Sunday, 30 October 2011

Sick. So Incredibly Sick.

Last night I slept fine until I woke up 1/2 way through the night with horrible fear.  I remained very still in bed the entire time, unable to move even a finger.  It was as though a monster was lurking through the room and I knew if I made one sound it would lunge at me.  So I remained completely still for what seemed like hours.  The feeling of something trying to push through my stomach made me feel uneasy to say the least.  My heart raced.  It was a very unsettling night, but I made it through and was able to eventually fall back asleep around 6am. 

Today I have kept myself busy.  Taking down curtains and washing them one by one.  Washing floors.  Cleaning the toilets.  Anything to keep my mind off of how I REALLY feel.  The adrenaline surges are almost unbearable, creating electric zap feelings all throughout my abdomen and chest.  My fingers ache and as I type this I feel as though they aren't as mobile as usual.  The nausea is unrelenting.  I have eaten ginger chew after ginger chew, hoping one of them would make a difference.  I tried a papaya enzyme since I recently read it can help as well.  No relief whatsoever.  So it's on a day like today where I feel hopeless.  I have no idea how long this will last.  As of now it's been like this for 7 hours.  I've cried several times.  I have wanted to punch walls and kick furniture.  I HAVE kicked the laundry baskets.  And thrown the curtains across the laundry room before I washed them.  The rage inside of me is driving me slightly crazy.  Every noise my husband makes...every sound from the television my daughter makes my blood boil inside.  I want to scream and tell the world to leave me alone.  Let me wallow in my sorrow and curl up in bed and scream as loud as I want to. 

I have been barely able to eat for three days now.  Normally during the day I'm lucky if I can stomach some Green Tea and an applesauce.  By evening my appetite slowly comes back and I am able to eat a bowl of plain pasta or some toast.  Even drinking is proving to be difficult.  My appetite was recently getting better.  I was introducing more foods and beginning to enjoy food again.  It feels so discouraging to get hit with this all over again. 

All this from a little orange pill?  A single orange pill taken daily for approximately 3 years, and this is what I get months after taking my last dose?  I panic today at the shear thought that this could go on for several more months.  Please no.  I am "done".  I say this often because it's the only way to describe how I feel on a day like today.  I am done.  Done with the nausea, panic and pain.  Done with the emotional roller coaster.  Done with having to explain myself to friends.  Done with feeling like I need to apologize for this...even though my family and friends say, "don't apologize".  Done with wondering if people think strangely of me.  Done.

For anyone who reads this and is going through Benzo Withdrawal, or is nearing the end of their taper and is fearful of what may happen once they are done, please know it is quite normal to feel worse before you feel fully better.  Many people who taper off of Benzos, find that from months 2-4-, 3-5 or 4-6, they are hit with a tidal wave of side effects.  It can be extremely discouraging, but once this wave passes, it seems as though many people find they see huge overall improvement and are able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  This wave began hitting me at 3 months off, and although I am having some extremely rough days, I also find that when I do have a good day or even a good moment, it is VERY good.  Far better than months prior.  So the healing is happening.  It just has a mind of its own and likes to take its sweet time.  Please feel free to speed things up a bit.

Friday, 28 October 2011

The Aches, The Fear and The Adrenaline...OH MY!

It's almost noon.  My daughter is at school and it is the Friday before Halloween.  I am sitting here crying.  It's sunny outside and the squirrels are working in full force.  Something I LOVE to watch.   I have fresh tomato sauce with basil cooking on the stove top.  Music is playing.  And I can't stop crying.  I feel like every side effect I ever had during my 10 month taper is hitting me today.  Dental pain, muscle aches, queasy stomach with loss of appetite, headache, tense neck, panic and fear, dizziness and muscle twitches.  I feel so alone and although I could call someone to talk, I think, "why bother?".  It's the same old news.

I am now 3 months off of Benzodiazepines, and many people get hit with a few final walls during the healing process around this time.  I believe I've hit one of those walls.  The panic attacks are becoming more frequent and I find myself losing my appetite again.  Just as I was getting it back and enjoying food again!  I am still having some good moments and a few days ago I had a FULL good day.  Not fully symptom free, but very tolerable and I felt happy and full of energy.  Today I just want to curl up in bed, fall asleep, and forget today ever happened.  On a day like today, I can't help but feel sorry for myself for even just a minute.  A lot of "Why me?" or "When will this end?" questions pop up in my head.  Then I quickly tell myself to stop thinking like that and to just move along and trudge through.  I find myself talking to the empty rooms in my house as I walk and pace to burn off the unwanted adrenaline.

I feel like I have the flu.  So is it the flu?  Probably not.  Many people who come off of Benzodiazepines experience something called Benzo Flu.  You don't get a fever, but your muscles ache and you have an underlying "unwell" feeling.  You know it's not the flu because of the lack of fever and the symptoms come and go - and sometimes when they come they last for only an hour or so.  Today it has all crept up on me and as the day progresses it seems to just get worse.  My teeth ache and although I've booked a dentist appointment to have them checked next week, I wonder if I'm clenching or grinding my teeth with all the panic attacks I've endured lately.

