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Benzodiazepine Healing — Let There Be Light

‘Through bleary eyes I write this message. In an effort to fully heal from past years of benzodiazepine injury, post-concussion syndrome, and Graves’/TED disease, I am using a somewhat quiet week to deepen an ongoing detox I embarked on in early September when I began a vegan diet — heavy on raw foods, especially fruits — and added a variety of herbal tinctures to my daily routine. This week I am on a 5-day juice fast of freshly-squeezed grapefruit and orange juice.

While I was tapering off Klonopin, I would never have attempted a dietary protocol that included grapefruit juice . We are warned that grapefruit juice, specifically, throws off a taper. I followed a pseudo paleo diet while tapering, and had the advantage of access to plenty of organic food at my local co-op. I was white-knuckling it through all activities, including the food preparation and cooking I did in my kitchen. I was grateful that I usually had the kitchen to myself so that nary a soul could watch me read and reread and reread again any simple recipe that I was trying to follow. Even the simplest instruction tended to fly out of my head in an instant.

At the time, I was also able to see a functional medicine MD who advised me to go gluten and dairy free, which made sense. So I did. This doctor also tested me for parasites. Ugh. It is horrible, and even weird, what benzodiazepine damage can do to our physiology. For all intents and purposes, benzos destroy the gut. And so much else — which brings me back to the Graves’ disease that I have been dealing with since 2018. I never had any discernible problem with my thyroid until I had damage from a benzodiazepine. Like so many of the benzo-injured, I developed hypothyroidism. Benzos can cause a chemical version of a direct and sustained hit to a person’s HPA Axis. And mine took a walloping.

Hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenals. I experienced severe disruption to those all-important brain/body systems. I was left with extreme dysfunction that has involved a long, arduous recovery with all sorts of detours into other worlds of physiological illness and functional disability.. So, while it appeared I had healed my thyroid even in the first months after I completed my taper, my body’s ability to handle stress remained compromised. My thyroid took a new turn into a hyper state after a period of sustained duress — a difficult time that I would have had little problem rebounding from without my existing CNS vulnerabilities.
Here I am, seven years post taper and still dealing with the legacy of a ludicrously prescribed benzodiazepine. One of the most frustrating aspects of Graves’ and associated thyroid eye disease is the eye bulging and the ongoing discomfort, the worst of which involves searing pain in my left eye that wakes me up in the wee hours of the night. It’s as though a microcosmic ice skater with razor-thin blades is performing a sadistic ice dance on my cornea. I treat it with additional doses of eye gel, adjust the eye bandage I’m wearing to keep the eye shut, and eventually manage to go back to sleep. I do sleep now. I remind myself routinely that I have come far since my discontinuation period when benzo-related pain was extreme, incessant, and lasting close to two years — not a mere couple of early-morning hours.

Part of the reason I was so motivated to try a new method to get past Graves’ is because I desperately want full use of my eyes again. Over the past summer my eyesight began to deteriorate in earnest. Pre-Covid, I had gone to an ophthalmologist twice for a field of vision test to assess my eyes and predict what Graves’-related vision changes awaited me. Both times the doctor was too busy to perform the test. But he did prescribe some very expensive eye drops that were supposed to cure my eyes’ inability to tear properly. I was somewhat dubious but gave them a shot. I did not do well with the drops. They caused burning eye pain, so I stopped giving them the benefit of the doubt and looked elsewhere for healing.

I am now working with an acupuncturist who used a raw diet and herbs to heal herself from Graves’. I enjoy following her recommended plant-based diet. I like the herbals she suggests. I have been feeling stronger and more energetic, and I have started to feel less pressure in both eyes. I now feel well enough to try her fasting protocol. I’m in my third day of a juice fast. I want my eyes! I want full use of my eyes again!

So, two more days to go. Today is Sunday. Tomorrow I’ll still be fasting when Cam, As Prescribed’s editor, and I return our remote editing suite (courtesy of Zoom and FaceTime). Cam and I are grateful that neither we nor any of our family has tested positive for Covid. But we both have kids. And, as most parents know, Covid has been the worktime-stealer of all worktime-stealers. My parental demands during Covid are low-level in comparison with Cam’s. He has two elementary school aged children, and he is the designated tutor with his mostly at-home kids. Has that put a crimp in our editing schedule? Unfortunately, yes. We grab work hours whenever we can. So, on Monday we’ll edit, and we’ll deal with the interruptions or schedule changes as they come along. We won’t give up. Our resolve is strong. We continue to receive promising news and build relationships with others who understand the work we are doing and believe in us and the importance of As Prescribed.

With the increase in benzodiazepine prescribing since Covid’s arrival (34% in the first months), as well as and some participant developments that needed to be included in the film’s final narrative, I decided to produce an epilog shoot last summer. We filmed in Boston and on the South Shore on a Thursday and a Sunday in mid-August. We wore masks and observed safe-distanced filming. Everyone except for one crew member had been isolating. But I’m not sure that had any bearing on the day’s exasperating shoot. It was the first time since filming began in 2014, that we did not make our day (get all the shots we planned for). So a personnel change was in order. Scott Shelley, our director of photography, who had been sheltering in CT since his series Tough As Nails want on hiatus, agreed to break isolation to drive up to Boston and finish up As Prescribed’s epilog shoot on Sunday. And it was brilliant, like a day spent with a treasured group of old friends, even though we were revisiting hellish benzo stories and current hard times with Geraldine and Joe Burns and Josh and Samantha Fitzmaurice.

We have the footage we need to finish.. Of course, it has not been easy getting there. Filming people whose lives have been upended, sometimes ruined, by a prescribed medication has been not been a trouble-free road to traverse. Yet the rewards are immense. And I still find that as impetus to keep going. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. And right now, after a terribly difficult year, I’m holding on to the hope that that the bleak times we are experiencing will lead to brighter days. I am more than ready to see that light at the end of this dark tunnel. So, do you hear me, eyes? Don’t let me down.

Happy 2021! And may all our dark tunnels lead to light this year!

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