I live in a fairly rural area and am dependent on my car to get around for my basic needs such as food and, well, just about everything. Driving is not something I take for granted these days. I had lost the ability to drive a car with comfort and confidence for many years. I only drove when it was absolutely essential, and when I did, it was a scary proposition. These are memories I would prefer not to summon. But I, like so many of us, need to tell my benzo tale often enough, as distressing as it is.
As my CNS continues to heal and I regain my health and my life, I venture farther and farther in my car. Traffic lights and left-hand turns do not challenge my processing abilities as they did so mysteriously for nearly ten years. The real me used to drive the Los Angeles streets and highways with ease. My refuge was my car; the radio set and cranked to KXLU or KROQ, driving the 10 or the 101 or the 405 and loving life. The real me used to make back and forth trips from Manhattan to Woodstock at least once a week, reveling in my black roadster’s ability to turn easily and accelerate quickly. Funny how I started having trouble (feeling panicky) when I bore left onto the Tappan Zee Bridge as I headed south on the NY State Thruway. A piece of cake started to become a dreaded, overwhelming task. There was no reason for me to connect my panic to my sporadic use of Klonopin. After all, I did not take it to steady myself for those drives. And I had never heard of tolerance withdrawal. Certainly my doctor never suggested that my new driving problem could have anything to do with a medication she encouraged me to take for sleep or routine stresses. As a matter of fact, she suggested I take Xanax to help my growing driving anxiety. Note: I did not take her advice. I thought it was a bad idea. Drugs to drive? Not me.
But I continued taking Klonopin often enough to handle a stressful meeting or get a good night’s sleep; and without realizing it, I was, of course, in the thick of tolerance withdrawal. By the time I started to have rolling panic attacks while driving, I was doomed. Once you start having rolling panic attacks that you know are not based on real fears or any reasonable sort of anxiety, you’re kind of done for. The verdict is in. The CNS is letting you know that it is very messed up. You are in crisis.
More than likely you are the one to start wondering about the benzo connection because it is highly improbable that your doctor put 2+2 together. It is easy enough to find information with a simple google search. Just check “stopping Klonopin” on Wikipedia. I am eternally grateful to Wikipedia. Wikipedia knew much more than my doctor about the dangers of benzodiazepines and about the need to wean slowly. I do not go to that doctor anymore. I was lucky enough to find a new doctor who was willing to oversee a safe taper after I sent her my new find, the Ashton Manual.
But oh, it was not easy. My most basic sense of self and reality was shaken, distorted, cruelly undermined. I became a teenage existentialist again. What is this craziness, this sad life? What is this consciousness when all feels so distant and unfamiliar and strange and frightening? And as I drove, performing the essentials that felt so foreign, desperately grasping the steering wheel, an unreal lifeline to all that I had lost, all that I could not do, light years away from that simple reality that I used to take for granted, that I might never retrieve. Trying to make sense of the road before me. Were humans designed for this? What is this crazy constellation of roadways, these monstrous patterns that I must somehow navigate when nothing seems real and nothing seems to work? This is unnatural. This is too much! No! No! No! I can’t take it!
But now that I am returning to myself again, with upregulated GABA receptors and most of my vestibular and ocular function restored, my wildest, most peculiar processing issues have disappeared. And I now glide down highways, feeling zen and right with my world and my place in the universe in this post-industrial-information-and-tech-age-climate-change-let’s-please-save-the-earth-era. And I may suggest that we add Pharma Epoch to the list? Think about it.
No more are we prey for saber tooth tigers. And long ago we stopped listening to alchemists who had us inhaling mercury vapors. And, safe to say, our humours now remain intact; the bloodletters no longer drain us of our life force. But, being of our times, this Pharma Epoch, we are the unlucky victims of our age’s current form of medical malfeasance at the hands of the marketing gods and the healthcare providers who serve them. Once we catch on, we find our tribe, our fellow benzo sufferers. We gather together, we support each other, and we survive. In this misguided pharma age, we represent an extreme. We have been forced against our will to a take a painful and tortuous life path. Though together we are learning our way back to ourselves. We are surviving. We are meant to be. And we are meant to tell the tale.
Oh, and the stories we will pass down to future generations — tales of cruelty and madness from the 20th and 21st century Pharma Epoch. May we be part of this regrettable era’s evolution toward more humane and effective treatment and care for humankind.