I am also experiencing this feeling that many call depersonalization or derealization.  It's almost an "out of body" feeling.  I am having it the strongest I have ever experienced today.  Right now in fact.  My breathing is fast and my ears feel plugged.  I am aware I'm in the family room, but then it feels like I'm not really in my body...I've drifted off somewhere and in order to feel present again I have to look around the room to remind myself I am in fact HERE.  It's a bizarre feeling and scary if you don't know what it is.  Scary even if you DO know what it is.  I know it's a very common side effect to coming off of Benzos as well as SSRI's.  I rarely had it during my taper and if I did it was very short-lived and mild in comparison to what I have lately.  It only comes on when I'm very anxious.  

It's sunny outside and I wish I could enjoy it more.  But I will get up off the couch once I post this, continue cooking tonight's dinner, do some laundry, wash some floors...and maybe during one of those tasks I'll find the symptoms have passed, because just as quickly as they can come on, they can also leave.  I look forward to the days when this is far behind me and the word "withdrawal" isn't a part of my vocabulary...I know it's on its way.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Food for Thought

Approximately two years ago, I decided I wanted to live a "med free" life.  I didn't know when or how it would happen, but I was up to the challenge.  I had to make some changes though and one of those changes was the food I was putting into my body.  All and all my husband and I have been fairly healthy eaters.  Neither of us were overly picky and enjoyed a wide range of vegetables, meats and fruit.  However, we also enjoyed "Easy Friday and Saturday Nights", which consisted of either chicken wraps (with breaded chicken), pizza, nachos or chicken wings.  And nothing made me more happy then to wash it down with a can of Coke.  I loved Coke.  I secretly drank one or two a day.  Sugar, food colouring and who knows what else.  Yum!  I also enjoyed my specialty coffee drinks.  Not black with milk, ice and flavoured syrup.  Yum!

My nerves were getting the better of me and although I was still on Clonazepam, things were in fact getting worse.  At the time I didn't know this was because I had hit tolerance with the medication and my body was wanting more.  So I continued taking my prescribed dose of 1mg daily and wondered why I was such a wreck inside.  I had been for my yearly physical earlier that year and described some stomach issues I was having to my GP.  My doctor said I was lactose-intolerant and to go off of dairy completely.  I did not know you have to have a test to find out if you are in fact lactose-intolerant, so I listened to her and cut 100% dairy out of my diet.  Months later I cut out the Coke and Coffee drinks since I noticed a significant increase in my anxiety when I had either of these things.  Within a month of cutting out the pop and sweetened coffee drinks, the pounds were falling off.  I had gained 50+ pounds from years of anti-depressants.  I would go on a new anti-depressant, become nauseous the first month, then the nausea would bid farewell and the munchies would settle in.  I was also losing motivation of any kind and became borderline lethargic on these meds.  Sugary drinks + increased appetite + exhaustion = weight  I would always pride myself on how physically strong I was.  I could do a plank with the best of them, lift 20 lbs free weights and easily do one hour on the elliptical or bike.  And yet my body didn't show it.  I became more depressed with my self image.  I would look in the mirror and wonder if my husband still found me attractive.  I felt like the ugly duckling.  I lost interest in my looks and often preferred to settle for track pants and a sweatshirt instead of jeans and make up.  I attempted to "better myself" and would get a hair cut or buy a new shirt every now and then...but with very little reaction from people around me.  So I just gave up.

So when the pounds came off, it felt so good.  At least something was going right!  But then my nerves increased and I couldn't figure out why I was still feeling this way after making some positive changes.  I started to fear things like meat and sugar.  I had already taken on a phobia of germs.  I was fearful of the stomach flu and vomiting and would wash my hands umpteen times a day.  Now I was terrified to eat meat of any kind - scared it held E. coli or salmonella.  I feared sugar - afraid it was what lead me to panic and diarrhea.

Part of my "better me" plan was to seek therapy.  I was fortunate to get an appointment with a Psychiatrist in town who helped me - with exposure therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) - to work through these irrational fears.  This included eating the same meal with chicken in it for several nights to see how my fear and anxiety would decrease each night I ate it.  Or to slowly introduce sugar by eating a teaspoon of honey each day.  Today I can enjoy some chocolate without any fear or "what ifs" after I consume it.  Meat...well, I realized I just don't really enjoy it.  Red meat has proven to wreak havoc on my digestive system, so I stay away from that entirely.  I will eat a small amount of poultry if it is served at someone's house - but will not cook it for myself.  I prefer tofu or fish. 

I try to stay away from too much "white flour".  When I bake for my family, I use a mix of whole wheat flour, flax seed meal and wheat germ.  I'll make whole wheat pasta with a simple sauce made of crushed tomatoes (fresh, not canned), basil, oil, salt and pepper.  You will find me eating hummus almost daily with pita chips and cucumber.  I enjoy yogurt now - the ONLY dairy product I have re-introduced.  I don't miss cheese and I will not consume cow's milk (neither will my husband or daughter - we use Almond Milk instead).  We never go out to restaurants anymore.  Many of the foods in restaurants are laden with MSG and all three of us have found we often feel ill after eating out.  We now save money and we know what goes into our bodies.

