After I got home from the hospital, I was in bad shape. I had been cold turkeyed off of the benzodiazepine I had taken as prescribed. My vital signs were stable so I wasn’t in any physical danger, but the severe withdrawal symptoms were debilitating. Hallucinations, weakness, nerve, muscle and joint pain were my constant companion, as were intrusive thoughts, blurred vision, head pressure, head-to-toe tingling, insomnia, formication and burning skin, just to name a few. I spent most of my time either in bed (or on my couch when I could limp down the hallway) resting. I was in no shape to do anything other than just hold on and get through the days.
After three months, some of the symptoms eased up a bit. At four months off I rented an office, ready to return to my career of coaching. I was far from well, but I managed to buy furniture and decorate the office. I even gave a free talk in order to let the community know I was back in business. A few weeks into my attempt to return to work I woke up to a new symptoms. I had hit the “six-month wave.”
It’s called the six-month wave, however, it can occur between three to six months, or thereabout. Not everyone experiences the wave, but for those who do, it can be unsettling. Just as we are getting used to our symptoms and some of the acute ones are fading, we get hit with new ones, or an increase in intensity, or both. We are terrified that the six-month wave means that we are getting worse, we will never recover, or that our pre-existing issue has been resurrected. If we don’t know about the six-month wave, we don’t realize that it is simply part of recovery. It doesn’t mean anything other than this is benzo withdrawal.
If we can keep our wits about us if we get hit with the six-month wave, we won’t suffer as much. We’ll be able to ride the wave to shore without letting it capsize our belief in our ultimate healing. We’ll find ways to cope with our new symptoms, and we’ll role up our sleeves and practice acceptance, distraction, and patience with every ounce of our being. I turned to gardening to cope with my benzo withdrawal symptoms. I distracted myself as best as I could from the relentlless chemical anxiety that coursed through my veins as well as my other debilitating symptoms. I did my best to accept my lot in life, however true acceptance wouldn’t settle into my heart for a few years. It took me a long time to learn how to let go and let life unfold on its own terms. But every day, I practiced and did my best to learn.
If you are newly off your benzo, please don’t worry about getting hit with the six-month wave. You may experience it, or you may not. Do your best to live in the present moment. Don’t future trip! I share the information about the six-month wave not to worry anyone, but rather to normalize it so that anyone who experiences it doesn’t feel that it indicates something dreadful. It doesn’t. It is just part and parcel of benzo withdrawal. Is there anything we can do to prevent the wave from happening? My hunch is probably not, although it is always a good idea to avoid stress, eat healthy, and practice extreme self-care. Looking back, I wasn’t in any shape to try to start back to work, although I don’t think my attempt was what caused my six-month wave to occur.
If you’ve been hit by the six-month wave, know that it eventually fades away. If you are struggling and you’d like to talk about ways to cope, please feel free to sign up for a coaching session. I’d be honored to listen and to help you find ways to best navigate your way safely through benzo withdrawal.