While I was in hospital, I kept a diary of my stay. Below are excerpts from two particularly poignant days. They were the first two days of my withdrawal from Lorazepam – a short acting benzodiazepine that I had been taking a high dose of for the best part of eight months – and transitioning onto Valium, a longer acting benzodiazepine that I will slowly withdraw from over the coming weeks.
I will make one thing clear about this though. I had no idea I was on an addictive drug. I knew benzodiazepines generally are addictive but I have never heard of Lorazepam and thought it couldn’t be as bad as it’s better known cousins Valium and Xanax, or my psychiatrist wouldn’t have kept me on it for so long.
I am withdrawing pretty badly now. It’s almost 10 o’clock in the evening and I have this sinking feeling in my chest, worried about what the night will bring.
Benzos suck. I am coming off lorazepam. To do this the doctor has prescribed a high dose of Valium - and a lot more additional medication tonight - but it still feels like my chest is flooded with sadness and there is no light or goodness in the world.
I am itching to get out of my own skin. I am so uncomfortable and I can feel this empty hole sitting in my chest. This is very physical and emotional.
I try to focus on what I have to gain from this experience and all that I have to be grateful for in my life.
I have so much love. I have so much support. I have a family and network of friends who are rallying behind me and walking beside me.
I have a son who I want to watch grow up. I don’t want to be one of the frequent flyers. I don’t want to be back here for third and fourth visit. I don’t want to be here at 40, 50, or 60.
I am doing this for Amory. I am doing this for Nick. But most of all I am doing this for myself – for the 14-year-old girl so depressed she self-harms. I am doing this for the 16-year-old girl who was traumatised by someone she trusted. I am doing this for the 21-year-old woman who tried to end her life. And I am doing this for the 30-year-old woman who held on, white knuckled, for months – desperate and running out of hope for recovery.
It is nearly two hours since I took my evening medication and it is finally starting to kick in. I hope this means that I sleep. I hope this means I’m not in pain. I hope this fills the void in my heart and patches up my wounded parts.
I am writing this entry in two parts. I have tended to do it at the end of the day as I’m preparing for bed but today started really early.
I had a 3am wake up thanks to my bladder and was unable to get back to sleep thanks to my withdrawal symptoms. I’m wired and have just eaten the best part of a packet of snowballs.
I’m going to watch TV for a couple of hours, have some tea and hope that I get to sleep. If not, today could be a bit painful.
Today both was and was not as painful as I expected it to be. I was pretty wired, withdrawing and so, so angry with my old psychiatrist for leaving me on a medication that she knew would have such a painful withdrawal at the end ,and that would be so paradoxical in the system of someone with my diagnosis. I spoke to mum, dad and Nick. I cried a lot, I went for a run and finally at 10am I went back to sleep for an hour.
This was a real blessing. I woke up refreshed and it enabled me to save my afternoon. I went out for my first lot of leave and bought a green juice and a couple of new T-shirts.
More important than the purchases was the sense of freedom I felt walking along the street, listening to The Beatles and breathing the air.
I came back and did an amazing yoga class. One saving grace has been the older widow I mentioned. As I wrote earlier, she would like to come back here as a volunteer due to the value she has received from her own admissions and from what she sees of new arrivals. She and other people I have met here have challenged the idea that people with mental health problems are self-absorbed. I have witnessed and received a lot of compassion and empathy. It makes it easier to be both honest about my challenges and also to display my own care of others with these good examples all around. In the past, I didn’t like to intrude upon people when thetseemed unhappy but I am learning that reaching out in compassionate ways is the helpful and an important human quality.
Probably the biggest victory of today though was that I got to see Amory. Because of the withdrawals and the unpredictable nature of my distress I initially didn’t think I was going to be able to see him. I found the strength, thanks in large part to a really amazing yoga session where we focused on feeling the pain in our bodies breathing and relaxing into it. We also did a lot of pain release around our hips, which I understand can be a spot that your emotions it.
It was so amazing to see Amory. In just three days, he has grown so much and is now talking confidently and constantly in full sentences. Everything is a question – he was curious and he was brave and he was full of energy.
Nick seemed a bit worn out. I felt guilty that while I am here living a life of very little effort he is running things back home. Mental health is challenge that effects all of a family, not just the person with the illness. I hope he and Amory don’t get forgotten in this. Our families have rallied and so I think the support and care is there for our little family. We have found some good pre-school books for Amory to help to explain what is going on and to allow him to share his experiences of this crisis.
I am hopeful of a bit more sleep this evening. I am going to wait until later to go to bed but already I can see signs of the withdrawal easing in my body. I’m less nauseous, less wired and I appear to have my appetite back. I ate my entire dinner, had a hot chocolate, ate some chips and am now working my way through a second snowball.
Withdrawal fucking sucks. But it has given me a lot of empathy for people battling drug and alcohol addiction, and for people unfortunate enough to find themselves in my position – following well intentioned but misguided advice for medication.