Instead of buying prepackaged snacks for my daughter's lunch at school, I bake.  Every week or two I bake a batch of homemade muffins and cookies.  That way I can substitute with whole wheat flour, wheat germ and cut the sugar.  If a recipe calls for 1-2 cups of sugar, only 1/4 cup goes in ours.  If I made banana muffins, I use unsweetened applesauce instead of oil and skip the sugar altogether.  It's plenty sweet enough.  Plus, I do add some chocolate chips in there for some fun.  If my daughter has a bad cold, she now asks, "Mommy, if I want a snack, what food would make me feel better?".  She was fighting a bad cold last week and I was getting her a homemade muffin in the kitchen, when she walked up behind me and said, "You know, Mommy, sugar isn't good for my cold because the bacteria feeds on it".  I had to laugh and told her that yes, she was correct, but that it was okay to give in to one of mommy's muffins.  She pays attention to the food she consumes and is aware it makes her body strong.  However, she is still an 8 year old kid and IS allowed chocolate bars and chips from time to time.  And if she goes to a friend's party, she lets loose and enjoys the goodies. Everything in moderation. 

Fluids.  We only drink water in our house.  You won't find pop of any kind or fruit juice in our refrigerator.  Instead it's water or S. Pellegrino for a treat.  And all three of us now drink a high quality green tea or chamomile tea.

These past 2+ years have been extremely difficult for me mentally and physically.  However, one of the positives that came out of it was my new appreciation for my body.  I love cooking with squash, kale, wheat germ and oats.  I love knowing my daughter goes to school each day with a balanced snack and lunch.  I love that I've lost 80+ pounds!  Yes, some of it came off because of the nausea and lack of appetite during withdrawal, however I'm made so many positive changes to my diet that even though I'm eating more regularly now I don't find myself gaining more than 5lbs.  I still cannot exercise the way I'd like to be.  Yoga and walks are best for now until I heal more.  If I push my body too much I risk feeling horrible hours later with heightened anxiety and stomach pain.  I do look forward though to the days when I can go for a run with my daughter or kick box in the basement.  More healthy changes are to come and I am thoroughly enjoying the new wholesome foods I wasn't  as aware of before, and I LOVE knowing my daughter will have a whole new respect for her body that perhaps I didn't have over the years. 

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Storm Before The Calm?

Sunday was a rough day.  I had the "blues".  My daughter had been sick the previous three days and I think a bit of cabin fever had set in with me.  My husband and I got out during the day and did some early Christmas shopping while my daughter played at her Grandma and Grandpa's.  The stomach pains were intense that day although I was able to hide it well and carry on with the shopping.  That night I felt very uneasy.  It was a mix of emotions.  Anger, sadness and some anxiety.  I felt as though the past month didn't bring me much relief from the side effects.  Each day there was something whether it was stomach pains, nausea, adrenaline rushes or muscle aches.  I felt a bit beaten down.

I cried off and on that night after my daughter went to bed.  Usually a good cry makes you feel sleepy and ready for a good night's sleep.  I hoped that would be the case that night, but the infamous Benzo Beast had other plans for me.  I fell asleep anxious, holding my husband's hand for support.  I woke up with a jolt.  Covered in sweat and chilled to the bone.  My stomach flipped and my throat burned as though acid was bring trickled down it.  There was a strange sweet but metallic taste in my mouth.  Was I sick?  I turned on my ipod.  1:25am.  No!  That meant I had only been asleep for an hour or so.  Please no!  My heart was beating so hard I could hear the drumming in my ears.  I sat up in bed and took a deep breath.  Nothing changed.  My heart continued to pound loudly and my body began to twitch.  I softly cried and forced myself to focus.  This doesn't have to happen.  If I could just focus on being grounded, this could possibly pass.  But the panic attacks that I've had since being on Benzodiazepines have a mind of their own.  The tried and true relaxation techniques that help many overcome anxiety or panic attacks are wonderful tools for anyone to have, but they offer little help to someone experiencing a "prescribed medicine induced" attack.  You might as well throw it all out the window because when the Beast comes to get you, you're going down.

