Hills and Valleys

Photo by Kristin Kokkersvold via Flicker Creative Commons

Photo by Kristin Kokkersvold via Flicker Creative Commons

The rollercoaster ride that is my life just got a lot wilder. A week and a half ago I took the plunge. I finally stopped taking Temazepam, which I had tapered very slowly over the course of 2 years.  The dose of medication I was taking when I quit was miniscule: 1/4 of a milligram.  Some nights I’m sure that even though I dutifully took my dose, the drop of water I consumed actually contained no medication.  It was time to quit this nonsense.  You would think that after a two-year turtle-taper down to a tiny pinch of powder, finally coming off would be anticlimactic. That’s what I thought.  Apparently I was wrong.

My body knows something is missing.  My muscles tighten around my head and neck like they are trying to perform a facelift without surgery.  Sometimes I feel like my head is full of helium, that it’s about to launch itself into the stratosphere.  And with the helium-head comes a feeling of altered perception you would have to experience to understand.  Some people say it’s like a bad acid trip.  I wouldn’t know, as I’ve never taken acid.  It really bothers me, though, that I know how that feels.

And the pain!  In an earlier post I wrote that I felt that I had been abused and beaten in my benzo prison.  The pain is why.  Searing nerve pain that darts across my chest and makes me afraid to breath.  A tight ache in my jaw that never goes away.  And hatchet-head.  That’s my nickname for the migraines.

I don’t like revisiting these symptoms.  It scares me.

So, I cope with techniques that I learned long ago when I suffered much more than I do now.  I use the good old affirmations, the same ones that pulled me out of my darkness back then.  I stretch and walk and meditate.  I breath.  I stop the mosquito-like negative thoughts that threaten to pull me into a pit of mental suffering.  I love on my kids, my sweet pup, and my husband.  I write and write, sometimes fast and furious, sometimes slowly and thoughtfully.  I take deep gulps of lilac scented spring air.  Yes, I will be fine.

And sometimes I really am fine.  Sometimes I’m on the crest of a hill instead of in a dark valley.  Sometimes I can’t help but grin, tears of joy making tracks down my cheeks.  I’m free!  It’s Spring and I have my whole drug-free life ahead of me.  It will be a good one, I know.

My Story

How I Slew the Benzo Beast and What I Learned in the Process

Metamorphosis

 

 

 

Advertisements

Metamorphosis

Free to Fly by Sid Mosdell via Flickr Creative Commons

Free to Fly by Sid Mosdell via Flickr Creative Commons

So much of my identity used to hang on the fact that I did everything gently, naturally.  I prevented health problems, I did not medicate them.

It was quite a slap in the face, then, to find myself on addictive medications – twice.  The first time they were prescribed, I was desperate and ignorant.  The last time I was desperate, but not ignorant.  I nevertheless did not want to take those pills; I was forced.  I feel violated.  I can never be the same person I was before the benzos.  They took things from me – my innocence, my reputation, relationships and my health.

I am so happy to finally be free.  But I feel like I was just let out of prison where I was raped and beaten.  Where they played games with my mind to drive me crazy.  Where they tortured me with sleep deprivation and isolation.  But because it was an invisible prison, nobody understands that that is why I’ve changed.  That is what caused the crying and the rages, the outrageous fears and the crushing exhaustion.  That was why.

I will never be the same person again.  But I can’t say that I want to be.  I’ve grown.  I’ve learned things that I might not have been able to learn any other way.  This is what suffering has taught me:

*God really does love me.

*There are some things worse than death.

*Quick relief comes with a hefty price tag.

*My mind is incredibly powerful, and I am stronger than I thought.

*Be grateful for all my blessings, both small and great.

*Being right and being understood is not as important as being a friend.

*As long as I concern myself first with what God thinks, it does not matter what people think.

*Never be afraid to share my gifts.  Maybe God gave them to me for a reason.

 

If I can remember those lessons, I believe there are amazing things ahead.  I’m a butterfly just emerged from its chrysalis, wings still shriveled and wet.  Soon, I will fly.

 

My Story

How I Slew the Benzo Beast and What I Learned in the Process

Gratitude Heals

Self Betrayal

 

How I Slew the Benzo Beast and What I Learned in the Process

Freedom by Matheus Lotero

Freedom by Matheus Lotero

The nightmare is over.  I have won my battle with the beast.  I took my last dose of Temazepam, a benzodiazepine sleeping medication, on Sunday, April 13th, 2014.  I will not be going back.

In case you are one of the many people who don’t know what benzodiazepines are, I need only say two words: Valium and Xanax.  Most people know what those are.  Some are even aware of the fact that they are both notoriously addictive and incredibly difficult to come off of.  All benzodiazepines work in generally the same way, and all are highly addictive including my beast, Temazepam.  (Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms)

I spoke a little of my struggle with Temazepam in my story.  I want to share some of my journal entries from the past two years to show you where I’ve been and how much has changed since I first began to taper from my medication.

The Early Days

I started writing in my journal while in the hospital for depression.  I spent a couple of weeks recovering from the hospital stay and allowing myself to sleep on the full dose of medication.  I soon realized, however, that the medication was making me very ill.  I would wake up in the mornings and feel like I had the flu.  By the afternoon I was a bundle of nerves, although so tired I could barely get out of bed.  I knew I had to taper, and I wanted off as quickly as possible.  So I made a few mistakes in the beginning.  Please forgive the incoherence of some of these entries.  I was in deep misery and did not have all my faculties.

