Setbacks

Matt Samet
31
1769

“Will I be able to have a drink again with friends?”

“What about weed?”

“How about coffee? I really miss my morning coffee…”

“Do you eat lots of refined sugar now? I miss desert and sugary snacks. I miss chocolate!”

“How about violent or horror movies—or do you get overstimulated?”

“Can you take an aspirin? What about cold medicine?”

“Can you push yourself super-hard exercising? Or work really long days without repercussions?”

“Could you ever take another benzo, say if you had to for a surgical procedure? What about pain medication?”

“What about cigarettes? Are those ‘off limits’?”

Over the years, I’ve had people going through psychiatric-medicine tapers, washout, or withdrawal ask me these and similar questions. Some of these are certainly questions I’ve had for myself as I’ve fought my way back to normal life — back to that delicious calm and ease of living we in good health take for granted. After losing my way for many years due to psychiatric drugging and chemical addictions, I’ve come to believe that the big issue with med withdrawal is that it causes a light-years-beyond-“discomfort”, horror-movie overexcitation that won’t, not for one instant, let you forget your existence. Your second-to-second reality comprises a seemingly unending hell with no pause button, only the occasional relief of sleep. You are in so much pain on every possible level that you simply cannot escape yourself, and so the pain looms larger like for it.

In the withdrawal/healing state, the symptoms are often so strong, and the fear, racing, obsessive, and tortured thoughts, and inner torment so great, that you are unable to enter that frictionless state — aka plain old life — in which you are simply acting, moving freely about the world as need and desire dictate without the ball-and-chain of dread-infused self-awareness dragging you into the abyss.

Without being so persistently aware of your existence that you also can’t stop from ruminating about its antithesis, death.

Distraction helps a little, but only for so long. I often felt like my very shadow was chasing me, leaving nowhere to run. As soon as I paused, even for a microsecond, the withdrawal storm was back on me like pack of snarling dogs. Worse yet, insomnia and fatigue had sapped my energy stores, yet if I tried to “rest” because I simply could not take another step, the symptoms crowded in to fill the stillness. I felt like a shark that must always keep swimming, or it will drown. The experience was in every sense an existential trap.

You look at other people not tormented as you are and wonder how they live so casually, so fluently. What secret do they know that I don’t? Their world seems alien, a realm of the gods and superheroes, a paradise unobtainable. Just to go grocery shopping or throw a Frisbee in the park or smile at a child would take more energy and courage than you could ever imagine conjuring. Occasionally, you hit one of those rare windows of calm, and you can, in the contrast, see how withdrawal has warped your picture of the world. Then, discouragingly, the symptoms return to push you back into a terrified and frenzied thought-storm.

Oh shit, not this again.

Yet life goes on and you must keep moving as best you can, so you learn to operate by a new physics. It often takes force of will and sometimes literally physically maneuvering yourself in some unnatural way to accomplish even the simplest task. You dwell in inertia. In florid benzo/SSRI/mood stabilizer withdrawal, my thoughts oozed like molasses, thick, clotted, unnatural, foreign, frightening. I often couldn’t breathe properly due to what felt like a bloated belly and iron straitjacket sheathing my torso; an electrical current surged through my gut and spine, and my muscles were on fire from the crown of my head to the tips of my fingers and toes. I could neither cry nor laugh, so bound up was I with hyperventilating rigidity, so frozen were the muscles of my face.

Amidst this near-paralysis, when I needed to access a thought — say, “I need to take out the garbage” — and convert it into action, a sluggish disconnect stalled the message’s transfer between brain and body. I would have to actively conjure instructions for myself, as if using the manual to put together an Ikea dresser: “OK, I’m going to reach down to this little pail, bring into the kitchen, turn it upside-down over the big trash can, and then take the liner out of the bin and carry it out to the alley.” Step-by-step, I would accomplish each task, slowly, unsurely, my body stiff and sweaty. Instead of enchaining these actions as one continuous flow, I moved like a robot, staccato, pondering every movement then taking seconds to actualize what once used to occur unconsciously in a fraction of that time.

Completely conscious, at every turn, of my existence. But never in a reassuring, mindful way, as with the grounding of your body to the earth through your feet while meditating, or stopping to savor the sweetness of an apple. More like, the awareness of each in-breath a man has while being waterboarded.

