Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Today I Feel...

I've thought long and hard about what to write today.  I've decided I'm just going to write about how I feel, because I'm feeling A LOT of things.  I feel hopeful and optimistic.  And I feel consumed with sadness and fear.  My mind switches from one extreme to the other every few minutes or so.

I am four months, one week and four days off of Benzos.  I am so happy to be off of all medication.  No more birth control pills, no more SSRI's and absolutely no more Benzodiazepines.  For the first time in many years, I am able to go out to public events without a bottle of pills in my purse.  I am in control now.  It's a very empowering feeling.  When I was tapering off of the Benzos, I often wondered how I'd deal with future stress.  If I didn't have the pills to smooth things out, then what would I do?  Now that I'm off of them, that thought never crosses my mind.  There is no other option than to just deal with it.  I breathe, I meditate, I do self-Reiki...and when all else fails, I cry it out.

At four months off, I feel as though I'm hitting a peak of symptoms.  The mains side effects right now are:

  • nausea (daily)
  • a feeling of a lump in my throat (this is constant)
  • brief moments of fever-like chills (a few times a day)
  • mild headaches (seldom)
  • panic attacks (not daily)
  • crying spells that come out of nowhere (like in public places)
  • lower back, pelvic and abdominal pain (constant)
  • ribs feel bruised (constant)
  • muscle twitches

I continue to see improvements, however this current wave is breaking me down slightly.  Everything I do with my family or socially takes effort.  There is never a moment during the day where I feel relief.  As a result, I feel irritable and exhausted during the evening.  I find myself looking at other parents at my daughter's school and wondering, "Are they really that happy?  Are they going through this as well?".  I don't walk around with a big sign around my neck that reads, "Presently Recovering From Benzodiazepine Withdrawal...Please Be Gentle".  Instead I do what needs to be done with a smile on my face.  I don't see it as being fake...not everyone needs to know my struggles.  I'd rather walk around with a smile and "get through" the day, than to curl up on the sofa with a blanket and feel sorry for myself.  I've learned that gets you nowhere...or at least it gets you somewhere MUCH slower.  I find the more I push myself, the more confidence I create in myself.  I really like who I am becoming and I am more comfortable in my own skin than I've ever been.

And that brings me to my "positive" of the day.  In the end, as difficult as this has been and still is, I am loving the Sarah I am becoming.  I love being in somewhat control of my health.  I love that I fill my body with water and lots of vegetables and grains.  I love fighting a cold with garlic and tea...and recovering quickly!   I love watching my daughter make healthy choices when she comes home from school and knowing that at 8 years old she already appreciates what her body can do and acknowledges its strength.  I love that my husband excitedly researches alternative treatments for everything under the sun - and makes changes in his own diet to better himself as well.  I call us the "house full of health".  And I adore this healthy little family of mine.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

4 Months Free, and SLAMMED

I was beginning to think I had seen the worst of it.  

It's almost 2am.  I have spent months researching Benzodiazepine Withdrawal, and I know just about everything there is to know about it.  So why am I completely dumbfounded tonight at how horrible I feel?  I am now 4 months off of Benzos and over the past 4 months I have seen some great improvement in many areas.  Although many side effects have lingered and the healing process has been anything but linear, I have found it to be - for the most part - manageable.

This past weekend I felt things really began to change.  I started feeling more confused.  I would sit in a room but not understand fully where I was sitting.  Almost an out of body experience.  This feeling has been creeping up on me this past week or two, but this weekend it really came out for a full visit.  Then there were the stomach pains.  I have had stomach issues this entire year, but this weekend that changed as well.  It became more intense.  Little twinges and pinches linger in my lower intestines all day long.  And then there's the rib pain.  It's as though something is jabbing my ribs - something sharp.  Definitely a nerve pain.  Strong enough to take my breath away for a brief moment.  My lower back feels as though I've stood for hours and hours on end.  It feel weak and tender.  This past 48 hours things progressed even more.  My organs feel bruised.  It's the only way I know how to describe it.  It's as though I'm aware of my lungs, my intestines, my uterus and ovaries, my stomach - all of it - because it feels tired, worn out and bruised.  Everything between my rib cage and pelvis is tender.  And there's the mild headaches...nothing to crack open a bottle of Tylenol for, but a mild tense feeling that surrounds my right eye.  Last night, came the fear.  The fear I had while tapering.  This deeply embedded fear that makes you look at everything through warped and obscured glasses.  I begin fearing I may be dying and that I should go to the ER to have every test under the sun performed.  I fear that I won't be able to function tomorrow, or the next.  I fear I'll have to cancel all plans this month - make that until the New Year, because there is no way I'll be able to function.  I fear that my friends will finally have enough - so much so that I hesitate at telling them just how bad it is (they'll soon learn if they read my blog).  Will I sound like a broken record?  Because that's not my intention...I SO look forward to the day that I only talk about this to help someone else - not myself. 

And now tonight.  Tonight was something else.  These past 2 days, my stomach seems to have a difficult time digesting any food I eat.  Lots of painful digestion - I had this last week as well.  I had the sudden urge to go to the washroom tonight around 9:30pm.  I ended up with very painful diarrhea.  As I sat there, my legs began to shake.  Up and down, up and down, so hard I couldn't write in my journal or read anything.  I quietly sobbed on the toilet with this great fear brewing inside of me that "something was wrong".  In my mind I would end up living on the toilet all night long.  And when I'm in that much of a panic, the last thing I want is to be "tied down" to one place.  So while sitting there, all I wanted to do was jump off and run around the house screaming.  It's a horrible feeling really.  It's almost as if you're being held against your will.  This led me to tonight's panic attack - a full out attack that slightly resembled the ones I had months ago during my taper.  It began around 9:45pm, and well...I guess I'm still coming down from it.  Tonight's was really intense.  I couldn't stay still and I twitched as I had electrical shock feelings in my back and arms.  Every time my body would begin to settle, I was jolted right out of it and thrown back into the panic.  Instead of a nice quite movie night with my husband, he ended up doing something he's never done before...he made his own movie.  He grabbed the camera and taped me in an attack.  He said that people need to see what these pills can do.  What I will do with the video, I have no clue.  It's not something I really want to see myself.  I only know how I feel while I'm in the attack and I don't know if that's something I actually want to witness.