March 17, 2012

Tomorrow I get out of the hospital.  I am absolutely grief-stricken that I was not helped here.  I’m now on a benzo again and terribly frightened.  This is what it took to convince them that drugs don’t work for me. A miserable week getting sick on drug after drug.  My hell has only just begun.

March 26, 2012, 30 mgs

I’m so sad for what my family has lost, what more they will lose when I get off this drug.  Tonight I start my taper.  I have no idea what to expect.  I’m trying to stay positive, but I’m starting to realize it might take much longer than I thought if I don’t want to be horrendously ill.  Patience will be vital, even lifesaving in this case.

 March 30, 2012, 28 mgs

Doc wants me to rapid taper which would basically feel like cold turkey…Today was very bad.  I’m frightened.  Withdrawal hasn’t let up much and it’s already near bedtime.  I should not have made that last cut.  It was much too fast a taper plan.

April 1, 2012, 28 mgs

Extreme suffering today despite holding my dose.  2 hours sleep last night.  Severe depression/anxiety, burning muscles, nausea, sore, swollen mouth and tongue.  Pain and enervation everywhere.

April 4, 2012, 28 mgs

Not more than 2 hours sleep last night…Been a horrid day.  Tapering too fast was a huge mistake.  I keep going back and forth between severe anxiety and crushingly painful depression.  Jenny came today at just the right time.  Jehovah always knows when we’ve had enough.

April 14, 2012, 28 mgs

MISERY!  Throat is gagging, body burning.  Only 4 hours sleep.  Kids coming soon and I won’t be able to love on them…I’m in so much misery.  Throat and stomach feel sandpapered.  Chest is so tight.  Coughing and gagging.  Head pain was outrageous last night.  So screwed…Burning all over body.  Head pressure, blurry vision.  Feels like I drank acid.  Can’t stop twitching even though I’m dang tired.

 

That was the result of trying to come off my medication too quickly.  2 mgs in 2 days.  That would have had me off within two months, and probably right back in the hospital. Although I understood that tapering was the reason for my misery, I still wanted off.  I didn’t even consider staying on the medication.  I slowed my taper rate way down to a doable 10% of my current dose per month.  I had also heard that spreading out my dose throughout the day would help me to taper with less suffering.  It took me a while to muster the courage to do it, as I was fearful that taking any from my night-time dose would cause even more sleep problems.  As it turned out, just the opposite was the case.  Spreading my dose out was one of the best things I did during the whole taper.

 April 26, 2012, 27.5 mgs

I started taking med during the morning yesterday.  I did it again today and will take another 2 mgs this afternoon.  I don’t like the feeling, but it’s better than intense withdrawal.  I slept okay last night despite being short 2 1/2 mgs of med.  I’m doing okay this morning.  Just slight nausea and wooziness.  I hope this helps me come down at a more reasonable rate…Some numbness and anxiety creeping.  Ear pain, some jaw pain.  Not too bad.  Getting some laundry done and did some dishes.  Cooking lunch now.

May 15, 2012, 25.5 mgs

Woke up feeling really good today…It’s been a relatively great day.  I got a lot of laundry and housework done, spent some time in the sun, never felt any anxiety or depression and physical symptoms are somewhat milder.

May 17, 2012

Just kept falling asleep in the morning.  I felt pretty good today.  I have some energy, no depression.  Tiny bit of anxiety, but I try not to think too much.

 

My menstrual cycle seemed to make things much worse.  I usually had a few good days during the month like the ones above.  But I usually took a dive right before my period.  I notice now that I did a lot of pep talking when I felt that bad.  I think it really helped me to heal.

May 19, 2012, 25 mgs

The cottonwoods are blooming and I’m crying remembering the day last year when James and I drove out to Granger to the dinosaur park and to show him my mail route.  The cottonwoods were shedding so much it seemed like it was snowing.  It was beautiful and I was so strong and vibrant.  I will be that me again.

June 16, 2012, 22 mgs

I was up at 4:00, too hungry to go back to sleep so I had to get up and eat.  I finally got maybe another hour of sleep after that.  I had to say my affirmations for a long time before I could get out of bed.  So many scary intrusive thoughts.  I will have to work hard at staying in the moment today.

The pain in my ear, neck and throat is bad tonight.  It’s so tense.  It’s been a challenge to keep from worrying.  It’s all just a sign my brain is trying to readjust and heal.  I will heal.  I am getting better.  Remember the woman who detoxed from her medication and was seizing and had every other conceivable symptom.  She was reinstated and slow tapered.  She only had mild symptoms the whole taper and remained relatively well after.  She felt completely healed within one year of her last dose.  That will be me.  And even if not, I accept all that my body must do to heal itself.  I will help it as far as I can and I will not fear.   There is nothing to fear with Jehovah on my side.

 

The Long Hard Slog

By August, I was feeling much better, although I was still experiencing steep hills and valleys in my level of suffering.  I had continuously used positive thinking, journaling, affirmations, and certain relaxation techniques to help me through the withdrawals, and those things really began to make a difference.

