Growing up I truly had it all: a great family, tons of friends, nice home. Besides my brother's death at age seven, before I was born, my childhood was happy and trauma free. The death of my brother shook my parents up so they were very protective of me, but I had a great life growing up in.. As early as age 9 or 10, I experienced acute anxiety that only lasted five or ten minutes where I felt spacey and disconnected from everything, but still knew exactly what was going on around me. Nothing particular seemed to bring it on emotionally, spiritually or physically, but it occurred several times a year. As a child, I also worried a lot and things like talking in front of people terrified me. I kept busy with school and socializing but I talked myself out of joining sports and other activities. I anticipated the worst and told myself I just couldn't do it.
My brother and sister have experienced a similar type of anxiety, the same spacey feeling, something I have never seen in anyone else. There is no other history of anxiety in my family that I know of.
In June of 1986, this state of anxiety came over me and would not leave. I started work as a welder at age 18, and at first I tried to cope with the anxiety, but it was constant. I thought it would go away on its own but at that time my immune system was weak and I got viruses frequently which made it hard to exercise and my anxiety was so strong that I felt I was just going through the motions of work and life. I wasnÃ•t able to plan for the future or make choices about how I wanted to live my life and at first I accepted it since I was still able to function. I was limited though.
Once, during this period I tried pot. I was at lunch and I took one hit. When I went back into work, it triggered my anxiety so strongly that I had to leave work. I felt horribly spacey . Marijuana and alcohol have definitely triggered anxiety. When the pot did it this time, I could not shake it off and had to ask for a layoff from work.
For the next three months, I hung out, kind of waiting to get better. I saw a psychiatrist around this time and tried some medication for a couple of weeks but experienced no relief. I tried vitamins too, but they didnÃ•t noticeably help at all. After three months, though, I felt a little better and decided to go back to work. The anxiety was not as acute but it was always there and too much stress would set it off. The next five years of my life, I went to work, went home, went through the basic activities of life Although it was never an emergency situation, I sought help from a psychiatrist again. I was able to work full time and even socialize but I wanted more and felt I had no other options. In 1993, I went on Klonipan, (a very addictive tranquilizer called a benzodiazipine, similar to Xanax and Ativan and Valium). But no one told me that Klonipan is addictive, so 10 weeks in and not getting much relief, i tried to go off, not knowing that i was already dependent on it.
I realized my doctors hadn't informed me of information I deserved to know. My doctor told me to taper over a seven day period. When I tried, I suffered the most sever anxiety I had ever had, so bad that I could not leave the house. that had never happened before. When I told my doctor, he took it to mean that the drug was working, when in fact I was already dependent on the drug and suffering withdrawal. Like most people who this happens to, I had no idea at the time what was going on, and this is what makes us so vulnerable when we take a drug. We have no idea how dangerous it is and often our doctors, family, friends and coworkers donÃ•t either. The doctor told me to keep taking the drug and I did. Over the next 12 years I took it twice a day everyday, and remember this is a drug that was designed for emergency use-or 2 to 4 weeks continuous only. I think the drug can be helpful in these to situations only.
As my tolerance for Klonipan grew, I had to continuously up the dose, and my doctor approved of the whole situation! He never saw a problem with any of it! I got up to 6mg a day, which is the equivalent of 120 mg of Valium. The highest dose recommended for Valium is 40 mg a day, so I took THREE TIMES a standard high dose of a tranquilizer.
From 1994 to 1999, in the earlier phase of my Klonipan dependence, I was actually doing fairly well, so I didnÃ•t worry too much about the long term damage that was going on beneath the surface. I worked full time and ran 50 miles a week. Despite being functional, I slept all the time and felt lethargic a lot, never felt great.
