This story is relevant to the readers of the Shadowing Abigail blog, because very often, part of the response to abuse and trauma is disrupted sleep and/or depression. We are not opposed to the use of medications in treating either condition, and we believe in removing any cultural stigmas against using medication when necessary, so that those on their path to healing can freely access everything they need to get well. However, more and more, cautions are coming out about the prescription sleep aid Ambien. Victims of abuse and trauma regularly experience thoughts of doubt, worry, and anxiety, even without medication being involved. Those thoughts may be amplified, intensified, or, as this guest writer points out, seemingly normalized when medications like Ambien are being used.
It’s our desire to share this story so that you and your loved ones can know what to watch out for and recognize that it is possible for a medication to have truly negative, harmful side effects, in which case, it should be discontinued and medical advice sought immediately. If you already suffer from even mild depression symptoms, please tell your doctor when seeking medication for sleeplessness. The two together—insomnia and depression—need to be addressed when a sleep aid is introduced. Protect your own life and the lives of others and please share this cautionary tale. Also, remember that there is no shame in needing medication to address these health issues—and therefore, no shame or stigma in talking about how you are responding to your meds. Tell your family and friends what you’re taking so they too can be watching how you respond, in case you don’t notice a change in your behavior and thinking processes.
"This is not the typical story of abuse for this blog, but I am writing this in the hopes that it will help someone. I now call myself an “Ambien survivor.” That may sound silly, I know, but a couple of years ago I went to a doctor because I was feeling down. I had passed the Bar and had acquired the job I had been working toward while in law school, so feeling sad didn’t make any sense to me. The doctor diagnosed me as just needing more sleep and prescribed Ambien. In his words, I should take Ambien when I knew my caseload was going to be particularly heavy the next day.
However, as I continued to take Ambien my personality began to change. The day after taking Ambien I was on a “high,” almost a “manic” mood, kind of like I was on stage. But the low that came the next day could be crushing. As time went on, the highs and lows became more and more pronounced. The scary thing was I couldn’t see what was happening to me until it was almost too late.
I thought what I was feeling was normal at the time because it felt normal to me in what I will call a “drugged” state. However, I was living in a state of progressively higher highs and lower lows. I was quickly becoming a functioning drug addict. I began to hear voices in my head telling me to do horrible things to myself and to others. The voices became louder and louder and I started to forget what it was to be “normal.” In fact, the suggestions the voices were making began to seem reasonable to me.
I just wanted to make the voices stop. Suicide became a very viable option. I left the office one day during the work day and went home. As I lay on my couch, I was relieved that there were no guns in our house. I just lay there and looked at the ceiling. I wrote one line in the memo box of my phone; “The loneliness of a single wave breaking on an empty shore.” I have never felt so alone and isolated in my entire life. And I also felt completely detached from reality and almost devoid of feelings. I honestly believe that if there had been a gun in our home that day I would not be here to write this.
That day finally shook me up enough to figure out that something was very wrong. It’s funny and scary that it took near suicide to make me realize how out of kilter I was mentally. The interesting thing is that I didn’t see it because I was living it. I was too close to it. That day suicide felt as logical as getting off the couch to get something to eat. There was no emotion to it. It would have been just another act in my day. It’s hard for me to believe I didn’t see it before that day.
I told my wife and my dad that I was having serious thoughts of suicide. When I told them, I know they were taken aback by my matter of fact and disconnected tone. But they both listened and took this seriously. They knew I was not acting or sounding like myself. I scheduled an appointment with a therapist that day. He called me to do a phone interview and asked me if I was taking any medications. I told him about the Ambien and he told me to stop taking it at once. He also said that I never should have been prescribed Ambien because I was already exhibiting some signs of mild depression. I later learned of the Ambien legal cases ranging from sleep driving to suicide. It turns out that one of the main side effects reported is severe depression on the “come down.”
I asked the therapist why a GP would prescribe Ambien when I didn’t even complain of trouble sleeping. He told me that Ambien is the number one prescribed sleep aid in the United States and doctors incentives for prescribing it. My therapist said that the fact is that we as humans have bad days and sometimes we do get sad. He said that being sad is just a part of life and that too often, doctors may be willing to cash in on people’s sadness by prescribing drugs like Ambien which only aggravate the problem.
Now that I am no longer taking Ambien and my head is clearing, I am able to see how mentally destructive I was becoming. I see or speak with my therapist regularly. Through my discussions I realized part of my problem was the fact that I didn’t like my job even though I was good at it. That’s one of the reasons I was sad when I passed the Bar. If I had failed it would have given me an “out,” but passing locked me in, or so I thought at the time.
A couple of weeks after “getting clean,” I spoke with my boss and told him that I was unhappy in my job. Instead of telling me to “get a dog,” or some other such Band-Aid solution, he actually created a hybrid position where I could do more of my work from outside the office and from home. Now I am out of the office more and I get to go places and do things. I feel happier and healthier. I now realize that I am going to get sad and I am going to have bad days. But one thing about bad days is that they end. They don’t last forever—and the voices that suggest they do are lying. The bad days do end. And this seems like a good place to end this. I hope this helps someone. Have a good day. "
Note: Our guest poster has asked that his name and identity be withheld for the sake of privacy.