Tranquility Missing From Tranquilizers

Would you take a med for your anxiety if the doctor told you this about it?:

  1. It won’t fix your problem
  2. Your body will be addicted to it within a few months as it loses its effectiveness, and…
  3. When you are addicted, you will experience anxiety as a side effect of withdrawal (daily, when it’s getting close to dose time).

I’m talking about the benzodiazepine family – Xanax, Valium Klonopin, Atavin, et al – and I’m revisiting the tranquilizer problem because use of the addictive medication is growing globally. I browse various online peer support groups for anxiety, and it seems most people writing in are taking some form of medication long term, perhaps unaware they are making their problems worse.

Statistics from the American Psychiatric Institute say doctors write 50 million prescriptions a year for benzos, and that between 11-15 percent of Americans have a bottle of benzos in the house. The API report pointed out that the med is best used for short term relief of extreme anxiety. If intense fear is keeping you from working on recovery, I advise talking to your doctor about your recovery work and request a short run with a benzo –like 3 weeks max. Klonopin has the longest life cycle, meaning fewer doses per day.

I can talk about this because I was addicted to Xanax for several years. What I was taking to treat my panic attacks and agoraphobia actually delayed my recovery by years. I guarantee you cannot overcome your panic disorder and agoraphobia while you are addicted to benzos because they create anxiety. I can talk about this because I worked as a mental health social worker for 17 years and sat in with psychiatrists as they prescribed for clients of mine with a variety of mental illnesses. I’ve heard many a lecture about the dangers of benzodiazepines and have read widely on the subject.

Please listen to me. If you are not now engaged in regular work toward recovering from panic disorder, begin doing so at once and then schedule an appointment with your prescriber to begin a slow tapering off process. I went off benzos twice during my prolonged use. The first time was spread over a few months, and I felt somewhat anxious most of that time. After I was off, the anxiety totally disappeared. The second time was hard; it was in a medical addiction treatment center, and I was coming off both alcohol and Xanax. I had Valium for a couple of days, but then cold turkey.

I shook so badly for several days that feeding myself became problematic. Finally one of my fellow patients brought back from the kitchen one of those 2-foot long metal stirring spoons so I could transport food to my mouth. This could be you someday, is why I’m mentioning it.

Panic disorder can be totally overcome by anyone willing to put in the work required to re-wire the way you think, respond and create. I recently read the piece I’m providing a link for below; it’s the best story on benzos I’ve seen.


Guest Blog – Kate Carries On

(Kate is a guest blogger who files occasional reports on her progress in overcoming panic disorder and agoraphobia)

The Drawing Challenge


When I read Hal’s “Drawing on Your Serenity” blog post I made a mental note to pull out my sketch book and challenge myself to do some drawing.

I am not an artist by any means, but I love art and enjoy being creative either through painting a collage or knitting a pair of socks.

On the first day of the challenge I worked steadily in the office and peeked around to see if my sketch book was in sight.  It was.  (Sitting on another desk in my office) I said “Darn!” in my mind as I wanted to have an excuse NOT to draw.  After I bundled all my files away for the day and shutdown all my email correspondence I walked over to the other desk and picked up my sketchbook and pencil box.  I carried it down to the living room and it felt like a ton of bricks I wanted to dump and not pick up.

I was really agitated about this challenge.  My brain was having a creative tantrum and the sketch book sat for a couple of more hours before I would get in gear and do it.

I picked up my best drawing pencil, looking at the tip, it was dull and I had no energy to even sharpen it.  I was about to drop it and abandon the whole idea feeling really irritated at that moment that I had been reduced to “art therapy”.

Instead, I did the opposite and flipped open my sketchbook to a blank page (not before I perused some of my past drawings).  My focus was on a cat and a cat’s face.  As I started drawing I could feel my brain resisting each line.  I was careful not to erase anything too quickly as I knew it was important to get the outline of something in front of me before I gave up for good.

An hour later, I had one fully sketched full bodied cat and one detailed cat face.  Yes, they look like feral anime characters but I can tell you the pride of accomplishment I felt and the sense of creative peace my brain was hosting, felt amazing.  I could actually feel the physiological change in my brain at about the 15 minute mark.  It is like opening a window on a fresh spring day or on a crisp fall morning.  A real awakening took place in my mind.

When my family came home and saw my open sketchbook they were in awe.  “Did you draw that mom?” came an excited squeal from my daughter.  Even my husband chimed in and said, “Wow that’s really good!”