August 1, 2012, 20 mgs

“God gave us, not a spirit of cowardice, but that of power and of love, and of soundness of mind.” – 2 Timothy 1:7

I’ve been feeling sort of invincible lately, like I can handle anything.  Maybe if I’m super careful and slow with my taper my suffering will remain minimal.  Today was very good.  I took a long walk this morning on the canal road.  There were some ripe blackberries and the wind was nice and cool.  I didn’t even feel overly tired after, and it was a long walk.

You can heal from any kind of mental illness.  I will not go crazy.  I will keep getting better and better.

I had to continually adjust my taper rate.  If I started to get into a continual pattern of crashing and then having to hold the taper, I knew it was time to slow it down.  It was not hard to do, as I was diluting my medication in carefully measured water and making tiny daily cuts.  All I needed to do in order to slow my rate was to make smaller cuts or increase the intervals between cuts.

September 20, 2012, 17.50 mgs

I’ve officially decided to cut my taper rate in half.  So now instead of crashing and holding all the time, I’ll just steadily take 1/2 ml every other day instead of every day.

I’m functional enough now to get meals, keep the house reasonably clean, pick up the boys after school and see to their homework.  I still get frightened and depressed.  And I’m tired to death of this never-ending taper, but I feel fortunate to be sleeping every night and be mentally and emotionally present for the boys.

Keeping my mind on positive things has been absolutely essential.  My emotions have been so fragile throughout this taper that even the slightest bit of negativity or scary news would send my into a tailspin.

November 15, 2012, 14.75 mgs

I felt really stable today – emotionally anyway.  Until I read a disturbing article about Candida.  I hate that word so much – the other C word.  I need to stay away from information about infections and disorders, it does me no good.  Positivity is life.

November 19, 2012

I just destroyed my mood by tormenting myself with tragic You Tube videos.  I don’t know what possessed me.  Then, right in the midst of that, my son handed me a letter from school about a boy from his class who has cancer.  Good way to destroy an evening.  They are not us.  We are fine.  We have nothing to fear because not even death can defeat us if we remain faithful.  I am so terribly raw right now.

 

I believe it was because of my extreme sensitivity that I continually came to understand important things about life during the past two years.  I also became very angry about certain things.   One day, I went looking for a place to walk by the river, which turned out to be very difficult.  I finally did find a place, although I found out later that I had been trespassing.  I had a wonderful walk, but it also made me think about the things that make me angry about how the earth is being ruined.

December 6, 2012

I hate what this world has become.  How despicable that the very thing that Jehovah carefully designed as our perfect home of delight and beauty has been made into a toxic wasteland.  This valley should be teeming with birds and coyotes, elk and cougars, beaver and porcupine.  It should be covered in sage and bunchgrass with desert lupine, sunflowers, phlox, desert parsley, and astragalus.  the river should run free and clear and be full of trout and bass that wouldn’t make you sick to eat it.

I feel like the whole world is a minefield of dangerous chemicals from which there is no escape.  I feel as helpless as an Oklahoma farm wife watching with dread as another black dust storm rolls across the prairie, slamming into the house and filthing everything in its path including the small and vulnerable lungs of her children.  There is no shutting it out.  Life must go on even if pneumonia is the result.

The extreme greed and utter disregard for other humans displayed by the mega-corporations that are responsible for destroying so much of the earth, including our valley, is stupefying.  It makes me sick that human beings are capable of it.

 

At one point in my taper, I took a huge nosedive.  I still am not sure why it happened.  I guess maybe I tapered too quickly.  But I was frightened.  I thought I would never be able to get completely off the pills.

June 3, 2013, 6.75 mgs

I discovered on Saturday night that I really haven’t tapered anything at all since 7.5 mgs.  I hadn’t accounted for evaporation.  I’m so sick.  Saturday and Sunday I  started using a covered jar and dividing up my dose ahead of time, which effectively caused me to drop from 7.5 to 6.75 mgs in one night.  I don’t know what I thought was going to happen – that my body would just forgive me and behave accordingly?  Did I think I could ignore the evaporation thing and maybe it would be okay?  Well it’s not.

June 5, 2013 6.75 mgs

This too shall pass!  I will follow the program (The Effortless Sleep Method) and hold until I’m stable again.  I sleep so well, there is no reason to fear.  I’ve done amazingly well throughout this entire taper.  If I can overcome what I’ve already been through, I think I can weather a difficult week like this…

I need to make allowances for the possibility of feeling bad.  I’ve been holding myself to a very high standard: total functionality.  And I’ve mostly achieved it.  But I’m feeling extreme fear right now about letting my family down again – extreme.  The fear would go if I could just let go of the absolute need to feel stable at all times.  ACCEPTANCE is the key to the least amount of suffering.  My boys are not babies anymore, they can do things for themselves. It’s good for them to feel the need to care for themselves and others.

I simply tapered a little too quickly and now my system is very hypersensitive.  It will pass if I hold and accept whatever symptoms come to me.

I’m going back to 7 mgs…

I struggled along like that for another week and a half before I got brave a tried a homeopathic remedy for the insomnia.  I had stopped taking all supplements because of my hypersensitivity, and I was afraid to try anything.  But I did it, and that’s what saved the taper, I believe.

June 16, 2013

I’m so depressed I don’t even know what to write.  I feel like it’s the end of life as I knew it, bad as it was.  It was at least tolerable.  And most importantly, I was able to be a halfway decent mom.  Poor **** keeps begging me to go camping as if nothing could ever be fun without me.  It’s breaking my heart.

