My Success Story (At Last)
I am putting this here on my Blog before posting elsewhere in case there’s anything anybody here would like to know and which I can add before ‘going public’ so to speak. 😉
I’m tentatively writing my success story because the good days are piling in and the bad days are dissolving into a distant memory. I can’t put into words how good it feels. No more anxiety, no more pain, no more itching, no more palpitations, basically no more hell. I wake in the morning feeling rested and normal ready to enjoy my day. It’s true we do recover.
A brief resume of my history. Forty-five years ago I started to suffer major menopausal symptoms due to a life saving hysterectomy after childbirth followed by an oopherectomy due to a large ovarian cyst. I was in my mid twenties and received Hormone Replacement Therapy but it only made matters worse. Eventually the lack of sleep had to be rectified so I was give Nitrazepam to at least allow me to have a few hours. I believe right from that first dose of this benzo my problems were amplified but I only put it down to the sudden, early menopause as did doctors. Over the next few years I was diagnosed with many mental illnesses as well as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (an autoimmune disease) and hospitalised for a short time with severe tachycardia. I traipsed from one specialist to another without success. They tried to feed me with just about every antidepressant then available (1970s) but my body rejected them all as they caused worsening problems. To cut a long story short eventually I settled on taking Temazepam every night for sleep in doses up to 30 mg. This was just the start of my journey.
For the following decades I lived my life with numerous inexplicable symptoms that were all diagnosed as menopausal due to the hormone imbalance. I soldiered on determined to make the best of my career and enjoyment for teaching. My husband literally raised our sons with an absent wife because I used to get so very tired. We even managed to run our own small but successful independent school here in the U.K. It all helped me to distract from my increasingly bad nights and multitude of inexplicable minor symptoms. I also had periods when my anxiety would be off the scale and I had no idea why. Eventually it all blew up in my face, we had retired, my mother died, my husband had heart problems and I hit tolerance with a vengeance. Too much stress exaggerated my suffering and I was still being told this was due to my life saving experience and sudden menopause forty years previously! Of course I believed this as I trusted the medical profession in those days. I sought therapy after yet another diagnosis and this time of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. However, talking to my therapist and then researching the now widely available information on the internet the light began to dawn, it was the benzo for sleep (Temazepam then Nitrazepam) and the occasional benzo (Valium) now taken for muscle pain causing my nightmare situation. I stopped them abruptly and held tight. I had little knowledge of tapering at the time and my doctors told me withdrawal should be over within three weeks. It wasn’t so I restarted for another year before finally doing a second cold turkey on November 22nd 2012. All hell broke loose seven weeks later. The full story can be read on my website beatingbenzos.com as it is much more detailed but that’s just a taste of how I came to be in the withdrawal situation.
My recovery has taken a long time and I don’t want anyone reading this to believe it will be the same for them. Protracted withdrawal does happen for a very few, we don’t know exactly why but my long term use of benzos and my age now must play a significant part for me. Your recovery will be very different and could be a fraction of the five years I’ve taken.
I passed through all the various stages of a brain readjusting to a normal state of homeostasis. The acute phase hit at seven weeks off and I was bedridden, unable to hardly reach the bathroom or eat anything as my GI system erupted with sickness and pain. I don’t want to recall those days but they were unmitigated hell and I could never have survived without a patient, understanding husband willing to learn all he could about what was happening to me. Some of the worst times were at night when I would lie awake with sweat pouring off me and my heart pounding at an uncontrollable rate. The fear I experienced was indescribable. An emergency doctor visited one night and immediately prescribed 10mg of Valium, I stupidly took half this because I hardly knew what I was doing but suffered worse than ever with a paradoxical reaction to the drug. I was three months off then. I had learnt an important lesson, never to touch a benzo again.
My whole nightmare withdrawal journey can be followed on my Blog but it was one of windows and waves right up to full recovery. Many times I celebrated a window thinking this was it and I was recovered, wrong! The first year off, about four months after withdrawal, the acute phase finished and I thought briefly perhaps that was to be the end of my suffering. Major disappointment, it was only really just starting. I continued to go down into intense periods of just about every symptom recorded for others in recovery. I can’t list them all but they were both mental and physical. The pain and stiffness throughout my body were excruciating and the anxiety was like a herd of elephants rampaging through my stomach trampling on the butterflies sometimes used to describe anxious feelings. This was anxiety that led me to pace the night all through, upstairs, downstairs unable to keep still, just keep moving only stopping to relieve myself numerous times as my system went into overdrive. True hell would have been easier than this, I longed for the peace of death. This would then stop abruptly and I might have a few easier days before it all started up again. Year after year I had little respite and couldn’t travel far from home. Friends disappeared and even stopped communicating except for a trusted few who did their best to understand and give support. This journey really is an eye opener. You learn a lot about yourself and about others. In many ways, looking back, I can now have gratitude for what it has taught me.
Things didn’t really change until I was around four years off. If I’d known it was going to take this long for me I may not have survived those earlier months but I am grateful to the helplines here in the U.K. as well as to my dear friend Baylissa. Without their knowledge I wonder if I would be writing this today. This last year has seen the lessening of symptoms with waves becoming less intense and windows lasting longer but I’ve had some life stresses that I have reacted to and which I know set me back for awhile. Life happens and we have to go with it while the brain learns not to overreact and accept any difficulties that are thrown at us with a calm and sensible response instead of extreme anxiety. It’s all taken time and I hope now to never return to the nightmare existence which has been mine for the last five years.
A few of the lessons I have learnt as I’ve battled the beast and fought my way forwards. There are no supplements, drugs or herbs that can hasten recovery. I have a large boxful of everything I’ve read about and was supposed to help but all they did for me was set me back into a bad wave for several days. I would advise steering clear of all this until well healed. There is no quirky diet that is suitable for everyone but a healthy, sensible diet free of processed foods, sugar, alcohol and caffeine does help everyone. I’ve tried diets ranging from paleo to low carb and just caused worsening stress on my body. Antidepressants have side effects and if on one after withdrawing from benzos it’s better to taper this when reasonably recovered to allow the brain to heal fully. If you’re in a protracted withdrawal the likelihood that the antidepressant is having a negative effect is reasonable to assume however never stop this suddenly but speak to your doctor and devise another sensible taper plan when ready.
With regards the best practices for recovery I believe keeping positive comes at the top of the list along with trying not to focus on your symptoms or believe they’re due to something else as this is unlikely. Get medical help for reassurance if necessary. Don’t spend hours on the Internet, reading the groups and feeding your brain with doom and gloom which is guaranteed to pull you down. Go out into the fresh air and sunshine as much as possible, ground yourself in the beauty of nature. Learn a relaxation technique that suits you such as meditation or mindfulness. Pace yourself at all times especially when you start feeling well as you’re still very fragile. There’s lots more but take a look at the coping tips on my website if you need more.
This is my story and my recovery and I can assure everyone it’s well worth it to be free of these dangerous drugs. Helping others and writing here and on my Facebook group Beating Benzos has helped me get through all this and to learn as much as I can in the process. I want to continue with this so please ask any questions by email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will answer. My Love to everyone wherever you are, however much you are suffering now, look to the better times ahead and move forwards one day at a time, it will happen for you.