I can't believe I'm getting slammed this hard.  My husband keeps saying to me, "You've spent all this time educating the people you love how the healing process can be, but then you seem to forget it all when you're feeling like this"!  It's true.  When I'm feeling anxious or sick from this, I tend to look at the worst case scenario.  I think that's human nature for many of us.  I tend to doubt this is all withdrawal related and that I really am just sick with some mystery illness.  If you could see the size of a Clonazepam - it's about the size of a birth control pill.  That one pill taken twice daily has done this to a person...and has or is doing it to so many others.  You can see how at times this does seem unbelievable...or as I say, "mind boggling". 

It's now 2:01am.  I'm sitting on the bathroom floor on the bathmat with a small electrical heater blowing on me and my husband's winter hat on my head.  I am chilled from the panic attack and it has worn me out.  I hope that soon I will be able to curl up on the couch and fall asleep.  I hesitate at going back to bed because I already had to leave it once with this attack tonight.  When an attack is that bad, I feel scared to go back to the place where it happened last.  Almost as though it's bad luck.  Most of the time I can push through that irrational fear, but tonight I think I will give myself a break and just give in to the couch.

I know there will be many positive posts to come on this blog, but this blog is meant to depict the ups and BIG downs of coming off of Psychotropics - specifically Benzodiazepines, and in my case, Clonazepam and Diazepam.  Had I known this would happen to me, I would have NEVER taken even one of these pills.  I kick myself for not doing my research earlier.  My husband and I research why didn't we with this?  The only answer I can think of, is that my GP told me that although this medication COULD be addictive, she knew I'd be fine on it long term because I didn't have an addictive personality.  So I trusted her with that and felt "safe" taking it under her care.  Well, she was correct about one thing...I didn't have an addictive personality...but what she didn't tell me, is that it didn't matter, because I would become involuntarily addicted to a medication that instead of helping me work through anxiety, only brought me into a deeper whole than I ever thought imaginable.  And I'm still waiting to get out.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Nurturing From Inside Out

Cold and flu season.  My daughter is in grade school and brings home plenty of germs each day.  Since coming off of Benzodiazepines and SSRI's, I have been on a bit of a "mini mission" to discover new ways to help myself and family through anything from a simple cold to an ear infection to a headache.  Although I wouldn't say I am fully anti-medication, I think there are times we are too quick to ask for a prescription.

Case #1.  My daughter had a bad ear ache last Spring.  Was it an infection?  I don't know because we never took her to the doctor.  Instead we put garlic oil drops and raw garlic cloves in her ears.  My mom practised some Reiki on her ears and within 10 minutes the pain was gone.  I attribute the fast pain relief to the Reiki treatment and the garlic helped it from worsening.  She stopped complaining of ear pain within 24 hours and the worst of it was over before that.

Case #2.  This week, my daughter and I both started to feeling a sore throat coming on.  Within 12 hours I could feel that annoying itchy, sore and swollen feeling in the back of my throat.  I could also feel the mucous draining in the back of my throat.  I started giving my daughter 1 raw clove of garlic crushed into her soup.  It's important to have it as close to its rawest state, so I add it after the soup has been heated through.  My daughter never complains of the taste and other than needing a glass of water to "wash away the heat", she seems to enjoy the added flavour to her food.  I also up her intake of Vitamin D and she always takes a daily Multi and Calcium.  For myself, I take most of my garlic through capsules as it proves to be harsh on my stomach.  That with some extra Vitamin C, a good quality Green Tea and lots of water, and the worst was over after 24 hours. 

This past year has put a lot of stress on my body and stress is proven to lower the immune system.  Looking back I am shocked I wasn't sick more often.  I look at what I did to keep my immune system as strong as possible and this is the list of things I did to help:
  • Lots of water and NO juice and/or pop
  • Green Tea - a high quality one like Dragon's Well (sold in health food stores)
  • Ginger Tea
  • Vitamin C...many time vitamins would rev up the side effects, but I never had a problem with Vitamin C
  • Raw Garlic, crushed in food - or in my case, garlic capsules
  • Cutting back on sugar as sugar creates a breeding ground for bacteria
  • Little to no fried foods
  • Plenty of fruits and veggies - my favourites being kiwi, unsweetened applesauce, bell peppers, cucumber and tomatoes
As I begin to heal more over the next few months, I plan on adding more exercise to my list of "healthy to do's".  I walk every day, but look forward to lifting weights and doing some more cardio.  I miss doing these things and know it will be a great way to burn off some of the unwanted adrenaline.

When this journey began, I had already made some positive changes such as cutting out 100% of the pop I drank as well as fried and fatty foods.  The last time I entered a McDonalds for ME was approximately 2  years ago and I have no intentions of returning.  I have been so blessed to have people enter my life who have opened my eyes to a healthier life style.  They have given my family wonderful tips and are a phone call away if need be.  I also have enjoyed doing much research on line with my husband.  We get so excited to learn about ways to help a headache without opening a bottle of Advil, or discovering foods to eat that will lower blood pressure (walnuts).  We are excited that our daughter now takes a keen interest in her own health and well being.  She even asked me to stop ordering her pizza on pizza day at school because she finds it too greasy and she doesn't think it's very good for her. 

Making healthier choices has benefited my family so much.  I love knowing that even though my body feels "broken" inside right now, it's probably the healthiest it's ever been!  I still indulge once in awhile and I love chocolate...but now, I try to make my own chocolate chip oatmeal cookies or chocolate chip banana bread.  That way I get my "sweet chocolate fix", all while knowing what went into my treat!  And nothing beats a good Kit Kat  or BOXED chocolate chip cookies once in awhile. 

