It’s been far too long since I posted last. Part of the reason is because I am healing and living life more. Part of the reason is because I don't want to sound like a broken record with, “My ribs hurt…I still feel nauseous…”. And part of the reason was because I needed a break from “benzo withdrawal”. When I enter a new blog post, it gives me relief in that I know I may be educating others or helping someone as they work through their own experience with these meds. But it also feels like this dark cloud hanging over my shoulder each time I type. It’s a reminder that I’m not “there” yet. And I want to be “there” so badly.
So how am I? Well, I am 12 days away from being 1 YEAR free of Benzodiazepines. I am healing. I still have physical side effects each and every day – I’d say about 70% of my day is plagued with some sort of “off” feeling, whether it’s rib pain, joint pain, nerve ending pain or nausea. However, nowadays I deal with it better. I don’t fear it as much. I still get frustrated and every now and then need a good cry over it, but that constant fear doesn’t take over. And I find that when the aches and pains DO become too much, I can sit for a moment, take a breath, and say, “Sarah, this WILL pass…it ALWAYS does…it NEVER lasts…it might be minutes or hours from now, but what you feel this very moment WILL go away”. And 9 times out of 10, it works. Because now I know it’s true. I believe it.
I was in the Chapters Book Store today with my husband and daughter. My daughter was searching through the bargain books and showing me photos of wildlife, when a book caught my eye. “The Age of Anxiety” was the title, and there were pictures of pills on the cover. Then I saw the word “tranquilizers” and my hand quickly swept across the table to grab it. The book tells the history of tranquilizers – how they were created, how they were “Mother’s Little Helper”, and how they destroyed lives. There are FDA reports, Government records – you name it. It has been known for MANY years how harmful these drugs were and continue to be – and yet thousands across North America and the UK (and elsewhere) are prescribed Benzodiazepines each year and they are prescribed the drugs improperly.
The book I saw...which happens to be on sale!
As I’ve mentioned previously, Benzodiazepines are addictive. It can take only weeks or even days for your body to become dependent on them. You may not know it as you continue to take the dose prescribed by your doctor. You may think, “well, I’M not one of those people…I take the amount I was prescribed AS prescribed, so obviously I don’t have an addictive personality”. But your body IS addicted. And what may come of it over time can be subtle hints. You may develop irrational fears. You may begin experiencing anxiety when you normally wouldn’t experience it. You may develop IBS-like symptoms. You may develop insomnia or strange twitches in your arms, legs or face. It can be subtle, or it can be like a slap in the face.
For myself, it was pretty close to a slap. I was doing “okay”. Living life on Clonazepam and feeling good about combating any anxiety I had with the help of those little orange and “harmless” pills, when suddenly I began having diarrhea every day. And not just once a day. 2-4 times a day. Then there was the nausea that would come on out of nowhere. I’d be shovelling the snow from our driveway when I’d suddenly feel this wave and I’d run into the house – tearing off my winter coat and boots – and then making my way to the toilet to dry heave. I became fearful of going to public places in case the diarrhea or dry heaves came on. It spiralled out of control and before I knew it I was a complete mess. Crying daily. Often wishing a car would hit me as I walked back home from dropping my daughter off at school. I’d walk into my home, shaking, cold and scared. I’d run to the toilet to either dry heave or have diarrhea. I’d then sit on the couch curled up in a ball wondering if I’d ever be able to get OFF the couch again. I would sit there frozen in fear. It was paralyzing. Imagine sitting in your bedroom and a known serial killer walks into the room with a gun. The gun is pointed at your head and you KNOW you are going to die. The only thing you can do is sit there frozen. You can’t move or he’ll shoot. This is how I felt…only no one was beside me. I was alone in the safety of my own home. No one was going to harm me in any way, and yet I could not move even a finger. My breath would halt and I’d only move my eyes back and forth. My husband would say, “get up and walk..maybe walking will help”. But I couldn’t. I was literally paralyzed by fear and it was one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had.
This was all while ON “tranquilizers”. Medication created to help those with anxiety. It could have been a great solution, however, these little pills can create bigger problems. They “numb” a part of the brain that helps our body naturally relax. They take over this part of the brain making it lazy. So as we take away the drug, the brain doesn’t know how to relax on its own. It forgets. So now it has to learn – and this takes time. And these GABA receptors (located in the brain and the part of the brain that is affected by Benzos) aren’t just in the brain, they are in the stomach. Our stomach acts as a second brain and with the heightened anxiety, crazy panic attacks and irrational fears, can come stomach pains, IBS-like symptoms, and nausea. Not to mention body aches, nerve pain, excessive salivation, twitches, headaches, dental pain, red/dry eyes, joint pain, loss of appetite OR increased appetite, constant mucous in throat – and lets not forget the mental side effects such as paranoia, auditory hallucinations, , OCD-like tendencies, agoraphobia or phobias of any kind, panic attacks that are so extreme they belong in the movies and constant anxiety. This is only a handful of of the possible withdrawal side effects.
I could also write a small novel on the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis. The HPA Axis refers to the interaction between several “organs” or glands in the brain/body. It all controls our nervous system and regulates stress. It also affects hormones and our digestive system…and it is greatly affected by Benzodiazepines. So as the benzo is taken away, it too has to heal.
Patience is the key and if you can trust that your body will do what it needs to do to heal, then it can make living with benzo withdrawal more bearable. Not everyone will react the same. Some people can come off of benzos with little to no issues. Perhaps they’ll have a twitch that lasts week or so, or some mild nausea. Whereas others wind up in the hospital doubled over in pain fearing death is on its way. It’s a crazy experience for many and completely individualized. But we all heal.
It’s almost been one year and I’m getting there. I continue to get better. Sometimes it takes weeks to see any progress whereas other times I see little changes each day. I have extremely supportive family and friends. I feel I’ve been very fortunate to have all this love and support surrounding me. Many aren’t as fortunate – finding their loved ones don’t “believe” prescribed medication could make anyone this sick. It’s unfortunate.
Year 2 will be even better. I hope to fully heal this year but I’m aware it can take longer than 2 years for some. Most people seem to heal within 18 months, so I keep that in the back of my mind. It’s been a tiring few years and on a night like tonight where I feel particularly “off”, I can’t imagine it going on for even one more day. But tomorrow is a new day and I will get through it like any other day. Life continues to look more beautiful and I look forward to the future.