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LETTERS FROM WAKE ROBIN FARM

Bitter Pill Indeed

Maybe the word is finally getting out. It's about time.  The New Yorker's April 8th edition features an article called Bitter Pill: Why do we know so little about how to stop taking psychiatric drugs?  It follows the story of a young woman named Laura Delano, who began taking prescribed psychiatric drugs in her teens and suffered her doctors' layering on of more and different drugs (19 medications in 14 years) before she finally figured out for herself what her doctors weren't telling her, that to get well, she needed to go off  the drugs, not take more.

 

I'd heard of Laura because she would be mentioned on Benzobuddies.org, a site I used to visit, where people tried to help each other wean off of the class of psych drugs known as benzodiazepines—Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan and others. She had gone public with her story on another site, Robert Whitaker's Mad in America. A Canadian benzo buddy of mine had met up with her for coffee, so,when I saw this in The New Yorker, I already knew her as a real person and I was just glad somebody was paying attention.

 

I have written before about Robert Whitaker's eye-opening book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, but it bears repeating. I bought copies for each of my kids with instructions to read cover to cover if they ever hit a point where a doctor suggested they or their family members be prescribed one of these drugs. 

 

Laura Delano says it was reading Anatomy of an Epidemic that changed her life, gave her the idea that just maybe, instead of taking more pills, she ought to be taking fewer.  It takes a long time to undo the damage these drugs can do to a person's brain, but healing is possible and she's recovering.

 

Sadly, there are many people like Laura, who have endured years of being polydrugged, and find little help or support from doctors when they try to get off.  I think my own story, detailed in Accidental Addict, and endorsed by Robert Whitaker, is probably even more common—middle-aged women who are unsuspectingly damaging their brains with doses of Xanax so small they think surely it couldn't be a problem.

 

Here's the bottom line as I see it: if you are taking prescribed antidepressants or benzos but are just  coping, not really doing well, maybe even coming up with weird new symptoms, please consider that your drug regimen might actually be your biggest problem. Please don't waste energy worrying if you must take on the label of "addict." The only question is, are you better off on these drugs or off of them? And don't rely on your doctor to have your back. His signature on the prescription pad will not save your brain.

 

Read Anatomy of an Epidemic. Check out the stories on Mad in America. Read my book.  See if any of this sounds like what you're going through and then, please, get busy saving yourself.  

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The List Gets Longer

I guess I was born too soon to be a Chris Cornell fan, but this morning when my 37-year-old son delivered his baby for a morning of grandparental adoration, he confessed that his one teenage transgression had been sneaking out of the house and walking the two miles to town one night for the midnight release of Cornell’s band Soundgarden’s 1994 album “Superunknown.” Who knew? Not me.

And now Cornell is dead. It just keeps happening, doesn’t it? Every time I read an obituary without a cause of death or see the latest headline about a famous person who was “found dead,” the first question that pops into my mind is What drugs were their doctors’ prescribing them? What opioids or benzodiazepines were they struggling to get off of?

In no time at all Cornell’s unimagineably distressed wife was insisting she can’t believe her beloved husband, a guy who flew home for Mother’s Day, would have deliberately killed himself. She points out that he was on Ativan and mumbled on the phone he may have taken too many. I believe what she says about this man she knew better than anyone else, and I would bet this benzodiazepine in some way contributed to his death.

Remember when rock stars like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix shot up heroin, overdosed, and died? Now it’s all about prescription drugs, the stuff the doctors give folks supposedly to HELP them.

Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll Stevie Nicks has been outspoken about the way the gates of pharmaceutical hell opened for her. After kicking cocaine in rehab, a psychiatrist put her on Klonopin, saying it would help prevent a relapse. Ha! Instead she lost the better part of a decade, poignantly, as she puts it, the time when she might have even had a baby. She eventually recovered, but not before suffering far more damage from prescribed Klonopin than she ever did from cocaine.

It doesn’t require a history of street drug abuse to get in trouble with opioids and benzodiazepines such as Ativan, Klonopin and Xanax. I had an almost stupidly squeaky clean record on drugs, and yet, coming off of my very small, occasional dose of Xanax made even me suicidal. If it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone, and this is what made me decide to tell my story in Accidental Addict. Everybody needs a heads up, not just rock stars with longstanding addiction issues.

I feel terrible for Chris Cornell’s wife. She not only has to suffer the tragic loss of her husband, she now has these people pouncing on the diagnosis of suicide, with all the judgment that goes along with it. He killed himself? Well, bad on him! How selfish! How weak!

The story—a true tragedy—is not that simple. The drugs doctors prescribe us can ruin our brains. Coming off them can turn a happy person suicidal. With no help from the medical community, I somehow managed to survive. Others don’t. Take care. Take care of the people you love. Don’t believe everything a doctor might say. They are not gods, and the drugs they are prescribing are killing people.  Read More 
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Up From Anxiety?

This past weekend’s issue of The Wall Street Journal featured a front page article by one of its own reporters, Andrea Petersen. I began reading with great interest since it was entitled “Up From Anxiety,” and I’m always interested in hearing how people recover from such a diagnosis. Ms. Petersen chronicles her early start with panic attacks and all the different therapies and medications she’s tried over the years.

While she attempts to be upbeat about her current situation, the conclusion of her story, the “up” part, broke my heart: she’s on Klonopin. “Klonopin can melt my anxiety and many of its annoying accouterments—racing heart, shallow breathing, twisted thoughts—in about thirty minutes. It can even derail a full-blown panic attack if I take enough. I don’t take it often, my life ‘before K’ and ‘after K’ is starkly delineated.”

Having just spent several years regaining the health of my brain after taking a very small dose of another benzodiazepine, Xanax, over the course of five years, I found her implication that Klonopin was the ultimate solution horrifying. During recovery I read hundreds of stories of people on a benzo recovery board, everybody suffering the tortures of the damned trying to get off of these drugs, most people feeling they’d give anything to go back and try to deal with their anxiety issues without drugs. The anxiety attacks for which they were originally prescribed the benzo are nothing compared to what they’re trying to survive now.

I’m finally well and I can look back and see how this worked on me. Yes, like Ms. Petersen, I found Xanax to be amazingly efficient. She’s not lying—these things DO calm anxiety. At least initially. But people build up a tolerance. They start having symptoms that are actually interdose withdrawal—the drug saying Hey, time to take more! Doctors who have originally prescribed the drug are loath to ascribe side effects to the very drug they’ve prescribed. Instead they’ll tell the patient that their original anxiety is just coming back. They will up the dose or layer on some different pharmaceutical until the person is what is referred to as “poly-drugged.”

I didn’t see the harm in Xanax either. I thought of it as a little something in my toolkit for dealing with life. A stressful situation? Yes, why not make it a bit easier? And a half a tab at three am reliably put me back to sleep. I never felt bad in the morning and God knows I was no drug addict type. Where was the harm? Like Ms. Petersen, I was saying, “I don’t take it often.”

Now, having suffered through withdrawal, I’m a person who conks out when my head hits the pillow and sleeps straight through the night. Who knew I was actually teaching my brain to NEED the drug to go to sleep? I’m now calmer than I’ve ever been in my life, free of drugs.

I feel terrible for Andrea Petersen and her family and I wish her the best. I don’t mean to be judgmental in any way of the fact that she’s taking Klonopin. I just don’t think it’s going to be good for her in the end, and I would hate to see anybody read her story and feel validated in giving this poison a shot.

I would like to give people the heads up I never got! Read More 
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