I hadn’t slept in 3 days when my mom took me to the hospital. I was hysterical; I thought I was going to die.
Please, I begged the doctor. Just give me a tranquilizer, knock me out.
We can’t do that, he told me. But I am going to admit you into an overnight program.
What he meant was basically a mental institution. But I was too exhausted to be scared, at first. It wasn’t until my mom dropped me off, and I looked around, that the fear set in. White walls, guards at the doors, and people who looked worse off than I did. The first boy to speak to me had bandages around his wrists. What are you in for, he asked me. I told him I couldn’t sleep. Oh yeah, he said, I never can either. I closed my eyes to stop the tears from spilling over, and told myself I didn’t belong here. They would just find me a cure, and I’d be gone.
The nurse listened to me ramble patiently that night as we all formed a line to take meds. Ambien, Lunesta, Xanax, Klonopin, Temazepam, Sonata, if you’re going to give me any of those drugs you’re wasting both of our time, I informed her as calmly as I could. I’ll never forget the smirk.
Ms. Wilkins, she told me, this is something you haven’t tried before, and I assure you, you will sleep tonight.
Even though my assigned roommate was sobbing into her sheets that night as I closed my eyes, I wasn’t bothered as I slipped into the best night’s sleep I’d had in three months. The next morning I found the doctor in charge straight away. I don’t need to stay another night, I told him, all I need is a prescription for what you gave me last night. He argued, telling me they wanted to keep me another night, that I would have to sign an AMA form if I insisted on leaving. I don’t belong here, I told him, and I’m extremely grateful you found me the right medicine.
Five years later, and I’ve taken 50 mg of Seroquel every single night to fall asleep. Every time I get a new doctor and have to explain to him/her what kind of prescription I need, I get the same look. Seroquel… they always trail off. But that’s an antipsychotic. Typically used to treat schizophrenia. I know it is, I say. And I’ve been tested to make sure I’m not bipolar, schizophrenic, or otherwise mentally disturbed. It’s just the only thing that lets me sleep, I explain for the umpteenth time. And always it’s the same response, they give a little shrug, half-heartedly ask if I’ve tried Ambien, and write me a prescription. The extensive research I’ve done on the drug is probably as much as they know anyway. I don’t have many people to compare to. Some people take Seroquel to sleep, but usually only stay on it a few months at most before getting medicine actually meant for insomnia. Those who do take it for a mental disorder take 100s of mgs a day, doctors have guessed that maybe it’s not habit forming at the dosage I take. So I could take it forever, I once asked a psychiatrist. He literally shrugged. If the side effects don’t bother you, he said.
Side effects were something I never even thought about. Every night I closed my eyes, I thanked God and Seroquel I’d never lose a night of sleep again. It wasn’t until the night I let Chris try my pill that my perception started to waver a bit. He was worried about work, something we were both stressing about a lot at the time, and he was having some trouble sleeping. Take half of one of my pills, I offered, you’ll sleep like a baby.
The next day, my fiancé seemed furious at me. How can you do that every night, he demanded, his eyes bloodshot and his face puffy. I was confused, didn’t you sleep? I asked. Oh yeah, I slept, he’d said, but those dreams…
Oh, the night terrors, I said, shrugging. Yeah I only get them like once a week maybe.
YOU KNEW ABOUT THIS?? ONCE A WEEK?! JESUS!!!
I got used to them, I assured him. I don’t care. I’m just happy to sleep.
He pulled me into a hug. Elizabeth, last night had to be one of the worst nights of my life. If you go through that shit regularly, it cannot be good for you. Even now, I feel horrible. Like the worst hangover ever. We’ve got to get you off of this pill.
I returned his embrace, nodding, ok baby. But in my head I had no intention of changing a thing. Night terrors or not, I was able to sleep.