There is no peace. That is the heart of the matter: there will be no peace until you pass a certain threshold with your healing.

Now, I did get better from all this—almost entirely, and enough so that I didn’t have to think about it anymore. It was mostly not on my radar. The dread, the existential panic, the body dipped in cement disappeared. I have enjoyed, for many years, the luxury of taking my existence for granted because it has not been a torment to me. But there have been setbacks, bad decisions or unforeseen stressors or just the randomness of neuronal healing that have plunged me back into the aforementioned state. Which, as you might gather, sucks. If you’re like me, when you have a setback, your first thought is probably going to be, “What if this time it’s permanent?”

And: “I don’t know if I have the strength to deal with this again.”

And: “FUCK this…”

As I write this, I’m after two long and toxic months gradually (yet also erratically—blergh!) on the mend from a setback that began in late July. Oddly enough, it had occurred to me over this past year as I’ve been writing these essays for Mad in America that maybe I was “too healthy” to speak to the withdrawal experience with authenticity, to have street cred. Maybe too much time had passed since I’d been at the crux to recall what it was like; to put these essays into their proper context, to have the proper empathy for people early in their healing, their wounds still raw. To shuffle a mile in their shoes—usually as quickly as possible from their psychiatric tormentors. Perhaps I’d had too many good years in a row, my body strong again, taking normal life for granted, to have an honest recollection.

However, it’s now a moot point. I’ve (hey, lucky me) had a chance to live with full-bore 100% benzo/antidepressant/mood-stabilizer withdrawal symptoms again, seven years after taking my last psychotropic. It sucks — it sucks big time — but that’s just how it is, a reality I’ve somewhat been able to accept. I write this not to scare people, but to point out some mistakes I made along the way that contributed to this setback, so that others might avoid them. And also to emphasize that I have been healing in a matter of months this time, instead of years, as grim as the experience has been.

This was, I now see, all very predictable.

I’d been drinking way too much coffee, and my consumption had been escalating for years despite my best efforts to rein it in. The deadline-driven nature of the editorial work I do often means brief periods of epic, 12- and 14-hour days, for which you need to remain “up” and alert. By this summer, each morning began with a quad espresso, moved to a Dr. Pepper or Double Shot at lunch, and whenever I needed a “bump” I’d turn to chocolate-covered espresso beans or dark chocolate. I could drink a Double Shot at 5 p.m. and still sleep eight hours that night. (I know, I know — don’t say it. This was excessive.) Paradoxically, only the morning caffeine woke me up; the other infusions were oddly sedating, and I ended up nodding off by afternoon. Something very strange was going on . . . I was also eating way too much refined sugar. The only fruit I’d have was the occasional handful of blueberries with my son.

I had the nutrition of a jacked-up Red Bull teenager . . . in my forties.

Meanwhile, I was continuing to push myself rock climbing in high summer, even though heat has been a trigger for past setbacks. It didn’t matter, I figured. I’m seven years out. I’ll be fine. It’s over. I also had a shoulder injury, a flaming-red flag that should have been a clear signal to take time off. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. I’d lost too many years flat on my back or writhing on the floor in benzo agony to sit on the sidelines ever again, so I pushed through. I took a small dose of painkillers at night for about ten days just to sleep on my injured limb, and then abruptly stopped. I’d taken opiates as prescribed on a couple occasions post-benzos for knee pain without any major adverse issues, despite a past history of addiction with these pills. But this time, for whatever reason, was different.

This time I fucked myself . . . hard.

All hell broke loose on a short trip to South Dakota, climbing two days in the swampy Midwestern heat with a friend. On day two, on the hike up out of the little limestone canyon, the symptoms, which had been building, came rushing back in a giant tsunami. I couldn’t breathe; it was like I’d walked into an invisible wall. On the six-hour drive home, I felt like I’d been dosed with acid, and fought back panic and tried to appear as normal as possible in front of my buddy as I clutched the steering wheel with desperate force. The symptoms have ranged from jitters to insomnia to the “iron sheath” to trouble breathing to anxiety to panic to derealization to a rigid neck and throat to fatigue to rubbery legs to a black, black depression, and of course the hopelessness that comes from being plunged back into hell having thought you’d finally escaped, never to return.

