Fatigue Is Normal In Benzo Withdrawal.
Most people suffer from fatigue at some point as they are healing. It can be mild or completely debilitating, and it can come and go throughout the day. I’d feel it seeping into every cell of my body and I’d lie down on my couch, unable to do anything other than give in to it. It was so intense at times, that I felt as if my spirit was leaving my body. I’ve never felt anything like it before (even when I had a serious case of mono when I was 40) and I’ve never felt anything like it since. It came with benzo withdrawal and it left as I healed.
We may think that we are tired from adrenal fatigue in withdrawal, and that may be correct, but there is more to the story. Sure, withdrawal can cause our adrenals to overproduce adrenaline and cortisol, but the stress of withdrawal can also cause our mitochondria in our cells (all 37.2 trillion of them!) to overproduce ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP is the universal immediate source of energy for all living things. When too much is produced, the ATP leaks out of the cell, leaving very little left for the cell to do the work that is needed. (This process eventually leads to inflammation in the body.) That will register as fatigue in the body.
The Warning Bell.
If fatigue is normal in benzo withdrawal, why do I call it the canary in the coal mine? Because as we heal and begin to do more in our daily lives, it can be a warning to slow down. Looking back, I’m struck by how I missed the signal that I was headed for a setback. Every time I crashed and burned, I had experienced the warning bell of fatigue first. But I didn’t listen. I pushed on through, determined to be strong. I so desperately wanted my life back that I thumbed my nose at my body pleading with me to slow down.
At three years off I decided to teach the neuroscience of creativity at Stanford University. I have no idea why I thought I was really up for that amount of stress other than I ached to prove that I was still smart and capable after feeling so cognitively impaired in withdrawal. The course was only a one-day workshop but it took weeks and weeks of researching, writing, and planning. The night before I was up late in the classroom on campus, getting it ready for a creative experience the students would participate in. It was a lot to do for someone with an incredibly fragile nervous system that was still healing.
Time To “Harden.”
After the workshop, I remember I was exhausted. Did I take it easy and relax? No. I was out in my garden the very next day doing heavy manual labor. Plus, I decided that since I was back into normal life, I’d join a gym and hire a personal trainer. I pushed myself. I pushed myself right into a setback. I didn’t give myself time to “harden.” so to speak. That’s a term taken from gardening. After a seed has germinated indoors and has pushed up its tender new shoot, it is placed outside for a little bit. It has to get used to direct sunlight, wind, rain, etc. before it can be taken out of its container and transplanted into the ground. That’s exactly what we need as we poke our heads up into the world. That’s what our nervous system needs—time to “harden,” to get used to normal life again. And it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a gradual process.
As we ease back into normal life, we may be tempted to eat more junk food, drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages. We may expose ourselves to more stress, or too an increase in exercise, heat (hot tubs, saunas, etc.) or too much vibration (long car or plane rides, lawnmowers, etc.). We are so grateful to feel better that we lose sight of the fact that we are still healing. It’s wise to avoid the things that we know can trigger a wave or a setback. My setback at six years off was due to a combination of vibration and stress (a three-day car drive across the USA by myself), over-exertion (a week of intense manual labor) and emotional stress (four deaths in a week).
Before my nervous system completely unraveled back into the benzo withdrawal syndrome, I was tired. Totally wiped out. Did I rest? No, because I didn’t learn from my three-year setback!. I thought I was bullet-proof at six years off. But I was wrong, and I paid the price for ignoring the warning signal of fatigue.
Does Fatigue Mean Symptoms Will Get Worse?
No. Many of us have fatigue as part of the recovery process and it doesn’t mean that symptoms will get worse. Fatigue is just another benzo withdrawal symptom. This post isn’t about “normal” withdrawal fatigue. It’s about the fatigue that happens once we are feeling better, stronger, and we jump back into life. This post is about the fatigue that comes with a too-much-too-soon re-entry into life.
Is it wise to rest whether we feel fatigue as a normal part of withdrawal or as a too-much-too-soon warning? Yes, to both! No matter what drives your fatigue, it is a good idea to honor it and rest. We don’t have to prove that we are “strong” and push through. I remember sitting in the garden as my setback was slowly putting its claws into me, dragging me back down into the snakepit. I was so tired but I wanted to get the landscaping done. I told myself that I wasn’t going to let a little tiredness and aches and pains stop me from what I wanted to do. Maybe, just maybe, had a slowed down and listened to my body, I could have avoided a terrible setback.
There Will Be Time.
I’ve *finally* learned to slow down. I don’t push myself like I used to. I rest more. I take my time more. I don’t stress over getting things done quickly. I give myself more breathing room. I listen to my body now and honor what it needs. I understand that fatigue is the canary in the coal mine, not just for benzo withdrawal, but for all of life. When our bodies are tired they are letting us know we need to rest and we need to do it NOW, not later.
We can help avoid a wave or a setback if we are more attuned to our bodies and we give them what they need. If we listen to what the fatigue is telling us, we can slow down and rest and quite possibly save ourselves from more suffering. I wish I had heeded this advice a few years ago, but, at least I’ve learned it now. I hope that you will take it to heart as you are healing.
There will be time to jump back into life with both feet when your nervous system has completely recovered from the benzo damage. Be patient. Your recovery is just up ahead, waiting for you!
If you have fatigue now…
remember that it is just a normal part of withdrawal. It doesn’t mean that your symptoms will get worse. However, if you have been feeling well and you’ve jumped back into normal life and you are starting to feel fatigued, that’s possible your canary in the coal mine letting you know to SLOW DOWN. Rest. You’ll be glad you did.