The First Four Months
I want to try and put the acute stage of withdrawal into words but this is no easy task. This stage is going to be a little different for everyone who has to endure its relentless, unforgiving
Panic attack doesn’t go half way towards describing this. A panic attack ends within minutes maybe hours but the acute stage of benzo withdrawal may last weeks or even months with little respite.
I stopped the Nitrazepam sleeping
tablets on November 22nd 2012. I write in my journal, “Must let panic pass, adrenaline will wear off, don’t worry if not sleeping, just go with it all for the moment as I will get better”. Wise advice but as
the weeks passed so it became harder and harder to just let go and watch it all rage around from the safety of my bed.
There was only the Benzobuddies withdrawal site to help see me through all this and to understand what was happening. I believe this
process is the GABA receptors in the brain trying to come back on line so to speak. The brain is left in an acute deprivation from a drug that has caused these receptors to be down regulated. I don’t understand the full medical explanation but suffice
to say that my brain was suffering a severe physiological reaction and was trying to repair from years and years of this down regulation. There is no research only many, many sufferers putting their own experiences into words. The bible is the Ashton manual
written by Professor Heather Ashton and the only accepted work on Benzodiazepine withdrawal. Although Professor Ashton is now elderly she did email me with encouragement and some wise words on sleep when I had suffered sleep deprivation for a week. No sleep
at all just relentless pacing of the house as I was unable to even lie still in bed.
An adrenaline attack would often hit during the night for me. This is when our cortisol levels are at their highest and having to deal with the surge of cortisol plus
an already weakened body from withdrawal gave me intense symptoms. I liken it to being dangled over a precipice from which any minute I could be hurtled into oblivion. I actually felt I wanted to be hurtled into that oblivion and die quickly. Dying would have
been the easy way out. My heartbeat increased to uncomfortable rates. I shook and sweat poured off me. My whole body stiffened, as my muscles were painful as if stretched taught by the adrenaline. I was vomiting, had unrelenting diarrhea and water drained
off my body. My whole system was over revving as if the accelerator was being pressed and jammed down. I was scared, dizzy and my blood pressure climbed at these times. I spent my nights walking around my house, in and out of rooms chanting positive affirmations
such as ‘This too will pass’. There was little respite for five weeks and during this time I was ringing around for any support I could find to just keep me alive…. The Samaritans but they had no knowledge of withdrawal; emergency doctors
but one even said, ‘Benzo Withdrawal was all a myth’, how I wish he could have suffered and experienced the reality of his so called myth; The Bristol Tranquilliser project, who were immense help and enabled me to keep sane; Rosemary, a dear lady
who runs a group for sufferers in Cornwall and has always been there for me; Mind who again had little knowledge of withdrawal at this time and so on. Literally anywhere I felt could give me an explanation and help get me through this dreadful phase. There
were periods during the day when I may have had a brief respite as my exhausted body gave up and I rested on my bed distracted by an inane television programme but these were few and far between.
Just writing about this phase has started me shaking
and sweating as the memory is recalled. The best help I received was again from the website Benzobuddies where I would write post after post shouting out my fears. There are 11,000 sufferers on this site and many in the acute stage as I was. My journal records
some of the worst moments, “Restless and agitated, very cold but sweating, must float through and keep calm, whole body vibrating and legs twitching with violent contractions, sick, stomach pain and movement, trying to breath through, heart
palpitating, mustn’t fight it…….”.
It was if my body was no longer a peaceful, calm haven of which my brain had control. It was now inhabited by some kind of force with a will of its own. This force had taken over every
part of me and determined whether my muscles would function or not, whether my heart beat evenly or erratically, whether my thoughts were positive or negative, whether my stomach could digest food, whether I should sleep or stay awake all night, whether I
was boiling hot or freezing cold, whether I laughed or cried. It took over my very being and I had no say in the matter. I just had to go with the flow and let it all happen without putting any obstacles in its way. Eventually it let me go for a brief respite
into normality only to take over again when I was least expecting it. At this time I was aware, and still am, that the slightest trigger could allow it access so I could tolerate no drugs, supplements, sugar, caffeine, processed foods, exercise or just plain
stress. I had to tread very carefully.
