Hi, my name’s Jen Niles and Holly Hardman invited me to write a guest blog post for As Prescribed when I asked her how I might be able to help her with the film. I reached out to Holly in early September after a series of chance meetings led me to her film.
Much has happened in the month following our first contact, as another piece of benzo awareness that I recently got involved in is legislation around the prescribing of benzos. The public hearing for this informed-consent legislation was called at the Massachusetts State House on September 19. That led to my meeting both Holly and Geraldine in person and being filmed for the documentary on the day of the hearing. Life feels surreal with everything coming together, and I know that my suffering was meant for the greater good. Being here, alive and about 90% well, using what I have learned through my personal experience to be part of the solution to the disaster benzodiazepines have created is part of my life’s purpose. I was already pursuing a path in helping others, but now I’m also planning to work with people who need support while going through their withdrawal.
My life changed when I was 12 due to bullying at school and a traumatic event I had to attend an arraignment for. I began having panic attacks. Junior high was one of the most difficult times of my life and the panic attacks had been so bad that I didn’t eat for a long period of time. I survived, and got them to stop, and entered high school in a better place. I thought I was going to be okay, and I focused on school because I enjoyed learning and had many skills and talents I could put to use in the future to have a successful career. Life seemed to have many opportunities for me, except I was being bullied again toward the end of high school. That’s where dangerous medication first came into play for me and ended up affecting my ability to learn for a period of time. I left behind my full scholarship to college, dropping out after freshman year in 2001 with credits earned for only two classes. A lot of the effects I had then were very similar to what I’d experience fifteen years later when withdrawing from Klonopin, something I never could have done while working or in school.
In early 2002 I was prescribed Klonopin to treat the added anxiety of Effexor when, against my better judgment, I was seeking help from medication despite knowing how badly things had gone for me before. I was desperate because I couldn’t seem to fix myself the way I had in junior high. It’s scary to know that treatment can worsen or even create anxiety. Klonopin was only supposed to be for two weeks, but how was I supposed to come off the very thing that was controlling the anxiety of another medication, plus my overall anxiety? I felt amazing during those two weeks!
I ended up asking to remain on it when I was sent to another psychiatrist for continued treatment. It didn’t matter that he actually warned me about dependency in long-term use because the damage was already done. I was on it, would have panicked if taken off, and at that moment I thought I was fine and my anxiety was cured and I could remain like that forever. I was never coming off. I thought I was experiencing life’s greatest miracle, and this is one of the dangers of benzodiazepines for someone with anxiety when they first take them.
The adverse effects that followed shortly after were absolute hell and led to to a misdiagnosis of bipolar. The truth is I was greatly influenced by a new person in my personal life. I was vulnerable and that person encouraged my identification with that label without the benefit of proper medical evaluation. I was not able to see or understand anything clearly once Klonopin was in my system for a few weeks. I was lost, and my ability to make good decisions was very poor. I never experienced the true definition of mania, and didn’t go into psychosis, yet I carried a label of bipolar with me until this year when I finally had it reversed in my records once free of all pharmaceuticals. I spent seventeen years unnecessarily medicated, and the last several of those on disability from being unable to ever hold down full-time work. I lived a life on drugs that altered my cognitive function and abilities, regardless of never touching anything recreational or abusing alcohol. The only substances in my body were prescribed, and they robbed me of a real life.
It was in 2012 I realized Klonopin was the source of my problems, but I had no idea how to get out of a hole that was so deep. By 2015 I was at a point where I had done an extensive amount of self-work, and was able to do things that used to be impossible for me. I realized I was finally ready to face the withdrawal of Klonopin, the low dose antipsychotic, and the mood stabilizer treating its side effects. I set the date of January 1st, 2016 to begin. I read endless information on the internet to prepare myself, created my taper plan, and set out on a three-plus year journey to take myself off everything and find the happiness I knew was inside of me if I could just rid myself of the layers of chemical misery covering up who I really was. I was lucky to have a psychiatrist who was thrilled to help me off of my medication because she didn’t think I needed them. She didn’t understand at first how slowly Klonopin had to be tapered, which just goes to show that there are professionals with a patient’s best interests at heart but without proper information or experience tapering someone off a benzodiazepine.
I am very grateful to be where I’m at now, even though I am still essentially penniless and don’t yet have a Bachelor’s degree. I consider my life to be better than a college education, as I got an inside look floating through various doctors’ and mental health professionals’ offices, finding all their information loopholes and gaps, and the knowledge deficits in need of repair, so that the system that treated me finally allowed something more effective for my personal wellness. And now I want the same for others. People should not have to spend a significant part of their lives being chemically-altered and damaged. Climbing out of that hole was my greatest feat in life so far. And now I want to let others know that escape from a doctor-prescribed chemical nightmare is possible. I am in training to be a peer support counselor, in part, so that I can help others understand and free themselves safely from benzodiazepines and other psychotropic medications that should, if they’re anything like me, never have been prescribed to them.