I’m almost always nauseated and everything I eat goes right through me.  I can’t seem to tolerate food in any form.

I’m pretty sure I will be taking a dose of Phosphorous tomorrow morning.

June 17, 2013

I feel like my adrenals and stomach are blasted all to #$%^&.  I can’t seem to eat any meat without reacting.  It’s Monday morning and I have to get brave and take my remedy or I might never get off the poison.  (took Phosphorous 30c)

2:30

The brain fog isn’t so bad anymore and I don’t feel like dying, that’s certainly progress.  I’ve been able to take an interest in things.  I’m very weak and heavy and get head rushes when I get up, but if the mental symptoms improve, I’m happy.

June 18, 2013

Nausea: gone

Diarrhea: much improved

Mood: volatile, but much improved

Energy: better, but on the edge of exhaustion

A few days later I had to take another dose at a much higher potency, and it helped immensely.  I have since relied on Phosphorous to help me through the rest of my taper, and I believe I owe much of my stability to it.

I was not the only one who had a bad couple of years.  I lost 4 friends and two Grandmothers in death.  Most of them to cancer.  I usually call cancer the “C word” because I’ve always had such a terrible fear of it.  Well, I had to face that fear.  I had to look it right in the face and stare it down.  I had to love my Grandma, who had lung cancer, right up until that terrible beast took her life.  And I did it.  I think I loved her well.  I hope she felt that I did.

August 24, 2013, 6 mgs

Grandma died last night.

August 25, 2013

I was very, very tired and depressed this morning.  Suppressed grief.  I’m frightened at the intensity of it.  I was afraid to acknowledge it.  It made me sick.  I read an article about grief and how trying to appear strong is not healthy.  A woman who was a doctor commented that she would let herself cry at the very beginning, but after that she would push it all down in an attempt to remain strong for others.  It made her sick.  So I deliberately took my Grandma’s picture and forced myself to look at it and remember.  And sure enough, the torrent of violent emotions surfaced and nearly overwhelmed me.  But once I recovered I did feel better.  It is a relief, but it is also extremely exhausting.

This is what I wrote for my Grandma in the days following her death:   Pioneer Shoes

Two months later my other Grandma, who had been suffering from the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, and who I had been very close to all my life, died quite suddenly from pneumonia.  I don’t have what I wrote during the week that I stayed with my mother after it happened.  This is what I wrote after I came home:

October 20, 2013, 4 mgs

“Our problems are no match for Jehovah.  Our extremities are his opportunities.” – Member of Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Gilead Graduation

This has been one of the worst and best weeks of my life.  Worst because Grandma died and I miss her terribly, and because my mother is devastated.  Best because Jehovah gave me the strength of Samson so I would be able to do the seemingly impossible.  I stayed with mom all week and took care of her in spite of my own illness and sleep deprivation, endured large amounts of chemicals because of our numerous visitors and other reasons, and actually made it through all of Grandma’s memorial and reception dinner without leaving once…and I made it.  I’m okay.  Just understandably exhausted and very sad.

October 21, 2013 4 mgs

I don’t have any Grandmas.  Not even one…I’m so terribly tired.  I’m getting by on pure holy spirit I think.

And as if all that were not enough, five days later my dog died.

October 25, 2013 4 mgs

Elsie got hit and died today.  If I wasn’t living this I would never believe the amount of heartache and drama that have been my life for the past two years.  It’s actually surreal.  I have so much to cry about that half the time I don’t know which thing I’m grieving, or if it’s all of it.  It’s been feeling like something has been pressing on my chest and my insides are raw.  And sometimes I’m completely numb and in dumb despair.  Sometimes I even forget and start to enjoy myself, but then another storm hits.  Nothing helps. Nothing chases away the dull, heavy ache.  Oh Jehovah God help me!

The Home Stretch

I started writing on this blog, Sound as a Crystal, in November 2013, the month after my Grandma died.  It has helped me heal in so many ways.  During the past six months, I have experienced more healing than I had in all the year and a half before it.  I don’t know how much of that has to do with the self expression and how much has to do with the fact that I’ve been taking less and less medication, but I’m happy.

Sometime in early November I started to practice oil pulling.  I had already been using my remedy, Phosphorous, on a regular basis.  I had also been using bentonite clay packs to relieve some of my inflammation.  These practices seemed to have a very beneficial effect.

November 11, 2013, 3.5 mgs

I feel good.  It’s a little window.  I didn’t expect ever to feel good while detoxing, but behold!  It does work.  I am making some progress.  I continue to OP (oil pull) every day as well as use clay poultices.  This morning I took an Epsom salt bath.  I expected to crash from that at some point, but I did not.

In spite of all the good things I was doing for myself, I continued to struggle with negative thinking at times.  I had and still have terrible chemical sensitivities which prevented me from doing many things.  No parties.  No malls.  Even driving has been a challenge.  All this caused a lot of social tension.  (Read more:  Behind the Mask)

December 12, 2013, 2.75 mgs

I’m so terribly self-conscious now, and am suffering from such low self-esteem that I just have to chalk it up to benzos.  It’s so extreme.  It’s not me.  I know one of the symptoms listed for benzo withdrawal is low self-esteem.  I just don’t remember feeling this way at any time before I took any pills.  I think the heightened sensitivity unmasks fears and vulnerabilities that we usually keep well-guarded.  And the more this happens the lower goes my sense of self-worth because looking at myself through someone else’s eyes I see a neurotic.  I hate that word – neurotic.  It’s a dismissive and derogatory word.  Saying “she’s just neurotic” pretty much devalues anything she might have to say.  Aldous Huxley felt that neuroticism is a normal, healthy reaction to a world gone mad.  Maybe I agree, but I still hate the word.

