Looking Back
(original post January 22, 2014)
   
As I was outside shoveling snow this morning in the brutally cold weather, my thoughts started to dwell on where I was 4 years ago today – the psychiatric hospital. It was brutally cold then too with lots of snow. Of course, I thought about bits and pieces of the long journey of the last 4 years – from my thoughts of my certain death, to day after day eternal misery, to hints of healing, to wellness. Up to this point, I have never put all the pieces together in one coherent document. If it were assembled into one manuscript, it would be an amazing, powerful read (just like so many stories of those in benzo withdrawal). Unfortunately, I have to write it before I can read it. Unless and until that happens, I will keep spitting out pieces of the journey.
 
Last Wednesday was the 4-year anniversary of my admission into the hospital, so I did an update of sorts to my initial success story elsewhere. I will paste it here for anyone who might be interested. After I had posted it, I was asked about the time between my release from the hospital and when I started to “feel the healing.” That is a time I have not thought too much about. It was a very important time though. So, I responded to that inquiry and will include it here.
 
At this hour on January 15, 2010, I was “checking in” at the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute. My wife and I were directed to go in a door at the side of the building – almost as if it was a secret passage or something. Upon entering we were met by a lady who directed us to have a seat –something nearly impossible for me to do because of the severe akathisia. I complied while she got all the important information from me that they would need to help me – my insurance information. In a few minutes, a tall, strange-looking guy joined us – Dr. Anderson (who was actually some sort of intern).
 
He asked me a bunch of questions about anxiety, appetite, sleep, memory, suicidal thoughts, and so on. There were only two specific things he said to me that I recall now. First, he assured me that they would help me and that I would be feeling much better when I left the facility. I was uneasily at ease. I kept wondering how good a place this could be if you had to come in the side door through the alley. Were they ashamed of what they did there? Or maybe ashamed of their clientele? Anyway, I hoped his statement was true. I had more hope then than I had 12 hours earlier when I was at home getting ready to commit suicide.
 
The second thing I remember is that, when he started talking to me, he named three “objects” – one of which was a penny. At the end of the conversation, he asked me what those three things were. In the next three weeks, the same procedure would be followed many times when a doctor would talk to me. The only object I ever remembered was the penny. I usually guessed at the other two. I still only remember the penny. I always got the same stare after my guesses – the one that told me I was hopelessly mentally ill.

So, after my initial check in, we made our way up to the 7th floor for my next check in. The nurse showed me around the floor and then showed me my room. I had a roommate. His name was Paul. He snored. Paul was a repeat visitor. I was so dazed with derealization and depression that I didn’t really notice how scary that place was. I do recall someone moaning and crying all night in the hallways. That occurred every night during my 3-week stay.
 
The next morning (Sunday) I met the on-call psychiatrist. She knew nothing about me so, realizing her sole purpose and duty were to indiscriminately medicate with wild abandon, she did so. She said she puts everyone on Wellbutrin, and she proceeded to prove it to me. She told me that my very own psychiatrist would be there Monday to medicate me more properly. Monday morning arrived, and many of us quickly learned that our own personal psychiatrist was on vacation. I was too sick from the Wellbutrin and Klonopin tolerance withdrawal to even care. Not to worry though because they pulled another shrink out of retirement to correctly medicate us. And she did. She changed my Wellbutrin to clomipramine, and the hell of the next three weeks began.
 
In those three weeks, I believe they were trying to torture me as much as they could without quite killing me. I think it is called misery maximization or agony amplification. They must have a psychiatry course on it because it was very methodical and done to perfection. It included multiple anti-depressant trials, cold-turkey from 4 mg Klonopin, forced therapy and 12-step meetings, being treated and talked to like an addict, sleep deprivation, and it culminated in four ECT treatments.
 
How I lived through that and the ensuing weeks of inexpressible suffering I will never know. I never knew there could be such agony. I still have trouble comprehending it. Sometimes it seems like a dream – almost as though it never occurred….but it did. I have witnesses of both the suffering and of my complete recovery. Sometimes I ask them if I was really that bad. They just nod. There are never words.   
 
I know I survived one day at a time and often a minute at a time. I am well and healthy now….and have been for about two years. The terror and black depression are long gone. The physical symptoms have all faded – even sx that I had never attributed to Klonopin use or withdrawal from it (until they disappeared). Tinnitus still remains – still only a nuisance.
 
I now spend much of my time on the phone with others going through withdrawal or messaging, emailing, and blogging. I have the healing house. I am making connections with others who are also wanting to get involved in helping people through withdrawal and preventing others from ever taking benzos in the first place. We have been doing a lot of brainstorming…with much more to do.
 
Throughout most of my withdrawal experience, I had no one who understood what was happening to me except for a friend who went through something similar years earlier (post-acute withdrawal from alcohol abuse). I didn’t discover the forums till I was 7 months off the Klonopin. In 7 more months, I started to feel human again.
 
So, this is an update of sorts – although it’s not too different from the one last November. It does help me to recall just how incredibly ill I was four years ago. I honestly did not believe I would live through the damage done to me in the hospital.
 
But…. I lived…...I healed…….I am well…..and Dr. Anderson was wrong.
 
