I'm deciding if I should take a sleeping pill.

I know tons of people who take them. I never understood the need, to be honest. I remember when I was in a mental ward. My group therapy was a bunch of eating disorder girls (which I was part of, but a little old for) and a bunch of grown-ups who were depressed and maybe receiving electroshock therapy. (Does this still happen? I don't know.)

Anyway, the girls' biggest problem was that they hated their family and wanted to live in the mental ward instead. (I definitely fell into that camp.) The adults' problem was that they could not sleep.

At first, I thought, “If this is your biggest problem, do you need to be in a mental ward?”

And this is why I loved the mental ward, by the way. You learn so much about life from people who are unable to live it.

The facilitator, whose job was to get people to talk but often had to quell my penchant for talking over people, explained to me that when people cannot sleep, they cannot deal with the rest of their problems. And it snowballs: some problems lead to no sleep and no sleep leads to worse problems. You go on and on until you get to electroshock therapy.

She didn't say that last part. I did. For effect. But also so you know where I'm coming from when I tell you that I think I am going to be a regular for using pills to sleep.

I just can't find the right ones.

It's clear to me that I sleep better on the porch. Alone. But it's freezing at night. And also, no shitty relationship ever got better without people trying to make it better, and the farmer thinks that me sleeping on the porch is me giving up.

Then I started drinking wine. Sort of to have a better evening with the farmer. So I am less upset that everything is sucking between me and the farmer. And anyway, for sure the farmer likes me better if I'm drinking a little (but not a lot). So I was drinking wine at night, which is not easy in Darlington because the only wine here that costs more than $11 is Kendall Jackson. And there's just so much of that you can drink. And, by the way, I am becoming an expert on cheap wine, and I want to tell you that Crane Lake is the best cheap wine. You will need to know that if you are driving through the Midwest, buying alcohol at desolate gas stations.

The wine scares me, though. I would be a good alcoholic. People who are bulimic have all the trappings of someone who could be an alcoholic. It's the same: Food or alcohol. So the wine scares me for that reason, but also this: I knew a guy who was cheating on his wife who told me how she was drinking wine every night but he didn't even know it and now she goes to AA and she's scared that she ruined her life.

If she only knew the guy was cheating on her.

But anyway, that scared me.

So I can't do wine. I have Xanax. I have it left over from when I had a panic attack over not having any money and having two small kids at home all day while I had to get Brazen Careerist off the ground. The nurse felt bad for me that I didn't have time to wait for triage to see a psychiatrist because I had to get back to my kids, so she convinced some doctor to give me ten Xanax to get through my life.

I used a couple. To sleep. But I love getting up at 4am to write. And I can't do that if I take Xanax.

Then I tried taking one at 6pm. So it wore off in time. And that was fun. Mixing it with wine was fun. And also, suddenly, the farmer and I were getting along again.

The complete unnaturalness of that really scared me. So I stopped everything, and went back to sleeping on the porch. And then, to prove to myself that I was not falling apart in every aspect of my life, I forced myself to sleep in the same bed as the farmer and read until I fell asleep.

Then I remembered how you can't know what an author is like until you try two different books. So maybe that is true of sleeping pills, too. Because I tried Vicodin. I saved them in case I ever got a urinary tract infection again. And sleep was nice. And I had ideas of having wine and Vicodin. After all, I have decided that I'm trying to have in interesting life rather than a happy life. And wine and Vicodin might be interesting.

But only until I am addicted. And then my posts would get really stupid. Among other problems.

Don't ask me, “What about the kids?” When I'm my regular self, everything matters and I want to kill them for not clearing their dishes because maybe they will get married and treat their wife like shit and their wife will say, “But look at how his mom let him treat her—she didn't even make them clear their plates.”

But on drugs, whatever I happen to have selected, I am a laid-back, fun parent.

What's scary is that my kids know there's something wrong when I'm laid back and fun.

Okay. Pause. I sent this post to my editor. And he said, “This is not very useful to your reader. Can you say something useful?”

I said, “No.”

So the post sat for two weeks.

Then, on a night when I ran out of new things to read, and I knew I wasn't going to be able to fall asleep, I started reading a magazine about mindfulness that I bought after I started having sleep problems but before I got my hands on prescription meds.

It's the March 2010 issue of Shambhala Sun. Of course I dove right for the article by Michael Carroll about mindfulness at work. He says that he starts out by asking his clients to fill out this sentence: “At work I want to be …”

And the most frequent answers he gets are

Successful

Happy

Rewarded

Stress-free

Then he says that we think we want this stuff, but really, we probably don’t. Work would be totally boring if there were not both success and failure. And stress-free work is not challenging enough to be fulfilling work. We know this, I think. We just forget.

Also, we don’t know what else to want. Carroll says, “What we really want is, to be confident: confident that no matter what work offers up, we will remain self-assured and at our ease.”

This rings completely true to me. It helps me understand why I feel okay about work even though my company just moved to DC without me. And it helps me understand why I’ve got insomnia.

I don’t have that confidence about my personal life. But depending on sleeping pills isn’t going to give me that confidence. Everything comes together for me here: that I want to believe that I can handle whatever comes my way in work and in life. I’m better at doing this at work, so I can use my work skills to help me with my personal life.

I don’t think I would ever take a sleeping pill to get more done in my professional life. So I set a schedule. I go to bed at 8:30 and wake up at 4am and as soon as I tell myself that will work, it starts working. Not perfectly, but enough so that the pills and the wine and the self-destruction are not necessary. But they are there, just in case.

