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Parallel Pandemics

Like most thinking people, I have opinions about the COVID-19 pandemic. I do try to base them on qualified and quantified research — but I really don’t know nuttin’. I’m just trying to stay safe and get through these weeks, months, or years without catching the virus. Even if I could be assured that I would survive a mild case, I would not want to feel responsible for giving it to someone more vulnerable.

Signs of spring at home base.

In my home, we had a little bit of extra tension this past week. Last Thursday, after a tele appointment with my daughter’s doctor, we were sent to our hospital’s drive-through testing site for nostril swabbing. Because my daughter and I spent time in two Covid hot spots, Seattle and New York, in early March, and because my daughter developed a persistent cough shortly after, the examination team at our hospital decided that we warranted testing.

The test was unpleasant, but nothing to be feared. It certainly did not feel like my brain was being stabbed with a sharp instrument. Not at all. And it’s quick. My daughter would not fully agree. She did not like it. But, as a survivor of a lengthy taper off a benzodiazepine, for me it was no biggie. I still have a keen memory of benzo withdrawal inner horror and its concurrent non-stop pain. The excruciating pain. Pain, some claim, is forgotten. Benzo pain, not so. Benzo pain is just one aspect of the benzo nightmare that creates deep shadows of trauma that are too easily accessed.

Back to our tests: We were given the results yesterday and the news was good. Neither my daughter nor I tested positive for CV-19, so we have been given permission to end our self-quarantine. We have returned to safe social distancing, masked and gloved. Of course, like most, we are limited to our home base. My daughter’s school is keeping its students busy with Zoom classes and homework. And I can work easily enough. My workdays now consist of quiet admin tasks and the ongoing grant-application process, and working with our simplified-for-the-times remote editing system. I’ve also been joining Covid-related webinars organized for filmmakers. So many speak about having trouble with this new normal, working without ordinary human interaction. It makes many anxious and depressed. I think to myself, what’s so difficult about working in isolation? I am confident that benzo victims would agree. To a person, I think it can be said that anybody who has gone through benzo withdrawal is an expert at isolation — while enduring horrifying levels of mental and physical pain. Ungodly mental torture and physical pain. So, I am not complaining. I am fully practiced at self-isolation.

Let me say, I am glad to know that some going through benzo hell do enjoy the support of family and community. That support is not common enough. Too few understand what a benzo victim suffers while
in tolerance, during a taper, or in protracted withdrawal. When I was tapering, I had no family close by and did not have the support of my community. That made things unnecessarily difficult. In a better world, we would all enjoy the support of our families and communities. At the time, I did not dare tell my daughter what was going on. That would have been placing a terrible burden on her. Plus, it would have further emphasized our outsider status in our town (me, a single mother; her, an adopted child — a questionable combination for small minds). Note: We have since moved from that town I am happy to say.

Looking back, during the 22-month period that I tapered, my then elementary-school-age daughter sometimes asked if I was all right when it was clear that I was not — like when I was driving and unable to take left-hand turns or navigate traffic without panicking. I had my prepared answer her protect her from the truth. My thyroid. Oh dear, my poor thyroid. And I would tap my neck, as if patting my delicate thyroid gland.

That wasn’t too far from the truth, of course. I was, without a doubt, dealing with serious benzo-created HPA Axis dysfunction. Oh my poor HPA Axis, I used to lament to my doctor. It should not have surprised me that I would end up with thyroid problems — first hypothyroidism and now Graves’ disease. Both are a piece of cake compared to benzodiazepine withdrawal. Again, I am not complaining.

Fortunately, I am now able to discuss my benzo experience openly with my daughter. I survived it without her having to deal with undue shame or confusion. I so passionately hope that she is never convinced to take a benzodiazepine, or any pschotropic drug, for that matter. So far, so good. And she assures me that she won’t be seduced. She has spent her teen years listening to my spiels about prescribed drug dangers, my conversations with benzo sufferers and survivors, and my deliberations with As Prescribed’s editor Cam as we discuss editing theoreticals.

Work space. My favorite mug and the usual clutter.

After a brief interruption while Cam exited Brooklyn in hopes of escaping Covid, we have resumed the film’s edit. Cam was able set up shop in a relative’s home near Boston. He wanted to get his kids out of the city, so his mom cleared space in her home for a family of four. Isn’t this typical of Covid days — families being supportive, welcoming kin for the duration, staying safe with loved ones? I must say it again: Too often benzo sufferers receive no support from their families. Too often they are met with anger and resentment. Too often people do not want to learn about the nature of iatrogenic benzodiazepine illness and disability. Too often the benzo-harmed are kicked out of their homes, forced to endure some twisted version of tough love, treated like hopeless drug addicts. Of course, I, like most, feel a distinct unease about our Covid times. At the same time, I keep a close eye on the lower-profile epidemic of worldwide benzodiazepine misprescribing.

Cam is now as committed as I am to completing As Prescribed. The more he learns about what our filmed subjects have gone though, the more determined he is to keep our work process going. At this point, we know the direction our film stories are taking. We’ve logged and studied and experimented with hundreds of hours of footage. We know it well. We are using basic desktop file-sharing platforms to edit remotely. Earlier in our edit, this would not have worked. In this respect, time is on our side.

With a combination of patience, resourcefulness, and luck, most of us will get through these Covid-Days. I hope that you make it through this challenging period without Covid touching your life directly. I hope that you are able to survive the economic hardship, and that life after Covid is kind to you. If you are a full-fledged benzo person, I imagine that there is much about our new normal that feels already-too-familiar to you. I see this as such a strange irony. We have been suffering though our own pandemic. Our benzo pandemic has been going on for decades. We can try to make that point to others. But will they listen? I remain steadfast in my belief that As Prescribed will be completed and that the film will make a difference in the world. Our voices are going to be heard. And change will follow.

Stay safe. Stay in touch.

With love,