Stephanie Lechner: Nametags and Hairnets

Failing career assessments since the 8th grade

Month: July, 2016

Counting to Two Hundred for Whoever Will Listen

If you want a good laugh, ask your family for stories of you as a child.

Or so I thought.

My family remembers shockingly little about me a kid. I called up my mom a few weeks ago, and I asked her for some funny stories. She told me about the time I refused to wear a dress to my eight-grade dance without shorts underneath it, but she was thrilled when she convinced me to not wear socks with my strappy sandals. We had a good laugh, but then I pressed a little harder.

“But mom, what about when I was younger than that. What was I like? My personality—can you think of a story that shows what I was like before I became an unfashionable teenager?”

“I don’t know, Steph. You always just kept to yourself. You didn’t give us any trouble. Shy, I guess that’s how I would describe you.”

I’m currently working on a memoir that covers my life from ages 18-30, but I wanted to inject a little more backstory into the beginning, and she was giving me nothing.

“Put Dad on the phone,” I barked.

I posed the same question to my dad.
“Well I remember you were four when we got Tigger. You must have been ten when we got Lady. Oh and Hannah, we got her on your eleventh birthday.”

“Dad, do you by any chance have any stories of my childhood that don’t include our family pets?”

“Well, kiddo, I find that those animals have always been good markers of time. What can I say, you never really gave us any trouble.”

Sheesh. I wonder if this is the difference between growing up before the dawn of social media. My friends that are parents showcase the hell out of their children’s personalities. Surely I must have done something that would elicit a colorful anecdote?

“Oh come on, Dad, give me something. Was I obnoxious? Was I fun to be around? What did I like to do or talk about?”

I know some of the answers to these questions from my own memory bank, but I was hoping for some outside perspective.

“Oh wait, I remember something. When your mother spent six weeks in the hospital in 1996, I remember driving you back and forth to the hospital to visit her every night. You’d play this memory game with me, where you’d ask me to quiz you on the street signs as you closed your eyes. You had memorized every street in order on the 30-minute drive to the hospital. That was a really rough time for me, not knowing if I’d ever get to take my wife home again, and you really helped distract me.”

“Wow, dad, that’s a really nice story. Anything else from that time that comes to mind?”

“Oh I remember when Hannah and Lady did the funniest things that summer.”

“Ok, I think that’s enough for today.”

It was a really nice memory in the middle of a difficult time for our family, but I still was hoping for something that would fit into the story I was writing. I called my sister because if there is anything she and I love to do, it’s make each other laugh until we cry.
“Hey, Jenn, do you have any funny stories about me when we were growing up, like when I was really little?”
“I remember when you were about three or four, you were so excited that you could count to two hundred on your own.”

“That’s right! I remember you teaching me!”

“Well, I didn’t really teach you as much as you just decided to do it. You’d stand up and announce that you were going to count, and we just let you go until you got tired.”
It’s in this moment that I start to think I was the Rain Man of our family. But then I wondered how much these two little stories actually reflect on my personality. Writers have sensitive egos coming out of our ears, and wouldn’t that just make sense? The quiet, shy kid so excited to have someone watch her perform a skill? A skill that’s really not even remarkable, like counting. Don’t we all sometimes do that? Aren’t we all sometimes, just people hoping to be acknowledged by others we love for doing something good or worthy of attention?

“Jenn, are you sure you didn’t just let me count to the highest number I could while you went off to listen to your Poison cassettes?”

“That’s quite possible.”

 

 

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The Former Champion of Sleep

I was hoping I could cure insomnia on my own, but after exhausting all of my resources, my doctor prescribed me a nightly dose of 10 milligrams of Ambien. I couldn’t help but think I’d just become a New York City cliché—in the city that never sleeps, chemical sedation was now my only option.

“Are you suuuuuure I need this,” I whine. “I’m not going to do weird things like cook in my sleep, am I?”

“Of course not,” he reassured me. “I think you’ve been watching too much TV.”

Before I take it, I read the encyclopedia of side effects that come with the prescription:

“Some patients have reported sleepwalking and sexual activity with short term memory loss.”

Apparently I should have greater concerns than sleep-cooking. I have to worry about sleep-sex now?

I performed my nightly grooming routines, tossed back the pill and waited. An empty stomach embraced the medicine rapidly. The best way to describe what I felt next was that, in 5 minutes, I felt what five shots of Tequila feel like. Swirly. Yeah, everything felt really swirly. I fell asleep with the room spinning and stayed asleep for the next seven hours. The bed indentation and perfectly situated blankets led me to believe I didn’t move the entire night. I wake up with virtually no medicine hangover. I felt human. It was the start of a beautiful friendship.

It wasn’t always like this. I used to be the champion of sleep. I would grunt and moan if anyone tried to rip me away from slumber before I was ready to leave (which was usually sometime around noon). Every November, I’d wake up just in time to see Santa Clause cruise on by at the tail end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and I resented my mother for never being able to pry me out of bed in time for Saturday morning cartoons. It wasn’t just the length of my slumber that was impressive—it was also the depth. I have slept through several severe thunderstorms and at least one serious tornado in life. I guess most people don’t pride themselves on being good at sleep, but I believe one should never deny their true talents.

This life skill carried over from childhood well into my adolescence. Midnight was my independence hour. My creativity came alive when the moon rose, and I would toil in my room for hours after my parents went to sleep. Sometimes I’d sneak out into the living room and watch hours of VHS-recorded episodes of Saturday Night Live and take notes to put in my SNL Binder of Awesomeness (didn’t every teenager have one of those?). It didn’t matter if I went to bed at sunset or if I stayed awake until 3:00 am—mornings always felt equal parts misery and apathy. Things only got worse when I went to college and was no longer bound by the rigid structure of high school. I carefully orchestrated my class schedule to allow me enough time to make it to the university’s cafeteria minutes before shutting down breakfast. I measured my freedom in minutes of sleep.