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  1. Eduard - People Skills Decoded
    Eduard - People Skills Decoded says:

    Hi Penelope,

    I tend to see sleeping pills as a superficial escape, a patch on a wound while the wound remains untreated underneath. We are meant to sleep well. We just need to create the write environmental ans psychological conditions for this to happen.

    You might want to check out my blog; I recently wrote a post about sleeping habits and I recommended a book on this topic. Good luck!

  2. kate
    kate says:

    hi penelope . . . i’ve been reading your blog for years and don’t comment much, but the sleep thing is something i know a lot about. obviously you’ve got a lot going on emotionally and mentally, but sometimes just taking melatonin or a supplement mix will do it. i know that unasked for advice is the bane of blogging :) but you’ve posted that you love the different opinions that come up in your comments section and email because you learn new things so here goes . . . i wrote a post about dealing with sleeplessness and supplements a couple of months ago. it’s got good details on different things to try. every person is different of course – sometimes it takes experimenting. pharmaceuticals can be fabulous, but in my experience the supplements have less of a kickback the next morning. hope this helps, because you are one of my favorite folks, and i’d love to hear that you’re getting rest and it’s helping you enjoy your new life on the farm . . . http://datinggod.typepad.com/datinggod/2010/08/essential-stuffs-sleep-inducers.html

  3. Avil Beckford
    Avil Beckford says:

    Hi Penelope,

    You know what I like most about you? You are human, you don’t pretend that you have it all together. And we can all learn from your honesty and experiences.

    Avil

  4. BC
    BC says:

    I never thought I would use them, but I take an Ambien almost every night. If I don’t, my mind won’t stop spinning so I can sleep & when I finally do, I’m back up two or three times per night. I only need about five hours of good sleep every night but without something to help turn my mind off, I have a hard time getting just two.

    Kudos to you finding a way to deal with it. I’ll have to try something like that. Let’s hope it works.

  5. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    You could try fasting from 6 p.m. on. When I do that, by 9:30, I’m falling asleep on the sofa. When you have no calories in your body, your brain knocks you out.

    • Gillian
      Gillian says:

      That’s interesting. In fruit flies calorie restriction apparently keeps them awake, and improves their brainpower when they are deprived of sleep. This may or may not be applicable in people.
      Thimgan et al, PLOS Biology Aug 2010, Vol 10, Issue 10.’The Perilipin Homologue, Lipid Storage Droplet 2,Regulates Sleep homeostasis and Prevents Learning Impairments Following Sleep Loss’

  6. Allison Majure
    Allison Majure says:

    Hi Penelope, I find your post quite useful and heartbreaking. Tell your editor there’s a connection that is strengthened when people live out loud and tell the truth; especially when it’s not pretty. Who hasn’t dabbled with sleep tweaks? Be it pills, wine, adjusting hours, working out, hot baths, prayer, meditation, 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, or counting sheep. You model honesty and lack of shame for problems so many of us dance, dance, and dance around to pretend we’re better than we are. Thanks for the useful post.

  7. Jane
    Jane says:

    Hi Penelope … this is a great, honest post. So many women suffer sleeping problems, myself included. I, too, sleep better without my husband in bed. But I feel the guilt (& get the guilt trip) of abandoning him, then consequently our relationship. Even though both of us sleep better apart. I’ve tried all sorts of trick to sleep and have found one that works for me, so please allow me to share: magnesium. Seriously, it’s unbelievable. I take four calcium/magnesium vitamins before bed every night. It provides 500mg of magnesium and has done wonders. Perhaps it might work for you. Also, try to time your sleep in blocks of 90 minutes. Why? That is the length of a sleep cycle from level 1 – resting to level 5 – REM (source: http://www.sleepfoundation.org/). My heart goes out to you. I know that stress of being unable to sleep. And even though I do these things, last night I just couldn’t stay asleep. Thank goodness for my trusty iPod & books-on-tape. Best wishes for pleasant dreams.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for comment, Jane. I realized in the last few weeks, that a lot of couples sleep separately. And I read just the other day that 22% of couples do not share a bed, and 30% have done it at one point or another.

      I’m always obsessed with trying to be as normal as possible, but I’m thinking now that maybe it’s abnormal to think I need to sleep in the same bed…

      Penelope

      Penelope

      • Techquestioner
        Techquestioner says:

        To some extent, it depends on the size of the bed and the structure of the mattress and spring. One person in the bed has to be able to turn over without waking their bed mate. I share a queen-size bed at home, but like ti have king-size beds when we travel. If we have to share a smaller full-size bed, we both sleep poorly.

        I also recommend separate covers. If one party tends to take the covers with them when they turn over, the other tends to wake up cold. Both sleepers may also not be comfortable with the same type or weight of covering (such as one likes a heavy comforter, and the other a sheet alone, or a sheet and only a light blanket).

        You have to figure out why you don’t sleep well in a shared bed.

  8. JohnS
    JohnS says:

    Hey Penelope – I have been going through something very similar and I take Ambien nightly which helps me sleep. I have also started taking Lexapro for depressions and anxiety. Lately I have been thinking the anxiety and lack of sleep are a direct result of not being loved and respected by my partner. I have three wonderful children and a very supportive family, but I failed my wife in many ways during the beginning of our relationship. I think it is important to understand your needs and desires and be with someone who supports that.