This wasn’t anxiety; this wasn’t depression. I felt like I’d been dosed with speed and LSD, assaulted by a pack of bat-wielding thugs, shot full of flu virus, contracted MS. There have been perhaps some elements of adrenal exhaustion or general stress/fatigue contributing, but the root problem has felt like the return of benzo withdrawal, even all these years later. It had lain dormant like a sleeping bear, then came roaring out of its cave after I so stupidly bumbled along and poked it with a stick. Clearly, I was treating my body like crap, and clearly even without a sensitized nervous system I was headed for a blowout. And having endured setbacks before, I should have been smarter.

But I wasn’t.

The first month I was down to three hours of sleep a night, had to go up the stairs on hands and knees, and on a good day could only walk around the reservoir by our house, a 0.75-mile loop, twice, shuffling, gasping, a far cry from my daily five-mile walks with the dog. I had adrenaline spikes, panic attacks, sobbing fits, heavy legs, looping death and suicide thoughts, and bouts of fatigue that left me glued to the mattress. I often despaired over how my world had exploded, the pieces seemingly scattered too far and wide to ever be picked back up again and reassembled.

I’ve often told people that I’m not sure if I’d have the strength to go through benzo withdrawal again. I believed this to be true until, once again, I’ve had no choice but to face the monster, and realize I’d been wrong: It was just something I was saying. I actually do have the strength, because just like before, I will not give in. Just like before, I will not end my life to end my suffering, and I will not, even at my most desperate, darkest hour, craving some quick fix for the pain, give back in to the “meds” or “doctors” that have taken so much already. Even if I spend the rest of my days a shuddering wreck, they are my days to spend here on Earth. I am not going to let this thing or the heartless, broken “mental-health” system win. Not before, not now, and not ever.

If the only way through before was forward, then forward I shall go again.

The good news is, I’m slowly getting better thanks to the balm of time, to meditation, and to cleaning up my diet and getting off caffeine, which IMO has a profoundly horrible and way understated withdrawal syndrome. I believe that all along, caffeine had been inflaming the underlying stuff until this final breaking point. (Caffeine interacts with GABA receptors, the ones affected by benzos, so perhaps my body was relying on it in some bizarre way. It also releases dopamine—as well as the fight-or-flight hormones adrenaline and cortisol. It is a stimulant and a psychotropic.) But this has been the scariest setback of all, because I was so far out time-wise. In my first few years off benzos, there were heat-induced summer funks that lasted two to three weeks, but at that point I could rationalize that I was still early in my healing. At other times, life or work stress conspired to lay me low. Or I’d go a few too many nights with poor sleep and the symptoms would return. But in all these cases, I could point to a single discernible cause. In the past three or four years, I have considered myself mostly healed, almost impervious to setbacks save those few weeks in summer, and even then I’d experience symptoms at only about 50 percent intensity. There simply hadn’t been any of the random bad spells, the waves, I experienced during the first three years.

Each time that I’ve experienced a setback I have healed, and felt stronger than before. I expect this time to be no different. In fact, I expect it to be my last major setback, as I now plan to take better care of my health. To, like the early days in benzo withdrawal, scrutinize every last thing I eat, to listen to my body and not push too hard with exercise or stress, and to monitor my psychic output (eliminate negative thoughts) and input (avoid negative people and negative media) so that my thinking is more centered.

And to avoid caffeine and sugar.

Let us hope this is the last of it.

I write this not to scare people, but to present a reality. This reality has been difficult to accept, but the fact remains that my nervous system is more sensitive than before and might always be so, at least to some degree. I’m not the same man I once was, though this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As an integral person, I’m much tougher and more resilient, having survived psychiatric oppression. If something or someone smacks of control or manipulation or disingenuousness, I don’t give it or them the time of day. However, on the level of pure neuronal function, there is a lingering sensitivity I’d do well to monitor.

So perhaps you’re wondering, once a year, or two, or three go by off benzos or antidepressants or antipsychotics or whatever chemicals have been foisted on you, will you still have to be vigilant or can you dive fully back into your “old life” again? Can you pound coffee or smoke weed or drink socially, or have a stressful job or commute, or eat foods with lots of MSG and not blow out, not have a setback? Can you overextend yourself physically or mentally or emotionally without incurring “the wrath”?