The feelings would not pass and if anything became stronger.  The burning in my throat became more intense.  My tears flowed and as I sat there crossed-legged, I could feel the hot tears hitting my bare feet below.  I whispered my husband's name, hoping he was awake.  No such luck.  I whispered his name a bit louder and then cringed.  I hate to wake him knowing he has to work in the morning.  But this wasn't going to pass and I needed the help.  Do I call my parents?  Maybe if I try to go to the family room.  So off I walked and sat on the couch.  I turned on the laptop, hoping the distraction would be enough to calm me down.  My heart began to race faster and harder and the room began to spin.  I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs.  I quickly shot off the couch and quickly but quietly walked back to our bedroom where I sat on the edge of the bed by my husband's side.  I woke him up and cried to him, telling him I was having another attack.  Eventually I tried to go to the basement, hoping I could really let out the tears there and things would pass.  I sat on the floor of the exercise room, a Kleenex box in front of me.  I rocked my body and pulled at my shirt.  I punched my legs in frustration.  My body was screaming inside.  My stomach continued to turn, my head felt tight and my jaw began to ache.  I cried out "Why?! Please make this stop!"  I sobbed and pulled at my hair.  I felt crazy.  It felt as though something had taken over me.  The intrusive thoughts came into play and this is what can truly make you feel insane.  Suddenly there is no hope for you.  You might as well not exist because you have nothing to offer.  You will never get better and  you have been permanently damaged by this medication.  You are worthless.  You bring nothing but stress to others.

I sob until I heard a noise that startles me.  I quickly walked upstairs and wake up my husband again.  He asked me to come lay in his arms which I refuse.  During these attacks you feel as though your body needs to move move move.  The shear thought of resting in your husband's arms seems like torture, but I eventually stop resisting and curl up in his arms.  The pain is intense.  My legs writhe across the bed and my toes and hands became claw-like.  I cry so hard the veins protrude from my temples and my jaw aches as I clench my teeth.  It feels as though something is trying to break out of me.  It pushes on my back, and through my limbs.  I go into a sweat and my body wriggles while my husband holds me and quietly runs his fingers through my hair.  I beg him to make the pain stop.  This is inhumane.  I feel like someone is laying lit matches on my legs and arms - nerve pain - common during Benzo withdrawal.  My body begins to loosen and relax, only to be thrown right back into the pain of it all minutes later.

I eventually roll onto my pillow, facing my husband.  I thank him for staying up with me.  My eyes burn and are swollen and it hurts to wipe the final tears away.  I look at the clock on his bedside table.  4:45am.  Three hours later the attack is nearing the end.  My husband said he thinks the energy I burn during one of these attacks is comparable to running a marathon - or three.  My husband's alarm goes off at 5:45am.  Not much sleep for us that night.  Fortunately, an attack this extreme hasn't come around in a long time.

I was warned when I came off of this medication that since the healing isn't linear, I may find it has a roller coaster effect.  And for many, it can get worse before it gets better.  I hope that this was my "worse" and that amazing times are to come very soon.  I fear the next attack, but also know that could have been the last extreme one.  My husband said last night that he tries to see it as my body working overtime to heal during those horrible attacks.  I'm hoping after that much overtime, I get a much needed vacation.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

At The Risk Of Sounding Like A Broken Record...

I'm still please bare with me.  I am now 3 months off of Benzodiazepines, and I am not yet healed.  Tonight has been particularly rough.  I am feeling the physical and mental exhaustion from a year of withdrawal effects.  And that's not including the 1+ year my body was experiencing "Tolerance Withdrawal" from the Benzos.  Tolerance Withdrawal is when your body "screams" for more drugs, but because you are taking them "as prescribed" by your doctor and NOT increasing your dose, you begin to feel unpleasant side effects such as heightened anxiety and GI tract issues.  Your body and mind make you feel uncomfortable in hope that you'll increase your dose.  I had these Tolerance Withdrawal side effects for quite some time before I ever learned what the Benzodiazepines were doing to me.  I just assumed it was me and that I was suffering from worse anxiety than ever before.

I get asked every now and then by friends, "So, how are things?  How are you feeling?".  I often smile an uncomfortable or forced smile and reply with, "It's still tough, but I'm getting there...I know I'll get better soon enough!".  But, what I really want to say?  "Help.  Please help me.  Just let me cry on your shoulder.  I am in physical discomfort every day and I just need a break...I need to know it really IS going to get better, because sometimes I really doubt it.  Do you get tired of me talking about it?  Do you roll your eyes when I'm not looking?  Do you think deep down I'm really crazy?  Because I'm not!  Please don't think it.  This isn't me and I would never choose to feel this way.  I promise to get better so you can see the real me!"

Of course, some of my smiles are 100% genuine.  I DO have days where I feel optimistic and see a beautiful future straight ahead.  I have moments in each day when I get a 10 minute break of all side effects.  And it's the most glorious 10 minutes ever.  This past Friday, my daughter was home sick.  As I was putting away clean laundry in my bedroom, she walked in and sat on my bed.  I gave her my make-up box and jewellery box and told her she could organize everything in them.  If you can remember being a kid - this is a BIG moment!  She was so excited and happily took out each lipstick, eye shadow and brush...carefully categorizing them by product and colour.  She then moved on to my jewellery box where she proudly polished my silver jewellery and told me stories about Fairies and Witches.  During the time it took her to do all of this, I felt free.  I floated across my bedroom floor.  My body was light and pain free.  No more stomach cramps, leg aches, tinnitus or joint pain.  No more anxiety or adrenaline rushes.  It was wonderful.  I wanted to run to my bed and take my daughter in my arms and hug her tighter than ever before.  Instead I quietly walked over to her, rubbed her head and said, "I love you sweetie".  She smiled a sweet smile and said, "I love you too, Mommy".  Shortly after, the cramping came back, as did the adrenaline.  But it was enough of a break to give me hope that this is what my future holds.