  9. Roberta Warshaw
    Roberta Warshaw says:

    I do so admire your ability to put it all out there on your blog. I wish I could do that. I have things I want to scream from the rooftops but I simply talk about my beads……..
    I hope things improve for you soon.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That’s funny because I keep thinking I want to make my blog gorgeous. I think it’s why I’m drawn to Pioneer Woman — the photos are gorgeous. And it’s why I like your blog too, Roberta. The close up photos of beads are beautiful, and the comparison between the beads and the sumac is so lovely – it puts me in a good mood.

      Penelope

  10. Jesse
    Jesse says:

    Your editor’s full of shit.

    Sharing struggle is useful to readers – to me. When someone else shares difficulty I realize that I’m not sitting on the edge – alone.

    Or maybe your editor is right, and I’m wasting time writing about my struggles. I’m not rich and famous because of my blog, but I’m helping myself, and that helps my kids.

  11. Suzy McQ
    Suzy McQ says:

    I know it sounds simple, but how about physical labor or exercise?
    After you complete your “day job” try doing some chores on the farm. I never sleep better than when I am physically exhausted. Maybe it will also bridge the chasm that appears to be forming between you and the farmer.

    Also, if you think your kids like you better drugged, think again. If you and the farmer aren’t getting along and they see “happy mom,” who drinks and/or takes meds to relax and make herself bearable to her family, well, you’re screwing them up. Sounds as though your childhood wasn’t idyllic, don’t repeat the pattern, please.

  12. BA
    BA says:

    Nthing melatonin. I find the liquid form to take effect faster than the pills. Sometimes I feel a little groggy in the morning but I did with Ambien too. I stopped taking Ambien because I fear getting to the point where it’s the only way I can sleep. Plus, I took one once when I was on call and got called when a server went down at 2 AM and things did not go well. I screwed something up and had to work all night to fix it (and my boss thought I was an idiot).

  13. Iris
    Iris says:

    Penelope, I found your post very useful.

    Why is sleeping in the same bed such a big deal? Plenty of people would prefer not to but feel obliged to or are pressured by their partner. To me, it seems crazy to drink/take drugs in order to sleep well w/ a partner if one sleeps well alone. It’s a preference: would you eat something you didn’t like, every day, to please a partner? Plus, sleep is a biological need, and people should be allowed to meet that need on a way that is optimal for them.

  14. Mairzy
    Mairzy says:

    Penelope,

    Alcohol is a depressant.
    Vicodin is a pain reliever.
    Xanax is an anti-anxiety drug.

    My husband is working on his depression by using alcohol. Trust me, it’s not helping. No matter how much he drinks, he’s still depressed. =:-(

    I resisted any sleep med for years to treat my Restless Leg Syndrome. After 25 years – years – of not sleeping through the night, I tried Ambien for a few years. I stopped when I became afraid of falling water and the knives in my kitchen(??!!). Now I take Valium. It calms my “always on” mind and relaxes my body enough that I fall asleep gently, sleep soundly, and I’m not doing gymnastics when I think I’m sleeping.

    I also love a cup of Sleepytime Extra tea before bed. It has valerian root and some chamomile, is warm and soothing.

    But you already know the real problem and that’s a lack of confidence that everything will work out. Nobody makes a drug for that. And the solution is to work with what you know. So you’re on the right path and 56,000 people are supporting you. Hang in there. Everything works out one somehow.

  15. Michael C.
    Michael C. says:

    Penelope: I love your writing. Do you think you could just get away with some benadryl once in a while? As for the stress that’s the real problem, how can you address that? Are your expectations too high? Good luck.

  16. John
    John says:

    Hi, Penelope. In answer to your question regarding electroconvulsive therapy (the technical name for electro-shock), yes. It is still done. I’ve had two lengthy series of it, and it undoubtedly saved my life.

    I, too, have many problems with sleep and have for many years. I’ve tried a variety of sleep aids from Ambien to Lunesta to Valerian root to melatonin to magnesium to alcohol. Lunesta has helped more than the others, but it’s a little tricky to deal with when it comes to finding the right dosage. Probably the single thing that has helped more than anything else, however, is proper sleep etiquette. No caffeine after noon (for me, at least), establishing a set routine to prepare for sleep such as going to bed and getting up at the same time every day (even weekends), minimizing stress and excitement just before bedtime, and using the bed only for sex and sleeping (which was the hardest for me because I like to read until I’m sleepy). Even with all of that, I struggle. I’ve been a bad sleeper my whole life much to the chagrin of my poor parents (and now my poor wife).

    I hope you resolve your sleep difficulties soon and get some rest.

  17. Debbie
    Debbie says:

    So glad your schedule is helping you sleep. If you do decide to go back to the pills and the wine and the self destruction, I have a story to share about using Vicodin to sleep. I did that once with some extra Vicodin I had left over from strep throat and had some seriously scary hallucinations. The drug is for pain and makes you sleep when having physical pain; when you’re not, it can really mess with your mind, to the degree that I almost went to the emergency room. Over-the-counter sleeping pills or Ambien are a much better pill to try, though I also go the natural route like you, trying to address what’s keeping me from sleeping than just treating the symptom. Thanks for sharing your life stories so I learn and reflect more in mine.

