I am now proudly 22 months off of ALL medication. Once in a blue moon I give in to a Tylenol when all else fails for a never-ending headache, but I now rely on natural remedies to get me through uncomfortable times. The best part, is I don't feel the need to run to the doctor when I feel "blah" or "anxious"...because after surviving through Benzo withdrawal, I know I can face any obstacles that come my way. I've learned very well that anxiety never lasts...it might feel horrible at the time, but it always passes.
So, after a 10 month taper off of Clonazepam/Diazepam, and 22 months free of Benzodiazepines, where am I?
I have made HUGE progress in the past 2 months. Although at 18 months free, I hit a wall and crumbled slightly. Many old symptoms returned that I thought were gone or mostly gone. It was a scary time that lasted close to 2 months. I began having sleepless nights, the nausea returned, the sweats came back worse than ever, anxiety became heightened, and I felt a bit defeated. I knew this could happen during the healing process, but was still 100% shocked it was happening to ME. I was warned of the "2 steps forward, 1 step back" during benzodiazepine withdrawal (and knew it could last upwards of 2-3 years...even more for a small percentage), but somehow we all think we are superhuman and can fight the odds. This is true in many cases, but sometimes we have to remember we are "only" human and we aren't perfect. I think I felt that because I wasn't getting better at a faster speed, I was somehow a bit of a failure. Weak. Some people can come off these meds with not much more than a few dizzy spells that last a few weeks...so why at 18 months off was I worse with a list full of symptoms?
In the meantime, my husband and I planned a week's vacation abroad. He was born and raised in The Netherlands, so we were excited to fly back to see his Mother and siblings. Plus, it would be our daughter's first time meeting her family from my husband's side. We booked our plane tickets and my husband proceeded to quickly make up a schedule so that all family and friends would know our plans during our week stay. Meanwhile, I was in the midst of this tidal wave. How was I EVER going to be able to enjoy this trip - let alone get on that plane - feeling this way? I was terrified. Terrified of getting even worse. Terrified of letting my husband's family see me "this way", and terrified I'd cancel out last minute...letting down my husband, our daughter, and our family and friends abroad.
But somehow, about 2 weeks prior to our trip, I began to come around. My symptoms began to lighten and my mood lifted. I was still scared, but so was my husband. He has a fear of flying and he was NOT looking forward to the 7 hour flight. It had brought on a lot of anxiety for him. I think once he opened up a bit about his struggle with our flight, it took some of the weight off of me. It was "okay" to be scared. he was scared too - only for entirely different reasons...so together we'd be okay.
LONG story short, our trip was amazing. Nothing short of awesome. Yes, the flight was bumpy both ways and included a 7 hour delay coming home. But we had FUN. I laughed a lot, and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know my husband's family. I had met them before, but it was during this recent trip that I feel I really bonded with them. Were there any bumps along the way??? OH YES. Sleep was difficult and I'd lay awake most nights with adrenaline surges and then wake up with nausea. And then...while at an amusement park...it finally hit me...the dreaded panic attack. Why at a kids amusement park of all places??? I felt it the moment we stepped out of the car. I was fine the entire hour drive. But the car stopped, I stepped out, and "wham!"
My stomach felt tight. Painfully tight. I found it hard to breathe. I tried SO hard to fight it. For the first 2-3 hours there, I paced, self-talked, breathed and faked a BIG smile. I did it all to work through the anxiety. But nothing would give me relief. Finally, it hit me hard and there was no more hiding it from everyone.
Now, keep in mind my husband never openly discussed my battle with benzodiazepine withdrawal to his family. Unless they had read my blog, they'd have no clue. So in a matter of 5 minutes, my husband had to tell my 3+ year story to his Mom. And she was great. She said (with her thick and endearing accent), "Sarah...I still love you". She hugged me and told me, "I now take you on a ride with ALL clowns...LOTS of loud music and bright lights". Basically the last thing you want during a panic attack...and yet all I could do was smile. My husband's family and friends really stepped up to the plate that day. They all began to share their own stories with anxiety and it eased me quite a bit. A wife of his friend also confided in us by telling us her story of coming off of anxiety meds many years ago. She had a similar story and knew very well the sheer terror it could bring on. The anxiety finally passed within a 1/2 hour, and I DID make it onto the clown ride.
So back to the 22 month mark, and how I am today? The symptoms that linger the most are: anxiety waves, GI discomfort, muscle and nerve pain. Most of my muscle and nerve pain is located between my pelvis and rib cage. My lower back is also very weak and sore lately. I still have nausea but it continues to lessen. Sleep has returned to normal most nights. I had a "bad night" a week ago which is a rarity nowadays. I think the worst symptom that lingers lately is this inner restlessness. It used to be a very physical feeling where my organs would itch and I'd feel very unsettled in my body. But now it's more of a mental thing. It's very difficult at times - as an example - to visit with friends and just SIT and enjoy. My mind spins and my body will say "move". Most people don't notice it as I can hide it very well, but inside I am screaming at times. I look forward to this feeling going away the most.
Things continue to improve and I continue to have more confidence that I AM going to fully heal from this madness. I'm still amazed by the impact these meds had on my system, but very thankful by the strength this ordeal gave me. I've become a more patient and empathetic person because of it. I feel lighter now. I remember reading about someone's experience of coming off of Benzos. They said that when you begin to feel better, things become more beautiful. A strawberry will taste sweeter, the sun will be brighter, the song of a bird will be prettier than ever...and they were right. I'm not saying I walk around all day like Mary Poppins with blue birds flying around me...but I feel much more positive. When I make a meal for dinner, I REALLY enjoy the flavours - because I can taste again! When I sit outside and watch the day go by, I feel at peace because of nature's beauty. Things really do become more beautiful.