Posts Tagged ‘tapering’

For those who follow my experience with the benzodiazepine Ativan (lorazepam), here’s an update.

My doctor prescribed 1 mg Ativan to be taken as needed for tongue pain caused by menopause.  After 3 months use, I developed interdose withdrawal – basically my body stopped producing gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) because the benzo was providing that.  I suffered a list of symptoms including rapid heart beat, high blood pressure, coma like fatigue (sleeping 18 hours a day), migraines, gastro pain, etc.  In one month I saw 7 doctors, including 2 visits to urgent care.  No doctor could find anything wrong except for the blood pressure which I’d never experienced before, and which went away during taper.  They wanted to add blood pressure meds (I said no), and gave me several rounds of steroids and antibiotics “just in case”.  Finally we discovered the one prescription medication I was taking is only supposed to be used short term (2-3 weeks), and every side effect I was experiencing was because I followed my doctor’s orders.

The problem with benzos is that once your brain stops producing GABA, it takes a long time for the neurons to upregulate.  If you cold turkey the benzo, or taper too rapidly, the body suffers terribly, perhaps for many years, while the brain repairs.  A successful taper means slowly reducing the amount of drug in your body in small enough amounts that you “fool it” and it isn’t shocked by the withdrawal of drug.  For me, the dose reduction that worked was .00125mg per day via a liquid micro taper.  Staying at 7% reduction per month made my symptoms bearable.  Hard, but bearable.  If you are thinking of tapering your drug, please seek advice from benzo experts in the UK who take this iatrogenic illness seriously.

It took me 17 months to taper a drug which I took for only 3 months before my brain and central nervous system were damaged.  My last dose was July 23, 2014.  I stepped off feeling close to 100% healed, and saw improvements in my health through most of the taper.  I went from blogbeing unable to sleep to unable to stay awake for 2am doses during the last few months.

When I completed the taper I still struggled with fatigue. I would get hit with sudden waves of exhaustion and inability to fight it off. I also felt lethargic and unmotivated. I wonder now if the lack of interest which continued for a while was more post traumatic stress and trying to figure out what was left of my life outside my walls. It has all gotten better.

Just like during taper, right after I stepped off, I continued to be a slave to the calendar. I watched days go by and any tiny blip gave me jolts of fear that this might be delayed withdrawal.  For some who taper too quickly, but feel okay during the taper, months later they can be slammed with symptoms.  At month 4 I knew that I should no longer fear delayed; I’d escaped that.

At month 7, despite some small remaining brain things (concentration was hard, following book plots was hard, staying interested in movies was hard), I celebrated being at 100% healed. By then I’d read enough on perimenopause, and was actively tracking my symptoms of that, I believe the remaining symptoms I was dealing with were peri not the benzo.

More recently it suddenly occurred to me that I’d listened from start to finish to 5 audio books in a row and remembered the plot. I read before bed and enjoy it. That came out of nowhere and was just normal. I’ve stopped thinking about symptoms and just live life.

The thing I think that would have helped me to know during healing is: how do you live after this experience and not be fearful or have anger?

I believe the brain engages a sort of amnesia which allows us to forget much of what we suffered. I don’t think about Ativan or what I went through on a regular basis. When I talk about it, I no longer cry. Even though I remain as an admin in my benzo support group and participate daily, my brain is forgetting what the experience was truly like. This week someone asked about physical pain and who doesn’t have it. I spent a long time trying to remember. I didn’t journal everything but I know that there were times I took 3 baths a day because the Epsom salt and essential oils were the only thing that helped with the aches. So, I can say I must have had pain, but I truly don’t remember the specifics. I know there was stuff with benzo belly and laying on my stomach in a semi fetal position when it hurt – but I can’t remember the details, how often, how bad…..

I talk less about those 2 years now because it feels more like the plot of a barely remembered book than something I struggled with 24/7. I am in an interesting position where for the first time I can see the perspective from friends and family on this – how could this possibly be true? How can one tiny drug (taken such a short time for me) have led to such damage? Especially now that it no longer feels like something I lived; it doesn’t feel like my story, my pain, my losses, because everything feels right and better.

After-benzo-Sue is happier. I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. I’ve taken the techniques of healing, have learned how to talk myself through stuff, find alternatives like nutrition, exercise, oils, to fight what in the past would have meant an ibruprofen or doctor visit. I don’t get into a panic if I feel a twinge. I am more relaxed about everything. Went to Dunkin Donuts for a freebie coffee and just plain forgot to ask for decaf. After drinking about half, and realizing I goofed on my order, I handed the cup to my husband and never thought about it again. No panic. Had no revving of symptoms, which was nice, but still plan to avoid it.