I don’t pretend to have the answer: you do. I mean, how important are certain of these things, that you need to reintroduce them into your life to try to reclaim the “old you”? Are they important enough to risk a setback? Why not embrace the new you and make more judicious decisions that accommodate who you are now? Why not proceed slowly and with great caution back into any activity that’s a potential trigger? Isn’t this how life should work? Shouldn’t we live according to who we are today?

Psych-med damage or not, we’re all changing in one way or another up until the day we die — all aging and sagging and slouching toward our graves, battered this way and that by happenstance and fate, made more fragile with each step, each breath, each passing second. This is both the most wondrous and most terrifying thing about being human: we are simultaneously self-conscious and aware of our mortality, whether we live this truth accordingly or not.

I once thought I had good, reliable answers to what happens as we heal, to how to live “after benzos” in a way that cultivates long-lasting health. But clearly I didn’t; clearly I was wrong. Clearly I’d let myself see only one part of the picture. As each day goes by, however, and I clutch and claw my way back to health, reclaiming the hard-fought gains already made, I think I’m coming closer to one version of the truth.

**************

Of further interest:

Rock climber, author, and MIA Blogger Matt Samet discusses his experience becoming addicted to, and subsequently coming off of, benzodiazepines.

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31 COMMENTS

  1. Dear Matt,

    You’re describing in such vivid detail something a loved one is experiencing now, that I have had no way of understanding or imagining. I will share it with that person and all family members as it is a compelling witness to the wild expressions of discomfort, irritability and pain that they must be suffering while withdrawing from 3 psy drugs. Your words give this person’s torment the voice of a fellow victim of mind/bodybad pharma-psy treatment, makes some sense out of what’s happening to him. This offers me some possibility of a connection, of sympathy still after it has been wearing thin, even a shred of hope in the face of what is a state so alienating to encounter to those outside of it. Thank you Matt. This is a timely letter that offers the possibility of what time might still offer a person and their family in the throws of withdrawal.

  2. This is the first time I’ve rushed back to the top of the page to hit “like on facebook” before even reaching the end of it. Great writing. It has been a long time since I withdrew from psych drugs, but It was very much like your experience of it. I have also never been the same since, not even close. The last major psych drug withdrawal I went through was when I was 14, there would a few minor psych drug withdrawals over the years since then, all of them a taper and after no more than a few months on them, but that’s it. For the years 15 and 16 of my life I was completely dysfunctional, I was out of school and showering once a month and struggling to survive in a lower middle class home. Just feeding myself was at times a chore. At the same time, a custody battle with the state was still on the back burner. In the past the state would look at how messed up I was from the drugs, blame it on some imaginary illness, then call my parents “abusive” for letting me quit taking it. When I was 14 I finally had some say in the matter, but there was always that fear that every time bit of progress I ever made over a long period of time could be crushed by those same … degenerate scumbags who did that to me in the first place. Being a mostly dysfunctional, emotionally disturbed 30 year old on SSI who has barely left the house in years, I still have to worry about forced drugging… Although I’m so close to just leaving this Earth anyway, I don’t give that much of a shit anymore.

    • Dear Jeffrey,

      Please do not lose hope of a better day, or give up. I live in British Columbia where the forced drugging laws are even more draconian. It is absurd and surreal that on the one hand psychiatry purports to “treat” PTSD and on the other hand it actively engages in inducing with its authoritarian practices. Real doctors follow the dictum, “Do no harm.” That in this day and age it is still done with impunity is an outrage — the open graves, the piles of bodies, the obliterated minds and souls — the atrocities keep piling up and the carnage continues. We are prisoners in an invisible camp, bereft of even an electrified fence to throw ourselves up against in our unbearable suffering and despair. Take heart Jeffrey. Your words are valuable — both testimony and empirical evidence, as well as inside knowledge. The liberation is coming Jeffrey. Science, ethics and reason are on our side. Let no one be able to say, “I didn’t know what was going on.”

      Thanks for the inspiration and encouragement.

      Sincerely,
      Cheryl

    • @JeffreyC

      I hear you brother. The world is a wacky place where abuse is considered treatment and refusal of treatment is considered abuse. The professionals ‘treat’ problems they have created, and they deny the experiences of survivors who say the ‘treatment’ is harmful.