This Spring has been wonderful.  I started taking daily walks again, which has strengthened me.  Many of my most troubling symptoms have fallen away. And now I am off my medication.  The thing I have strived after for two long years is accomplished.  I am now free to heal without the medication continually pushing back against my efforts.  My most recent effort to heal involves the use of the Gupta Program, which is designed to help those with CFS, Fibromyalgia, and MCS to heal.  It seems to be helping me already, as the next journal entry will illustrate:

April 14, 2014, .25 mgs

Yesterday was amazing.  I went to my parents anniversary party.  Once people started arriving I started to get really nervous and shaky.  But I took my niece for a walk by the lake for a while and when we got back, I was fine.  I was fine for the rest of the evening – no shakes or headache.  It was amazing!  It was surreal!  I got to really enjoy myself in a big group of friends.

I was teary and so very thankful yesterday.  I could hardly believe I had made it.

April 15, 2014

I’m officially medication free as of last night.  I’ve waited two long, terrible years for this.  I can finally move forward and heal more quickly and completely – no poison mucking me up.

So, if you’ve bravely slogged your way to the end of this, congratulations.  And if you are in a situation similar to the one I have been in, take courage.  We do heal.  The body and brain are amazingly resilient.  But we have to pay attention when it speaks.  We have to help it along a little.  Thoughts matter.  They matter so much.  Love God.  Love yourself.  Love everyone.  Be good to the earth and it’s creatures.  You will heal too.

Simplicity of Wellness

 

Photo under Creative Commons 2.0 license

 

 

I’m in the Fog

Photo by Armando Sotoca

Photo by Armando Sotoca

I’ve struggled all week with an absolute inability to write.  Well, not exactly absolute.  I can always journal.  But for every blog post I’ve written that was well received, I feel a need to up the ante and write something better.  I’ve reached critical mass now and seem to have overloaded my brain circuits, which is not hard to do given the fact that I’m still recovering from benzodiazepine addiction and chemical sensitivity.  So I figured, why not write about it?

I know some of my readers know just what I’m talking about.  So many illnesses result in this terrible, foggy feeling in the head.  This inability to grasp simple things or to express any complex thought our emotion in words.  This lack of inspiration.

It’s a tragic symptom.  What is more terrible than to lose the ability to think clearly?  What makes us us?  Is it not, in part, our thoughts and how we express them?

I used to be smart.  My thoughts were crystal clear and seemed lightning fast.  Now I feel that my mind plods along like an aging donkey.   It’s terribly ironic that I would have begun publishing my writing to a blog just at the time in my life when my mental faculties are at their weakest.  It’s the syndrome that’s eating at my brain that made me want to do it.  It gave me a terrible need to express myself, to find others like me.  I just wish that both the impulse to tell my story and the ability to think clearly enough to do it had coincided.

I know that sometime in the near future, I will get my brain back and this blog will bloom.  But until then, forgive my occasional lapses into profound states of mental stasis.

 

Photo Under Creative Commons License

Self Betrayal

There is something for which I need to publicly apologize to myself.  There was a time when I was so ill because of chemical sensitivities that I could not sleep.  Lots of people can keep going physically on very little sleep.  Where we suffer the most, however, is mood.  I lost so much sleep that I fell into a brutal depressive state.  I knew what was wrong with me.  I just needed to sleep.  And my body needed a break from toxic chemicals.  Many of my family and friends, however, were convinced that I had gone off the deep end and was in serious need of psychiatric help.  To their credit, it’s hard to blame them.  They just wanted my suffering to end.

Eventually, because I was so miserable and felt so much pressure, I caved in and began to concede that, yes, I was merely a severely depressed hypochondriac who needed meds right away.  I said it even though I didn’t believe it.  I said it because I was in desperate need of love and support, and it seemed that the only way I was going to get that was if I denied what I knew deep inside.  I betrayed myself to the point of admitting myself into the hospital for depression although my intuition was telling me that it was the worst possible place for me.

My intuition had been correct.  The hospital experience was nightmarish to the extreme.  On the night when I first tried Risperdal, an antipsychotic, I had a dream.  I saw a capsule being pulled apart and granules from inside the capsule spilling down in a shower as a voice spoke the words “this is not a way to live, this is a way to die.”  My mind was desperately trying to communicate with me, and it was too late for me to pay heed to it.  I was incarcerated in a place where pills are the only way out.

The day after I had the dream, I had a very dangerous reaction to the Effexor with which my doctor was experimenting.  I began to feel extremely light-headed and sick.  I assumed my blood sugar was off, so the nurse tested it and it was perfectly normal.  She then tested my resting heart-rate.  It was a whopping 160 beats per minute.  Shortly after that, I scared my fellow patients with a strange episode which I never reported to the doctor.  It felt like a seizure.  Obviously, taking any more Effexor was out of the question.

