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 the IV solution given to me was pure saline as opposed to Ringers solution, so it had no potassium. So the only electrolyte that got replaced by the rehydration therapy was sodium. I’m sure I was in desperate need of potassium. Severe potassium deficiency can cause panic attacks and insomnia, which is exactly what began happening to me as soon as I returned home from the hospital.
Terrified and clueless about what could be causing this, I went back to the hospital, where they diagnosed me with anxiety and sent my home with my first benzodiazepine, Ativan. They prescribed 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), not realizing that Ambien (a “non-benzodiazepine” or “z-drug”) and Xanax are both potentially 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 milligram 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.
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”.
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 a friend’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, the pneumonia I had only partially treated came raging back much worse than it had been before. I had to take antibiotics. Killing the infection 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.
Incredibly, about 4 years later I actually did take another benzo after being hospitalized for insomnia-induced depression. But this time I was a bit wiser. Not a lot, mind you, just a bit. I at least was aware that I would need to taper off of it and must not go cold turkey if I valued my life.
The beginning of my taper 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. I again experienced the utter horror of derealization and depersonalization. I was so dizzy and exhausted from insomnia that I couldn’t drive. I was bedbound for weeks.
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. As I got lower and lower in dose, I began to feel more and more stable.
By the end of the taper, which took an incredible two years, I was much healthier and almost completely functional. It’s been about 7 years since that time. Unfortunately, I cannot report that I’m back to normal. I’m mostly happy and functional, but I am much more prone to insomnia, anxiety and depression. I am much less resilient and more susceptible to life stress than before I ever took a benzo. I don’t know if this will ever change.
Here is what people need to understand: out of control benzo withdrawal can have severe, lasting consequences. Neither of my withdrawals were handled properly by my doctors. The first was an extremely dangerous cold turkey, and the second started out very badly because of the foolish advice of my doctor, who wanted me to complete my taper in two months. If I had listened to him, I would have been almost as sick as I was with the first withdrawal. Fortunately, I wised up in time to save myself any more agony and found a prescriber at a mental health facility who was willing to allow me to taper at my own pace.
Learning to taper is not effortless. It takes skill and knowledge. If anyone reading this needs to taper off of a benzodiazepine, I recommend carefully reading the Ashton Manual, which can be downloaded for free from the internet. From it you will learn the basics of what benzodiazepines are, what they do in the body, and how you can safely taper from them. Then present this manual to your prescribing physician. If he/she is not willing to help you taper safely, which unfortunately is incredibly common, find another doctor. It could mean your sanity or even your life.
I’ve never been comfortable with the anxiety label. We seem to excuse someone for feeling fear or anxiety in situations of extreme stress or danger such as war or imprisonment. But when anxiety is an ongoing part of life, it is pathologized, stigmatized, and medicated.
Why? Seriously. It’s not as if our society is all roses and daisy fields. It’s sick, shut down, demoralized, and often cruel. For someone who is born sensitive with a desire to live honestly and authentically, this world can be a torment. That’s not pathology, it’s a normal reaction to a sick situation. That is what Daniel Mackler tries to convey in this video. His words are the story of my life.
Whenever I hear that a friend is having a new baby, I’m happy for them. But I also cringe, knowing that the baby will probably be exposed to large amounts of toxicants in things like new paint and carpet in the nursery, scented laundry and personal care products, and cleaning chemicals. Here are some good, practical suggestions on how to reduce your baby’s chemical exposures and prevent illness.
Young women need to listen to the canaries
I’m in my 60s now, ten years into my second marriage, and my wife and I have six children between us. We are at a stage in life when our children are having babies and our friends and relatives of the same age are also becoming grandparents. When we hear the exciting news – that we’re expecting a new grandchild – the combined feeling of joy and excitement is hard to describe, which helps to suppress the unspeakable worry; that the baby might be born with less than good health. And we have good reason for concern, because developmental disorders now affect one in six children.
Some people blame the increase in ASD…
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I want to make clear that, although the issue of drug abuse is highly politicized, I do not mean to take a stance on the drug war by posting this article. What interests me about it is Mr. Hari’s very interesting opinion on what actually causes addiction. There seems to be quite a lot of evidence to suggest that it’s not what most of us have been taught to believe it is. Yes, addictive substances can be dangerous, without a doubt. But what makes the difference between the strung out addict who has repeatedly overdosed and the user who doesn’t seem to have been harmed, and even seems to be able to quit at will? It may be as simple as this: connection.