Friday, 18 November 2011

Masking the Mental Pain with Physical Pain

I remember the first time very well.  Not every detail, but all the details leading up to the action.  I was home alone.  I was sitting in the living room on the sofa near the window.  I looked outside and stared blankly.  I was on medication - not sure which one, but an SSRI.  I felt empty and alone.  I sobbed on the sofa and thought about all my friends.  I wished I could be like them.  All the happiness was gone.  I wondered why the medication didn't seem to make me feel better.

I don't know why I did it because I had never read about it or seen it on television.  My friends didn't talk about it.  But I was drawn to it and it almost seemed to "call me" that day.  Why would anyone want to do it?  I was such a happy girl growing up, so why I had it come to this?  Nothing traumatic happened in my life.  I had a more-than-stable childhood.  I had supportive and loving parents, family and friends.

That afternoon though, everything was a blur.  My life felt like it was crumbling and I couldn't figure out why.  I had so many questions but was almost too tired to bother trying to find the answers.  So I got up off the sofa and walked to the kitchen in my parents house.  I opened the drawer that contained all the cutlery and utensils.  I rummaged through the various ladles, can opener and knives.  I pulled out a knife, and then another...finally settling on a serrated bread knife.  I took it out of the drawer and sat cross-legged on the kitchen floor.  Tears ran down my face and my vision was blurred.  I took the knife in my right hand and placed the edge of it on the underside of my left forearm.  I dragged the blade across my forearm.  Again.  And again, only this time harder.  I could hear the skin break and small pieces of skin flaked away.  With the next stroke of the knife I broke skin.  I pushed the blade into my arm so all the little points stuck into my arm, then proceeded to drag it along, creating a deeper cut that began to fully bleed.  As the blood appeared darker, I let out a deep sigh and closed my eyes.  The burning sensation was comforting.  It didn't hurt, but instead gave me a sense of relief.  I finally felt in control of my emotions.  I had found something that would give me instant relief.  As I cut my arm, I cut away the pain - if only for a few minutes.

Cutting would become my comfort for many years to come.  Even as an adult in my 30's, this form of self harm would be my "go to" during extremely stressful times.  I was never proud of it and would attempt to hide it from my husband for as long as possible.  It's not an easy thing to discuss so openly with friends or strangers but I'm not ashamed.  Self harm becomes more and more prevalent each year in North American and the UK.  And statistics say that most people who self harm are women who have either been sexually abused OR lived with 1 or more parents who were alcoholics.  Well, this wasn't the case for me.  Other than being female, I didn't fall into any of these categories.  So what made me do this?  Years later, I can look at the pattern and I came to realize one thing:  EVERY TIME I used cutting as a coping mechanism for anxiety and/or stress, I was on medication.  Every single time.  Even this past year while tapering off of Benzos, self harm became an almost daily battle for me as the urge to do it was always there.  However at only 2 weeks off the medication, those feelings quickly dissipated.  I now never have feelings of acting out this way and if anything I think, "Really, that helped me?".  I can't fathom doing it now.

Although many will argue that SSRI's and/or Benzos are lifesavers, I am here to only educate you with the possible risks.  I never even knew about self-harm.  I was not an angry girl.  I was certainly not a girl who would inflict pain on herself or others.  So what drove me to it?  Well, it's simple.  If you look at the possible side effects of SSRI's, it states that once you take them, you or your parent/companion should look for any signs of agitation that can possibly lead to suicide OR self harm. 

I am sad that self harm was ever a part of my life.  I am sad my parents had to witness it.  I'm sad  my husband and I spent so many occasions arguing over it - as the "medicated Sarah" didn't understand how my loved ones could be so upset with it - to me, it simply helped me, so please just let it be.  I am left with minimal scaring and a tattoo that covers the majority of it.  However, I will never be ashamed of what I did because I understand why I did it.  It was my own personal coping mechanism and I never used it as a cry for help.  It was the only way I knew how to help myself without having to lean on others - which made me feel in control of one aspect of my life.  As the various medications had a hold on me and controlled every thought and emotion, I screamed and fought back by ways of self harm.

I feel confident that this will never be a part of my life ever again, but I am happy that I can reach out to others and share my story.  People are not evil for doing this.  Although I'm sad it happened, I have no regrets as I feel it was uncontrollable because it was a medication-induced action.  My husband would ask, "Why?!", and I couldn't answer him.  Now I know why.  I fully understand it and embrace it.  It's a chapter in my life that I'll never return to, but instead will use it to spread the word and the risks. 

Monday, 14 November 2011

"How Can You Fix Me?"

Sometimes it's difficult to pinpoint one thing to discuss.  I've spent this past year doing a lot of self reflection and learning more about ME.  Why am I the way I am?  Why are some people more anxious than others?  Why is my husband afraid to fly, and yet to me being on a plane and flying through the sky is like a roller coaster ride?  Why is it that if someone hurts me or someone I love, I hold on to that hurt for years, however my husband can just "let it go"?  We are all wired differently and I guess I'm learning to love and appreciate my unique wiring...and rewiring in some "sketchy" areas.

As a kid, I was pretty happy.  My parents were very loving.  My mom painted my nails, baked with me and read me books.  My dad taught me how to garden, took me for car rides, and my personal favourite:  took me to the lake to watch the waves crash in.  My dad was an accountant and my mom stayed at home until I was old enough to come and go as I pleased.  She then worked for my future high school in the Special Education department.  I looked up to both of them and often dreamed of becoming an accountant like my dad.  My brother was older than me and moved away when I was quite young.  He moved six hours north of our city so we normally saw him during the holidays.  I loved seeing him and in my own little way "idolized" my big brother.  We had a happy family...and in my opinion, we were pretty special.

