I knew if I stayed in bed that I’d succumb to the depression and hopelessness I felt. But if I stood up, I had to battle lightheadedness, weakness, dizziness, and a racing heart. P.O.T.S.—Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (or something like it), seems to plague more than a few of us in benzo withdrawal. It was a hard choice: feel awful from despair (and the pain, burning, etc.) or feel awful from P.O.T.S. I did my best to live my life, but of course, there were some days when I couldn’t force myself out of bed. The sensations were too overwhelming. There were days that I went without showering, brushing my teeth, or eating because standing up was too debilitating.
I handled the P.O.T.S-like symptoms as I handled most of my symptoms in benzo withdrawal, I accepted it, and I did my best to live my life around it. Both strategies were often challenging. Over time, I became more skilled at acceptance and more skilled at pushing myself out of the door even with an elevated heart rate. I’ll always remember the time I needed to swing a pick ax to break up a patch of clay in my garden. The moment the ax was above my shoulders, my heart exploded into a rhythm that felt incompatible with life. I dropped the ax and stumbled into the house. I crawled into bed, and I lay perfectly still, my poor heart pumping like there was no tomorrow. When it finally calmed down, I went back out to the garden and picked up the ax again. I could only lift it a few inches, but I broke up the clay and planted some spring annuals. I was more than a bit shaky, but I got the job done. Looking back, I suppose that my innate stubbornness was helpful in withdrawal!
On top of the P.O.T.S., I had severe head pressure. It would come on like the surge of rising water; I could feel my body changing, giving way to dizziness that was frightening. The pressure was so bad that I often wondered if I was having a stroke or an aneurysm. I’d have to lie down as I was too weak to stand when it came on. In the beginning, I’d panic with the head pressure. I thought for sure it meant I was “buying the farm.” But as the months went by and I nothing serious happened, I learned to take it in stride. I didn’t like it, but I learned to accept it. One of the things I did was to always “get back on the horse that had thrown me.” If I had a bad experience somewhere and had to go home, I’d make sure the next day (or when I was well enough) to go back and rewalk my steps. Much like going back out into the garden and picking up the pick ax again, I was determined not to create phobias on top of the “normal” ones that withdrawal hands us. (I often returned to the “scene of the crime” after a major panic attack, as well.)
The best way to handle the big scary symptoms are the practice of acceptance and living your life around them as best as you can. Some days you won’t be functional enough to push through the symptoms. That’s okay. You can honor the need to rest, or the need to be away from stimulating circumstances. But on the days you can muster the strength and the courage, it’s good to push yourself even a tiny bit, to do what you need to do. Some days I had to push myself just to walk around the block as I was so debilitated. I was always proud of myself when I could accomplish it. (In the early days of withdrawal I had to use a walker, then I graduated to a cane. Finally, I could walk unassisted, even if I was dizzy as could be!)
I am a big believer in acceptance, patience, and pushing yourself to do a little bit if you can when the alarming symptoms of benzo withdrawal hit. Of course, I am talking about symptoms that are not life-threatening. Ignoring a seizure wouldn’t be a good idea, for example. How are you handling the scary symptoms in benzo withdrawal? Please feel free to share your thoughts with us.