starting to get a bit cranky. While my doctor tried to sort out my insomnia’s cause, she prescribed the sleeping aid Ambien.
The Ambien was to be used only if I was desperate for sleep — like the night before a performance — and I was to go to bed within 30 minutes of taking the pill. In the two months I’ve had the prescription, I’ve taken half of an Ambien maybe twice. It knocked me out pretty quick.
I thought the insomnia was due to stress. For nearly three years, I’ve been self-producing I Will Be Good, traveling back and forth to NYC, putting all my creative energy into my work. A dear friend, who is a mother of three, continually remarks, “This is your equivalent of having a newborn.” I’ve had no energy left over for my home, which had deteriorated into a vortex of disorder — half painted walls, mismatched rugs, non-existent filing systems. I imagined my spice-alphabetizing, pantry-labeling father turning in his grave.
The Quest for Order
My doctor thought the sleep deprivation might be a result of changing hormone levels (welcome to age 51) and prescribed two different plant-based pills to be taken each morning. I tossed the containers into our pill basket, a train wreck of random prescriptions, current and expired, belonging to my husband, me, and the dog.
Over the holidays, I found myself in the surprising position of having two weeks off. My nesting instincts went into high gear. This was my opportunity to transform my home into an orderly, beautiful sanctuary after months of domestic neglect. I was sure I could accomplish this by Christmas Day, just five days away! (Note to self: keep magical thinking in check.) The first day of this effort, I was in a creative frenzy. Newly purchased IKEA items awaiting assembly littered our living room floor. I was finally painting the kitchen window trim after months of looking at exposed wood. In between coats of paint, I unpacked Christmas decorations, organized closets, and multi-tasked within an inch of my life, all the while marveling at my fast-paced productivity. I was getting cocky.
At some point in the afternoon, I realized I hadn’t taken the aforementioned hormones, so I quickly popped two pills in my mouth, and went on overachieving. About a half an hour later, I noticed there were four pots on the counter. I knew that, in fact, there were only two pots on the counter. Then I saw two stoves and two refrigerators. I was seeing double. Several minutes later, I could hardly stand. I didn’t panic, but I was pretty clear my brain wasn’t firing right.
I made several phone calls, of which I have no memory. My speech was slurred. The thought of a stroke crossed my mind (and apparently everyone else’s whom I was calling) and, prompted by the double vision, I eventually phoned my optometrist, the wonderful Mike Gordon. He’s a dear friend and it’s a small town, so he immediately dispatched Mary from his office to my home in the woods, while calling my doctor to say, “There’s an issue with Tricia. Where do you want me to send her?” My doctor said, “She just called here and we told her to call 911.” Like I said, no memory.
Mary has an EMT husband, Tom, a handy person to know, and she brought him along. They entered my home like a healthcare SWAT team. As Tom checked my eyes and my blood pressure, he started asking me the standard questions: What did you eat today? Is that what you normally eat? What medications did you take? Suddenly, the picture of the pills I’d taken flashed across my mind’s eye. In my fever pitch of home improvement, instead of a happy little yam-based hormone, I’d actually taken an Ambien, which induces not only sleep, but also hallucinations and amnesia. Good to know.
I slurred my apologies profusely, and delivered wine and chocolates the next day. Mary and her EMT husband looked noticeably relieved. Mike Gordon went off high-alert, although my husband took a while to recover from the garbled message he’d received. I felt silly, and cared for, and grateful.
Important Safety Point
On the way out the door, EMT Tom noticed a propane gas canister we use with our outdoor grill, sitting in our living room, about 10 feet from our woodstove. My husband was using it as a weight on top of an IKEA sidetable he was repairing with wood glue, which was setting. Tom simply said, “You realize you have a bomb in your living room.” Also good to know.
The Ambien is now safely out of my reach; the gas canister is properly stored in the workshop; the hormones reside in one of those containers, with sections for Sunday through Saturday; and the trim is finally painted. As a bonus, I’m sleeping about five hours a night. Order, of a sort, is restored. Right now, that’s plenty enough for me.