      The madness in the system can leave the sanest of us feeling and seeming dysfunctional.

      “Although I’m so close to just leaving this Earth anyway, I don’t give that much of a shit anymore.”

      If you want to leave, it is your choice, your right. You have certainly endured more than most people can bear. No matter where you go from here, please know that you are valued on MIA. You words have inspired me. Your comments to me have been thought provoking. Take care.

    • Jeffry

      Hope you decide to stick around for awhile. I’ve come to really value your posts here on MIA. I remember when you asked if I could post a link to the story about some guy toting a concealed weapon who whipped it out to shoot at bank robbers. Being technology challenged I couldn’t.

      You are an important voice that speaks out for all of the thousands of kids who are being drugged to death by the system. With your first-hand personal experience you are an important and valuable voice. I hope you will stick around to keep stating the things that only you can really say in your own and very unique way.

  3. HI Matt,

    I have been following your story for a few months now. I have been in recovery from long term Benzo use. I had almost a year home free and started having heart pvc’s. I had three doctors convince me I needed to re-instate so in July I did- I took 8 pills over a 3 week period and wanted out for good. You hit the nail on the head with this article.

    I have tried to explain how my central nervous system is fighting so hard to win this battle- to overcome. Everything seems on hyper drive. I am sensitive to caffeine, sugar, food, adrenaline and even sex. I have struggled with horrific brain zaps, muscle twitches, weird head/facial tension, panic attacks, hypnic jerks and more. I have had countless doctors tell me there is no way I could still be going through Klonopin withdrawal and get zero support from the medical community. They are convinced I am having panic attacks NOT withdrawal. I call bullshit.

    I was doing good for awhile and went in for an endoscopy. The anesthesia they used affects the gaba in the same way that benzos do. I told the doctor and they administered it anyway. I ended up in a withdrawal state all over again and they said it was “A panic attack.” It is articles like yours that validate what so many of us are going through. The medical community all to easily medicates us but abandoned us when we want to live a life free of psych meds.

    I guess we can’t get too comfortable. Thanks for being so open and honest. It helps us all.

  4. What a beautiful and vivid piece.

    I only passingly flirted with psych meds myself but I did a fair and regular share of weed, coffee, alcohol, psychedelics, and the occasional benzo, opiate, and even friends’ neuroleptics (to help me sleep off binges) for several years. The overall effect that had on my system feels similar to what I hear many describe about their psych drug withdrawal. I’ve become hyper-sensitive to many things. I’ve had to cut out caffeine and sugar from my diet, along with gluten, dairy, and anything else remotely irritating. Most of the time, I truly feel better than ever, but even the minor slip-ups, especially any kind of multi-day binge on sugar or alcohol or whatever, leaves me a train wreck of emotional and physical setbacks.

    I do not mean to compare my pain to yours or anyone else’s. In a lot of ways I have it easier than many in this community! I only mean to agree that we all have to deal with our deteriorating bodies and work to nurture them as best we can. In a ways, my burnt-out organs and nervous system have been a blessing of helping me to find balance — my own “one version of the truth,” of how to live a virtuous life and feel good in my body.

  5. Your journey is so moving and courageous. When I finally tapered from having taken meds for a couple of decades, I, too discovered my sensitivities and sensibilities, all at once. It was powerfully overwhelming, and took me on a path I could never have foreseen.

    What I discovered is that these new and intense feelings which all of a sudden rushed to the surface was emotional information through which to sort. This required that I practice being grounded, that I shift and expand my perspective about my life, and to take leaps of faith, which is how I learned to trust my process. Got me straight on my emotional journey, which led to spiritual awakening and evolution. So basically, getting off meds meant taking my soul journey. From this, I learned to all sorts of strength and clarity.

    Thank you for this very authentic and transparent piece. Best wishes on your healing.

  6. Hi Matt,

    This is a great piece… so important for folks to hear. I’ve been off benzos for 3 years now and all of the subsequent meds I was put on after a psychotic break in acute withdrawal from them for about a year. Your experience sounds very similar to mine. The setbacks do come up quickly and unexpectedly. I take such good care of ourselves because I really have no choice, so when the symptoms from such a dark time emerge again, it’s very frustrating–arrgh and blergh!

