On Tuesday, January 31st 2006, I took my last dose of Klonopin. My journey has spanned over fifteen years since I was first diagnosed with a panic disorder in October of 1991.
This is my story.
In April of 1991, I was a young twenty-seven year old information technologies manager and had to work over the weekend to upgrade a companyís computer system. Things were not going well with the upgrade and I was very stressed because I felt obligated to get their systems back up and running by Monday morning. I finally finished the project successfully and went to bed Sunday night unaware that the next morning my physical and mental health would take a turn for the worse.
Monday morning I woke up with extremely high anxiety. Not the normal kind of anxiety that most people have; this anxiety was physiological in nature and was at the core of my nervous system. Bright light, clanging silverware and keys bothered me immensely. I had very strong tension throughout my entire body and my mind felt disconnected from the world.
I didnít know what was wrong with me. I thought, perhaps I was stressed and needed to rest. So I took two weeks off work and used up all of my sick leave time, but my nervous system still did not recover. I lay in bed for two weeks trying to sleep off my problem, only to wake up with the same symptoms. My nervous system was on edge and I was scared!
I went back to work out of necessity and found the symptoms extremely hard to deal with while at the office. Because of the nature of my job, I had to attend meetings frequently and it was in one of these meetings that I had the first of many panic attacks. My hands became extremely sweaty and my heart beat rapidly. I felt detached from the room as if I was outside of my body. The more I tried to hide the inner turmoil, the worse the symptoms became.
Panic attacks also plagued me while at home but to a lesser degree. When taking short walks, I would be afraid of leaving the safety of my home. The fear of collapsing on the sidewalk from a panic attack with no one to help me was always present. After about six months of suffering, a friend referred me to a physician who was known to be very caring.
My hands shook as I filled out the new patient form in the waiting room. I was a nervous wreck. The doctor listened to my story and explained to me that I had an anxiety panic disorder. He said that I could take a medication that would make me feel better; the name of the medication was Klonopin. He explained to me that Klonopin was a mild tranquilizer that was a member of the benzodiazepine class of drugs that were less addictive than their predecessors, barbiturates. When I asked him when I could stop taking it, he said that I may have to take it the rest of my life.
My life on Benzoís
The words my doctor spoke that day had a profound effect on me psychologically. I was not keen on the idea of taking an addictive drug for the rest of my life so I tried several times to stop taking my medication. All attempts failed.
Over a span of fifteen years I consulted several psychiatrists, internist doctors, and psychologists asking whether I was experiencing withdrawal symptoms or a recurrence of an underlying disorder. None of them knew the answer and all of them suggested that I continue taking the medicine.
Each time I tried to stop taking my Klonopin the withdrawal symptoms hit me hard and I would always end up re-instating at my full dose to get the symptoms back under control.
Once, I went on vacation to a favorite spot in the mountains. I was alone and thought that this would be the perfect place for me to stop taking my Klonopin. After two days without my medicine, my withdrawal symptoms became intense and I had to reinstate once again. I thought to myself, if I canít get off of this Klonopin in a tranquil place like this, Iíll never be able to do it once Iím back in the city and working again. I drove home defeated and another well-meaning attempt to get off the drug once again failed.
Around six years ago I decided to make yet one more serious attempt to get off of the Klonopin and sought the advice of a psychologist to help me. The psychologist recommended neuro feedback sessions as a treatment for my anxiety disorder. Neuro feedback taught me to relax and concentrate at the same time, which it turns out is very helpful in coping with panic attacks, but the treatments did nothing to help me get off of my Klonopin.
During my four months of treatment, I tapered .125mg every 2 weeks and eventually made it down to .5mg. from my original dose of 1mg per day. I then attempted to lower the dose down to .325mg and this was a total disaster. I held there for one week and was in complete torture while at work and eventually had to re-instate to .5mg. I held at .5mg for one year but I was so fatigued that I eventually asked my doctor to reinstate me to 1mg. My fatigue went away, at least for the moment.
I was tired of shopping for doctors that would willingly prescribe me Klonopin. So in June of 2005, after my doctor retired, I decided to make one more serious attempt at tapering off of my Klonopin.
I have always felt vulnerable that my physical and mental health was in the hands of doctors, who could easily refuse to refill my next prescription putting me at risk of severe withdrawal.
Once I had resolve in starting a serious taper again, I decided to search the Internet.
I found the Benzo Liberty web site, which in turn led me to the Yahoo Benzo Support group.
I started researching benzodiazepine withdrawal protocols and read the posts daily. In the files section I found an article written by Helen that described how to taper off of benzodiazepines using water as a titration medium.
The method looked good and I posted on the board with my desire to water titrate. Ruth graciously responded and taught me the process.