I want more than anything for this part of my journey to be over.  The healing process from Benzodiazepines is not at all linear.  Your doctor can't say, "Well, you should be feeling better in about 5 months".  It's a very individualized healing process, so for some it can take 1 month and for others is can last longer than 2 years. There are many illnesses or conditions out there that are "understood" or that people empathize with.  It's okay to feel sick and tired when faced with one of them.  But I think it's still a bit taboo when it comes to Mental Illness, or in my case - illness caused by Psychotropics.  It's very lonely at times. 

Every time I'm asked how I feel, I cringe inside.  I want to be able to say that things are fantastic and that I'm finally at the TRUE finish line.  Instead I attempt to sugar coat my response...not only to hide how I really feel, but in hope that I will soon really feel how I SAY I feel.  But until I really do feel it, the smile you see just might be in disguise. 

Thursday, 20 October 2011

So, this anti-anxiety medication will GIVE me anxiety? Go figure!

Benzodiazepines.  A prescribed medication taken for a variety of reasons - one of those being anxiety.  However, this drug should only be prescribed short-term.  My former family doctor told me I could SAFELY take it for the rest of my life if need be.  I trusted her.  Why wouldn't I? 

I took 1 mg of Clonazepam.  There are many meds classified as a Benzodiazepine - including Ativan, Xanax and Diazepam.  1mg may not sound like much, but it is the equivalent of 20 mg of Valium (aka: Diazepam).  It is a potent little orange pill.

The main issue with Benzodiazepines, is that they lose their effect very quickly.  Your body builds a tolerance to the medication and in order to receive the same effect you need to gradually increase your dose over time.  However, you are not suppose to increase your dose, so you follow your doctor's orders and take the prescribed dose for a period of time...only to find out you're suddenly experiencing more anxiety (this can happen within a matter of only weeks).  And it's not the anxiety you went ON the medication for.  It's a whole new ball game.  It's an extremely intense anxiety that sends adrenaline rushing through your body and causes you to feel lightheaded and short of breath. It's your body's way of saying "GIVE ME MORE!".  If you don't give your body more, it will do everything in it's power to make you uncomfortable.  Many who have to come off of Benzos refer to it as "The Benzo Beast". 

When I decided to come off of Clonazepam I had NO clue what I was in for.  I asked my Psychiatrist, "should I expect any side effects to cutting my dose?".  She smiled and replied, "you shouldn't notice anything...maybe some heightened anxiety for a week or so".  I can laugh at that response now (in her defence, I fully believe she told me that so that she didn't "feed" me with possible side effects).  I left her office that day and decreased my dose that night.  I cut .25 mg from my dose  so I was now taking .75 mg.  The following day I noticed a little more anxiety, but nothing too dramatic.  By day 3 the "heightened anxiety" had fully set in.  By day 4 I was paranoid...sitting on a chair with my legs curled into my chest...jumping at every noise in the house.  I had diarrhea 3+ times a day.  Then the insomnia set in.

The VERY condensed version is that it ended up taking me 10 months to fully taper off of Clonazepam, and in doing so I had to first cross over to another Benzodiazepine, called Diazepam (Valium).  Switching to Diazepam made it easier to make smaller cuts to my dose, but did not spare me the side effects.  Here is a list of all side effects I experienced while tapering off of Benzodiazepines:

Panic attacks (that could last for upwards of 5 hours)
Loss of appetite
Muscles cramps, especially in legs and stomach
"Electrical zaps" in stomach and chest
Akathisia (jerking movement in arms and legs)
Hair loss and brittle hair
Mild agoraphobia
Light and Sound Sensitivity
Sore Eyes (felt as though my eyes were being pulled inwards)
Dental pain
Intense crying or fits of rage
Tinnitus in right ear

Every day for 10 months I was plagued with these various side effects.  I am now 3 months off of Benzodiazpines and have yet to have a full "symptom-free" day.  All the the side effects have lessened in intensity and duration, however many of them are still present on a daily basis.  My main issues now are GI tract issues (bloating, discomfort, nausea and pain), heightened anxiety, adrenaline rushes, muscle pain and crying spells.  Benzodiazepines effect your Central Nervous System and it can take months to fully recover.  The majority of people recover within 6-18 months after their last dose.  It's a long and very bumpy road for many coming off of Benzos, but it isn't that way for everyone.  Fortunately, some people will come off of them with only a few minor side effects that are short lived.