    Stress is the enemy, so I do everything I can to combat it. But that can get wearing at times, too. I’ve been having a few old symptoms over the past couple of days due to some very good stressors in my work and education and having to put my 18 year old cat to sleep a month ago. It seems to be those times where things get compounded–and not always just hard stuff, but high emotions–that are the hardest. I’ve had a few months with no symptoms at all and lots of peaceful, gratifying experiences of being alive and feeling like myself.

    So, I’m trying to look at the resurgence of symptoms as normal within my healing and am rearranging my life accordingly to take care of myself like I would if I had a cold. Getting to a place where I can normalize everything the psychiatric system told me to be afraid of has been one of my biggest assets in healing. Plus, I know this will pass because I’ve lived through so much worse. Thank you so much for this article, it came at just the right time… keep up the good fight! I will over here, too!

    Best wishes to you,
    Mary

    • p.s. I was a bit distracted when I sent my response last time… I’ll be benzo free for 4 years this coming January. Much closer to 4 years than 3 at this point! 3 years was a big turning point in my recovery, too. Finally started feeling well enough to stand up for myself in all aspects of my life.

  7. Matt, thank you for this powerful and vivid article. While I’ve surely been abused by psychiatry, who took my entire childhood, I never had to take the drugs, because my incarceration and torture were so long ago. So in some ways I don’t understand the experience of the typical survivor. You’ve made it very real for me.

  8. This is excellent guidance for people who have some momentum in their life. Some direction, some goal. Something of a life to actually live.

    Somebody told me the other day to “get a life”.

    Because it’s clear as day that I don’t have one, and that what I have nobody wants (including me).

    (better off dead comment goes here)

    Gonna go make another cup of coffee now and smoke a cigarette, too. And email my boyfriend (he doesn’t really exist, he’s just a figment of my imagination).

    • But if you weren’t around who would guide me to the great music videos and the hang drums?!!! I look to you for your very unique and thought provoking statements about things. Your words have encouraged me and I don’t have many people who can or will do that for me concerning my work. You are a part of what has become my community here on MIA.

      • I’ve been all over the internet and in my opinion, there is no greater community than MIA. But then, I’ve always had excellent taste. Ha. 🙂

        Sometimes I feel like I’m camping out, or “occupying”, and I don’t like that. It bothers me. What I’m “occupying”, really, is my own time. Everybody needs to have something to do, to keep them busy and occupied. *shrug*

        I love Matt’s writing. This piece about setbacks really is some excellent guidance, as I see it. But I also see a man with a life, that he’s living.

        And for me, that is a major difference that I can’t ignore. I’m trapped and stuck in a real condemnation. My “life” was over, very many years ago. I just sit here and deteriorate. I’ve discovered the death of my soul, for crying out loud. Sometimes, being smart has a very serious consequence. I’m often right about things that I don’t want to be right about.

        I suppose I’m just a communicator. But it’s aimless: no direction, no goal. No purpose.

        I enjoy you, Stephen. Thanks for responding to me.

        *smiles*

        • But you are not aimless, directionless, and purposeless to me. We never know how we affect the lives of others, even on such a strange place as the internet.

          My roommate has friends on the internet that he’s never met in person, but they are supportive of him in his struggle to overcome what was done to him by his experience of the system. They are his community and without them his life would be so much the less. Without them I fear that he would not continue living. So, thank goodness for the internet and the friends that we have there!

  9. This post is so validating to me right now. Your description of psych-drug withdrawal describes almost exactly how I have felt coming off my cocktail of prescriptions – so many drugs that it would bore you to read them. It has been over two years since I took a pill for my mood, but I completely relate to the sensitivities you describe – especially to caffeine and sugar. I am in the process of cutting them out . . . again. I can tell that the small amount of caffeine I have come to rely on leaves me very foggy, anxious, restless, and with headaches. Sugar has a similar effect, but never gives me a high in the first place. The problem is that I am not even out of the woods with my withdrawal in the first place, so I should not be adding the caffeine and sugar back in to my diet. Thankfully, the caffeine has only a fraction of the effect the Ritalin did on me while I was taking it, but still . . . your post is a good warning and reminder of how careful I need to be.

    Thank you.

