On good days, I was able to walk to the produce market a half a block away. I was so weak and dizzy and wracked with pain that I wasn’t always able to make the journey. But it wasn’t the hazards of walking that were the hardest to cope with. It was the paranoia. I could barely bring myself to choose any of the produce because I was convinced most of it had poison on it. If I cooked it and ate it, I would surely die. The dark green leafy vegetables were the hardest to buy—all of those nooks and crannies where nefarious spores and bacteria could hide!
When I say I was paranoid, I don’t mean I had a bit of a twinge of an ominous thought. I mean I had a complete and utter wave of fear and terror pass through me. It was all I could do to not drop my shopping basket and run home. (Who am I kidding? I could hardly walk, let alone run!) I’d pick out some produce, put it into my basket, sure that I was going to die from eating it. It was a horrible time in my recovery, to say the least.
Many people develop paranoia in benzo withdrawal. It’s exceptionally common. It’s also one of the more challenging symptoms to cope with. The fear and suspicions seem so real! I’ve talked to people from all over the world who have shared with me how paranoia showed up in their withdrawal. Many are convinced people are watching them, judging them, or out to get them. Others are convinced that they will be (like me) poisoned or will catch some strange virus or infection. Some of us will develop some OCD type thoughts and behaviors along with the paranoia. Thankfully, the paranoia and the OCD thoughts/behaviors are temporary. They go away as the brain heals.
We can also develop a paranoia about anything we think might rev up our symptoms. We avoid foods, people, places, things,and actions that we worry may bring on a wave. We are, for the most part, afraid of everything! It’s no wonder! With downregulated GABA receptors, there isn’t anything to inhibit our fear circuitry. Another way our paranoia may present itself is that we see “signs” in common events. We begin to have magical thinking to some degree. I can remember thinking that XZY would happen if the third car that drove by my house were red, for example. Total nonsense! And I knew it was nonsense, but there was little I could do to control it. The best I could do was to neutrally observe it. I had to remind myself, over and over and over again, that my strange fears, phobias, and paranoia were all generated from benzo withdrawal. They were not going to be in my life forever.
Like most benzo withdrawal symptoms. Paranoia is on a spectrum. Some people get hit hard (like me) and some people are only mildly affected, while some never feel it. No matter what the degree of paranoia you have, it will resolve. I now walk happily to the market and pick out produce without any thoughts of doom. My fearful relationship with food (and many other things) doesn’t cross my mind except when I’m sharing my recovery story. You probably won’t be traumatized by the fear and paranoia you feel now, either. The best coping tool is to just observe your paranoia. Don’t judge it. Don’t run from it. Don’t allow your irrational thoughts to have the uppoer hand. I had to push myself to buy food that my benzo brain said was poisoned, but I did it! I didn’t alow the fear to run my life.
I’m aware that sharing our stories of irrational fear, phobias, and paranoia can make us feel vulnerable. People who have not had to heal from the brain damage that benzodiazpines can cause don’t understand. We may be negatively judged. It’s up to you to decide how much you want to share your recovery process with people who don’t understand. But I assure you, that I understand. I lived through benzo withdrawal and I recovered. I know that you will, too! Your paranoia is just a part of the process.