I know many of you still exist in a place of fear given how our brains get hijacked during this season of suffering. I just want to reassure you with all my heart – it won’t be this way forever and you won’t be anchored by the baggage of this experience. One day it will all be over. You’ll come out wiser, more content, better equipped to deal with life than the average person.

You just need to hang on until your brain resets.


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Today I celebrate 19 weeks since completing my Ativan taper.  I am not 100% well.  I am not even sure I remember what 100% healthy feels like, but I am content.

After 17 months of a taper for a prescribed medicine taken as directed for 3 months (how insane is that?), one thing which worried me was how to reenter the world.  I am now at almost 2 years since the medicine damaged my brain and central nervous system, and I am still finding out who the new me is.  There is a quote used a lot by those healing from iatrogenic illness:

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain – when you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what the storm is all about.” – Haruki Murakami

So who comes out of the storm?  We aren’t the same.  There is no debate among the healed.  We universally express the feeling of serenity, things which previously were bothersome now roll off our backs.  We see things differently.  We are the people in “The Matrix” who took the red pill and now know the truth.  But then how do we relate to others who haven’t lived this experience, who still live a life where small annoyances are big and meaningless things consume so much of their time?  Who haven’t a clue, and often don’t care, of the pain we lived for so long.  blog

It is such a convoluted state in which to exist.  Everyone wants to be “normal” and do things which are easy, socially acceptable and don’t require sacrifice.  What we have to do however, is create a new normal.  This illness lasts for a long time.  That is just a fact.  Even after tapering cautiously and wisely, my body continues to heal and I can simply never go back to the state of “normal” it once enjoyed.  A typical healed benzo should expect that stress revs our symptoms, diet impacts our health, OTC meds can set us back, dental procedures may throw us into withdrawal again.  I will never be able to eat takeout Chinese food or drink a beer with friends.  That is just another fact.  It won’t kill me, but I will need to be aware of how I live and the choices I make in order to not re-injure the central nervous system.

For those still healing, I have advice which may or may not mean anything but here it is:

  • Start small.  You can’t go from coma to marathon overnight.
  • Reach out to the faithful; the friends who dried your tears throughout.
  • Watch your diet. We know gabas exist throughout the body, so anything going in can have an effect.
  • Please protect your brain. Yes, a glass of wine with friends would feel normal, but ultimately may cost you a price you can’t afford.
  • Take as much time as you need.
  • Love yourself.  You are a warrior who survived hell.  There is no stopping you.
  • Make the most of your health.  We have learned the ultimate lesson.  Health can be taken from us in a moment.

I am living this quote.  We all should live deliberately.

“Most people can look back over the years and identify a time and place at which their lives changed significantly. Whether by accident or design, these are the moments when, because of a readiness within us and collaboration with events occurring around us, we are forced to seriously reappraise ourselves and the conditions under which we live and to make certain choices that will affect the rest of our lives.” – Frederick F. Flack

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Tomorrow is 15 weeks since the end of the evil Ativan.  Each week brings me relief and new things to celebrate.  Relief because healing is happening.  When I first finished the taper, my fear of delayed withdrawal overshadowed my ability to celebrate.  Every week since, I am more confident that we have done this correctly, and although not 100%, so far from ill that I do feel more like rejoicing.  blog

Today’s milestone is one I treasure.  Up until now I have managed to go off on my own and do simple things.  Trips to grocery stores, a Christmas shopping attempt, errands by myself driving like a teenager who just got her license with the CD player on full blast.

I have also been able to do more things with my husband.  With him at my side I feel protected and safe.  I know I won’t have to make a decision alone or encounter something which makes me uncomfortable.  My cognitive abilities are not back to pre-medicine Sue, so when faced with choices, I become flustered.  Thinking is not as easy as I would like it to be.  Yet.

A good friend just had surgery and is home recuperating.  Today for the first time, I went alone and visited with a girlfriend.  Chatted like a normal person.  Laughed, caught up on what has been happening.  I was me.  I haven’t been able to accept the many offers to go out and do things like this until today, and the fact my friend was home sick meant that I wanted to be there for her.  So I pushed myself.  And I did it.

Seems like the most ridiculous thing in the world to announce publicly that I sat at a friend’s kitchen table and talked, but it’s another victory.  I celebrate each with gusto.

Many who read this blog are healing themselves and my wish is that as you read my story, you are filled with hope to know that we all heal.  I participate in a group where we share everything about this journey.  Today I had the opportunity to respond to a sister-fighter who cold-turkeyed her medication per her doctor’s ill-informed guidance.  After I typed my response, I cried.  I am humbled and grateful for the gifts I received on this journey.

I know as a taperer who found this group before I had a chance to do it wrong, my situation is very different. My 18 months was never as bad as any moment spent in cold-turkey. I sometimes hesitate to comment on posts from those who cold-turkeyed because I don’t feel I’ve earned the right after all you guys endure. I just wanted to reiterate what was said above. I would never ever ever have gotten in line and said “can I have benzo wd and lose time and suffer please.” BUT, I can honestly say I love the new me. I never liked myself pre-wd. I was too short. Too fat. Too scared. Not enough.