    • I also want to add that reading the responses on here is hopeful. I had this idea that two years should be long enough to come off all of my prescription drugs, but that does not seem to be the norm – not that there is a norm, really. I have been impatient and have underestimated the impact of being on 20+ medications over a period of ten-twelve years. I know each person’s journey is unique, but there are common themes, and those expressed in response to your excellent post are helping me feel less alone. I have read through your words several times, and what you describe is so specific to what I have experienced in the past, as well as what I am experiencing now.

      Thank you, Matt, for your willingness to be honest about where you are. I hope the best for you, and for all who are experiencing something similar.

  10. Matt Im so so sorry this has happened to you….may I ask, what was the pain med you took and how long after stopping it did this severe reaction kick in, I know it was proabably a combination of other factors too but that seems to be the thing that really pushed you over the egde

    its a relief to hear that you are coming out of this…its so awful what these drugs do to us

  11. Matt, as always your willingness to be honest and humble and vulnerable about your journey is so awesome. What you illustrate so well is that this path requires us to be constantly mindful about what we consume and how we spend our time. It’s a journey of self-(re)discovery, riddled with lots of trial and error.

    As we are human, sometimes that mindfulness is going to slip and old habits will take over for a time. But as you have shown here, a setback, while it royally sucks as you are going through it, is an important opportunity to be more self-aware and to get back on the good old self-care horse once again. Best of luck to you, and please keep us posted as to how you are faring!!

    With huge respect and admiration, Leah

  12. Dear Matt and all,
    Thank you for the article and profound comments. I wish I could have read this earlier. I went back on meds after almost two years off because of the anxiety and depersonalization that I ran into after moving out of my home and separating from my husband.
    I do the alternatives but they are expensive and I limited them due to financial considerations. I am in therapy but things kept on getting worse and I didn’t know what else to do.
    This gives me hope that this can just be an adjustment and then I go start all over.
    Has anyone gone back and what was is like to get off again?

    • I can’t answer your last question but I did want to let you know that someone read your comment. I suspect that if you’ve been able to taper and get off two years ago that you’ll be able to do it again in the future when things have straightened out for you. Hang in there and more power to you and don’t give up the ship! You can do it again!

  13. Hi Matt,

    I’m so sorry to hear that you’re experiencing the suffering of withdrawal so many years off. I recently tapered off of a benzo over 3 months, and the month after I stopped taking them was pure hell. Alas, I had no choice but to start taking them, for I couldn’t function, and I want to get on with life. I had no idea that I’d experience suffering to this extent, even after reading your book and talking with you. There has to be a better way to come off of benzos with much less severe withdrawal symptoms. I don’t know what plan b is going to be. I have a lot of decisions to make. I still don’t feel 100%, yet I really never did over the two years I was taking benzos. Anyway, I’m glad that you’ve figured out a way to heal, and it’s great to hear that you’re getting better. What happened to your Facebook page? Is it going back up? Thanks for your inspiration!

  14. Thank you, Matt Samet! I’ve been in this same place this year, and have been really disheartened by it. Until I read your piece. I understand all too well the feeling of thinking you’ve wasted time, so no more should ever be wasted. 3 years out, I’m in the same boat from an amount of a med that would cause few others these problems. I am healing faster than some people, but that mindset of being invincible off meds (which I foolishly thought I’d just swing back into) is largely diminished. OK, gone.

    I just love your description of withdrawal. It is perfect. There is nothing I’d love better (and I do love it, on the days I’m lucky enough to be free of symptoms) than to escape my own head, my own body. To just walk (or even type a comment) without being painfully aware of every motion. My body simply isn’t there yet. I know it will be soon, but, well, this comment is proof enough, it’s all about me. Which is a terrible way to live, yet with this process annoyingly inescapable!

    Here’s a toast to some large glasses of purified water to hoping none of us ever go through it again, and a look forward to when we can all just say “Cheers!” and finally mean it.

    • I’ll raise my glass to that toast! I’m in the same boat (off meds over two years now, sometimes feeling like it is complete waste of time, the invincible-off-meds mindset, grateful for Matt’s description of withdrawal, and hating when it feels like it has to be all about me). At least we are not alone, and I hope you have days where you feel that your journey is helping someone else get through theirs. You did just that right now for me. Thank you!