It was only a few weeks later I was sitting on my couch talking to a friend. The discussion of my upcoming wedding had transcended into other things. Are you going to have kids? She asked. Maybe, I answered without thinking, but maybe not because I don’t think I could take my sleeping pill if I was pregnant. The incredulous look she gave me made me feel a little guilty. That’s the big deciding factor, she asked, have you at least tried to get off of it?? Plenty of times! I lied. It’s impossible.
The truth is, talking about getting off Seroquel always gets me extremely defensive. Why should I get off it? It works right? Who am I hurting? I guess the answer to that is I don’t know. Maybe I’m hurting myself. They say the first step to overcoming an addiction is admitting you have a problem. This is the step I’m still working on. Chris recently went out and bought a bunch of Melatonin and Valerian Root for me. I know you’ve tried these things before, he interrupted my protests. But please try them again, and let’s start by cutting your pill in half. The next morning as he looked at me eagerly and asked if I’d slept ok, I couldn’t bear to tell him I’d chickened out and taken my normal dosage. I slept fine, I said, thank you.
Later, I sat across from my therapist and told her about my lie. Think about it this way, she said, are you planning on lying forever? Of course not, I admitted. Then you might as well try tonight, she said, you don’t work until noon tomorrow. But why should I? I pleaded. He’s trying to help but he doesn’t understand. This medicine saved me! I sleep like a baby on it. Why should I give that up?
She thought about my questions for a long pause before she spoke again. Ok, it’s like this, she finally said. It’s like if you came in with chronic pain and they prescribed you cocaine. Guaranteed you wouldn’t feel the pain anymore, but…
But at what price… I finished. Okay. I get it. I’ll try.
Today is day three of only taking half of my pill. The past three nights I have slept, which surprises me. But I feel like total shit. The sleep I’ve had has been light, uncomfortable. Each morning my alarm goes off, I am exhausted. Headaches, nausea, and emotional instability has plagued my past few days. It’ll get better, Chris reminds me, but it will get worse first. Every night I’ve thought about giving up, but only the fear of having to start the withdrawal process over again keeps me in line. I wish he could just Johnny Cash me…basically lock my in a room for weeks and occasionally bring me soup until the whole mess is out of my system. But I have responsibilities, so I have to handle this process like an adult. Ironically, how hard this is is actually what’s helped to convince me it really IS a problem. If Seroquel wasn’t a hardcore drug that was really hooking me, it wouldn’t be so miserable to stop taking it.
Here’s the craziest thing no one tells you though: when you’re trying to quit an addiction, it speaks to you. Seroquel is in my ear every night, reminding me that it saved me, gently crooning that it would never hurt me, reminding me how much better I’ll feel if I just take the other half of my pill. It flares up in anger when anyone puts it down, and the poison spills out of my own mouth as I remind the accuser that they just don’t understand. Addiction has a way of making its victim feel so alone, so misunderstood, when really millions of us have been through the exact same thing.
This isn’t going to turn into one of those blogs. I’m not going to give my readers daily updates of my trials and symptoms and progress and regressions. I’m not writing this to elicit sympathy, God knows many people have it worse than I do. No, I’m sharing this with you because I understand now that it’s this first step that’s so crucial. It doesn’t just apply to our addictions, but our relationships, our dreams, our fears, our world. As a nation we are hurting right now. We’ve become wrapped up in politics, skin color, sexual orientation, agendas that the media shove down our throats. We’ve gone from silently disagreeing with our friend’s opinions to refusing to stay friends with them because they oppose our views. We are being played like fiddles against our brothers and sisters and we could be on the brink of a civil war right now, and why? It’s because so many of us are stuck on step one, and I believe that it’s the hardest step there is. But until we can admit that we have a problem, there is never going to be a possibility of solution. We have to start with the man in the mirror before we even start to blame this person or that person. Then we have to forgive ourselves before we can begin to forgive others. We have to love ourselves before we can truly love others. The journey is long, and it will be hard and uncomfortable and we will want to give up every single day, and it’s not one that we will be able to navigate without support from each other, but it’s on us to take the first step.