Now, I look at myself through different eyes. I am a bleeping warrior. I can do anything. Absolutely anything. I focus on the important things. I value every good thing I experience now. Life is different and I hope I get as many years in this new state of mind as old, fearful self-hating Sue had in her mind.

I can’t wait till every person in here nods knowingly and rejoices too.


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lasting or existing for a long or apparently infinite time; enduring or continually recurring.


Today I celebrate 2 months since my last swallow of that evil Ativan given to me by my doctor. Things improve daily and I have few no complaints related to the taper.  The “magic” anniversary will be Christmas when at 5 months out we will be able to breathe deeply and celebrate the incredible ability of our body to heal despite poison created and prescribed by man.  blog

The last month was challenging because I had to deal with numerous doctor appointments for all those things which were delayed during the 18 months of illness.  None of these doctors were the ones who prescribed the benzo, yet I faced each appointment bracing for battle – rehearsing in my head how and what I would share regarding my medical experience.  Sadly, as expected, the interest level of a doctor to hear a patient discuss negative side effects from a drug was absolute zero.  Even as I tried to explain to the ob-gyn my unwillingness to add her voodoo scripts to deal with perimenopause, she practically rolled her eyes and explained I’d be needing them later.

This invalidation of my experience causes me such frustration.  If nothing else comes from my suffering, I hope telling my story opens the eyes of someone else who may blindly trust in the medical profession and not do their due diligence before choosing to take or not take a prescription drug.

Rant over.

For those keeping track:

1. Fatigue improves daily.  Blood tests show that my anemia, which went untreated because supplements worsened withdrawal symptoms, has gotten worse.  I am now able to tolerate iron pills, have revamped diet to include high iron foods and am wondering if the remaining fatigue is just anemia, not taper related.

2. I have periods of great motivation and drive, followed by disinterest in getting going.

3. Buzzing and heart palps are gone.

4. Head pressure, ear pain, teeth pain, agoraphobia, body tightness – all gone.

5.  I’m thinking more clearly.  Not yet rocket science clear, but able to process more and participate more.

6.  I sleep again.  Go to bed, READ (squeal on that one), rest and wake.  I even get up in the morning as opposed to dragging myself from bed to couch in the afternoon.  It is amazing.

To my friends still in the midst of healing from this devastating experience – please hold on.  Go slow.  Listen to your body and make small cuts followed by holds as needed.  Don’t let yourself get in such a bad state by “pushing through” that you end up suffering.  There is no prize for being macho, but a great reward awaits you for being wise and heeding the words of those who have finished the fight.  I joked often about my turtle taper, but I’m so blessed to have been strapped to a turtle instead of hanging on for dear life to a cheetah.



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Today is my 1 month anniversary since completing my Ativan taper.  It is hard to process that this medicine taken as directed for only 3 months cost me 18 months of my life.  The hardest thing for me has been coming to terms with the price paid for being a docile patient.  When you are in the midst of battle you keep one foot in front of the other working your way forward without room for reflection.  Now that I am finished, I stand here perplexed and amazed at the trial I endured.

People ask how I am doing.  This is a hard question to answer because I do not remember what “normal” feels like, and I’m walking on eggshells fearful anytime I experience a symptom that my world will implode and I’ll be dragged back into hell.  If I ever sought “professional” help, the diagnosis would be Post Traumatic Stress.  How can you go through this life altering experience and not have residual trauma?

Here are the symptoms which remain:

1. Occasional rapid heartbeat, especially after eating or stressors.

2. Fatigue.  Never as bad as during taper, but I’m not signing up for any marathons.

3.  Some dizziness.

4.  Still unable to feel motivated or connected.

5. Fatigue.  I know I said it already, but I struggle with this.  It is overwhelming how defeated you feel when tired tired tired.

6.  Still have trouble cognitively and can lose words as I try to talk.

To understand how far I have come, please check out this older post:  https://newoldgirl.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/is-amnesia-a-good-thing/

Contrasting life during taper and after, I think we can call this a success story.  Those symptoms which remain will lift and  life will improve.  blog3

So, here is my quandary – I feel like I am straddling two worlds.  I am clearly not up to re-entering the “normal” world.  Any stress at all revs me and I find myself observing those without benzo experience from a distance.  It is hard to feel connected because I see the world differently.  When I hear someone complain of a summer cold and the few days of inconvenience, I find myself biting my tongue to not be contemptuous.  You’re impatiently waiting for Pumpkin Lattes at Starbucks to return?  I’d like 18 months of my life back please.  You NEED another vacation?  Could I please have a 100% return of my cognitive abilities?

