The Nonlinear Nature of Recovery from Benzodiazepines
In the process of BWS, whether you’re tapering, post acute, protracted, or on your way to making a full recovery, it’s safe to say that there are (relatively) good days and bad days. In my experience of recovery, I’ve had symptoms go to be replaced by new ones. I’ve had the pendulum swing from physical exhaustion and crushing fatigue to revved up tweaked out adrenaline mode and I’ve had waves creep up on me after I thought the waters were still. And, I’m not the only one. This is a common complaint of just about everyone who is an active member of benzodiazepine support groups, forums, and on Facebook that I have seen. The reasons are unclear, but the road to recovery can be a very bendy, twisty, windy one.
1. Not in a straight line.
Though, there are those people who feel better as they progress; and then there are some unfortunate souls who just feel crappier. Either way, the goal is the same: to recover. Know you are blessed with any day of relief, even if relative – but don’t even get me started on the really bad days. Those “waves” of symptoms that just seem to hit out of nowhere, or are sometimes provoked by stress, hormonal fluctuations, maybe eating something that disagreed with me or was stimulating, etc.
Stimulation is Stimulation -
Sometimes, there is no explicable reason for this. (Yet? Research? Where art thou?!) Other times, it can be brought on by any sort of stimulation. There are two types of stress that can be put on the body; Distress, which is bad stress. Stress of losing a loved one, losing a job, being stressed at a job, problems in a relationship, maybe your body is adjusting to a new diet, maybe you overdid it on the treadmill, or your hormones are changing, menopause, pregnancy, the list goes on and on. With a hypersensitive CNS, this bodily stress can be harder to cope with; the nervous system is adjusting to cope with just the state of living in the moment – pushing that limit can be like irritating healing wound. It’s even harder to try and control this kind of stress. But even too much “good stress” or “Eustress”– getting a new job, getting married, having a baby, and other happy things, can be stimulating to the recovering down-regulated CNS too. I’ve had symptom surges just from laughing too hard! In both Eustress and Distress, stress is stress, and the CNS can remain susceptible to shocks of either kind of stresses for a while.
When I’m waving out like a tsunami, I often feel really discouraged, no matter the reason. Sometimes there is NO reason. At all. Feelings of hopelessness creep in. It’s easy to let your mind run away with your thoughts– the plethora of symptoms associated with the benzo withdrawal syndrome can mimic many other health problems. Hypochondriasis – thinking you have every disease in the book and Dr. Google is certain the prognosis is poor — is actually a common symptom of benzo withdrawal. But try not to let this happen or obsess needlessly. It’s a pretty maniacal syndrome, and obsessing about a symptom in the absence of another health condition as the cause is counter-productive.
On “better days,” we tend to not fixate on all of the suffering we’ve endured; we usually do not think about the plethora of symptoms we’ve gotten hit with all at once. We are collectively a resilient group of people who have gained varying degrees of wisdom and strength from going through benzodiazepine withdrawal. On those good days, perhaps it is an innate protective coping mechanism to not dwell on the negative or bad waves. The brain might just be programmed to forget pain. However, it’s important to not over-do it or push ourselves; rather, not take these days for granted and just take it easy. To appreciate a bird singing or the sun shining– if we can tolerate it, we appreciate it. And, this is part of the philosophy that I try to live by.
Unfortunately, life does not slow down just because you’re going through benzodiazepine withdrawal or tapering your benzo. And this is often how we learn to cope without benzos
Functional brain changes after benzodiazepines adjust and recover in what seems to be a different way than say, scraping your finger where you clean out the wound, bandage it and wait for it to heal “in a straight line”–getting better and better everyday.
Some injuries, such as a traumatic injury to a limb, or the extraction of a tooth, etc. may hurt a lot at first. The swelling may come to a climax a few days after the initial injury and then heal in a linear fashion thereafter.
But this is often not the course of recovery from benzodiazepine withdrawal; from my experience and research, it’s often not the course of recovery from withdrawal of many other types of medication withdrawal syndromes, either. These drugs and substances change the brain’s functional mechanisms and recovery from them waxes and wanes as the overall healing process takes place. It’s important, at this time, to always remember that benzo withdrawal recovery is not always linear, and that sometimes it feels like we take two steps back whenever we take a stride forward.
This phenomenon of the benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome is well documented:
The Ashton Manual describes the nature of this “nonlinear” recovery process; offers encouraging words of clinical experiences with a good prognosis
“During benzodiazepine withdrawal, symptoms characteristically wax and wane, varying in severity and type from day to day, week to week, and even during the course of a day. Some symptoms come and go; others may take their place. There is no need to be discouraged by these wave-like recurrences; the waves become less severe and less frequent as time passes. Typically “Windows” of normality, when you feel positively well for a few hours or days, appear after some weeks; gradually the “Windows” become more frequent and last longer, while any intervening discomfort ebbs away.
It is impossible to give an exact time for the duration of withdrawal symptoms. It depends on where you start from, how much support you need and receive, how you manage your taper and many other factors. With slow tapering, some long-term users have virtually lost all their symptoms by the time they take their last tablet, and in the majority symptoms disappear within a few months. Vulnerability to extra stress may last somewhat longer and a severe stress may – temporarily – bring back some symptoms. Whatever your symptoms, it is best not to dwell on them. Symptoms are just symptoms after all and most of them in withdrawal are not signs of illness but signals of recovery. Furthermore, as your mind clears, you can work out more and more effective ways to deal with them so that they become less significant.
One reassuring finding from many clinical studies is that eventual success in withdrawal is not affected by duration of use, dosage or type of benzodiazepine, rate of withdrawal, severity of symptoms, psychiatric diagnosis, or previous attempts at withdrawal. Thus from almost any starting point, the motivated long-term user can proceed in good heart.”
– Chapter III of Benzodiazepines: How they Work and How to Withdraw by Professor C. Heather Ashton, DM, FRCP (U.K.)
Never forget that there is support.