Anxiety and panic are hallmarks of benzodiazepine withdrawal.
Even people who were not anxiety prone pre-benzos experience gut-wrenching fear and terror. I dreaded many benzo withdrawal symptoms, however, panic attacks were my biggest fear. I had been given the drug for them. I worried that without medication, they would resurface. Of course, the panic attacks in withdrawal was not an indication that I would be panic-prone forever unmedicated. They were merely benzo withdrawal symptoms, like all of the other crazy things my mind and body experienced.
My panic liked to squeeze my heart into racing away just as I was about to fall asleep.
Have you ever had that happen to you? The sweet relief of sleep is there, waiting to catch you as you gently fall into it, and WHAM! You are startled into a fight/flight reaction. I began to dread sleep.
Then it hit me!
The next time I startled into a falling asleep panic, I fished an almost empty jar of Vicks Vapo Rub out of the nightstand drawer and poked my nose into it. I breathed in the sharp vapors, slowly. My body relaxed. I kept my nose in the jar for a few minutes, focused on controlling my breath rate. The swell of panic faded. I fell asleep clutching the little jar.
It became my comfort at night.
Anytime I got “squirrelly” at night, I reached for the jar of Vicks Vapo Rub and pushed my nose into it! The trick was breathing slowly. The pungent smell helped me stay in the moment. My nighttime panics eventually went away. I haven’t had to reach for the little blue jar in a long time, but it remains in the drawer, just in case. My pre-benzo anxiety did not return. I don’t have random panic attacks anymore. I am so much better than I was pre-benzos!
I’ve always loved the song Summertime And The Living Is Easy.
Ella Fitzgerald sang it best, IMHO. Oh, that throaty, smoky voice! Chills up my spine. I grew up in the deep south, so I can relate to fish jumping and high cotton. When I was a little girl I played hide and seek with my cousins in our cornfields. We ran around in the swelting heat like it was nothing. A quick rest on the front porch swing, a tall glass of sweet tea, and we were back out under the blistering sun, ready for new adventures. The humidity was so high that my hair was damp and wild, stands poking out in every direction. I was just a kid, what did I care? I was having the time of my life!
I didn’t enjoy the summer’s heat and humidity while I was sick in withdrawal.
It drained me. It often revved up my withdrawal symptoms. Fortunately, we don’t have many humid days here in northern California. It’s one of the five Mediterranean climates in the world. I’m lucky in that respect. We don’t get slammed with too many scorching days, either.
The heat and humidity can make us feel worse in withdrawal.
It’s a good idea to take precautions in the summer heat. Wear sunscreen. Wear clothing that allows you easy movements and the ability to sweat. Drink plenty of fluid to replace what you lose through sweating. Make sure your salt intake is enough. Take time out in the shade. Don’t over do it! If you fatigue, rest. Pushing yourself in the heat isn’t a smart idea. If you decide to stay indoors to avoid the heat, make sure you do some exercises. Sitting around isn’t healthy. (Of course, if you are bed or couch-bound, this doesn’t apply to you.)
Every summer I’m able to do more and more.
Every summer since I swallowed my last benzo (June 22, 2011) I feel better and better! The heat bothers me less and less. I see continual improvement. Baylissa, the wonderful woman behind Bloom In Wellness, told me that we continue to heal on a deep level for many years. I look forward to every summer being better, and better! I know that one day, the heat won’t even phase me. I may even go visit our family farm in Georgia and rustle up some of my cousins for a game of hide and seek out in the fields. Could be fun!
Keep healing, everyone.
“What symptoms do I have today?”
My inbox brimmed with congratulations on my son’s wedding. Thank you! Many of you also wanted to know what my benzo withdrawal symptoms (more…)
For those of you jumping into this blog for the first time, I’ve been recounting my recovery timeline. I am now 34 months free and healed of the mental/emotional symptoms, still battling the physical waves.
And the story goes……
I got home from Sierra Tucson thinking that I “should” be healed. I
wanted needed it all to be over. It had been a grueling nightmare of terror, anxiety, pain, emotional and spiritual turmoil. But of course it wasn’t over. In some strange ways, it was just beginning.
The first few months after the cold turkey were indescribably unbearable. BUT, I KNEW it was withdrawal. As frightening as it all was, I kept telling myself, “It’s just withdrawal. It will go away.” But after six months, the weasel voice of worry crept in and whispered,”This is you un-medicated. You’ll live like this the rest of your life.” Not only did I have to battle the symptoms of benzo withdrawal, now I had to battle the hopelessness that settled down around me.