My mom and dad were often the "go to" parents for many of my friends.  My friends trusted them and felt comfortable with them.  My dad could make umpteen jokes about boogers and make my friends laugh every time.  My mom was full of life and it wasn't out of the norm for us to find her in the kitchen dancing to current music while she cooked dinner.  I don't have one single negative thought when I think of my childhood.

So how is it that I ended up a sort of "anxious mess" in my teens?  I guess partially because I was wired to do so.  As a kid, I was a perfectionist.  It would frustrate me to no end if I couldn't do something right on the first try.  I wanted to be the best at everything I did, and if I knew there was a chance I wouldn't do well, I just wouldn't try.  Sports for example.  I was athletic enough.  I danced and I did well with cross country, but when the gym teacher said, "okay class, time for soccer", my stomach flipped and I would spend the following hour telling and retelling myself, "you won't do well...people are going to laugh at're going to make a mistake and your classmates will make fun of you...the boys will think you're not cool if you don't play well...why can't I just be sick so I can leave!".

School came relatively easy to me.  I excelled in Math, Science, English and Languages, and had big dreams of becoming a doctor.  I remember going to the library with my mom and taking out a Medical Dictionary.  My goal was to become a researcher and find the cure for Cancer.  My marks were very good and I was often teased by friends for being the "teacher's pet".  I was embarrassed because I didn't set out to be that person...I just knew from early on to always have respect for my teachers and to follow the rules.  I listened well and paid attention to EVERYTHING.  In grade 8 I was voted to received the award for Congeniality.  I think my parents instilled politeness in me.  I've always treated others as I would want to be treated.

Fast forward to grade 9.  I was so excited!  To me, high school was going to be life changing.  Well, I was right about that.  I remember doing well my first year - very well.  I received many marks in the 90's and my dream to become a doctor was much more established.  Then grade 10 came around.  To this day I don't know what really happened.  I do know that my mom was called in for a mammogram and a lump was found in her breast.  That lump turned out to be a cyst and she was fine.  But it stuck with me.  Also, many of my close friends growing up had "changed", as most of us do in high school.  Many groups were formed and if you weren't part of the cool group, then why even be there?  Some of them were so mean.  I once got my hair cut and chose a cute pixie cut.  I LOVED it.  I was so proud that day when I walked into class with my new style.  As I sat down behind my desk, one of the "cool boys" coughed and while coughing blurted out "BOY" into his hand.  The class laughed.  And as I turned around to look at him, I saw that one of my dearest friends growing up was the one with the loudest laugh.  It hurt - it stung.  I wanted to cry and my eyes welled up.  The teacher caught it and I felt only more embarrassed as he asked that boy to apologize to me. 

Not a big deal, right?  I got teased a few times.  So what!  All and all I was well-liked and had many friends who I trusted.  My mom had one health concern that turned out what was the big problem?  I think this is where the wiring comes into play.  I was a kind, overly-cautious perfectionist.  I was in high school where people can be mean and cliques are formed.  In high school, where classes become tougher and the pressure to succeed and make it into University is significant.  In high school, where the jocks are put up on pedestals and it's cool to get drunk and smoke (something an overly-cautious perfectionist does NOT do).  I didn't fit in.  I was losing ME.  So I became recluse and hid my fears and doubts with both my parents and my closest friends.  In my head, I was becoming a "freak".  And as someone who did so well naturally over the years, it was so difficult to finally struggle in school.  You mean I have to work to get an A?

I woke up one morning in grade 10 not feeling well.  My head hurt and as I sat in Geography class that day, my world spiralled out of control.  The voices of my classmates became a jumbled mess of laughter and static.  I became hot and cold at the same time and my breath became short.  I asked for permission to leave, and I never came back.  I had no idea what was happening and looking back I clearly experienced my first panic attack.

My headaches were the main issue, as was the "headache that never ended".  I had a headache for 3 months.  My parents went on a mission to find out what was wrong with me.  I had a CAT scan, an MRI, blood work - all came back with nothing sinister.  So then the Pediatrician told my parents I was depressed and referred me to a Psychiatrist where I was given a prescription for my first anti-depressant called Amitriptyline, which is a type of medicine called a tricyclic antidepressant.  I broke out in a rash on these meds and was quickly taken off of them and then put on an SSRI.  For months, my parents put their trust in doctors as they assumed they had my best interest at heart.  I was prescribed Prozac, Paxil, Buspar and Effexor to name a few.  When one didn't work, the doctor would take me off of it cold turkey and within 24 hours I was on a new med. We didn't know the risk to this type of practice.  We weren't aware that all psychotropics should be weaned off of and that the side effects to coming off of these meds were often just as bad if not worse than the side effects you first experience when you go them. 

Looking back, I can see all of my irrational behaviour, the self harm (I became a cutter...something I will discuss in another post), the zombie-like state I was in during the day, the manic state I was in at night...were all side effects caused by these meds.  This was not me!  I was simply a "normal" teenager in the peak of raging teenage hormones...and a perfectionist...who took things to heart...who probably began to experience tension-like headaches and anxiety.  But because I didn't know how to verbalize my emotions and instead kept it all locked up inside of me, it intensified and became bigger than it had to.  And when all else failed (my parents did initially try a natural approach to my "mystery" problems), the doctor who we trusted introduced us to a Psychiatrist...who led us to another...and another...until I became so medicated, that I completely lost ME.  My dad said to me recently, "We were trying everything possible to make you feel better...but even though we had you on medication and the doctors told us this is what you needed to make you better, you just weren't our "Sarah" anymore.  We wanted to believe you were getting better, but deep down I thought something wasn't right".  

