Last year’s Mother’s Day was grim. There were too many reports of mothers and grandmothers lost to Covid. At home, my daughter was struggling with the adjustment to remote learning and separation from her peers. Work on As Prescribed had transitioned to a painfully slow year of remote editing with routine interruptions and delays. Overseeing kids and adjusting to the slog of safety protocols was morphing into safety paranoia and taking a toll. Also, learning that the prescribing rates for anti-anxiety medications (primarily benzos) had increased dramatically pressed on my psyche. I tried to communicate to non-benzo people the seriousness of the rising benzodiazepine epidemic that was piggy-backing on Covid and the similarities between long Covid and benzodiazepine injury syndrome. Through all this, I did feel a measure of comfort knowing that none of my close family members or I had contracted the virus.
Mother’s Day 2021 was better. Much better. As Prescribed’s editor Cameron and I finished the rough cut of As Prescribed on Mother’s Day. Yes, we did. Cameron was getting married that week and we had a firm goal of finishing before his nuptials, so we agreed to work on Sunday, Mother’s Day. I’ve started to share the rough cut privately with people who who are familiar with rough-cut viewing and gave us helpful commentary on earlier works-in-progress. I also took a chance and showed it to a small group who are not rough-cut savvy. So far, the word on the film from our test screeners is uniformly good (“riveting” and “absorbing”). I see places in the cut that I want to tweak and a new short scene I want to add. I have been making notes, and am looking forward to returning to our now-familiar remote editing set-up the first week of June.
I’m also armed with double doses of the Moderna vaccine, and feeling as though I am connected to the outside world again. Thrillingly, I was able to attend my daughter’s graduation ceremony in person. My one and only daughter graduated from high school this past week. Proof of vaccination was required to attend, and I was only too happy to comply. Mask-wearing was mandatory, but who cares? I’ve grown so used to them. What a happy group of moms, dads, and kin we were. The graduating seniors were a joyful, boisterous throng, united in their shared jubilation, excited relief, and personal pride in work well done. A life of relative normalcy had returned after their long year of Covid restriction and containment. Spirits soared.
She did it! My daughter graduated from high school. Some parents of grads are basking in their child’s honors and awards. Some are heartened by the thought that their child is going to an Ivy League college. Some are proud that their kid set a school record on the athletic field. Some are thrilled that their kid earned a math, language, or science prize. But me, as a survivor of benzodiazepine injury and the producer of a film about prescribed-medication risks, I am just so damn grateful that she made it though high school without getting caught in the ever-looming threat of a medical or psychological evaluation that includes a benzodiazepine, antidepressant, or related psychotropic drug prescription. Because, like most teens, my daughter suffered from her share of down times, anxiety, and panic states during her high school years. Despite sustaining a serious concussion the third week into her freshman year, followed by months of slow neuro healing, a classmate’s suicide, a junior year as the target of mean-girl bullying, a disruptive last-minute switch to a new school, a year of Covid restrictions and isolation from peers…I could go on. To put it mildly, she was not okay. I was terrified for her.
Any time a doctor or nurse suggested that I might consider a medication for her anxiety, I introduced them to As Prescribed and made my stance clear: Do not steer her into the psych world and do not encourage her to take a psychotropic medication. Never did they push too hard, but the invitation seemed to rest within my daughter’s reach should she decide to join the psych system. Even though years earlier she had remained mercilessly ignorant of my benzo-induced impairment during my clonazepam taper, she was, in fact, being brought up by a mom who used to drive the freeways of LA with ease but now went into panic mode when she had to take a left-hand turn in oncoming traffic. That she noticed. That was weird.
When she or anybody in her adult circle brought up the subject of benzodiazepines, antidepressants, or the increasingly popular choice, gabapentin, I repeatedly informed her of medication risks and discussed the innumerable negative outcomes I had discovered while doing research for As Prescribed. By her sophomore year, she started embracing the cause. No benzos. No antidepressants. No pills. Though pill-taking surrounded her. It’s astounding how many young people are prescribed benzos “as needed,” put on antidepressants, or given gabapentin — the drug newer to the list of worrisome psychotropics. What are we doing to a generation of young people? Where will they be five and ten years from now? How debilitated will they be? Am I over-reacting? I hope so. But I think not.
My daughter toughed it out, you might say. She made it. She learned some healthy coping mechanisms. She finally made the connection to diet and became a plant-based eater, dropping gluten (her beloved pasta), refined sugar, and dairy. She learned breathing techniques. And I found a therapist who uses non-pharmaceutical methods to help teens heal from trauma. Thankfully, our insurance policy covered the cost. A win. Oh, and, by the way, she did earn High Honors for her final semesters. And she’s still sitting with a winning record for her coxing skills at the Head of the Charles Regatta pre-Covid. Of course, these triumphs are utterly fantastic. But I’m most proud and relieved that she resisted the potentially heartbreaking psych-pill trap that befalls so many teens.
I think that most high-schoolers deal with anxiety, fear of the unknown, confusion about identity and purpose, and feelings of isolation. Teen angst. Why don’t we address this openly? Why aren’t we regularly assuring kids that all their fears are standard practice responses to growing up — and the growing brain? Angst is a common feeling and way of thinking. With guidance, angst opens doors to productive growth. Can we make it a practice to shepherd high-schoolers through the desperate teen years without having them become big pharma’s next profit-yield casualties?
When parents are not adequately informed, when doctors do not do thorough research, when the populace-at-large believes the institutional narrative, our kids get hurt. Please don’t think I’m knocking the ones who find help in the system. That’s great if they do. But too often that’s not what happens. When pills are the primary method of treatment, it’s not going to go well for many. Where are the studies that support the teen-prescribing protocol? Because the ones I find clearly communicate risk. We deserve the right to weigh the risks. Not many parents or teens are given the option — i.e., true informed consent. I think of the young people in As Prescribed who were given benzos in their teen years and are still suffering in their twenties and thirties. I hope As Prescribed will help wake people up to a counter-narrative, one that challenges accepted notions promoting pyschotropic medications as first-line treatment for vulnerable young brains.
As my grad (also vaccinated) galavants off to a series of post-commencement gatherings and friend visits, I have snuck off to Cape Cod for a few days to rest and recharge after the intensity of this past month’s schedule. We have the rough cut. Finally. And, as we enter a safer time, with vaccines helping tide the flow of the virus’s global journey and as mask-wearing perhaps remains a norm, I dare to believe we will be able have some form of live-audience screenings when the film is released. Cam and I will be tweaking our work further over the next month or so. Then our music composer will work on the score and the sound editor will perfect our audio; then we’ll head to New York to take it to the finish at Final Frame — as long as our budgetary needs have been met. That’s always the difficult part. Raising the funds.
I still spend a lot of my time trying to raise money to make and now complete the film. Thankfully, we have a small surplus that should take us through the fine cut. But then…I continue to wrack my brain trying to think of who might give. Who cares about our cause, our purpose? Making a film about a people whose finances are depleted, about people who have lost their homes, their jobs, and their financial security, a film that involves an under-acknowledged invisible illness poses distinct challenges. Why have I continued to work on this documentary when its funding has been one long-term crap shoot? Because I believe that As Prescribed is needed. I believe the benzodiazepine story needs to be told from the point of view of a victim/survivor. We have an engaging, compelling film. Almost. We have the rough cut. And we’re happy with it. As Prescribed is a necessary contribution to the invisible illness narrative. I hope that you, the audience here and audiences to come, will agree. As Prescribed will take the conversation to another level and to places where its message of change needs to be heard.
Let’s keep the conversation going. Please stay in touch.