I had two doctors and at least one counselor confirm what my intuition had told me from the beginning: I should never have gone to the hospital.  It was not a place for me.  Medication simply does not help me, it only hurts.  I had never really been a danger to myself.  I just needed to sleep.

So, to myself I say this: I am so very sorry!  Next time I will try to listen.

The rest of the story:

Chemical Madness

Aldous Huxley on Mental Illness

The real hopeless victims of mental illness are to be found among those who appear to be most normal. Many of them are normal because they are so well adjusted to our mode of existence, because their human voice has been silenced so early in their lives, that they do not even struggle or suffer or develop symptoms as the neurotic does. They are normal not in what may be called the absolute sense of the word; they are normal only in relation to a profoundly abnormal society. Their perfect adjustment to that abnormal society is a measure of their mental sickness. These millions of abnormally normal people, living without fuss in a society to which, if they were fully human beings, they ought not to be adjusted. ~ Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Chemical Madness

My life has been considerably damaged by some really bad decisions.  They all have something in common: they involve the unwitting use and exposure to everyday chemicals.  There were two decisions in particular that were devastatingly bad.  The first one was the decision to use Xanax to mask the symptoms of chemical sensitivity.  The second was the decision to use another benzodiazepine to undo the long-term consequences of taking the Xanax.  Bright, I know.  I’m going to try to tell my story from the point where things began to spin out of control.

In the summer of 2008, I was battling the increasingly severe symptoms of asthma.  At the time, I thought I had a lung infection that would just not go away.  I now realize that I was experiencing the symptoms of environmental illness.  I had become highly sensitized to the chemicals I was coming in contact with on a daily basis.

Not realizing the cause of my increasingly poor health, I bought a laundry detergent that was to change my life.  Yes, I know that sounds melodramatic, but it’s completely accurate.  This detergent is advertised as an “eco-friendly” brand, and as I was somewhat aware of the environmental issues surrounding the products we use, I bought it.  As soon as I opened the bottle I realized that I might have made a mistake.  The fragrance emanating therefrom was overpowering.  But I powered on and washed all my family’s clothes in the smelly stuff.  Soon, our whole house was enveloped in a chemical cloud, and my lungs were beginning to fill will fluid.  By the time I realized that there might be a connection between my symptoms and my detergent, it was too late.  I had developed pneumonia.

I called my Naturopath and asked for some supplements for pneumonia.  The dose of the herb and vitamin combo she recommended was quite large, but I complied thinking it was the only way to kill the infection.  I’m a very small person with a very sensitive system.  The dose of vitamin A and Zinc that apparently cures the average person poisoned me.  I began to feel extremely thirsty all the time.  I could not get enough water, ever.  I began to urinate enormous amounts of liquid every twenty minutes or less.  I got myself in even deeper when I decided to treat the poisoning by trying to sweat it out, speeding up the process of dehydration already begun.  After about three days, I felt like I was going to die, so it was off to the hospital.  There it was found that I had sweated and peed away all of my electrolytes.  I was basically peeing out exactly what I had put in, pure water.  I received IV fluids and was sent home.

That is when the real mayhem began.  I believe now that I had a severe reaction to the sulfites in the IV fluid that I was given in the hospital.  As a result, I began to have the first panic attacks I had ever experienced that were not related to some sort of emotional stress.  I also stopped sleeping.  I panicked and went back to the hospital, where they diagnosed me with anxiety and sent my home with my first benzodiazepine, Ativan.  I had enough for about 5 days.  I was so relieved to finally be able to sleep and to calm down that I decided to go to my doctor and get some more magic pills.  She wanted to give me some Ambien, but I had heard scary things about Ambien, so strangely enough, I asked for Alprazolam (Xanax), the pill that some of my family members use for anxiety and insomnia. I figured that if it worked for them it would surely work for me, not realizing that Ambien (a “non-benzodiazepine” or “z-drug”) and Xanax are both very dangerous drugs.  I was prescribed 1 milligram, much more than the paltry .25 mgs of Ativan I had been prescribed at first.  One milligram; it seemed like such a small dose.  I wouldn’t find out until much later that one mg of Xanax is roughly equivalent to 20 mgs of Valium, one of the original and very much maligned benzodiazepines.

Xanax hits you like a Mack truck.  As soon as it kicked in, I felt very dizzy and could no longer walk.  All I could do was get in the bed and pass out.   The next morning I was very tired and weak, but happy; so happy!  I couldn’t understand why I’d had any reservations at all about taking sleeping pills!  Everything seemed good and calm and mellow.  Nothing was wrong.  The world suddenly seemed like a much safer and nicer place to be.  Unfortunately, this state was not to last very long.

My memory here becomes a bit hazy (benzos are amnesic drugs).  I believe it was between 3 and 5 days later when I had my first real panic attack, not like those wimpy ones I’d taken the pills for in the first place.  This was white-hot terror.  It began with a  hot flash and ended with me rocking back and forth in utter horror, tears running down my face, finally deciding to take my “sleeping pill” at 5:00 PM because my “condition” had returned and I “needed it”.   It follows, of course, that I would need more medication if I was going to have to use the pills for more than just going to sleep.  My doctor prescribed two more milligrams to be taken “as needed”, which had me taking the equivalent of 60 mgs of valium.