  18. barbara de vries
    barbara de vries says:

    OK. So. Amy Ferris wrote an entire book around all the things that arise around insomnia, like Googling old boyfriends at 3am. Its a hilarious read, and should get you through one or two of these nights. Its called
    Marrying George Clooney. Her blog also does more of same and has an ABC of drugs as in A is for Ambien etc. She’s your kinda woman…
    Hot bath with husband/farmer before bedtime (or alone if he cant be persuaded) helps activate sleep endorphins…

  19. Casey Head
    Casey Head says:

    I am a new subscriber to this blog, and as near as I can figure, it is 3% useful information and 97% tales of what a hot mess you are. I suspect that your loyal readers stop in for the same reason they do “People Of Wal-Mart”, to feel better about themselves.

  20. Marni
    Marni says:

    Hi there. I can’t tell for sure if you are asking for help here. But I’ll assume you are. Wine will ultimately wake you up later, a couple of hours after you go to sleep. So that doesn’t work. And getting into a pills cycle doesn’t work because then you feel like crap the next day.

    What does work is what you’re doing; getting up really early, which will ensure that at least you’re tired by the time you go to bed.

    It sucks that you’re not getting along with the farmer. But most relationships that are very intense don’t work out. You can’t make imperfect things perfect, as much as you would like to.

  21. Izzie
    Izzie says:

    Hi Penelope, thanks once again for your honesty. I got frightened while reading your first few paragraphs. I wouldn’t want to see you losing yourself in wine/drugs. As a former bulimic and continually recovering addictive personality I almost turned into a ‘good’ alcoholic. It’s not that difficult…. If stuff is bugging me enough to keep me awake I better deal with it. I can’t survive on lack of sleep – I’m cranky, and just plain stunned at work, which is a BIG CLM here where I am! So sleep is vital for our health. As for sleeping with the Farmer…it’s not easy to blend families. And as the mom of an Anperger teen, I know that the quirks which are great at some times are downright difficult at others. You guys love each other, so please work it out. Some people are funny about sleeping in the same bed. I have a snoring husband, and I mean snoring. I wear earplugs and I still am awakened by the train next to me. When I say I’m going to sleep in my son’s bed when he’s not there, my partner gets all weirded out. Men maybe see it as a failure of the relationship. I don’t know, could be wrong, maybe it isn’t based on gender. But if the relationship is shitty as you said then it probably won’t promote understanding and intimacy. Good luck and keep on writing to us all. We care alot!

  22. Sally
    Sally says:

    Michael Carroll is describing peace, something we all want. Thanks for that. A friend just gave me a new acronym (new to me) REAL: Recognize, Empathize, Accept, Let go. Trying to do that, and it seems like I have to do it 1000 times a day as my mind listens to the tape that is constantly running in my head (anxiety in every form) and causes insomnia and a host of other problems. I agree it’s best to start with the root problem and try to go at it with a different approach than pills and wine I am about to buy Eckhart Tolle’s tape on peace and hope it will help a little. It will be a lot better than my own (mental) tapes for which there is no off button. Yet. Thanks Penelope.

  23. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    Praise the Magnesium! I agree with Jane’s comments. I take 200-400 mg about an hour or half hour before I want to be asleep. It’s gentle, it calms me. Great for traveling and any hectic day (when I’m yelling at my kids like a mad woman … I pop some Magnesium … it really, really helps me to feel some peacefulness). You should sort of build up your tolerance — it will loosen your ‘patties’.
    ***
    I LOVE everything I’ve read of yours. I dream of writing someday too. So I try not to read too much of your stuff in fear that I won’t sound like myself anymore. I read your words and think: “That’s ME, she’s in my head.” It’s wonderful, a real joy to read your words. Keep ‘um coming!

  24. Margaret
    Margaret says:

    My heart is breaking for you. I read your column and am seeing you tearing yourself apart over this relationship, trying to be good enough for the farmer, hoping he will stay with you. I have done this so many times. It has always ended miserably.

    Penelope, please know that you are worth so much more than this. You are so bright and honest and wonderful. You deserve to be cherished. It doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy or a jerk, and I’m sure there must be some amazing chemistry going on to have held you two together through what you’ve been through so far.

    But what I hear you saying here is not about the sleep – it’s an emotional cry for help. You want so desperately to be loved, and you deserve it so richly. And I know from experience that being a single mom is so scary and so lonely that it becomes real darn easy to settle for someone who seems at least okay (especially if there’s chemistry) and to try to convince yourself the relationship can be somehow managed if you you could just change yourself or improve how you deal with the pain it causes or, worst of all, numb yourself.

    Please just listen to yourself. The desire to numb yourself (even if you don’t end up doing it long-term) to deal with a relationship is a serious red flag – not about you or your lack of ability to cope, but about the relationship itself. If you are feeling the need to do that, then on some level, if not on many levels, this relationship is damaging to you. It doesn’t mean that either of you is bad, but it probably does mean that you’re seriously bad for each other.

    If that is the case, then that continual emotional wear and tear you exert on each other will probably kill the chemistry before too long (as well as your spirit), and then you won’t even have that to fall back on. Which leaves you, especially if you have married, feeling like a trapped, resentful, self-hating pile of nothingness.

    And if you have already been flirting with numbness, that’s when it will likely spill over into addiction or to anything that you feel at the time will stop that gnawing pain. Trust me, you don’t want that. Your children don’t, either. It will damage them for the rest of their lives. Even if you choose to avoid the chemical route, having them see you diminished, distressed and depressed each day will take a serious toll on them and will affect what they accept for themselves in terms of relationships and happiness in the future.

