She stood at the bathroom sink and pulled the new prescription out of the cabinet. Take one-half tablet before bedtime. May cause drowsiness. Do not drink alcohol. Refill in three months.
Then she looked in the mirror. She never had thought of herself as a pill-head. She just couldn’t sleep. At first she thought it was menopause. She woke up hot. So she started drinking soy milk. She’d read all the articles. But still she couldn’t sleep.
Try aromatherapy, a friend advised. So she went to the store and bought a concoction of lavender, sweet marjoram and chamomile. Guaranteed to work, the perky sales clerk said. Although the scent was pleasant as she went to sleep, going to sleep was not the problem. Staying asleep was. Each night her eyes popped open. She threw off the sweat-soaked covers and saw the red light-emitting diode of her clock proclaim 2:00 a.m. Her brain raced.
Why did my husband leave me? Was it because I was too dedicated to my job? Too spent at the end of the day to attempt conception? Will I ever hear the laughter of a child, my child? Was he interested in someone else? Surely not, but then, who was that woman who started calling toward the end, claiming to be a work colleague, asking him to come in on Saturdays? Did he leave for her? Where does he live now? Did he leave because of my drinking?
So she started turning on the light to read, after setting the air conditioner on a cooler temperature. Reading occupied her mind to stop the racing. And often, after an hour or two, she would drift off to sleep, until dropping the book would wake her again.
Sometimes, she did go back to sleep at four or five a.m. and then it was a deep sleep. On those days, she slept through the alarm, making her late for work. She felt groggy during the day, unable to make a decision. She made mistakes. After some time, her boss called her in and said if her work didn’t improve within three months, he would have to let her go.
She stared at her reflection in the mirror. Was it her imagination, or were the circles under her eyes growing darker and larger? She just had to get some sleep.
Go to a doctor, a friend advised. So she did. He tested her hormones since she was waking up hot. You’re too young for menopause, he said and he prescribed exercise and eating lightly in the evening. So she started to walk, then to run, until she was up to five miles a day thinking that would wear her out enough to sleep. But still she woke up hot and couldn’t sleep.
She went back to the doctor who recommended a sleep disorder clinic. She spent the night in a lab with monitors and wires connected to her head and over her heart. Who could sleep with all those people watching and all those wires? The clinic concluded there was nothing wrong with her medically. Perhaps it was psychological.
So she went to therapy for a while, ten visits to be exact since that’s all the insurance would pay for. The therapist said she was just experiencing what all middle-aged women go through, particularly recently divorced middle-aged women. Perhaps she should try meditation. So she tried yoga, cut out caffeine and became a vegetarian. But still she woke up hot and couldn’t sleep.
So she went back to her doctor to ask for a sleeping pill. It’s very safe, he said, and non-addictive. Take just a half. So she took a half and slept for a few nights. Sleep was wonderful. But then she started to awaken at the usual 2:00 a.m. Hot. So she tried a whole. That worked for about a week, until she woke up hot and couldn’t sleep. Her work suffered. Finally her boss let her go. So she tried two pills. Sleep was not to be found. She tried two and a half. If she could just get a decent night of sleep, she could look for another job. Soon her prescription ran out so she went to the pharmacy for some more.
You’re not due for a refill for another month, the pharmacist said. Your insurance has denied your request. Desperate at the thought of facing the night without her pills, she made an appointment with a different doctor, gave him a different name, told him she didn’t have insurance, she would pay for it herself. She paid cash. She gave him the name of a pharmacy in a different neighborhood where she was not known.
He gave her a prescription. It was stronger, guaranteed to make her sleep. That evening to celebrate, she drank a whole bottle of Pinot Noir by herself. After dinner, she went upstairs, put the new sheets on the bed and then went into the bathroom to get ready for bed. She brushed her teeth and then her hair and carefully chose the expensive nightgown, the one she’d gotten in San Diego on her honeymoon.
She reached for the glass by the sink and began to fill it with water. When it was full, she set it down on the marble countertop where it made a little wet ring. She pulled the new prescription out of the cabinet. Take one-half tablet before bedtime. May cause drowsiness. Do not drink alcohol. Refill in three months. Then she looked in the mirror. This had better work, she thought. She poured half the bottle into her hand, swallowed the pills and went to bed.
But still she woke up hot and couldn’t sleep. In fact, this night seemed hotter than usual. She turned down the air conditioner to sixty degrees. The air never cooled off.
Every day now she lives the same nightmare. She walks around in a sleep-deprived daze. She doesn’t go out. She never changes out of her nightgown. Each night she takes more sleeping pills. She looks in the mirror and thinks, my God, I’m in hell.
She can’t sleep there, either.