The next day, I drew the face of a woman peering back at me from one of the many biographies I like to read.  This drawing came so much easier than the one from the day before.  I sketched freely and erased calmly and carried on conversations with my family as I drew. And, yes, this poor woman looks like a witchy skeletal version of her real self.  But I did it freehand and it amazes me I am able to do it.  We all had a good laugh at what I had creatively done to this poor woman and I felt great.

I wonder what or who will be my muse today.


Have You Told You Lately That You Love You?

I got torpedoed by yet another cycle of panic attacks and relentless anxiety in my late 20’s that resulted in one of my more memorable panic attack dramas. I was sitting in my University of Montana campus 3rd floor office when the totally unexpected blast went off. Panicking, I raced down 3 flights of stairs to the parking lot where I jumped onto my motorcycle and drove at high speed through campus, across lawns and sidewalks with students screaming behind me to the student health services building, where I dumped the bike on the lawn, ran breathlessly into the office and said to the first person I saw in a white coat, “I need help!!”

The campus physician took me into an examination room, talked me down, and made an appointment to see the psychiatrist. When the time came a few days later, I recall nervously tapping on Dr. Katzen’s* door and hearing a gruff “Come in.”  The stocky gentleman stared at me silently as I walked to the chair in front of his desk and continued staring at me for several seconds after I sat down.

“I know what your problem is,” the 60-ish, balding, white jacketed doctor said, his arms crossed over his chest. (Finally…. I thought to myself, somebody’s going to tell me why I have episodes of terrifying panic attacks that began when I was 10). You don’t love yourself, he proclaimed”

I still recall how shocked and stunned I was by his simple statement. My first reaction was almost revulsion. i honestly felt it was somehow morally wrong to love yourself.  I don’t remember anything else about my first meeting with this wonderful man except his parting prescription: “When you get home, look in the mirror and tell that person, ‘I love you.'”

About 15 minutes later I was standing in the doorway of my apartment bathroom, dreading the walk over to the mirror above the sink. I crept to the side of the sink and then sort of leaned to my side to peer in at a tense-looking face. The whole experience of confronting myself and looking deep inside me and saying those 3 little words was surreal and oddly uncomfortable. I went through this brand new ceremony for several days before I felt at ease and as though I was being honest.

Since then, unconditional self love  has been at the center of my recovery from agoraphobia and a tool I use in the sometimes grueling and trying time of writing. During my research I drop in on various online support groups and am saddened by how much self revulsion I read from victims of mental illness of one kind or another. Brother and Sister Agoraphobes, please listen to the words of Uncle Hal about this. You got to love yourself and accept yourself just as you are before you can make significant gains in overcoming panic disorder. There is no reason whatsoever not to love yourself and everything to gain by doing so. At least that’s my opinion.

So….. I guess you could see this coming…. I want you to get up from whatever you’re sitting on and go to the nearest mirror. Talk things out with yourself and get to know you. Have these dialogues daily and don’t forget those 7 little words: I love you and I mean YOU! (pointing)

Guest Blog – Kitty’s Progress

(Kitty has been pinned down by agoraphobia for a few years, but reports she’s been making significant progress lately. She’ll write about her progression from time to time here as a guest blogger)

My name is Kitty. I’ve suffered from agoraphobia since 2012 and struggled with panic attacks since 2007. Now I’m in the process of recovering from agoraphobia. I’m 30 years old and live in California. In my spare time, I like to play video games and read. When I recover from agoraphobia, I hope to be able to play Dungeons and Dragons with a group again.

My panic attacks manifest as nausea with fear like I’m on a crashing airplane.
I’ve learned several ways to cope over the years. Sometimes during a medium level panic attack, calling a loved one who can get me talking long enough that I forget I’m having a panic attack makes it go away. White noise helps clear my mind a lot of the time. I use an app called White Noise by TMSOFT. I also always keep a reusable bottle of ice water with me because anxiety gives me terrible dry mouth.

Since implementing the Un-Agoraphobic program, I’ve started to do small outings. My most common errand is grocery shopping. When I fear having or already am having an attack during these outings, I remind myself that I’ve completed this task while having panic attacks before and nothing bad has ever happened to me. My body is lying to me. I’m in no danger. I also listen to white noise on my headphones sometimes. I think that my tipping point was when I switched from feeling sorry for myself to being angry at the agoraphobia and started doing things in defiance of it. Going out with the knowledge that I’ll probably have an attack, but I’ll survive.