I don’t like feeling this way and hope that as distance from this suffering increases, I won’t judge those who have no idea how life can turn on you in an instant.

Another tapering friend shared these words from her bible study, and I felt like God wanted me to hear them at this moment.


Sometimes, to get from where we are to where we are going, we have to be willing to be in-between.

We have many feelings going on when we are in-between: spurts of grief about what we have to let go of or what we lost, and feelings of anxiety, fear and apprehension about what’s ahead.

These are normal feelings for the in-between place.  Accept them.  Feel them.  Release them.

Being in-between isn’t fun, but it’s necessary.  It will not last forever.  It may feel like we are standing still, but we are not.  We are standing at the in-between place.  It’s how we get from here to there.  It is not our final destination.

The Language of Letting Go by Melody Beattie





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All is as well as we can hope for in my third week post benzo hell.  I will update on my own progress in a few weeks, but today I wanted to share the incredible words of another warrior.  scar

I am blessed to be in the company of strong human beings who endure more pain than most people could imagine.  I met Lisa about 15 months ago while I was tapering, and she was suffering the effects of a cold turkey done by “professionals” who believe they know how to manage the prescriptions they write.  Because I tapered so cautiously and slowly (probably insanely slowly if judged by the questions I often have from friends without benzo knowledge), I only experienced small parts of some of these.  It breaks my heart to know the many people who endure long term suffering because they followed the advice of their physicians on how to get off these medications.  Please, if you are currently taking a benzodiazepine or an anti-depressant, you must wean yourself in tiny amounts over a long period of time in order to minimize suffering and long-term illness.  Here is some of Lisa’s pain caused by tapering too quickly:

The “benzo demons”said……..

“Let’s take Lisa and put her alone on a boat at high seas and make sure she feels every twist and turn. Let’s pump up her head and body with so much pressure she literally will feel like she could explode. Put high pitched whistles in her ears which NEVER stop and plug them up so her hearing is distorted but yet sounds make her jump. Make her eyes burn and throb so she squints, and give her a dry mouth but excess saliva at the same time.
Plug her into a low voltage electrical outlet which runs 24/7 and make sure she even feels it in her teeth, ( throw in a numb left foot for fun).  Her bones and joints and muscles should ache so much that she hobbles around like an 80 year old.  Put her chest in a vice so she’s desperate for air much of the time and a hamster wheel in her stomach and keep it churning.

Take away all her ability to feel love, happiness and positivity and throw in a dose of rage. Wipe out her ability to feel connected to herself and others and toss around some confusing obsessive fearful thoughts in her mind.  Make sure she can’t nap by shocking her system everyone she tries with crazy thoughts and jolts.

Take away her concentration, impair her problem solving abilities and exaggerate her emotions.  Put a pervasive sense of fear around her which will drive her crazy because she won’t know what she’s afraid of.

Her brain should pulsate and actually sizzle in her skull, while the room spins and she feels like she is floating in mid air while trying to fall asleep.  And speaking of sleep…..at least 2 or more hours of tossing and turning and obsessing before, please.

Don’t forget to throw in the unexpected earache, headache, spinning and a few good projectile vomits for fun.

Make sure the symptoms wax and wane unexpectedly and please please NEVER hint at when it will end.  It’s ok if she looks normal because then no one will have any idea what’s going on and will expect her to act normal.  She will be SO FRUSTRATED and it will keep everyone around her wondering if there’s really anything wrong and how it could be “that bad”.  They will give up after awhile and she will feel more alone than ever.”

Names of Benzos:  http://www.benzobuddies.org/benzodiazepine-information/benzo-list/

Information on Withdrawal: http://cepuk.org/withdrawal-advisers/

General Resource: http://www.madinamerica.com/?s=benzo&submit=Searchhttp://

The biggest thing I regret about taking Ativan for tongue pain prescribed by my friendly primary care physician is that I DIDN’T RESEARCH THE DRUG FIRST.  Like many, I trusted that my doctor knew what was best for me.  Even before I finished explaining the tongue pain I was experiencing, she was already writing on the prescription pad.  Three months later, when tons of symptoms presented themselves and I FINALLY looked up Ativan, it was too late.  The damage to my central nervous system and brain was already done.  Please learn from those of us willing to share our pain.



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All that time gone,
But not gone.

I existed,
But didn’t exist.

The world moved,
I stayed still.


I stand,
Ready to run.

I’m eager,
Ready to live.

I’m humbled,
Grateful to God.


Days….just days away from the end of voluntarily swallowing poison in order to regain my health. How odd that in order to heal a body, one must swallow the poison which injured it. Slowly slowly slowly repairing itself while the mind boggles at the injustice of the entire situation. Benzodiazepines must surely have been created by Satan.

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