Nightmarish Benzos and Friends

“People want a quick fix but that’s not how it works. It’s a whole way of looking at life, a whole way of living, taking care of yourself.” – Babette Galang on healing.

At a coffee get-together, James remarked that he finally had a good night’s sleep. Temazepam was the solution, he explained. I shivered. Temazepam is a benzodiazepine—a “benzo.” All I could tell James was that I learned about benzos the hard way! My experience with these medications that physicians have been prescribing for over sixty-five years sparked a return to my nightmarish past. Benzos made me dizzy, depressed and incontinent. They caused restlessness, twitching and horrible itching. I had many falls. I was intoxicated, as if I were using alcohol. I was forgetful, couldn’t walk straight, my hands shook, got mixed up easily, my emotions were erratic and I called the crisis line most days. My psychiatrists admitted me to hospital for depression, agitation and sleeplessness. But it was the medications that they prescribed causing the intoxication, and making me look like I was mentally ill. My treatment in hospital relied on more medications, such as antidepressants, mood stabilizers and more benzos. Oh yes, I can’t forget the addiction. Once I learned that my problems were due to an addiction to benzos, I had to accept help from the health system that caused the addiction in the first place. Once I realized the psychiatrist did not know how to get me off the drugs safely and humanely, I had to do my own research and educate him. I asked him to read the manual, Benzodiazepines: How They Work & How to Withdraw by Dr. Heather Ashton. The Ashton method has a 90% success rate, if people are supported and given the information. After eight months of the doctor writing prescriptions according to Dr. Ashton’s protocol and eight months of withdrawal symptoms, I succeeded in getting off all of the benzos and other psychiatric drugs. Even though I was free of all psychiatric drugs, it took five more years before my body and mind settled. I would never wish what I went through on anyone. Yet 14.1% of senior Canadians, including James, are putting themselves at risk by using benzos. Learn More Benzodiazepines are associated with a greater risk of cognitive problems, delirium, falls, fractures and car accidents. This is serious considering these drugs are on the Beers list of potentially inappropriate drugs for the elderly. The 2012 version of the Beers list states, “Avoid benzodiazepines (all types) when treating insomnia, agitation or delirium.” So, for fifteen years I relied on benzos to sleep and once off them it was up to me to manage without the pills. My sleep improved by facing my fears and worries and learning ways to keep calm. When I have a sleepless night, I tell myself that is the way it is. James was determined to take pills to sleep and I am sure he had his reasons for not hearing my warning. I let it go. That is what friends do, allow people to make their own decisions. If the opportunity arises, I may say something intriguing to catch James’s attention, and in the meantime we will enjoy coffee together.

Christmas is about….

This December, instead of forging ahead with Christmas decorations as I usually do, I procrastinated. Who wants to get on all fours and crawl into the back of an awkward closet to retrieve dusty boxes? To ease my guilt, I told myself that I’ll get at it when the time is right. Four days before Christmas, I came down with a nasty cold. Feeling miserable, I wished I had put out the cheer of coloured lights and shining garlands. But no, I had procrastinated; the boxes remained packed away. That was the way it was.

Then my eye caught of the beauty of the oblong, yellow-orange striped squash which was stored on a shelf below the living room window.  A shiver of pleasure rippled through my body: I knew exactly what to how to add Christmas cheer to my home.

I poked three knitted penguins among the squash. “Cute,” I thought as I added a few Christmas cards to the display. I returned to my chair to rest, thinking, not bad for a sickie.dsc00138

Christmas was now two days away, the cold was at its height and I was sitting around sipping mint tea and wondering what is Christmas really about? I thought of the church’s Christmas pageant: a story I still love to hear just as I did when I was young. As a child I did not think about the prickly hay, the stinky, chilly stable or the oppressive government. The story was about warmth, hope and a sweet cuddly baby.

As I reminisced, a deep sadness settled over me. I never gave birth to a baby. The emptiness has affected me for years. As I see it, babies are gifts of love from above and there lies my pain. I never had a baby, a warm cuddly gift of love.

Whenever I see a mother or father with a little baby, I ooh at the precious bundle and I just have to tell them that babies are so important. Then I walk on. The momentary feeling of the love and warmth is all I can tolerate.

Other times, I listen as my friends’ talk of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren and I look at their photos, but I seldom take part in the conversations. In fact, I prefer not to be involved with children at all.  My fulfillment comes with the sewing of soft baby bath blankets, creating funky finger puppets and crafting boo-boo bunnies.

What happened to me, happened, and that is the way it is.