The mornings were by far, the worst time of the day. I’d wake and feel decent for about 30 seconds, then the tingles started. Next someone poured lighter fluid down my spine and tossed a match to it. My teeth hurt. Back of head felt as if it would explode from internal pressure, my bones ached, muscles twitched, pulled, spasmed and burned, bugs crawled under my skin, bees stung me, jaw throbbed, I broke out in blisters, ears rang like screeching tea kettles, my eyes burned and looked like I as a junkie, my hands tingled and had too much energy in them they felt like they would explode, my belly inflated and throbbed, and I was dizzy, weak, woozy, and felt as if I was being pulled down. I had a constant sense of motion. And a few other things…
Hard to wake up day after day to that severe degree of illness. Not knowing when (if ever) it would end. At 6-12 months off I still had panic, the death obsession, strange fears, intense moments of terror that would wash over me, visual disturbances that were very creepy and auditory problems. I did drive on the freeway some, but the DR was scary. It made my depth perception very challenging. My life was very small. I traveled only a few blocks. Most days, walking more than half a block was too difficult. I was too dizzy and had too much head pressure. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to give up. It was like trying to swim through wet cement.
What helped the most was TOTAL acceptance and TOTAL surrender. Those are not actions, they are not something that you DO, they are STATES. They are something that you FEEL. I also gardened. As if my life depended on it. (It did.) By now, if you’ve read a few of my posts, you know that my front yard garden became a haven for the neighborhood. I put out dog biscuits and water for the pooches being walked. I hung a tin framed chalk board and wrote inspirational statements. Soon people from all over were stopping by. I created an amazing, loving community. They all helped me hold on. I love them all so much.
In some ways, the journey of recovery TRULY began in those months. For that was when my withdrawal became REAL. (Trust me, it had been horrific all along, but now, the reality of it hit home.) I could no longer live in the fantasy or denial that I was going to be healed soon, or that I would escape the financial ruin withdrawal can create. I had to let go and let God. I was not in control. Clearly.
6-12 months out was the hardest for me in many ways. The severe cold turkey symptoms were gone, but in their place rushed in the pain, the ongoing head pressure, etc… and it stayed and stayed and stayed. (I woke at 4 a.m. this morning due to head pressure and body pain. It hasn’t left completely.) 6-12 months off was when I knew I had to put on my big girl panties and face life on life’s terms. There was no cocktail, no pill, no man, no money, no nothing, that was going to save me. There was just me and God, and ME was pretty fucked up, so basically, there was God. But being in withdrawal, God was a scary notion to me. So I FELT alone, even though I WAS NOT alone. I didn’t get over my fear of God and eternity until around 18+ months off.
By the 6-12 month mark, my family and friends were burnt out. Everyone was tired of benzo withdrawal. I needed a lot of support still, but people were too worn out to give me what I needed. It made the months very dark indeed. But I got up every day and faced whatever I had to face. I felt whatever scary thing I had to feel. I pushed myself out the door and into life. I retreated to my couch or bed when it got unbearable. I cried. I cursed. I laughed. I screamed. I kicked. I danced. I prayed. …. I just held on. Day after day after day after day after day.
That’s how you do it. That’s how you get to the other side and recover. You hold on. You don’t kill yourself. You don’t reinstate or add other meds (or booze) that hit GABA receptors. You swim through the cement as best as you can.
This is my 5th Mothers Day in recovery from benzo withdrawal. I am hopeful that next Mother’s Day I wont have even ONE symptom left. I guess I’ll find out next year.
Enjoy this beautiful day.
I know better. I KNOW BETTER!
A few days ago I went to the Dollar Tree and bought Easter candy to fill plastic eggs. My four kids still love Easter egg hunts, even in their twenties. (I LOVE that about them!) My oldest son has 1/3 of an acre, perfect for hiding eggs. We are planning an Easter feast and dammit, I don’t want to be sidelined. Not like the last four holidays, anyway.
So you would think I would do ANYTHING to avoid a wave. (You already know what’s coming.) Yup. I ate Easter candy as I filled the eggs. At first it was just a few handfuls of Good N Plenty’s. But my sugar craving kicked into high gear. I fondled the bag of spice drops lovingly. Just one or two wouldn’t hurt, right? The jelly beans looked kinda sassy and scrumptous too. Yum. Yum. The only thing I didn’t eat was the chocolate. (Deathly allergic to it, of all things.)