And this brings me to the reason behind this blog.  My parents innocently brought me to a doctor, who led them to believe I was "clinically depressed" and that it was caused by a chemical imbalance of the brain (a term I now know is used loosely by there is no way to find out if one has a "chemical imbalance").  When a parent hears their child's brain is imbalanced in any which way, then the first thing they want is their child to be fixed.  And the way doctors fix this imbalance is to place the patient on medication.  What many parents aren't told, is the harmful side effects to many if not all of these medications.  They aren't told to wean children off of one med and allow it weeks to be out of the system before you even attempt another.  They aren't told that children under the age of 18 shouldn't even really be ON these meds in the first place.  Instead they are told it will fix their child - and what parent wouldn't want their child fixed?!  

 Anti-psychotropics led me into a much deeper whole - so unnatural that I felt as though I had entered a world of true madness.  I think back to the time when I asked my parents to bring me to the hospital, "because if you don't I think I might do something like kill myself...I don't know what else to do".  I was barely 16, and I was medicated.  I think of the times I wished my friends would just explode and die as their happiness caused me only pain...and I was medicated.  I think of the times I laid in bed crying in mental anguish over not being a normal teenager...and I was medicated.  I think of the nights I vacuumed my bedroom at 2am and re-organized my closet for the 5th time that night in a Prozac-induced-manic-state....all while medicated.  I think of the times I hurt myself physically in order to release pent up anger and pain...something I wasn't even aware of until I was medicated.  I think of the times I sat on my bed and stared across my bedroom with a blank stare, hoping that if I closed my eyes I just wouldn't exist anymore...while on medication.   And all of this...all these new dark and terrifying thoughts...all of these feelings of rage SO incredibly opposite of how I was "normally" or "pre-medication"...all while on medication that was apparently "fixing me".

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Little White Slip

Today has been a rough one.  The nausea has once again taken a hold of me for the past few days and I feel like yelling, "ENOUGH!!!".  Every bite I take of food makes me feel like gagging.  My stomach gurgles and I don't know whether it's hungry or angry.  I rarely feel "true" hunger, which makes eating difficult to say the least.  I am eating only because we as humans have to eat.  I don't feel like eating - although food doesn't repulse me.  But eating loses its "fun factor" when every morsel makes you feeling like hurling.  It's not like this every day, but I'm on day 3 of this and I'm already fed up.  The adrenaline rushes have been absolutely brutal these past 48 hours as well.  It creates a lump in my throat that makes it hard to swallow.  I have to pace the house until my legs hurt.  If I try to sit and relax it feels as though my bones and organs will tear through my skin, so pacing is the way to go.  I pace and cry, hoping my body will settle down.  It has settled for now and it gives me some time to put my thoughts to "paper" and write this entry.

It's Saturday.  I slept well last night - although I initially had a mini attack before bed which made it difficult to fall asleep.  Once asleep I settled in nicely and got a solid 6 hours.  Plus an additional hour after a quick morning washroom break.  I woke up with a cold - not my favourite start to the day.  And my colds are confusing to say the least because you can have something called "Benzo Flu" when you withdrawal from Benzodiazepines.  With Benzo Flu comes, aches, chills, fever-like feeling, sore throat and stuffy sinuses.  So for now I call it a cold, but if it lets up in a few hours I know I was only hit with "Benzo Flu".  I gargled with some salt water and took some garlic - followed by lots of water.  Hopefully if it is a real cold it will pass sooner than later.

Last night my husband and I went out to do some Christmas shopping while our daughter visited with her Grandma and Grandpa.  It was difficult because my body was screaming at me with stomach pains and nerve pain in my ribs and abdomen.  But I pushed through and found great deals which everyone loves!  Happily searching for presents for our friends children, I was hit with a sharp, burning pain in my right side.  I buckled over in the childrens clothing department of Winners and my legs began to burn and sweat.  "You have got to be kidding me!", I quietly said to myself.  A ruptured ovarian cyst.  This is something I've had issues with for about a year and part of me wonders if it's been brought on by the stress of tapering.  I never use to have issues with my ovaries but in this past year alone I've had 5 ruptured ovarian cysts.  For anyone who has had this, it is very painful and the burning can be intense for many hours following the rupture.  I somehow managed to walk to the cash register, pay for my hands shook as I entered the pin number for my card.  My legs were sweating and the pain in my right side made it difficult to walk with a fluid motion.  My husband held my hand as we walked out and journeyed off the the opposite end of the mall where our car was parked.  It felt like the longest mall walk ever.  I wanted to cry but didn't want people to notice, so I quietly and repeatedly told my husband how much pain I was in.  "This is ridiculous", I thought to myself as we approached the car.  I felt like laughing and crying at the same time.  By bed time last night the pain was still intense, although not as bad as it initially was.  I woke up this morning will a dull ache and I know by tomorrow it will feel close to perfection once again. 

On the 19th of this month, I will be 4 months free of Benzodiazepines.  Many people who withdrawal from Benzos find they see great improvements by month 4.  I feel I have.  It is very difficult to see it on a day like today though.  I feel like the healing process is very much "2 steps forward, 1 step back".  I think I'm taking a rather large step back these past few days but I am sure some good will come from it.  I will hold on to that and continuously tell myself my body is doing what it needs to do to be 100% healthy.

When I write this blog, I sometimes hesitate at focusing on the negative because a) i don't want people to think, "Oh there she goes again...complain, complain, complain", and b) I know many people have it far worse than I do in the world, so why should my problems matter?  But they matter to the people I love, and my hope is that they will matter to someone in a similar situation who perhaps doesn't have the support I've been so fortunate to have this past year.  And the truth is, this past year has been emotionally and physically painful.  I am fully aware some people may not think this is something worth writing about.  I chose to fill a prescription given to me by my GP.  I took the pills as directed by my doctor and then decided one day to stop taking them.  What's the big deal then?  The big deal is that far too many people are being over-prescribed not only Benzodiazpines, but also SSRI's and psycho-stimulants such as Ritalin.  And we have these prescriptions filled without going home and doing our research first because we trust our doctors.  If a friend looked at you and said, "Hey buddy, if you drink a full cup of this bleach, it will clean out your system and you feel like a new person!", would you?  More than likely (I hope) not.  Some of these pills we are prescribed can do so much harm to our bodies.  Long term use of Benzos and SSRI's have been linked to Diabetes and cognitive problems.  And I am sure most of you have heard one time in your life how people with mental illness have a chemical imbalance.  Well, "chemical imbalance" is a term made famous by pharmaceutical companies and there are actually no tests done to prove any of us HAVE a chemical imbalance, so after we use something such as a dopamine blocker or an SSRI, we actually CREATE a far worse chemical imbalance. 