As it turned out, the more pills I took, the more I needed.  Eventually I was cutting them in half and spreading my daily dose of 3 milligrams throughout the day to avoid inter-dose withdrawal and the dreaded panic attacks. Three weeks after my original dose of Xanax, I realized that the pills were making me very, very ill.  For the first time in my life, I felt suicidal.  I was terrified.  I stopped taking my pills, expecting a few nights of insomnia and then a gradual return to health.  That is not what happened.  What followed cannot even be imagined by a person who has never experienced it.

My memory of the first few weeks after I stopped taking Xanax is very hazy, like the memory of a really bad nightmare.  For the first couple of nights I stayed at my sister-in-law’s house because I knew things were likely to be difficult, and I did not want to subject my three boys to what I knew I had to go through.  I threw up all night long.  Every morsel of food that I managed to swallow came up within a few minutes of it going down.  My skin felt like I had been dipped in a vat of boiling hot oil, like I was being cooked from the inside out.  My heart rate was usually between 110 and 140 bpm.  I had convulsions, seizures, visual and auditory hallucinations, delusions and severe depersonalization and de-realization (feeling as if I was a different person and that nothing was real).  I went 2 weeks without any sleep at all and became very, very suicidal.  I had to be watched 24/7.  My perception of time and space was distorted.  I was angry.  I had no positive emotions whatsoever for many, many weeks.

Acute withdrawal lasted for about a month.  After that, my symptoms were somewhat less severe, though still miserable.  I was always in enormous amounts of pain.  The pain in my chest was so bad that it felt like I’d broken some ribs.  In fact, I became convinced I had done so somehow, so I insisted on getting X-rays, which showed nothing.  Due to the fact that my immune system had basically collapsed, I did develop genuine bacterial pneumonia, for which I had to take antibiotics, and which caused me to cough so hard that I dislocated my ribs repeatedly.

Sleep returned gradually, first 2 hours, then 4, then 6 and 7.  I had to sleep propped up with many pillows because of chest and shoulder pain, and because my rapid heart rate made me more uncomfortable and anxious when I was flat on my back.  Every night I had to tell myself these words “you’ve slept through worse, you can do it.”  And most nights it helped.

One year after my Xanax cold turkey, I was feeling much better, though not completely back to myself.  I was left with lingering breathing problems and severe muscular tension.  My ability to handle stress was greatly diminished.  But I had survived and I was functioning relatively normally.  I was immensely proud of myself for enduring and healing from such a horrific experience, and I thought I was much wiser for it.  If somebody had told me at that time that 4 years later I would put another benzodiazepine in my mouth, I would not have believed them.

Part 2

The little blue death pill is how I came to think of the Xanax that I had taken.  Who in their right mind would twice take a death pill?  Nobody in their right mind.  But people in their wrong mind might.

2 years after my near-death experience with Xanax, in the fall of 2010, I began work as a letter carrier for the United States Postal Service.  It was very hard work for someone like me, but I was determined.  I pushed and pushed until I had well learned my route and my other duties, ignoring all the signs that the job might be too much for me.  I pushed through a brutal case of bronchitis worsened by ink fumes, numerous sleepless nights, and despite my misgivings about the newspaper ink coating my hands black, pesticide drift blowing into the open windows of my delivery vehicle, and the extreme stress of working for a sociopathic postmaster.

By Summer, I had reached the end of my tether.  Stress induced insomnia had caused me to go to work zombie-tired many times.  One time in particular there were consequences.  I made a mistake which is considered serious by the postal service.  I failed to shake a mailbag to check for any packages that might have escaped my notice, and thus missed an important piece of mail, an express package.  For this, I was to be disciplined.  This was my wake-up call.  It was time to quite and re-group, and fortunately for me, that was an option I had which would not cause my financial ruin.

I am fully convinced now that my time at the Postal Service contributed in large measure to a significant decline in my health.  Although I have always been aware that I am highly sensitive to the smell of newspaper ink, I did not know until recently that it contains Bisphenal-A, or BPA, which is an endocrine disruptor. An endocrine disruptor is a chemical that can mimic our own hormones, and thus cause illness associated with hormonal imbalance.

By the fall of 2010, I was experiencing pronounced symptoms of hormonal imbalance, much more severe than I had ever experienced before.  By winter, I was so concerned about my symptoms that I felt I must take action.  Past experience had taught me that doctors often mean trouble, so I tried to treat myself, with disastrous consequences.  My attempts at treating my symptoms drove me into a state of crisis, at which point I decided to once again risk putting my health in the hands of my Naturopath.  Her treatments drove me still deeper into crisis.  The combination of my already highly sensitized nervous system and the extra stress of almost selling our house sent me into a final tailspin from which I felt I would not be able to recover.

I was not sleeping again.  For months I had existed on between 2 and 5 hours of sleep per night, when what I really required was nine.  After the house selling debacle, I simply stopped sleeping and went into a state of extreme anguish.  I hesitate to call it depression because it was way beyond that.  It was agony, both mental and physical.  I felt I’d been thrown right back into the jaws of the Xanax beast even though I hadn’t touched a pill in 3 years.