    No relationship is perfect, I know, and they can all be nightmares at times, but this one sounds like it’s been turning like a square wheel almost since the beginning (I’ve been reading for 2.5 years), and believe me – you can do much, much better for yourself, even if you have to endure the frightening loneliness again for a little bit longer.

    I’m sorry to sound so emphatic and preachy. I know you probably know all of this already. I just cringe to see someone going down the road I’ve gone down and setting themselves up for the kind of misery that I’ve faced. It nearly did me in. I can hear my old self in you, and I so wish someone had been a true friend to me and told me what I just told you. I wish you many blessings.

    • Margaret
      Margaret says:

      Just wanted to apologize for hijacking this post. I guess the above been building for awhile, and I couldn’t hold back any longer. I sure hope it wasn’t insulting; I didn’t mean it that way. Feel free to delete it. I have Asperger’s, too, and tend to be overbearing at times. :)

      • Margaret
        Margaret says:

        Penelope,

        You are very kind and gracious and understanding. I have a startling true confession to make about the long post I made above, and it’s the dumbest, most embarrassing thing ever.

        See, I followed your column for the longest time, then had some major stuff transpiring in my life, including getting married to my “farmer” of sorts, so that I have not checked in with you much this year. Thus, I missed the memo about you getting married, and something I read that you wrote the other day (I forget what) sort of sounded like you were still dating, or at least could have sounded that way to someone who did not know otherwise, but I was hopping around between posts, so I very likely got the past confused with the present.

        Anyway, after I had posted what I wrote above, I started looking back through more of your relationship stuff, trying to catch up a little on what I had missed, and saw that you were already married! I’ve been wallowing in self-loathing ever since because of the “get out now” tone I took above.

        So now I am the unequivocal dorkimus maximus of the universe. I not only stuck both feet in my mouth, I stuck some other peoples’ in there, too. Speaking of both feet, I also have a son with Asperger’s, and he can not only put his feet in his mouth, which I regularly discourage, but he can also make them meet behind his head. I don’t know if hypermobility is part of Asperger’s or something else. But I digress.

        Anyway. The pain of my first marriage was nearly unbearable and I almost ended up offing myself before I got on antidepressants for years and then finally got off of them because I decided that if I had to drug myself to be with him, then I didn’t need to be with him, and if he couldn’t handle me without them, then he couldn’t handle me period. I don’t know who won because we sort of left each other at the same time (another long, weird story that I’ll spare you). Funny thing is, the depression went away when he did.

        After swearing I would never get married again, I fell crazy in love with a man, now my husband, who sounds an awful lot like your farmer. And together we have enjoyed true agony together, punctuated by a few sweet, good times where everything went swimmingly. Things *can* be so good, but they have been so bad and weird and awkward and downright volatile so many times that I’ve often wondered it if was worth it for the good times. We can have a rather explosive effect on each other when the wind doesn’t blow just the right way.

        Many times I’ve wondered if I would be able to endure it long-term, and many times I’ve felt certain I made a mistake and wished I had never jumped off that cliff. I have kicked myself for having been so optimistic before we married despite the fact that I saw many of the warning signs of incompatibility that you were seeing before your marriage. Still, I forged ahead, blinded by infatuation and determination and a sense that we truly belong together.

        That’s why I wrote what I wrote above. Because it can be hard as hell, and I can’t help thinking that I (and possibly you) could have probably found people much more compatible if we had staved off the loneliness and waited a little longer. And now I’m so, so sorry that I wrote that, because what worse thing to hear, especially from some stupid, anonymous blog replier, once you’re already married?

        If you’re like me, divorce is something you never, ever want to do again to yourself or your kids. And so, in my desperation to make up for my huge gaffe above and to encourage instead of discourage you (this is sounding more like “Three’s Company” by the minute), I wrote the post as “Emily” below because I was too embarrassed to admit what happened or to post anything else as my doofus self (great! now, in addition to knowing that I’m a genuine weirdo, you’re probably thinking I have multiple personalities, too).

        But what I wrote down there is his and my reality now, since I married him. The first year was horrendous (I threatened to leave and he threatened to kill himself on our one-year anniversary trip), but it is smoothing out quite a bit now that we’re in our second year. I’m learning that there really is hope for us, and possibly a much more pleasant future, and I’m thanking God for that.

        I think a big part of that improvement has come from the fact that, when things were at their most miserable, I finally decided to quit wondering if I had made a mistake and if I should leave, because I am refusing to leave that open as an option ever again. Which means there is nothing left to do but submit myself fully to this gut-crushing process that is marriage.

        Fortunately we are both very committed to it, and we are both learning and changing ourselves very, very slowly for lack of allowing ourselves any other options. I say very, very slowly because we’re both stubborn know-it-alls who nearly always have to be right, and yes, sometimes I do tell him he’s an idiot.

        Amazingly, we are finally starting to get along better more often and seem to be becoming more decent people in general — we’re actually starting to smooth out each other’s quirks somewhat — though getting here has been torturous, and we might still erupt into screaming and crying and breaking mirrors at any given moment.

        So, long story longer … Would I do it again if I had had a crystal ball back then? Many times I think not, thus the message I wrote to you above, because I was hurting for you and thinking you still had time to reconsider. But would I ever leave him now that I’m here? No way. No matter how badly things are going, I still seem to crave his presence and probably always will. And if I had a crystal ball now, I’m (mostly) thinking I’ll probably ending up being glad I stayed – thus “Emily’s” message below.