This doesn't make doctors the "bad people", as some DO their own research and are quite aware of the issues brought on by certain medication  Doctors are doing their job and prescribing medication based on what they have learned through school...but also by pharmaceutical sales reps.  If your doctor wanted your child on Ritalin and filled a prescription for you, but then stated to you, "Now, just keep in mind Ritalin has been proven to have the same effect as cocaine and/or heroin....and it can be addictive and have side effects such as nausea, psychosis, loss of appetite and cardiac arrhythmia", then you might go home and think twice.  The same if I was informed by my GP 3 years ago that Clonazepam would be a great way to put a short-term band aide on my anxiety issues, but if you take it for longer than 3 weeks you may notice your anxiety increases.  And that's not all...months later you may begin to have diarrhea several times daily, nausea, sweating and chills, extreme anxiety, severe panic attacks.  I think I may have thought twice about it and at least would have come home to do my own research.  Instead, I was told I could SAFELY take it for the rest of my life and to top it off, take extra if needed!  I was never told that if at any time I wanted to stop taking it, to please seek assistance from a doctor as stopping it abruptly can lead to potential seizures. 

And so this is where the problem lies.  We are too easily going to the doctor for what could just be a short term depression brought on by normal life stress.  It is very common for most to experience some form of depression and/or anxiety over a lifetime.  However, many of us (myself included), learn very quickly that instead of dealing with it ourselves and making changes in our diet, physical level and going to therapy, we can just as easily go to the doctor, tell him/her "I feel sad lately" and walk out with a little white slip of paper.  And if that little white slips holds your future, wouldn't you want to know the truth?

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

My Journal

Long before I decided to taper off of my medication, I kept a journal.  I am so happy I did this because I can literally see before my eyes how this medication affected me the year prior to me knowing it was the medication itself making me sick.  It's the reminder I need once in awhile to see that this is not "me", it's the medication induced "me". 

I thought I'd begin to share some of my journal entries.  No one has read them before.  I think it's possibly the most logical way for you as the reader to delve into my reality these past 2+ years.  To live it.  Most of my entries were done in point form as I would normally write when I was anxious and it made it easier to "blurt" it out on to paper by using point form instead of a structured sentence. 

The following entries are from when I was still on my full dose of Clonazepam and in what is called "tolerance withdrawal".  This is when you are giving your body a daily dose of Benzodiazepines without increasing your dose - and your body literally screams at you because you don't increase the dose.  Some people can then begin to feel heightened anxiety, panic, stomach upset, headaches, chills, flu-like symptoms, etc.  The list is never-ending.

August 6, 2010:

  • 2am
  • stomach gurgling (upper)
  • diarrhea now happening
  • cramping
  • fear of getting sick...please no
  • have to clean neighbour's house in the morning...I've done it before feeling like this and I can do it again...but I'm scared
  • need someone to talk to 
  • mom and dad are on vacation and "husband" is sleeping
August 8, 2010

  • cleaned neighbour's house yesterday
  • found out owner had stomach flu for 6 days
  • fear sets in
  • an attack hit me before leaving a friend's house last night...felt horrible...felt distant...left ear and side of face felt as thought they were on fire...stomach turned...had to pace her kitchen and her dogs followed me as though they knew something was wrong - they kept an eye on me and made me feel through it, but not fun
several hours later...

  • 3rd "bm" today and it's becoming diarrhea
  • feeling tense and jittery
  • am I getting sick?
  • not sleeping well lately...feel queasy, chilled and have lower abdominal pains
Now here are some entries from the weeks following my first cut of Clonazepam - I had made a 25% reduction going from 1mg to .75mg.  I was told by my Psychiatrist the only thing I may experience is mild heightened anxiety. 

Sept. 9, 2010 (1 day after making the 25% reduction)

  • having a rough day
  • gone from 1mg to .75mg
  • feeling anxious all day
  • fear I will burn out 
  • exhausted
Sept. 12, 2010

  • Day 4 on .75mg
  • BAD day...weepy, diarrhea and depressed
  • scared this will set me back
  • feel pressure to be "better"
  • UGH!
Sept. 14, 2010

  • still have the runs
  • cramping with it
  • crying all the time
  • lots of questions for the doctor
  • take it a day at a time...
Sept. 19, 2010

  • in 10 nights, I've have 3 nights of good sleep
  • 2 days now of having diarrhea and cramping again
  • feeling panicky...getting through it but it's not easy
  • is this the meds?  is this all in my head?  
  • want to scream/cry and hurt myself...but can't
  • why does this have to take so long?  it feels never ending.  what is happening to me?  
Sept. 28, 2010

  • need to talk to doctor about horrible symptoms since reducing dose
  • Symptoms:  stomach "flips", toes/feet/legs go ice cold, arms tingle from upper to fingertips, my breath feels cold - almost like stepping outside in minus degree weather, heart races, dizzy, lump in throat, queasy, diarrhea
  • I'm scared and just want to cry
  • feeling flushed and legs ache again
  • when will this go away?
You can clearly see that as the days passed after making the initial cut to my dose I began to see more and more symptoms arise.  I remember thinking I was losing it and I had NO clue the medication could make me so sick.  My body was screaming at me to give it back the original dose.  Instead I spent the following 10 months taking more and more away which left me in a 10 month fog full of 20+ side effects.  I will continue to share more of my journal entries over time and will include the time I learned it WAS the medication making me ill.  I remember that day SO vividly.