Right about a few hours after my sugar binge, the tingles started. The tooth/jaw pain kicked in. Muscles began twitching. Electric zaps. Back of head pressure. Eye pain. Burning, burning, burning like a witch in Salem. Dizzy. Weak.
SIGH. I KNOW BETTER THAN TO EAT CRAP!
I am tugging on my wetsuit as I write these words, ready to ride this wave till it peters out. Crossing my fingers I haven’t set myself back too much, and that Sunday I can enjoy my children and their significant others and Sadie the lab puppy.
If anyone had tried to convince me, before withdrawal, that sugar (and food dyes) could do this to a body, I’d have laughed out loud in their face. It sounds so unbelievable. But what about withdrawal is believable? I’m a very imaginative person, (teaching a creativity class at Stanford next month!) and there is no way I could have ever dreamed this shit up about withdrawal.
Gotta scoot. Wetsuit on. Riding this wave like I own it till it decides to play itself out.
Making a note to self…no more sugar binges. EVER.
I had a very traumatic taper and then a cold turkey. It is still hard to write about it, as I don’t have a great deal of distance yet from it and I am still sick but recovering slowly but surely.
When the black depression, anxiety and overwhelming emotions, and intrusive thoughts, etc, lightened, I got a sense of my old self. The first time it happened was September 8, 2012. I remember I told my buddy Don, another benzo survivor, that I felt good. I remember I cried tears of joy that the darkness had lifted. But of course, it hadn’t really. Looking back on that day I was still terribly impaired. But, the feel good emotions of the day were great and an enormous welcomed relief from the incessant day in and day out horror I had lived before.
I would have times when I was very excited about being engaged in life, and the excitement always turned into something nasty. It would make me anxious in my body, or rev up other symptoms. It was as if I had very little in the way of any “braking” mechanism. Everything over stimulated my poor central nervous system.
I also had the sensation of time going very, very, very fast, almost like a whirring inside, whenever I got happy and had focused energy on a task at hand. It was not a welcomed sensation, and in fact was very uncomfortable. The first few months my old creative self started peeking her head up above the relentless symptoms, it was a challenge. I still had some lingering self-hate types of thoughts that withdrawal brings, and I felt raw and exposed, a naked self suddenly in the world. That may not make sense, but how does one communicate the sensations and emotions of benzo withdrawal?
To date, I am much better and I can even work with clients in a therapeutic garden. But I know, deep down, that even today’s version of “Me” is still not truly the Me I will be once all of my receptors have healed.
If you are in the phase of healing where you feel yourself coming back “online,” and it is unsettling, don’t worry. It seems to be a common phenomenon. You may not experience it this way, but if you do, please rest assured that in time, it smooths out, just like everything else in withdrawal.
I had a few business meetings where I was so elated over some brainstorms that my mind felt like it was in a hamster wheel, turning and turning, faster and faster. It was not pleasant. I knew this was not who I was. Or was going to remain. So I accepted it and allowed it to just “be.”
Now, the anxiety that develops when I am happy, is more manageable. It still can produce too much energy for my CNS, but it’s not as bad as is used to be.
As you come back to your old self, (actually, you wont be who you used to be, you are going to be one kick ass, warrior, fearless version of your old self, trust me) don’t stress about how it feels. Allow things to take their natural course and know that in time, you are going to wake up and just “BE.” No more thinking about withdrawal. No more weirdness, pain, burning, tingling… whatever. You are just going to go about your business. I can see that happening more and more in my own life.
Also, I don’t sweat the waves tooooo much. (Ok. I DO text my benzo buddy Mary or Linda and whine sometimes….) as I know they will pass. I took a nap today from 3 to 4 pm. (YES! A NAP!! I can do that now!!) because my fatigue was crushing. Instead of worrying about when it will go away, I just took care of it by resting.
Do your very best to accept. Wherever you are on your journey. Whatever the symptoms. As long as they are not life threatening, accept as best as you can. Bliss told me this and it is truly the best advice. When I try to run, or yearn for something other than what my life is at the present, the emotional pain increases.
Turn to that which scares you. Face it.
In 12 step programs we talk about fear this way: It used to be that we said, Fuck Everything And Ran….. now… its Face Everything And Recover.
Thank you to all who have donated to keep this blog going. I hope it continues to help others to hold on and walk through the valley of the shadow of death… benzo withdrawal… and keep going till they are on the other side.