        I’m sorry for another dreadfully long post and for the unbridled craziness I’ve unleashed upon your blog, but I felt I owed you a thank you and some encouragement and an explanation, or I wouldn’t have ever been able to stop cringeing over what I wrote. I still might not. And (bless me soul) I’m a writer, too. A writer who loves parenthetical phrases (Kevin Nealon). I’ll try to keep it much shorter in the future. Feel free to write me off completely, not that you need my permission to do so.

  25. Mary Budge
    Mary Budge says:

    I just love you Penelope!! Keep the posts coming. And like I have said before the comments are nearly as entertaining and helpful as you are! Just look at the great sleep suggestions so far, I will definitely stop back and read more comments.

    My sleep aid – meditation. Of course I do it completely wrong, I lay in my bed with the lights out and use it to fall asleep. I Swear it works every time.

  26. Erica Peters
    Erica Peters says:

    I’m biased because I wrote in favor of staying with the farmer the last time they broke up… But I think part of the problem is that you think you should have a better relationship, that he should treat you better, that you should treat him better. Sometimes it helps to try to let go of the shoulds. In your life, you have chosen to be with him. He is who is is, he’s not going to change – and that’s who you chose. Issues and all. He can’t provide you with security or confidence, you have to get that from within. But it’s okay to stay in an imperfect marriage. It doesn’t mean you’re failing at marriage, it means you realize that the fantasy isn’t real, and the “good enough” marriage is.

  27. alan wilensky
    alan wilensky says:

    I think, as I have the same problem and use the same remedies, that sitting in front of a computer all day, ratching with hosting and writing and products and stuff, is the worst lifestyle to foster sleep.

    Our business is so disconnected to reality and right living. P-Lope, we need a community of night owls that can work, surf, wash clothes, make love, and cook and snack, under one roof. A co-working living loving hell right out of the electric koolaid acid test.

  28. Liza
    Liza says:

    I think you over exaggerate the relationship you have with the farmer. Granted, I have absolutely no clue about any of the details, other than what you write about. I just can tell by your personality that you over-stress about things.

    You have to remember that not all relationships are perfect. Let me re-phrase; all relationships are imperfect. If you guys are arguing about his X or the fact that you threw perfectly good furniture outside, than that isn’t something to freak out about it. And it certainly doesn’t make your relationship ‘sucky’. It just makes it interesting. So embrace it, accept it and deal with it when its necessary.

    And touch often (not necessarily sexually). I find that if I physically connect with my boyfriend when I feel as though we aren’t getting along that great, or if I feel anxious about our relationship, it helps calm me and it helps us to communicate in a way that is respectful of each other. We are also more likely to compromise in our solution for the problem.

    • Shannon
      Shannon says:

      I totally agree that a physical connection can bridge the gap when words just aren’t working. We forget that love is an emotion, not a deal to be negotiated. That’s why I advocate staying in the same bed, not for tradition’s sake, but for intimacy. In my last relationship, my boyfriend and I kept separate bedrooms because I couldn’t sleep at all when we were in bed together. I would get continually more cranky throughout the night, until I finally would crash on the couch and have no trouble falling asleep. After a year of sleeping apart, we became more emotionally distant, too. Now I’m in a new relationship, in which my boyfriend and I sleep wrapped around each other. I love sleeping in the same bed with him, even though he talks in his sleep and sometimes smacks me in the head with his elbow. In my case, I was simply with the wrong person, though it was hard to admit it at the time.

  29. N
    N says:

    Hi Penelope.
    I’ve been a reader for ages now. First comment, this.
    You should be proud of yourself. For being real. For not being afraid, to look silly or make mistakes. I hope you are proud of you, because I am. :)

  30. Jacqui
    Jacqui says:

    Hey girl – my shrink gave me Trazadone. It works as an anti-depressent that also makes me sleep. I have tried all of the stuff that you mentioned, as well as all of the stuff the other comments mention…..this one seems to actual work with no hangover, extreme grogginess or impulsive online shopping. Kind of scary to go to a shrink about it but when you are ready, look into it.

  31. dl
    dl says:

    This morning Deanna Farve was on the Today Show. Deanna, who in recent years has faced the death of her brother and breast cancer. Now she’s dealing with that idiot husband of hers. You know what she said? She reminds herself to stop focusing inside herself and instead focus outside to others. She focuses on what she can do for those less privileged than herself.

    Penelope, you’ve got two beautiful boys. You’ve got the husband you dreamed of marrying. And you get to live on the farm. You’ve got everything you wanted. Why can’t you be happy? Why must you create problems out of everything? Why must you always focus on yourself?

    Maybe you should read Deanna’s new book “The Cure for the Chronic Life.”

  32. Brigid
    Brigid says:

    Funny that you mentioned the mindfulness article, because since I started meditating my sleep got so much better. My insomnia problem was laying there with my mind whirling, and practicing mindfulness allowed me to stop the head chatter that prevented sleep.

    If you’re interested, you might just try to listen to a meditation cd/mp3. With luck you’ll fall asleep in the middle of it.

  33. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    "At work I want to be – "
    Challenged
    Interested
    Engaged

    At HOME I want to be
    Relaxed
    Happy
    Engaged

    Thanks for helping me clarify that distinction.

    The lack-of-sleep and depression/anxiety connection is obvious to anyone who’s ever been a mom. The trick is to ask for help (which you sort of did, a couple posts ago).