At about three to four months off the worst of these symptoms let go and I entered a phase of windows and waves.
Months Five to Twelve
For the next seven
months I had periods of comparative wellness followed by further intense symptoms for weeks at a time. From the sixth month I did feel a lot more positive that healing was on its way and there was light at the end of the tunnel. Even in ‘normal
periods’ I mostly suffered low back pain, stiffness in all my muscles, dizziness, unsteadiness on my feet, intrusive thoughts, insomnia, temperature variations, stomach upsets, extreme tiredness and foggy headiness, background anxiety, weakness, lack
of motivation, poor memory etc. I also had a lot of eye, ear and throat problems of varying intensity BUT I was able to live a little. I managed to go out and even spent a few days away in our camper van. After the preceding months this was a miracle!
Until month nine or August 2013 I jogged along accepting all that was thrown at me until I was hit with another major wave that was to last over two months and send me spiralling downwards again.
Journal entry for August 1st 2013....
dear, awake all night. Hot, sweating, many toilet trips, headache, palpitations, revving anxiety, muscle pain and stiffness, nausea. I'm losing hope again. Awful in the morning with sickness and unable to keep still, pacing the house again. I feel depair and
frustration as I've been so much better over the last few months. No energy to even get dressed.
This wave was to last until November before I entered another period of relative calm...
Months Twelve to Eighteen
The nightmare continues. At month 12, November 2013, I thought I was well on the mend telling everyone I was better and seemed fully recovered....huh! In fact I was about to enter a period of tumultous waves and aggressive symptoms. The forwards and backwards nature of recovery intensified. A month 15 I entered one of my worst waves which was to last about 6 weeks. February 25th...
Back in a bad time. Kept waking every two hours with sweats and pain flowing through my arms and legs. Evetually woke to revving and drowsiness and continued, intense pain. Sat all day, absolutely fed up as so weak now and anxious. I look like a ghost
with red rimmed eyes and dark circles in a white face!
This was to continue until April 14th with a brief respite of a few days during March. At month 18 I started turning a corner and hoped symptoms would now be a little less intense. Sadly, this
wasn't to be as my brain anod body hadn't fully adjusted yet.
Months Eighteen to Twenty four
There have been very few changes over these months and I continue with waves and windows of varying duration.
I’m now officially in Protracted Withdrawal at more than eighteen months out and still suffering bad symptoms. I suppose it’s to be expected with the several decades I was exposed to benzodiazepines. Also, there have been stops and starts during
my years on the drugs when I tried to go it alone only ending up back in the doctor’s surgery being prescribed perhaps another variation of these poisons. I am severely kindled and this has led me to suffer a longer than average passage to recovery.
I’ve broken this period down on a month by month basis as I know some people like to know what I’ve experienced at a certain month and compare this to their own suffering.
Month 18…A ‘mild’
month with good days and bad days which culminated in a long window during June 2014.
Month 19…The window continued and I believed everything to be improving with only the occasional poor day.
deterioration and I entered a bad wave. This could have been precipitated by the impending visit of all my three sons and families although they were not all staying with me having rented a couple of cottages nearby. It was more the emotional reaction of having
them altogether at one time and needing to be well to enjoy the occasion. I could stand no stress good or bad.
Month 21…I spent much of this month in my room both during the visit of my sons and grandchildren and after they left.
I was often awake all night, ringing the Samaritans again and generally trying to hold on while the wave passed. There were many physical symptoms plus mind-bending anxiety that gripped me both day and night. Little sleep this month.
22…I was bit calmer and managed to get away in our camper van until the end of the month when a Tsunami made its appearance and lasted several weeks. I couldn’t really identify a trigger for this.
Month 23….The previous
wave eased off and this was a month of comparative calm.
During these six months I never slept all night and generally woke several times for toilet trips, rapid heart rate, nightmares, restlessness and sweats. I constantly prayed for
it all to come to an end. I was often scared that my body couldn’t take any more and I would just drop dead from a heart attack. During the days I was mostly a able to cope a little better with the symptoms. I also had a lot of pain either flowing throughout
my body or in my lower back.
My story continues in my Blog posts as, at this date of August 2015, I'm still suffering.