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

 

 

 

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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

 

 

Simplicity of Wellness: Self Love

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Self-love is one of the most difficult things I have ever had to learn.  I am still learning.  It is also one of the most powerfully healing things I have ever experienced.

“I’m so stupid!” How many times have you said that, or something like it?  If you say never, I want to meet you because you are extraordinary.   I don’t know many people personally who haven’t said it or felt it at one time or another.  I used to say it constantly.  I sometimes hated my body for the way it seemed to constantly fail me.

I didn’t know at that time what I was doing to myself, but I do now.  I now understand the full implications behind ancient king Solomon’s words: “death and life are in the power of the tongue;” (Proverbs 18:21)  I had been killing myself slowly.

It was when I came right to edge of my ability to endure suffering that I began to teach myself a new way of thinking.  I had nothing at all to lose and everything to gain.

At first, I did not believe that anything I said to myself could possibly make a dent in my suffering.  Everything I had tried so far had failed: herbs, vitamins, supplements, drugs…hospitalization.   It had all failed.  My body had become so sensitized that I was reacting negatively to everything I put in my mouth or on my skin.  So what could words possibly do?

Even so, I tried.  I began to change the way I spoke to myself. My mind was like a very frightened child in desperate need of love and affection.  It needed a mother, and that mother would have to be me.  I cherished myself as I would one of my precious babies.  I reassured myself every day that I was getting better and better, that I was safe and healing.

At first it felt false.  I went on anyway. Eventually I began to believe myself.  Instead of automatic negative thoughts, I was having automatic positive thoughts.  When I felt sick or frightened, I was able to calm myself quickly.  “It’s okay,” I would say, “because I’m getting better and better.  I am safe now.  I am healing.”

I began to feel better, not just in my mind, but truly.  My energy began to return.  Pain decreased. I started having some days when I felt almost normal.  It was clear to me that my fearful, negative thoughts had helped to keep me sick.

I am still sick.  But the difference now is that I know I can and will feel better.  And I know that if there are some things that never go, it will be okay.  I know how to live well with pain.  And I know how to love and forgive my faithful and patient body.

Photo by Miroslav Vajdić

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

Gratitude Heals

journal

In his letter to the Colossians, the apostle Paul said to “show yourselves thankful.” (Col. 3:15)  It turns out that that is excellent advice for more than one reason. Gratitude is good for us. Professor Robert Emmons, of the University of California at Davis, says: “Gratitude research is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress, and to achieve a positive sense of self.”  That is something that I’ve learned on a very deep level, and in the hardest way possible.

I’ve been to places in my soul where just breathing in and out was torturous. When simply continuing to live is the best one can do, it doesn’t take much pleasure to induce feelings of profound gratitude. A little less than two years ago, I was in that state. I remember the first positive emotion I felt. It was love for my youngest boy, a hug and a pinch. I was so grateful for that bit of pleasure, that tiny reprieve from constant torment, that I wrote about it in my journal and put a star on that page. My pain taught me what nothing else could: to feel grateful for every tiny blessing. From that day forward, I recorded every positive emotion that I felt in my journal, starring the page on which I wrote it. Soon, I began to have whole days that were full of little joys, and those days received big stars. Some days I would cry tears of joyful gratitude for the blessings I had received, immediately thanking God.

I’ve had many experiences over the past couple of years that inspired profound gratitude for things I had once taken for granted.  One of them happened when I went to my place of worship, the Kingdom Hall, in spite of feeling ill.  I knew that the depression resulting from isolating myself would probably be even more counterproductive than the exhaustion and possible pain from going. And my son had been assigned to do a public reading of the Bible. I had to go, so I prayed for strength.

Sitting in the little back room isolated from the rest of the congregation because of my sensitivity to fragrances, I began to feel that I’d made a mistake in coming. I was beginning to feel very ill and only wanted to go home to my bed. I really needed some loving encouragement from my friends, but I often don’t get to talk to many of them because of the fact that I have to keep myself segregated in my little room. Sometimes they come back to greet me, or they meet me outside, but not always. I was in that dark sort of mood that had me expecting nothing good. But immediately after the meeting concluded, I was blessed with plenty of friends to talk to.

As soon as I was alone in my bedroom that night, my eyes filled with tears as I realized that I had received just what I needed.  My heart overflowed with gratitude, and I thanked Jehovah.

I could have missed out on that opportunity to feel and express gratitude.  I could have remained in my dark, brooding state in spite of what I received.  The key for me was to notice.  How many opportunities for feeling and expressing gratitude do we pass up simply because we fail to notice all those little blessings and recognize them for what they are?  How easy it is to overlook the good and focus instead on all the big hurts.  There is ample opportunity in this world for feeling legitimately bad.  The practice of gratitude takes effort and practice, especially for a confirmed pessimist like me, but change is possible.  I used to think that pessimism and negativity was indelibly chiseled onto my personality.  I am happy that I was wrong, because gratitude is helping me heal.

Photo by Joel Montes

What Would Thoreau Think?

I wonder if Thoreau understood how incredibly privileged he was in his Walden shack?  I think maybe he did.  Even in his much quieter time, he must have known there weren’t many who enjoyed that kind of liberty and peace.  He would likely have been horrified had he been suddenly dropped into our time and into our culture.  If he resented the railroads of his time, what would he have thought of the roaring rivers of asphalt called freeways, never quiet day or night?  If he thought the newspapers of his time full of frivolous gossip and inconsequential happenings, what would he think of CNN, Google, Facebook, and Twitter?  I think he would have taken a stance that might have earned him the luddite label.  And maybe he would have become a little depressed like a lot of us.

Psychic pain is nothing new, but has it ever before in history been the epidemic that it is now?  I think not.  And it’s no wonder.  We are profoundly disconnected from each other and from the sources of our life and health.  We replace genuine connection with the sedating effects of chemicals, those we can get from a bottle and those that are released in our own brains when we pacify ourselves in front of our myriad of screens.  Even our beloved home, our little jewel in space, reflects our dysfunction and adds to our stress with it’s strange and frightening symptoms of planetary fever.

My mind is my escape.  I often dream of a little cabin by an isolated and beautiful lake.  All that would be audible there would be the rush of wind through the trees, birdsong, the buzz of insects, the lap of water at the shore.  Every day I would paddle out over the mirror-like water in a little wooden canoe.  I would stare down into the clear, clear water all the way to it’s brightly green, moss covered bottom.  I would watch schools of fish swim underneath me.  The cool air would be spiked with the spicy scent of birch, aspen, and evergreens.  Sometimes the warm sun would make the water seem very inviting and I would, like an otter, slip into the cool wet and swim awhile with the fish.  The cold shock would soon become a cool caress, and I would emerge dripping, enlivened, and vibrantly alert.