“Penny…… desk?......book?
 
Still can’t remember.
 
Here is the response to the question about the period of time between when I was released from the hospital until I began to feel well again: 
 
That is a good question – the “in between” part of my story. No one has ever asked me about that time, and I have never really written much about it. It is one of the most important parts of the story. It was one of my periods of “enlightenment” when I came to grips with what was happening to me. It was a time of denial of the truth, terror about the truth, and finally the most important and necessary part of my recovery (or anyone’s recovery) – acceptance of the truth.

When I got out of the hospital in the first week of February 2010, I was in extremely acute withdrawal. I was in agony. The derealization was completely unimaginable. I remember getting wings for the Super Bowl game (Colts – Saints). The wings tasted like metal. I rocked back and forth during the game. I didn’t even have the sound on because my hearing was extremely sensitive. I couldn’t even watch the halftime ads. They terrified me.

I remember looking at a list of hundreds of benzo withdrawal symptoms published by TRAP I believe. I had nearly all of them in one form or another. We had two very big snowstorms that first week (The first one started as I was stumbling away from the hospital on the Friday I was discharged.) My wife and I actually shoveled snow from the driveway that week (3 to 4 foot drifts). My BP was 240/120. (I recall because it was equal to “2” and the number on the bottom used to be the one on the top.) I fully expected to have a stroke and die in the driveway. I didn’t really care one way or the other.
             
Anyway, after about a week, the acute withdrawal did not improve so I reinstated 1 mg Klonopin (which is what I took during the previous 12+ years). I thought that I might at least live then for a while. In the next week, I went to see a therapist (which did not help in the least) and also a very scary psychiatrist. I was still in acute withdrawal (but it was at least a bit more bearable). She put me on Cymbalta, BuSpar, and Vistaril to supplement the Klonopin and Remeron that I was already on. She told me that, once I “stabilized” (whatever that meant), she would get me off the Klonopin in a couple weeks because it was one of the “easier” ones to discontinue.

In a couple weeks, I discontinued the Cymbalta. It felt like it was killing me. After two weeks out of the hospital, I somehow managed to go back to work. I was still on the BuSpar which kept me constantly wonky and in a perpetual daze of unreality. I ditched the BuSpar a few weeks later.

Somehow I was able to go to my place of employment for the next 7 months. To say that I did anything of significance would not be true. I sat there and suffered and shook in terror all day. I spent a lot of time googling PAWS (post-acute withdrawal syndrome). Up to this point, I thought my problem was simply PAWS from the alcohol and also mental illness because that is what all the “experts” kept beating into my ailing brain. The shrink was adamant that my problem had nothing to do with Klonopin. I did happen to see the wikipedia discussion on benzo withdrawal and that it could last up to 2 years. I remember being glad that I wasn’t in withdrawal from benzos. I had not yet discovered that there is something called tolerance withdrawal.

In my search for information on PAWS, I came across a blog run by an addiction specialist. I commented about my situation – that I had been sober for about 7 months and was taking Klonopin. He told me I would never be well until I got rid of the Klonopin – something about cross-tolerance. He had to be wrong (or so I thought). I thought the Klonopin would help me get through PAWS. I had no idea it was keeping me in tolerance withdrawal. I was terrified. He HAD to be wrong. I had already gotten off the Klonopin in the hospital, and it almost killed me. I clearly "needed” it. I messaged him several more times. He told me he was in the same boat years ago. He cold turkeyed both booze and Klonopin, and it took him 2 years to get well. Terror ate at my guts. How could I possibly ever get well? I had already tried the up-dose and nearly ended my own life before going to the hospital. I had already been completely off the Klonopin and would have killed myself the following Monday if my brother-in-law had not been there to prevent me from doing so.

I was between the rock and hard place. Up-dosing was out. Getting off was out. Living in the constant misery I was already experiencing was out. What to do? This is when I finally had to accept the truth. I bit the bullet and convinced my doctor to wean me off the Klonopin. We thought we would play it safe and cut 1/8th mg every two weeks. In May 2011 I began the taper and ended on August 6. (I got impatient toward the end.) That was about a 9 or 10-week “taper.” I remember my new shrink making fun of me for such a slow taper. My therapist chided me for being “married” to my drug –like a street junkie.

On the day that I took my last dose, my shrink put me on Pristiq – a horrid drug. I managed one month on that. When I quit taking it, the bottom fell out completely, and withdrawal nailed me to the wall. My career ended. I could not bear the thought of returning to work. Over the next 6 or 7 months, I kept looking for the “magic pill” that would make me well – one month on Seroquel and 10 weeks on Lexapro. They made my withdrawal much worse. At about 7 months off the Klonopin, I discovered the benzo forums and learned an enormous amount of information concerning benzo withdrawal. Most importantly, I realized that I was not insane. There were many others experiencing the same symptoms, and many had already beaten the benzo beast. Maybe I could too.

The rest of my recovery story is in the original post (although there are many “little stories” covered by that post). It has been amazing really. It’s still hard to fathom that I traveled such a hard road and got to my destination in the best mental and emotional condition of my life. It’s good stuff….the best stuff. 

Keep holding on. It gets good....real good.
 
Time is what heals. It truly is….and it does not fail.