  34. Ann
    Ann says:

    I just thought I’d let you know that the first part of you blog, the part before the question about whether it was useful, was useful to me. Specifically, this part, “And this is why I loved the mental ward, by the way. You learn so much about life from people who are unable to live it.” Because it made me think about how true that is, that we can learn so much about life from people who are unable to live it. And then it made me think how we often learn from others’ failures more than their successes, and learn from our own failures, and how others can learn from our failures sometimes more than they can from our successes. And that made me feel better about failing, which in the past year or so I’ve really come to terms with, and even sometimes welcome (this is mostly due to my newfound love of weightlifting, because when you fail at lifting a weight, you know you’ve reached your limit, and know what’s your best and what’s beyond your best, but also where to improve and from there you can work on how to improve and then get better and succeed next time) and being okay with failing has helped me not have such perfectionistic tendencies…..which of course was on my mind because of your recent post about that. And I agreed, by the way, perfectionism is a problem, not just a fake weakness people use in interviews.

  35. Molly
    Molly says:

    I’m sorry PT. You and the farmer are married. A benefit of marriage is it’s built in time to resolve issues. This could be a small blip in a long, successful marriage. The happier you are, the happier your relationships will be.

    If sleeping alone makes you happier, the farmer will benefit from that. Maybe he just needs help understanding how sleeping apart benefits you, and in turn the relationship. He’s seems to be feeling anxious as well and needs reassurance you’re in this for the long run.

  36. Lesa
    Lesa says:

    Penelope,
    You hit on one of my own challenges: a good night’s sleep. Reducing stress is always a good first step, but it’s not always enough. Sleeping pills don’t work for me, so I had to find another solution. I use Melatonin and DHEA, both competely natural supplements that you body makes normally, but when you are stressed, you make less — which often interrupts sleep.
    Even taking these, I still wake up around 4am, which might be just perfect for you.

  37. lynne whiteside
    lynne whiteside says:

    you are on the right track learning about mindfulness. try ‘binaural entertrainment’ these are alpha, delta, etc. tones that WILL recalibrate your brain to it’s suppose natural, normal state. i’m very distracted all the time and these sounds (check youtube) worked to quiet my mind, for real. it’s always nice to have a stash, however, i’ve noticed in myself that after about 3 days on the drugs i get really cranky. life is a balancing act with the mind. a quiet mind is needed.

    you are the best, most honest and smartest person i’ve met on the internet, remember to remind yourself that “all’s good in my world” and it will happen. oh, and prana breath, or fire breathing HELPS me tremendously. first thing in the a.m. try it, you’ll like it.

  38. Alex @ Happiness in this World
    Alex @ Happiness in this World says:

    Okay, whoa. So many things to point out here. I’m not going to give specific advice, but speaking generally as a physician who treats insomnia all the time:

    1. Alcohol is not helpful for sleep disorders. Many patients use it and say it works but it actually interferes with good sleep.

    2. Xanax is a short-acting benzodiazepine whose principal use is to treat anxiety. Again, not the best for treating insomnia, though it can work. Not a good idea to combine with lots of wine. The fact that when you took it and combined it with wine you and the farmer started getting along again suggests (take this with a grain of salt–can’t make this diagnosis reliably across cyberspace) that your anxiety is a major source of conflict and that when you’re feeling less anxious your behavior changes in such a way that there’s less marital conflict.

    3. Anxiety is one of the great causes of insomnia, right up there with depression. Typically, when people are anxious they have trouble falling asleep. When people are depressed they often wake early in the morning (say, 4 am) and can’t fall back to sleep. Again, no definitive diagnosis here, but…

    4. Vicodin, as another astute commenter noted, is a pain reliever that has sedating properties. In the absence of pain, highly addictive for some. Definitely don’t recommend it for sleep. Many other sleep aids available.

    Please read this post for non-pharmacologic therapies to combat insomnia:

    http://www.happinessinthisworld.com/2009/12/13/the-critical-importance-of-sleep/

    Please talk to your doctor about these issues. A good internist can help, or at least point you in the right direction.

    Feel better.

  39. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    Penelope: Posting as utility – posh. Write, and keep writing. Elaborate, pontificate, ramble if required; let loose your guts through your prose. Wine, xanax, mental gymnastics; those whose brains are wired as yours – and mine (note how I arrogantly step into your little skiff) wend creatively and, often, ridiculously through the ebb & flow of life. It is how we wrestle with making sense of the nonsensical – which is life … that is life. Live, love, rant on your chilly sofa silently or with a punch to the pillow. Or, sit silent in knowing – as I’ve kited a book title “After the Ecstacy is the Laundry.” But, never, never stop feeling or sharing. It is your authenticity that keeps us reading – a rarity and blessing in a world oft encased in plastic sofa covers. I once asked my God to allow me to experience – truly experience life. Some days I regret that request and his gift. But, then as I run breathless down a nature trail (cheap therapy) I bask in the elegance of the juxtaposition of agony and ecstacy. Thank you God for endorphins. You hurt, yes. You love, yes. But, most of all you live – and with your tapping of words, you bring a bit more integrity in your reader’s existence. Be well and, for tonight, just wrap the comforter a little closer, look to the stars and into childrens’ eyes and you’ll see you – a stunning psyche reftlected there. Il est vita. Namaste. Lisa

  40. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    Hi Penelope….I would like to tell you that in 39 years of marriage I have had many days that I wondered why I stayed w/my husband. We have had money issues, sex issues,(which leads to kid issues), alcohol issues, in-law issues & on & on. What I’m trying to say is that relationships are hard work. You in particular are not only dealing w/a fairly new relationship & a new living arrangement in an unfamiliar setting, you also have X’s who are doing everything they can to destroy your relationship w/the farmer. Remember this: you are a loving woman, a successful Mom, a beautiful human being inside & out. (You’re pretty good at a couple of other things too.) Just because the farmer is not good at telling you or showing you that he thinks so too doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you, it just means that he’s not good at showing it. That’s ok, that’s who he is. Relax….and sleep wherever you want.