After graduation, a corporate gig was harder to find than I had anticipated. I packed my bags and moved back home to sort out my life as a member of the boomerang generation, and that’s when everything went to shit.

After a month of unemployment and lazy days, I secured a high-profile position waiting tables at the local Olive Garden. Finally I’d found a career that enabled my night owl tendencies; maybe society had a place for me after all. I slept until at least 10:00 AM and often didn’t come home until well after midnight. If I could have made more than $70 in a single shift, I might have stayed there forever. However, the stress of my own quarter-life career failures and moving back in with my parents started to take its toll on my precious sleep. Before this, I could fall asleep minutes after my head crashed on my pillow, but I soon spent hours flopping around on my mattress searching for Mr. Sandman. It was not uncommon to find my bed inches away from my bedroom wall in the morning (a problem exacerbated by the fact my cheap bed frame was on wheels). Mostly, though, I just spent the time racking my brain on strategies that would get me back out into the real world on my own two feet again. Soup, salad and breadsticks could hardly fund a 401k. In addition to the delayed starts, I also discovered. I was waking up several times a night with a ravishing thirst. WebMD told me I had diabetes, but my doctor was unable to ascertain a diagnosis to explain my unquenchable nighttime thirst. Looking back now, it probably had something to do with my excessive Diet Coke habit.

Sleep troubles were an entirely new dilemma for me, so my mom gave me some Tylenol PM. I didn’t necessarily enjoy the grogginess of it, but it was a temporary solution. I went to work each day with a cloudy case of medicine-head. It was suddenly difficult to recall all the entrees served in the classic Tour of Italy—fettuccine alfredo, something with chicken and that pasta with the layers? After a month or so of consistent Tylenol dosing, I noticed the usual serving no longer worked. I tried increasing the dosage slightly, but my attempts to outsmart my biology were defeated. Now all I was left with was limited restless sleep AND morning grogginess. I went to the local natural food store seeking alternative methods and discovered an herbal blend of L-Tryptophan and Melatonin or a cocktail designed to trick your body into feeling like it just ate a bunch of turkey. I have no idea if there is any scientific backing to this herbal supplement, but they sweetened the deal by providing a free pair of neon yellow earplugs and a blindfold with each purchase, so I was in. The upside to this pill was that there was no residual sleepiness in the morning, and I was thrilled, until that stopped working also about two months later. After exhausting the buffet of over-the-counter drugs, a friend offered me some of her stash of Klonopin. It’s hard for me to describe my sleep during this time. Mostly because I don’t remember any of it. . In a last ditch effort; I made an appointment with an energy therapist. For 90 minutes, this woman waved her arms strategically over my fully clothed body in an effort to realign my chakras. I couldn’t fall asleep until 4:00 am that night. Sixty dollars wasted on a touch-less massage.

I really missed sleep. I mean good, dead-to-the-world, uninterrupted glorious sleep. I missed flying in my dreams. Life had inexplicably robbed me of a precious gift, and I was desperate to get it back. Instead I did the next best thing: I moved myself across the country to NYC, a city that romanticizes insomnia with its tagline. This is where I met Ambien.

The first few weeks on Ambien were perfectly delightful, but I started to notice a few nights where I stayed awake during the “drunken” phase. I also observed that the initial jolt to my system makes me a little anxious. I don’t necessarily love the drunk feeling, but I do adore the gentle sleepiness that occurs about a half-hour after the medicine kicks in. Also, that sleep-cooking thing? Totally real. Usually I stick to quick snack foods, but there has been the occasional bacon craving. Luckily, I’ve succeeded in not burning my apartment to the ground. In addition to monstrous cravings, I have also sent loopy messages to men on OkCupid (“Hey you, sir, in that blurry shirtless photo at the gym, how about this online dating thing, am I right?”), blogged incoherently (I shall title this post “53 Reasons Why I Love My Cat) and purchased several miscellaneous household products off of Amazon.com (one never knows when they might need a vegetable spiralizer). I remembered very little of this until I checked my email the next day, or until that box of weight-loss supplements arrived in the mail.

After a few too many online purchases outside of my budget (ahem, I’m looking at you, spare futon from Target), I decided to start quizzing myself each morning to ensure that I remember every waking moment of the previous evening. During one of my morning memory exercises, I found an ice cream cone wrapper and I managed to piece together the memories from the night before: around midnight, clad in my snowflake pajamas, I trekked down the street to the local 24-hour Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins and ordered a double scoop of Pistachio and Mint-Chocolate Chip. I might have also eaten a Boston Cream Pie donut. The details are fuzzy. Later I had to explain to my friends that I ate all of their pickles and croutons while house-sitting, but at least I was finally sleeping.

There are many days where I wish I could sleep well and unassisted, but as I mentioned in my last post, the fact I can now sleep in a bed again is a huge victory in itself. If I’m truly honest here, I think what really bothers me is that there is this silly little thing in my life I can’t seem to fix on my own, but that won’t keep me from trying. Currently, I’m working with a personal trainer to get my health in order and setting up appointments with sleep specialists. Maybe, though, this tiny little tablet serves as a reminder for me that I can’t do everything on my own, and that’s okay.

 

*I promise this blog is not sponsored by Pfizer

**Please resist the urge to offer up tips for better sleep. Trust me, I know them all. I’m just sharing stories here 🙂