One thing to note, is that I've noticed I handle stress so much better WITHOUT this medication in my system.  I no longer feel incapable of handling stressful situations in or outside of my home.  I am no longer afraid to leave my house and be with people.  I don't think about the "what ifs" as much and I am quickly learning I am a far more well-rounded woman than I gave myself credit for these past few years.  My husband and I have also noticed a massive improvement in how I wake up each morning.  Gone are the days of waking up in a medication-induced, groggy, stupor.  Now I wake up, stretch, cuddle the warm duvet, stretch, slowly open my eyes, contemplate life for a minute or two, and then rise and shine!  I wake up with energy and (most days) feel ready to face the day's challenges.  I tell myself every morning "today is a new day".   I can see more and more clearly the negative effect these various medications had on me...and I celebrate the new and improved me.   

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

It Only Took 3 Days...

I have been on several SSRI's for my "depression" and anxiety issues over the years.  Some have helped, but not without a list of undesirable side effects.  February, 2010, I was prescribed an SSRI once again.  I was also taking Benzodiazepines (Clonazepam) during this time.  After only 3 days on that SSRI, I woke up in the morning to find myself thinking of only one thing:  I was fully prepared to take my own life.  I opened my eyes.  I could hear my husband in the kitchen.  I could hear my daughter in the family room.  I could hear their voices, their noises and I wanted it to end.  I remember my husband coming in to our bedroom and looking at me.  I know he talked to me but I'm not sure what he said.  He then proceeded to call my parents and asked them to drive out to our house...and to come soon...he knew something was wrong.  Something was different with me.  I asked him this evening, "what were you thinking?  Did you think I'd commit suicide?".  "Yes...why else wouldn't I go into work until your parents arrived?".  He was right.  That morning, I curled up in bed and cried.  I was exhausted.  This new medication had taken away every ounce of joy left in me within a matter of 3 days, and I was ready to end the pain.

This medication...I was physically ill on it...nauseous to the point of being unable to move.  Drugged to the point of barely being able to hold my own head up.  My dad had taken me for a drive the day before and I remember seeing my face in the side view mirror, and what reflected back at me was just a shell.  There was no soul or life in my eyes.  My face was pale and I barely had the strength to keep my mouth closed.  It almost hung open as my dad drove the country roads.  He was hoping to distract me and bring me some much needed relief.  I remember just wanting to go home, but also hoping that if we drove just two minutes longer, maybe - just maybe - I'd miraculously come back to life.  I thought about life.  I was 31 years old.  My parents had driven me to appointment after appointment, doctor after doctor, during my teenage years.  Now at 31, I was having to be rescued once again.  What was this doing to them?  I felt worthless.  All I did was bring more stress to our family.  I remember catching a glimpse of my dad's face that afternoon and I knew he didn't know what else to do.  He was a dad.  Mom's and dad's want to be able to help their child.  That instinct never leaves a parent no matter how old their child is.  I wanted to be better FOR my dad.  For my family.  I hated the "me" I had become.

Back to the following morning...

As I cried, I thought everything through.  I knew I'd wait for my daughter to be at school.  I wouldn't show up to pick her up at the bell that afternoon and eventually someone would figure out that something was wrong.  My husband would be called at work and he'd more than likely come home to find me.  I would make sure to go to our main floor bathroom where the door could be locked and there would be no chance in my daughter finding me.  I'd leave a note for my husband, a note for my parents and a note for my daughter.  I am heavy-chested typing this.  My heart is pounding.  I don't think I've ever told anyone this chapter in my life with more than simple detail.  I wasn't afraid of the pain of dying that morning.  I was just ready to have permanent relief.  I didn't want to leave my loved ones, but this wasn't a life anyone should have to face...and it wasn't a life I wanted my family to be a part of.  They had seen enough suffering.  The mental pain I was enduring that morning was unbearable.  No one should have to experience it.  And this was not "me".  This was "Medication-Induced Me".  An all too common story.  Often with an unfortunate and unnecessary ending

My parents came that morning and I knew my plans had changed.  I remember pushing my tired body out of bed and walking to the kitchen counter.  I had to make my daughter's lunch for school.  I could have asked my mom to make it, but I was determined to do it myself.  My mom walked over to me and held me in her arms as I sobbed over my daughter's half-made lunch.  My mom called the family doctor and pharmacist, and both told my mom to "have your daughter stop taking the SSRI immediately". I never took another dose and after that horrible and traumatic "Medication-Induced" experience, I became more determined to rid my body of the one and only medication left in me.  Clonazepam.  It was going to take some work, but I hoped after future therapy I would be able to wean myself off of Benzodiazepines. If only I knew what a journey that would become...if I only knew at that moment what the following two years would hold for me.