I have an idea about why this became so unbelievably severe.  I once read the story of a man who had been through a very difficult benzodiazepine detox.  Years later he decided to undergo intravenous vitamin C therapy, and during the therapy, the very same withdrawal symptoms he had experienced years before during his detox returned upon him.  I surmise that the detoxification process that the vitamin C therapy initiated liberated drug residue stored in his tissues.  This is simply a hypothesis of mine, but if true, it would certainly explain why I felt three years after taking Xanax that I had been thrown back into the deep pit of suffering I thought I had forever escaped.  All of the treatments I had attempted in an effort to fix my hormonal imbalance were initiating a massive detoxification process which was simply too much for me to handle all at once.

I eventually came to the point where I was in so much mental and physical agony from my exhaustion that I was beginning to have those suicidal thoughts again.  This time I’m sure I would not have acted on them.  But what I was feeling was so intolerable that I eventually allowed a family member to take me to the hospital where I was admitted to a locked psychiatric ward.  This is very difficult for me to tell.  As I sit here typing, the tears are welling up for so many reasons:  Pride, shame, trauma.  It is not okay in our culture to lose control.  The psych ward….oh so many negative connotations.  I don’t have to explain.  You already know. “I’m not one of those people,”  I want to say,  “I’m different.  I didn’t really belong in that hospital.  I’m not crazy, I just had insomnia.”  But I’m not going to say those things.  Every person I met in that hospital was a person like me.  They were people overwhelmed, bodies overwhelmed by our toxic world.

The only thing friendly about a  psych ward are the other patients.  The system itself is harsh and unbending, and you don’t get out unless you comply.  I begged to be given anything other than benzodiazepines.  In spite of that, on my first night I was handed a little green and white pill with a name that ended in “pam”.  I knew what that meant.  It was a benzo.  I asked the med nurse if it was, indeed, a benzodiazepine, and she confirmed that, yes, it was.  I told her that I had specifically asked the man who admitted me to relay to my doctor that I would not be taking any benzodiazepines.  Was there anything else?  Anything that would help me sleep without causing a  brutal addiction?  No?  Why not?  I can’t take that pill!

But take it I did.  I was approaching sleep psychosis.  I needed to sleep.  I had a deadly fear of going one more night without.  So down the hatch it went and I went out like a light on the nasty plastic mattress.  And woke at two in the morning.  Wide awake.  So down to the front desk I went to ask for another pill, and down it went too.  In the morning, I felt groggy and sick, but once that feeling wore off, I felt great!  It was like the first time I took Xanax, everything was roses!  I was in a locked psychiatric ward, but I was happy.  I loved all my fellow patients, I loved the nice mental-wellness classes we had to attend.  I was finally going to get better.

The only problem was that little green and white pill.  That had to go.  I was not going to fall for that again, no way!  I was too smart for that.  And thus began a harrowing journey through the nightmare-land of psychiatric drugging.  I tried a different pill almost every day, and by the time I was released from the hospital, I felt like I had been through a meat grinder.  And I was on Temazepam.  Every medication given to me had made me incredibly ill, one of them dangerously so.  Every one of them except for the big T.

Part 3

I knew I had to taper, that much I had learned from my experience with Xanax. I had taken Xanax for a measly 3 weeks, and quitting it cold turkey cost me over a year of illness. I perceived that it had almost cost me my life. Benzos have very few side effects when compared to other psychiatric drugs, but once one of them gets its hooks in you, you cannot just quit.

I was reeling from the chemical merry-go-round I had experienced in the hospital. I felt like a person with Autism. I had to protect myself from light, sound, smells and anything that might cause any kind of emotional stress. Some days I would regularly hide my head under a blanket to avoid stimulation. Even in the car.

I had a plan. Even in my brain-mashed state, I was capable of planning. I decided that I would allow myself to sleep on the 30 mgs of Temazepam for about a week, and then I was going to find a way to taper off of it. It did not even enter my mind that I should stay on, and my doctor agreed. Unbelievable! I had a doctor who understood how bad benzos are! There was only one problem: he did not understand how much damage a fast taper could do. He wanted me off, NOW. He gave me two months and a taper plan that would have nearly killed me. My first dosage cut on his plan caused a cascade of horrific symptoms from which it would take me months to recover.

Fortunately, I found a prescribing nurse at the mental health clinic I had been referred to by the hospital who did not want to see me descend into emotional chaos again and was willing to be my prescriber for a slower taper. And so began a very long process which I have not yet completed. My original plan involved a 6 to 8 month taper. It soon became abundantly clear that if I was going to taper at my body’s own pace, I would not be done in 8 months, or a year, or even 18 months. This taper has been like one of those bad dreams where you’re trying to run away from something dangerous, but you feel like you’re moving through a vat of pudding. Or having to stay very still and quiet to avoid danger when all you want to do is run like a mad woman.

The beginning of my taper, about a year and half ago, was horrific. The first few unwisely large cuts had made me incredibly ill. I always felt like I had swallowed battery acid. I was on fire from my mouth all the way to my stomach. I was not sleeping again. I was in all sorts of mental and physical agony. That began to change after I wisely took some advice I received on a withdrawal support forum and spread my dose out a little. I also slowed my pace, holding my dose whenever the cuts became too difficult to handle. I gradually began to become marginally functional.

It’s never easy. I’ve been sick for two years. But I have abundant hope that I will heal, and that is what I want to focus on always. That hope is based on fact, because I am healing. I now take 3 mgs of Temazepam, down from the original 30, and I continue inexorably on to the finish line. I often have windows of almost total normalcy. I sleep. I drive. I homeschool my kids. The future is bright!