I thank you for taking the time to read my posts.  Not only is this blogging experience therapeutic for me, but my hope is that it reaches out to others.  

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Today I Smiled

Today I felt alive. After days...well, weeks...make that months...of feeling stomach pain, nausea, adrenaline and all over "yuck", I had a break.  My husband and I went out for an afternoon date, leaving my daughter at home with my parents.  We ventured out to a cute little bar in a nearby city where we ate, drank and looked at the artwork of our tattoo artist.  The art was awesome, the music was fantastic and my husband's company was...perfect. 

About an hour into our adventure I felt all the side effects begin to subside, and by two hours in most were non-existent.  It was bliss.  I had a skip to my step, and my laughter was loud and GENUINE.  It was a glimpse into the future and it was wonderful.  I know it may not last (most of my stomach issues and anxiety have since returned this evening), but it was a much needed and appreciated break and it gives me the one thing we ALL too easily lose from time to time in any situation - hope.

Benzo withdrawal has proven to be a roller coaster of a ride and it makes many unwanted stops along the way.  I have learned to never take things for granted and to truly appreciate the littlest of things.  I have become a much stronger person because of the experience.  I have the chance to help others with their journey and to be of comfort to those who need it.  I love stronger than I ever have.  My marriage - that never really lost it's spark - has only gained through this experience.  I love deeper, cry harder and laugh louder.  And I've learned there is always something positive (or many positives) that come out of something so very negative.

The Tapering Process

It has been 3 months, 2 weeks, and 3 days since I took my last Benzodiazepine.  I had been prescribed 1mg of Clonazepam many years ago but it proved to be too difficult for me to taper from it, so I was crossed over to a different Benzodiazepine called Diazepam.  It had to be done in three stages.  As I introduced and increased my dose of Diazepam, I decreased my dose of Clonazepam.  Eventually I would rid completely of the Clonazepam and would begin tapering solely from Diazepam.  1mg of Clonazepam is equal to 20mgs of Diazepam.  When I crossed over, I had already made a 25% reduction of Clonazepam which left me at .75mgs.  So I then crossed over to 15mgs of Diazepam.  Once successfully crossed over, I held at the 15mgs dose for 3 weeks before I began to taper.  That allowed my body to stabilize and become accustomed to the different Benzodiazepine.

The crossover itself was difficult at times.  With each decrease of Clonazepam and increase of Diazepam, I would begin to feel horrible side effects within 48 hours.  Extreme fatigue, inner shaking and vibrations, nausea, paranoia and crying spells would take over for hours at a time.  It would last for approximately two days but proved to be a very LONG two days.  One time during the crossover I ended up on the phone with my husband while he was at work.  I was desperate and completely panicked.  I was absolutely terrified to be alone.  He left work early that day and it was also that day he had to explain to his bosses what was happening with me.  Both men were extremely understanding and had no problem with him leaving.  When my husband arrived at home, I was curled up on the sofa, holding my legs, shaking and crying.  It was instant relief the moment he stepped through the door.  I remember feeling like I may die that day.  That I would die and no one would know what happened to me.  That I would die alone with no one to hold me as I took my last breath.  I was convinced the medication was going to tear me apart inside and my heart would give up from exhaustion and stress.  When my husband walked through the door, I knew I wouldn't be alone, and that even if I did die he would be there to hold me in his arms.  I shudder at that thought now.   It is almost unfathomable to think a legally prescribed medication does this to some people.

Once I was stabilized on Diazepam, I began my taper plan.  I decided to make 1mg reductions every 7 days.  I can remember calling my local Pharmacist and asking for guidance with my taper plan.  She felt I should make 1mg cuts every 14 days, but I knew from research I had done that I could safely make the cuts every 7 days.  I figured if I tried it and it didn't go well I could always slow the taper down.  If I decided to make the 1mg cut every 14 days I would never know if I COULD have successfully tapered at a quicker rate.  My first few cuts went well.  If anything I felt a bit better on the Diazepam.  I still had several side effects but they were much more tolerable.  The one side effect that became much stronger with Diazepam was fatigue.  No matter how much sleep I had, I would feel exhausted by 1pm each day.  My eyes would burn and my head would bob if I sat to relax for a few minutes.

By the time I got down to 5mgs, I hit a wall.  For 17 days I suffered more greatly than I did during this entire experience.  Nausea, extreme stomach pain, panic attacks, chills, rib pain and fear became an almost constant for those 17 days.  Some days were more tolerable than others, but all and all it was an experience I would wish on no one.  My mom and dad made several trips to our house during those 17 days to help bring my daughter to school.  The three of us would sit in my family room as I cried and apologized for all of what had unfolded.  They would then remind me again that I didn't need to apologize.  I remember attempting to make dinner for my husband and daughter.  My dad kept me company in the kitchen and out of nowhere a stabbing pain in my stomach make me buckle over.  I cried and held onto my dad - terrified my stomach would literally explode.  The pains were so intense.  I remember during those 17 days, I thought the emotional and physical pain would never end.

It was a Saturday morning towards the end of those 17 days when I woke up in our guest bedroom.  It was 7:45am.  The bright sun was beginning to pour into the room and yet I woke up filled with fear.  I cried in bed and wondered how many more days, weeks or months I would have to go through this.  I walked downstairs and grabbed the phone and walked back up to the bedroom.  I called a good friend - knowing she would be awake with her 3 children.  I cried and she listened.  Just what I needed that morning.  I also called our Pharmacist.  She was amazing.  She reassured me that it was "normal" to experience all of this while coming off of Benzos - that they were often wrongly prescribed as well as over prescribed.  She had another patient coming in with similar problems coming off of Benzos.  She recommended I slow down my taper as it can often become more difficult the lower your dose gets.  From then on I switched my taper from 1mg cuts every 7 days to .5mg cuts every 5 days.  This didn't stop the side effects but somehow it made things a bit smoother.