This was a difficult post.  I have cried a few times and had to return to those feelings...feelings no one should ever experience.  It is maddening to me that this all too common problem is widely known in the medical field, and yet (some) doctors continue to give out prescriptions easily and without regret.  These are not pills to be played around with.  Pills that are often referred to as "happy pills" or "mother's little helper" are hardly either of those things.  Instead they can rob you of your own identity and in return give you feelings of insanity, worthlessness and sadness.  A sadness so deep and impure, it can only be created by something unnatural...a pill.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Medication-induced Panic Attack

It's 3am.  I want to take advantage of a panic attack.  And this isn't just any panic attack.  It's what can only be described as a "Prescribed Medicine Induced Panic Attack".  Why?  Because it's shear terror and pain that can't possibly "naturally" appear in a human body.  It's far more intense than any panic attack or anxiety I've ever experienced.  Since being on Benzodiazepines, my anxiety actually increased, and the panic attacks became far more intense.  Then I began tapering off the Benzodiazepines and "WHOA!"  I had no idea what I was signing up for.  The panic attacks became so "unnatural".  I would writhe on the floor, my body twitching in a convulsion-like movement...crying and body feeling as though an alien was pushing through each and every inch of it.  It's a feeling I'd wish on no one.

I am now 3 months off of Benzodiazepines and although I don't suffer as many panic attacks as I did during my taper, I'm still enduring enough of them that it makes me feel discouraged at times...and very alone.  The one sign of "healing" I can see with these panic attacks is that they don't last as long as the ones I had during my taper, and the intensity has lessened.  However, I am scared they are going to be a lasting side effect from this medication for months to come.

So what does a "Prescribed Medicine Induced Panic Attack" feel like?  Well, now at 3:10am, and the effects of tonight's attack are dwindling, I will tell you.  I woke up one hour ago feeling groggy and very confused.  I have been sleeping quite solid this week and most nights have been sleeping straight through till morning.  I opened my eyes and checked my iPod.  My eyes were too blurred to see the time so I set my music back to song #1 and pressed "play".  But very quickly I knew something was wrong.  Without a warning, my stomach turned and my lower back felt heavy.  I began to feel as though my body was already rising out of bed and yet my body stayed frozen under the blanket.  I then HAD to get up.  I shot out of bed and paced the bedroom floor, pulling at my hair.  My stomach turning, my bowels rumbling, my heart racing so hard I could hear it pounding in my ears.  I grabbed at my chest and pulled my sweater away from my neck.  I sat on the stairs near my bedroom and began to tremble and cry.  My breathing became heavier and I felt as though the room was spinning below my feet.  I walked to the washroom, then to the stairs, then to the fireplace...finally ending at my husband's bedside, begging him to be with me.  He has been an AMAZING support through my year long recovery from this medication...but he'll fully admit the night time attacks are not his strength.  He's tired and half asleep.  He just doesn't know what can be done from his end at 3am when I'm sobbing and terrified.  But I need him...or anyone.  I am terrified and literally feel like I'll die.  I hate being alone during it.  I sat there sobbing and telling him the same story he's heard many times before at 3am.  "Something is not's different this time...I think I'm going to vomit...something is in me and I don't know what it is...when am I going to get better?...this isn't right, this isn't normal...please be with me...I don' want to be alone...I just need somebody."  That goes on for awhile. 

I then moved to my side of the bed and sat there with my legs crossed.  I sobbed louder and louder...the feeling of having to "throw up emotion" is the only way I can describe this.  The Benzos have numbed a part of my brain for years that SHOULD have been able to show emotion.  Now it is coming back to life since I've taken away the meds...but with that comes very intense emotion.  The sobbing is loud and filled with sadness.  It's as though I've lost the most special person in my life and I am mourning their loss...maybe in a sense it's true.  I've lost "me" and now I'm finding her again.

I then sobbed even louder and eventually had to move to the family room so that my husband could sleep.  I came out here and felt nothing but sadness.  My hamsters are the only thing awake in my house at 3am, so I sat by their cage and they proceeded to listen to me as I cried about the shear terror of this panic attack.  I started to remember that it was 1 month ago to this day that I also had a "3am wake up call" which led to a 3 hour panic attack.  It was the 3 weeks following that attack that I was led down a path of horrible side effects once again...nausea, frequent panic, muscle aches, loss of appetite and lack of sleep.  Is this the beginning of it again?  Will it be a cycle of 3 weeks of "horrible" followed by 1 week of "okay"?  That's just not acceptable!  So then the panic continued.  Horrible thoughts, described as "intrusive thoughts", come in to play.  "I can't live one more day like isn't worth living if this is how it's going to be...there is only so much one person can take before they husband will grow tired of this and leave...I'll wake my daughter up with my crying and she'll be scared of me...I'm just a screw up and don't deserve anything good...I'd be better off in a home somewhere so my family can finally have peace".  My hamsters listen patiently to my obscured thoughts.  I begin to feel things settling and can move to the sofa.  I curl up with my constant companion since I was a baby.  I wipe away the tears and blow my nose several times.  I sit alone in the family room.  Not one light is on.  The "tick tock" of the clock is first irritating but then quickly becomes "company" for me and calms me.  I'm cold now.  But feel frozen in fear and can't move to grab a blanket.  I hug my legs and rock myself for awhile and put my iPod on.  Classical music - Chopin's Nocturn in E Flat Major - is playing and I begin to feel a bit sleepy.  And now here I am, typing this. 

