When I sought out a doctor to help me get a grip on my anxiety, I was certain nothing in the world could compare to the fear I felt when I had a panic attack. Well, I was wrong.

Nothing compares to the fear of dying while in the throes of benzo withdrawal. Or at least that’s my truth. My panic attacks were scary, no doubt, but this is a different animal all together.

For me, the hardest challenge in withdrawal are the still, dark hours after midnight. When the rest of the world is tucked into bed, dreaming sweet dreams, I lie wide awake, counting my symptoms instead of sheep. My withdrawal bedtime hovers around 5 AM these days.I can’t complain too much as I sleep for 5 to 7 hours once I drift off.

But getting my eyes to close takes some doing some nights. As my symptoms ramp up, burning skin, formication, head pressure, pounding heart, ringing ears, twitches, feeling of movement, and tummy troubles, my thoughts can wander down a very dark road. I am convinced I am dying. Maybe not right this second, but there is no way on earth I am going to survive withdrawals. When I am thinking of the type of font I want engraved on my tombstone, I know it is time to take a deep breath and have a talk with AMY.

AMY is my pet name for my amygdala, part of the limbic system of the brain. We have a right and a left amygdala and they are responsible for our fear response.

When I am over whelmed with withdrawal symptoms, I do my best to have a rational talk with myself. I tell myself my fear of dying is just my amygdala doing its best to protect me! It reads my symptoms as “dangerous” and it wants me to get help, and quick!

It is not always easy to have a rational talk when I am so stressed with scary emotions. That’s because the logical region of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, goes offline and let’s the limbic system hijack my brain.

If you have intense fears during withdrawals, take a moment to write down these words on a piece of paper or a 3 by 5 card: My limbic system is over active and making me feel there is a threat to my survival. There is no threat. I am safe. Tuck that card or slip of paper in your pocket and keep it with you. Any time you feel frightened, pull it our and remind yourself you are SAFE.

Your brain is in an exaggerated state of hyper-excitement because the GABA receptors have been down regulated. Without the calming response of GABA, your thoughts can run away with you and convince you things are pretty bleak on the survival front.

I now  keep a supply of books about the brain and anxiety near my bed, so when those scary thoughts start-up in the wee hours, I can read and arm myself with as much logic as possible. I keep 3 by 5 cards with all types of reminders to myself close at hand, so when my limbic system hijacks my rational thinking, I can fight back. I am sure my cat wonders what I am doing reading out loud to myself at 3 AM! I don’t mind. I am determined to get through my withdrawal with less suffering and more peace. I am working on getting over my fear of dying. I hope you get over yours as well.


Dr. Jenn