  41. J
    J says:

    First: L-theanine.

    It’s a compound in green tea. It’s for anxiety but two pills taken before bed lulls you right to sleep without any lingering groginess in the morning. Also, they make it in chewable tablet form (I can’t swallow pills) and it tastes very delicious. Perhaps the kids would enjoy it as well? ;)

    Second, I am anxiety prone and one of my obsessions used to be getting enough sleep. And by enough I mean 9-10 hours. My mother always sleep 9-10 hours a night (that’s just what she needed.. always had) and when I was in first grade (perhaps b/c I was now being forced to follow a schedule) I used to FREAK out if I wasn’t in bed AND asleep by 8pm. I would scream at the family to turn down the TV, put pillows on top of the fish tank b/c the buzzing of the filter was keeping me up. Then I began piling my stuffed animals on top of my head to block out noise. It’s then when my mother laid these xanax-like words on me, “J, you won’t die if you don’t get enough sleep.” And I know the science today is actually showing that not to be technically true anymore (read: Fatal Familial Insomnia) BUT the point behind her words rang true.

    I was obsessing about sleeping which in turn prevented me from sleeping. I was doing this to myself. I still like to sleep a lot, and regardless of the “you can’t catch up on your sleep” camp I think this advice extends beyond just sleep. So just RELAX. Allow yourself to relax. You don’t have to fix everything at once. Try one thing at a time, and know that NOT EVERYTHING WILL BE FIXABLE. And learn to be fine with that. You are your own worst enemy until you learn to let go and just be.

  42. Robbin
    Robbin says:

    Your post IS helpful to your reader; me!
    I too have succumbed to drugs. The whole clearing the plate thing-I get it! When on drugs, I take it all in stride. When not, I make a huge, stinking deal over it.
    I watched Dr. Phil the other night. He was discussing controlling behaviors within couples. Free floating anxiety- a sense of being out of control within our own lives, creates a tendency to reach out to control the behavior in others. OK…yes, I am out of control, unemployed in America and wondering what direction I am going to go next. As a result, any unwanted items on the kitchen counter send me into a nagging…er…cranky person! …hence the drugs.
    The moral of my story: Get my own act together to relieve my anxiety and feel a sense of control over my personal life. There! :) Hope that helps.

  43. pfbj
    pfbj says:

    I have read the first few comments, don’t have time right now to read all of them. This is directed to Penelope, not to commenters (in case this has already been said).

    Penelope, nothing you have described is a sleeping pill. You have exactly zero knowledge of biochemistry – regarding sleep or any other matter. What you need to know is the biochemistry of these things.

    Hire somebody. Not a “life coach,” they don’t understand chemistry either. Not a psychologist or psychiatrist. I see the mention of Dr. Phil, as I’m writing this. He knows diddly squat about biochemistry. For those people, it’s all about emotions and feelings. But without an understanding of how our biochemistry works . . . on those.

    Your comments about how, all of a sudden, you and the farmer are getting along, or all of a sudden you’re a fun, loving parent? Your chemistry has changed.

    What you need (and what doctors won’t give you because they’re clueless too) is an understanding of the underlying biochemistry.

    For this moment, consider an old-fashioned ‘remedy’ — parsnips and pears, diced small, sauteed in real butter, then simmered in small amount of brandy or cognac or similar.

    Have this about half hour before desired bedtime. See what happens.

  44. Casey
    Casey says:

    If my husband did not take medication every single day for his severe ADHD, we would not still be married. He self-medicated for many years before his diagnosis and none of it worked. Once he was diagnosed and got the right medication, it was like pure magic. Medication can be the answer, but not without knowing for certain what the problem is first. Your anxiety could be many things: anxiety, depression, pre-menopause, your nighttime environment, a bad marriage, etc. I tend to like to fully understand what’s going on so I don’t waste my time with the wrong solutions. I would start with my PCP and go from there. Then I could make an educated, rational choice about how to fix things.

    I wish you the very best. I always tell my husband that when I am sleep deprived, my sense of humor is the first thing that flies out the window. When that happens, the problems just snowball.

  45. virginia
    virginia says:

    Hi Penelope,
    Yes, they still do EST. Lack of sleep will make you mentally ill. Even though I like Kendall Jackson for a cheap wine, it will probably make you (more) depressed if you start drinking . Xanax is good but has a lasting fog. I used to break them in half for sleep. Now I use Ambien. Give it a try, I can wake up easily on it and if you want to be up early, a half will help you get to sleep and you can still be up at 4. They have a time release version which keeps you sleeping longer but I like to take half and if I wake up too soon, take the other half. It’s up to the individual. I have had sleep problems for years and this is what works for me. I don’t drink because it makes me sad for a week if I have a glass or two of wine. When you have issues like Aspergers, sometimes you need some chemical help. This is what I have found to work in my case.

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