      • Wow, thank you very much! I feel quite foolish for having gone on a med again, however short term/small dose, but my mind is returning to normal. Many days where the symptoms are mostly gone. If the physical symptoms would go away, I would be fine at this point, more or less. So, that is something! I do hope it helps. One nice thing is the compensatory beauty when your brain rights itself. I have days where the world seems so amazing and beautiful, just because the withdrawal symptoms have let up and I can experience things finally outside of my own head.

        Why a complete waste of time? Are you having relief and the invincible feeling both? I do hope it goes better for you, and on those good days, just pass on the happiness and hope to others. It really does all come down to hope! Withdrawal has a way of sapping hope from us, and everything feels slowed down and permanent. It’s not, though, there is always hope.

        • Why a complete waste of time? Good question. I guess that I have not yet reached that place where I am out of my head for long enough to hold on to hope – not even a full day yet. When I do get a little bit, it is almost always in the mountains, surrounded by pure energy and air. Then when I am back in the city I am drowning in the symptoms again.

          The invincible feeling comes only when I get a bit too passionate about the evidence I find streaming through this website, and it is a form of hope. The problem is that it is the kind of borrowed hope that crashes when I am with only myself again. But I keep coming back to the folks on MIA because mostly I feel the messages and stories as validating. Yes, that is real hope. Thanks for the reminder to pass along hope when I can, and that this is not permanent. If I don’t believe in that, what is the point?

  15. Thanks for all your blog posts! You describe so well what it has been like for me to withdraw off antidepressants (SSRIs and bupropion). I often have said I felt like I was on a never-ending bad acid trip!

    Mid November will be my three year anniversary post-meds (after about 15 years of being on them and repeated attempts at quitting). I am doing better than ever, even feeling human again for long stretches of time (which does not necessarily mean I feel good… just free of strange withdrawal symptoms).

    Right now I seem to have entered another “wave” of bad symptoms, and it strikes me both how quickly I get used to being well and how unprepared I am to face the whole ordeal again, despite thinking I have gotten so much better at acceptance of pain. I have guarded against declaring victory, but I’m still disappointed every time I get plunged back down. It takes me a few days or weeks to accept and to embrace, to redouble my “efforts” in meditating and in waiting with no expectations.

    Reading this post, I wondered if you believe writing about your experience on here contributed in any way to your relapse. It sometimes happens to me that talking about what I went through at its worst can recall the symptoms. Although I also resist diagnosing what I went through as PTSD, there do seem to be similar mechanisms involved. It seems to have the same effect for me as being overloaded with noise or images, or being over-sensitive to caffeine or vitamins or over the counter medications. Not that any of those are predictable. Sometimes things I’m sure will be triggers have no effect. For this reason I’ve often avoided the very forums that helped me realize what I was going through was definitely not “in my head” and definitely a direct result of quitting psych drugs.

  16. Just throwing this out there: I have no doubt that benzos and other psych drugs can have long-term consequences and withdrawal can take years. But the farther out you get from the time of the last dose, the less likely it seems that a panic attack or return of symptoms would be a result of withdrawal syndrome, and the more likely it would be caused by something else. So, maybe your panic attacks, etc., seven years after quitting benzos aren’t related to the benzos. Maybe you just straight up had a panic attack. There’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t mean you have a disease or have to go back on drugs. But maybe you can look to other ways of dealing with it than just blaming it on the long-past psych drugs and waiting for it to pass.

  17. Hey Matt sorry about the setbacks hopefully by now you are back to your old self strength wise. To the other commentors This was clearly not just a panic attack. The exhaustion and weakness along with the other symptoms separate this from a panic attack. He clearly couldn’t push as hard as he wanted to yet. A combination of heat, strenuous climbing and a bad diet is why this happened. I am very similar to Matt when it comes to activity. My vice was sports, heavy weights and Jogging. I am early in the process of recovery so i cannot do any of those things but I am worried about even trying those things. When Matt pointed out is it worth it, for me Id say no. No sport or pushing myself is worth a relapse of WD symptoms. We are all different I get that too. Some people recover from this and jump back to being their old self. I am hopeful ill be able to do what I want but I don’t know that Ill want to try. Maybe very slowly but I think the extreme nature of my old workouts will be gone. Light workouts and not pushing too much is what I will do.