These panic attacks are the loneliest thing I've every endured.  Especially the night time attacks.  I've had "non medicated induced attacks", and there is a big difference.  There's a level of intensity with these ones now that I never had before.  It's pure terror.  The intrusive thoughts are prevalent with each attack and it's horrible.  For "x amount" of minutes, you feel completely worthless.  You envision every possible way that you could just "vanish".  Whether it's walking in the woods near your home and hoping a coyote finds walking the streets and hoping a stranger takes you.  I feel completely detached from all I love and want nothing more than the pain to end...and yet nothing would ever come of these feelings...because that's all they are - feelings.  They're about as real as the monster in your closet.  The best way to describe it is to say it's the "Benzo Beast" trying to bring me down - HARD.  Nothing will every come of it and after those "x amount" of minutes, the feelings subside and you are left feeling physically and emotionally exhausted.

It's 3:54am...I will try to sleep now, and will hope this is just one bad night and not the beginning of 3 bad weeks.  And I'll hope that tonight's attack was perhaps the last 3am "prescribed medication induced panic attack" I'll ever endure. 

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Who Am I?

I was 15 years old when I started having "feelings".  I wasn't sure how to describe these feelings to my parents, but I knew it wasn't at all pleasant.  I felt sick and I felt overwhelmed.  I began having headaches.  The headaches turned into migraines.  The migraines stuck around for 3 months.  CAT Scan, MRI, blood work...all the tests ruled out anything sinister.  What was wrong with me?  And then we got an answer....I was Clinically Depressed and had General Anxiety Disorder.  But almost 20 years later, I don't believe the doctor was correct.  I think I was a female teenager...a perfectionist...I was disappointed with how my dream of high school crumbled as my "once friends" became snobs and mean...I was overwhelmed with math (something that once came so easily to me was now hard work)...I was learning that moms and dads might not always be around (my friend's mother lost her life to cancer) and feared my own mom and/or dad may one day become sick.  I had "normal" questions, concerns and fears.  I was being confronted with normal teenage stress, but unsure of how to respond to it.  So I turned inwards...I hid my feelings and never let them come out to share with others...and that is how I became "depressed".

I was then placed on my first Anti-Depressant.  I don't remember the name of it.  I was on several SSRI's over the course of high school.  I was placed on a Tricyclic Anti-Depressant as well, only to find out very quickly I was allergic to it.  I was faced with numerous side effects - many which I don't even remember.  I remember feeling "drugged".  I remember feeling flat.  No emotion.  I remember confusion as to who I was and what I was going to become.  I remember not liking who I was on the meds.  I remember anger - intense anger that was not the norm for me.  This would lead to years of self harm.  In the end, most of those years just morphed together and it's now a blur to me.  The memories I do have, however, are vivid, and I sometimes wish I couldn't remember them.

I will go for this evening.  I am currently feeling quite nauseous right now....a lasting side effect from the Benzodiazepines I finished taking 2.5 months ago.  I know it will go away eventually, but until then it's a bit of a thorn in my side.  Exhausting.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Welcome To My Blog...Welcome To My Journey

I want to thank you for visiting my blog.  I am a 33 year old wife, mother, daughter and friend.  I live in a small home, in a small town and I wouldn't change a thing.  I am on a journey and I hope you will embark on it with me.  I have spent 18 years of my life trying to find the magic pill to cure my own battle with anxiety, only to find myself laden with countless side effects and withdrawal effects from each prescription filled.  From vertigo to nausea to blunted emotions, I have lost a part of myself and am hopeful that I will find the "real me" as I heal.  For the first time in 18 years I know I will never rely on a pill to save me from my jitters or "blahs".  I am prepared to take this on naturally, and I feel liberated.

 This past year I chose to come off my final Psychotropic.  A Benzodiazepine called "Clonazepam".  It is also known widely as Klonopin and Rivotril.  Benzodiazepines strengthen the effect of  neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).  GABA aids in regulating our central nervous system (CNS).  To put it quite simply, a Benzodiazepine gives our body's natural GABA a "break" and it - in a sense - becomes the GABA.  Suddenly the GABA no longer has to work at balancing our CNS because the Benzodiazepine plays that role.  Whether you take the Benzodiazepine for one month or three years, your GABA will have to relearn how to properly function again once you take the Benzodiazepine away.  And GABA is found everywhere - your GI tract, reproductive organs and liver to name a few.  So when you take away the "Benzo", you are left with a very confused CNS.  And it can take months for your CNS to recover from this.   

This is my journey...I am now 2 1/2 months off of Benzodiazepines after several years of prescribed use.  I am left with GI issues including nausea and bloating, panic attacks, muscle pain and almost constant anxiety.  I went on Benzos for mild anxiety.  There is too much to tell in one entry, so please join me as I document the ups and downs of Benzo Withdrawal and track my history of Psychotropic use.  Cry, smile and laugh with me.

I am a a wife, mother, daughter and friend...and I am a work in progress.  I am bettering my life for myself and my family and I am ensuring my daughter will never have to repeat my personal experience with the Pharmaceutical industry.