By December, 2000, IÃ•d gotten married, bought our first house and expected a child in May. Around this time, the drugs started to take their toll even more as I had more periods of extreme depression, lethargy and emotional emptiness thing;s i never had before. This went on for about three years and I continuously asked my psychiatrist about it, he continually gave me new meds to try and I basically went in circles but didnÃ•t get anywhere. I knew that the primary problem was the klonipin. but if I got off I could lose everything I had due to the extremity of withdrawal symptoms.what was worse, severe depression and emotional blunting on or acute withdrawl off. i was left with no other choice, as long as i stayed on klonipan i would never feel well again. As I felt my life was slipping slowly out of my hands, I knew I had to make a move and attempt to get off of Klonipin.
I knew I would need support and remembered the article I had read in The Valley Advocate about Freedom Center. It turned on a light bulb in my brain. The article profiled three individuals who had gotten off of meds and could live well and function, with proper support. I called and spoke to Will Hall and he was very supportive, suggested I go to the support group and talk about my desire to get off of the drug. My wife and I decided I would take a week off from work to withdraw and then go back to work and live happily ever after. Well, it didnÃ•t quite work out that way.
IÃ•d gone to a couple of Benzo support group sites, the best being www.benzo.org.uk.after suffering for 3 months in acute withdrawal.
I ended up in the hospital, suffering from severe depression. i told the doctors my story,gave them information about benzos and interdose withdrawl. Either they didn't get it , or didn't believe me. it was like i was talking to a wall. I agreed to go on a valium because i had read that it's the easiest benzo to withdrawl from. After getting NO relief from the valium ( what a suprise, as i would find out later, reinstating after being off for a short period typically does not work), I became re-addicted to Valium, but it is a little bit easier to come off of than Klonipin and with a lot of support I was able to taper off of both new drugs. This time I knew after a week on Valium that the only shot I had at ever feeling better was to taper off of Valium and pray. I cut .5 mg every ten days no matter how I felt, which was always: horrible, but I was determined to get back off. My faith and strength was tested to the max. It was a state of mental torment.
I met a few people at Freedom Center who knew a lot about Benzos and were very available to give me information and talk to me when I called and needed support or encouragement or just something to keep me hanging on through what seemed like endless frustration. I didnÃ•t trust my doctors and if I told them how I really felt, theyÃ•d surely get me back on meds. So instead, I made a lot of new friends at Freedom Center who had been through difficulties in the psychiatric system as well and could relate to a lot of my experiences. If I listened to the mental health system, I would be struggling with this for the rest of my life. The most they could do was give me temporary relief and then they go home and I am stuck with this. I stayed at my parentsÃ• house for six months when I was going through a divorce because my wife lost patience in all of it and kicked me out.
Freedom Center has helped me so much. I am ever grateful for all that it offers: free acupuncture, yoga, support group, getting ideas to try and being able to call someone. These are things that keep me going now as even being off of the drug i battle to repair the damage. I have tons more symptoms from having been on it for so long. I experience mental confusion, low stress tolerance, obsessive compulsive thoughts , a poorly functioning Central Nervous System, insomnia, fatigue, increased anxiety and muscle soreness . I feel as though i am hung over everyday. Even though I suffered so much and battle everyday to get my health back, I feel like the luckiest person alive. I have hope and faith that I will recover 100%!. Time is the true antidote for recovery.
I know I canÃ•t go back on meds so I tell myself that I need to keep struggling and hope that at some point the things I am doing will improve my life. I hold certain thoughts in my mind that Will and other friends say, like, "focus on what you CAN do." Where I am now is more stable but I still cannot do a full time job, plan ahead or make any serious commitments. If you remember, this is much worse off than I was before I started meds!! Still, I am able to accept where I am, even with these facts. I am more spiritual now, so maybe I am not worse off. I pray more and that actually brings me relief from suffering on the worst days. . IÃ•d love to be telling this story as more of a "recoverer," saying IÃ•m doing this and that now-but maybe that is not what this is about.
IÃ•d like to thank my family for their love and support, the Freedom Center, Will Hall for always taking my phone calls and willingness to talk for as long as I needed . Also thanks to Claudia Sperber and Joann Lutz.
Contact the author at MARKDNCL@YAHOO.