Although I believe that genetics and nutrition also play a large role, I also believe that Johann Hari makes a very good point.
Could the answer to why we are ill be as simple as BPA in a coffee pot? For one woman, it apparently was. Toxic exposures are often overlooked as sources of illness.
I’m so tired of cockamamie health advice that seems to start with the premise that we are nothing but a long, hollow tube beginning at the mouth and ending where the sun don’t shine. Some presume, it seems, that keeping the tube squeaky clean at all times is the cure for every woe. Juice fasts, enemas, and liver cleanses galore are prescribed for everything from acne to asthma. Some of these treatments may have merit in certain situations, but I believe that total health depends upon more than an immaculate gut.
Something many people overlook in their quest for health is the fact that we are complex, finely tuned organisms, exquisitely sensitive to changes in our emotional and physical environment. We have certain needs which are irreducible. Physically, we need clean air, clean water, and adequate nutrition. To be healthy mentally and emotionally, we need love, connection, and a feeling of safety. These things are not negotiable, and any health advice that ignores these facts is likely to be harmful.
For example, the current juice fasting fad seems to be taking the world by storm. Ask any confirmed health nut, including me unfortunately, if they’ve tried a juice fast and you’re likely to get a yes. “If you’re clean inside, you’re green inside”, right? But the juice fast, or indeed any type of fast, ignores one basic truth: we need food. I can already hear all the yes-buts. “Yes but, we are capable of going without food for a time, and fasting can be helpful, it’s even saved lives!” I’m not an expert on fasting. Maybe there really are people who have turned their health around because of a fast. What I have to go on is my own limited knowledge and experience, which tells me that fasting hurts.
Three years ago, I decided to try a juice fast. Many of my friends were doing it. I’d seen Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. I thought it might be the answer to some of my nagging health problems. My goal was to sustain the fast for at least five days, knowing that, with my blood sugar issues, I probably wouldn’t be able to go much longer than that. By day three I was miserable. I felt scary-bad. My blood sugar was a mess and my adrenals were shot. I gave up and decided to eat, hoping that I would be able to regain some equilibrium within a few days, but that was not how it went down. The fast was the beginning of a long downward slide. It set off severe chemical and food sensitivities which I now believe were a result of the adrenal fatigue.
Because proteins DRIVE the detoxification process, cleanses based on juices, fruits or vegetables do not make a lot of sense. – 17 Signs of Impaired Liver Detox
The “liver flush” or “liver cleanse” is another very popular treatment intended to purge the body of toxins. Again, I’m sure many people have benefitted from these treatments, but it should be recognized that a treatment this powerful can also be potentially harmful. The liver cleanse requires at least a partial fast. No protein or fat is to be taken for more than 24 hours. After 2:00 PM the day of the cleanse, no food is to be eaten. This type of fast is not extreme and seems reasonably safe for most people. But for those with blood sugar issues or adrenal fatigue, it can be quite difficult, even harmful. Some treatment protocols, including Hulda Clark’s, specify that an overdose of magnesium in the form of Epsom salts must be taken. This, apparently has resulted in cases of hypermagnesemia. The end result of the treatment is diarrhea, and for some, vomiting, which stresses the system and creates electrolyte imbalance.
My experience with the liver flush was extremely unpleasant, even traumatic. I think I would have been fine with the diarrhea and vomiting, that passed pretty quickly. But I did experience hypermagnesemia, which was really scary. As there are very good alternatives to the liver flush, I would not ever do this to myself again.
I’ve noticed that, in addition to seeming rather extreme, many popular natural treatments seem to completely overlook the mind/body connection. There is mounting evidence that our thoughts have a direct bearing on our physical and emotional health. That may mean, among other things, that it’s not just the carotenoids in the carrot that affect our health, but also our thoughts and feelings about carrots. Sound far-fetched? Take a look at this .
But the mind/body connection goes far beyond digestion. If your thoughts can affect your gut, you can bet that they affect every other part of you as well. Epigenetics Shatters the “Central Dogma”
So maybe it’s time to rethink this puritanical urge of ours to purge our bodies of impurities. Maybe it’s not what we can squeeze out of our bodies that matters as much as what we put into them. Maybe if we nourish ourselves, body and soul, the trash will take itself out.