I then took Helenís formula and created a schedule for myself using Microsoft Excel so that I wouldnít have to do the math manually.
After dry cutting in .125mg increments and holding for two weeks after each cut, things started to get difficult after my third cut to .625mg.
I again took two weeks to stabilize at .625mg, and then started my water titration in July of 2005.
I always had difficulties tapering Klonopin in the past, but this time I had a lot of support from experienced, knowledgeable people and things looked promising.
Oh, my God! What a difference the water titration made. I could barely feel the withdrawals as I tapered. Yes, there were symptoms, but they were so mild compared to breaking my pills.
By using the water titration method, I was able to continue working a full time job, attend exercise classes twice a week, help take care of two small children, and most importantly, eventually free myself from the addictive bonds of the benzodiazepine drug.
If you want to learn more about the water titration method, instructions and a spreadsheet are available here. Water Titration.
What Iíve learned
Over the course of my journey, I have learned many things. First and foremost would be to taper slowly. Have patience and donít let the calendar determine when you will be off of your medication. Hold when necessary for as long as necessary to maintain your stability as much as possible. Start out stable and stay stable if at all possible. Listen to your body and adjust your taper rate to suite your individual tolerance. Learn non-drug techniques to help you deal with your underlying issues. Techniques such as Vipassana meditation, yoga, taking walks, stretching, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and deep breathing exercises all helped me to reduce my mental anxiety.
Face your fears and they will diminish or disappear. Keep yourself busy with activities and donít dwell on your symptoms.
Symptoms donít last forever; windows of clarity occur. Cherish the windows and know that more will come and that they are a sign of healing.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal causes fatigue. For fifteen years while taking Klonopin I was always fatigued but never realized that it was caused by tolerance withdrawal.
Benzodiazepines cause tolerance withdrawal. I never knew this and no one ever told me.
Lower doses can be harder to taper. I found that as I went below .25mg of Klonopin my tapering became more problematic and I had to hold more frequently and slow down my taper so that I would remain stable.
Most doctors donít know anything about benzodiazepine withdrawal protocols and many of them deny that withdrawal symptoms even exist after the drug is out of your system.
List of symptoms
Sensitivity to sound (minor to moderate), Derealization/Depersonalization (DP/DR) (minor to moderate), Sensitivity to light (minor), Tingling/numb fingers (minor), Sweaty hands (minor), Floating feeling when walking (minor), Slight eyelid twitch at lower doses (minor), Muscle aches and pains (minor to severe), tight band feeling around my head (minor).
My return to wellness
The most important thing Iíve gained back is my freedom from someone or something controlling my life. I am no longer a slave to benzodiazepines and I no longer have to be concerned over whether my next prescription refill will be denied.
My emotions have started to come back. No longer do I stand by and watch life from the side lines. I get angry. I get very happy, and I care. While on Klonopin, these emotions were lost and if I experienced them at all they were very much muted.
Part of my short term memory has returned to some degree and I find it easier to recall names. My sense of humor has increased dramatically. My ability to recall things is improving, and I find it easier to compose essays. I donít have to struggle as much when searching for the right words to use.
Fatigue is no longer an issue for me anymore and that awful feeling I used to get when I missed a dose no longer plagues me. I have lost nothing and gained everything.
I did loose one thing; my crutch.
When I was first researching how to get off benzodiazepines, I read a persons success story that described their experience of what it was like to be free from benzodiazepines. The person said that the grass appeared greener once they were off.
I did not understand how grass could appear greener because I was in my own benzo fog at the time. As I reached the lower doses in my taper, I experienced what the person was talking about. Life now appears more vivid. My senses are more alive, and the sky looks more beautiful. This is what I had been missing out on all of these years without even realizing it.
I would like to thank Ruth for being by my side throughout this entire journey; Helen and Robert for giving us the water titration method, Anthea, Alison, Debra, Raven, and many, many others who continue to support myself and others who come to this board. Thank you all for sharing your wisdom that comes from your experiences, and for giving us encouragement, guidance, and hope.
There is a song that I have always liked the words to. Itís called ďI hope you dance.Ē
The theme of the song is to not sit down and watch life pass you by.
So, as a toast to all who have suffered before us, those currently struggling, and those who have yet to attempt this journey. I hope that we all find the strength to dance the dance of life. May we all be free and stay free of this insidious drug and live life to its fullest! Iíll see you on the dance floor.
February 4, 2006
Disclaimer: The information contained in this website was not compiled by a doctor or anyone with medical training. The advice contained herein should not be substituted for the advice of a physician who is well-informed in the subject matter discussed. Before making any decisions about your health or treatment you should always confer with your physician and it is always assumed that you will do so.
Last updated 22 July 2015