Tapering from Benzodiazepines can be a scary experience.  You may often doubt the choices you make, but I found the most important thing was going with my "gut".  If my gut told me to slow down, then that's what I did.  You can wait for days or weeks trying to figure out what will possibly make your taper more tolerable.  It took me 10 months in total to taper off of Benzos.  Had the initial 25% cut of Clonazepam not hit me so hard I may have finished quicker, but I believe things happen for a reason.  I think in the end it was perhaps a positive thing I reacted so poorly because it allowed myself and my husband time to research Benzodiazepines.  It was through that research that we discovered the "crossover" technique where you crossover to a Benzo with a longer half life.  A longer half life means the medication stays in your system longer.  If it stays in your system longer than the cuts don't hit you as rapidly...making for a (hopefully) smoother taper.  My Psychiatrist had never done a crossover with any of her patients and in the end thanked me for teaching her a technique she could use for future patients trying to come off of Benzodiazepines. 

The process of tapering can be scary and quite daunting.  If you do experience unpleasant withdrawal effects it can make the time pass by very slowly.  It is important to follow a slow taper to reduce the chances of having a seizure.  Seizures are typically only a risk when coming off of them "cold turkey".  A slow taper allows your Central Nervous System to begin healing while still tapering and hopefully will spare you some horrendous side effects once you take your last dose and become "Benzo Free".  If you choose to come off of Benzodiazepines, the most important thing I can advise is to take your time and never will get there!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Nutrition "Tip Of The Day"

Over this past year, I have taken the time to research foods that I believe are best for my mind and body, as well as for my family.  Nothing brings me more pleasure then baking a batch of homemade muffins and cookies for my daughter's lunch at school instead of a prepackaged granola bar or cake.  I now know what is in her "treat" each day because I make it.  I have also learned how to modify recipes so that I can add healthy fats, reduce sugar and increase fibre.  Here is a recipe I use when baking Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins:

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mashed ripe bananas
  • 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Now, here is how I modify it for our family:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup wheat germ
  • 0 sugar...that's right, NO sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mashed ripe bananas
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
The natural sweetness of the applesauce and bananas as well as the added sweetness from the chocolate chips makes them plenty sweet enough for us.  The heaviness of the whole wheat flour and wheat germ makes them more filling. 

A neighbour's son was over the yesterday and my daughter asked if they could each have a freshly baked muffin.  As he bit into the warm Banana Chocolate Chip Muffin, he said to me with a mouthful of muffin, "you always make the best muffins"...and that was with ZERO sugar!  It made me so happy and I thanked him for the nice compliment. 

Turning Fear Into...A Skating Rink?

Yesterday I had an appointment at the dentist.  Not a favourite of mine.  My dentist is a wonderful man - always kind.  However, I've never enjoyed going.  Whether it's the tapping, scraping or cleaning...I'm just not a fan.  In the past few years, I really began to dread going.  One or even two days prior to my appointment I would be a complete wreck.  Anxiety would take over and my sleep would become disrupted.  I would cry the night before and normally for approximately 24 hours prior to sitting in the dentist's chair, I would have several trips to the bathroom with "the runs".  And that was all while on medication FOR anxiety.  It wouldn't be uncommon for me to take an extra pill during that time...and somehow I believed it was helping me...that I'd be even worse if I didn't take those little orange pills.  Was I ever wrong!

Back to yesterday.  Was I scared?  Yes.  Did my legs shake in the waiting room?  Yes.  Did I think about it several times the day before my appointment?  Yes.  However...did I lose sleep over it?  No.  Did I make several trips to the washroom the day before?  No.  Did I have to make ANY trips to the washroom with the dreaded "runs"?  No.  Did I have a panic attack the night before?  No. 

Look at all those "no's"...and I'm not on medication.  I handled it far better yesterday off of medication than all those years I was medicated.  I told my mom after my appointment that although I was very stressed and borderline terrified, I felt I handled it FAR better than I did the previous few years on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication.  She said, "Because it was YOU in control of your feelings".  I was able to rationalize my fears.  Many people don't like visiting the dentist.  For me it's a fear of finding out my teeth have cavities and I think it stems from being a perfectionist.  I "failed" if my teeth end up with little holes in them.  As I was lying back in the dentist's chair and felt the fear rearing its ugly heart beginning to pound and me trying to think of an escape plan...I said to myself, "Stop".  Stop the fear.  You cannot control what is going to happen, so allow it to happen.  Direct your mind elsewhere.  Which is what I did.  I directed my mind to an ice rink.  Yes, an ice rink.  We all have our dreams growing up.  One of mine was to become a famous figure skater.  So now when my fears get the better of me, I often imagine myself in a beautiful (but edgy and preferably black or purple) costume, gliding on the ice to music by Radiohead or Sia.  I wouldn't be a conventional skater...I'd be unique.  One of a kind.  And as I glide, turn and leap into the air, I can feel my body relax and my fears take a backseat.  It doesn't always work, but it has become one of my "weapons" for treating my anxiety naturally.

I have other weapons...and other places I direct my mind.  I will share those over time.  For now, I am happy I made it through another dentist appointment, and even more happy that I can see the healing unfolding.  I am not where I want to be, but it is slowly coming.  Eventually the nausea and stomach pains will subside, as will the 3am panic attacks.  And I will become a woman with many tools in her toolbox to help others combat anxiety issues head on - and naturally.

The dentist appointment went very well.  I do need a night guard for my teeth as I am now grinding and clenching my teeth and wearing down the enamel - something I attribute to the night time anxiety and panic attacks caused by coming off of the Benzodiazepines.  As for the cavities I feared?  None.  I'm a happy woman.