Editorial Note: Last week in Greg’s Dilemma, Greg outlined the difficulties he had with dependence on and withdrawal from serotonin reuptake inhibitors and benzodiazepines. The first comment was from a therapist who seemed to say “pull yourself together”. This eerily echoed the next part of Greg’s dilemma – that could have been posted last week but was held over till this week. Our response will come next week.
A comment that psychiatrist Jeffrey Junig made once haunts me. He had been writing a blog on psych central where he was dismissing the likelihood of prolonged protracted withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepines. Several of us went on the comment site to rebut and share our experiences. To one person claiming problems of cognitive fog, etc, he wrote the following:
“You must recognize by now, after your frustration with the medical system, that whatever is going on with your health has no ‘plausible’ explanation. I suspect, though, that someone trained in neuroscience and medicine will have a better likelihood of coming up with a plausible theory, than someone without that training.
Millions (literally) of people have started and stopped benzodiazepines who have no complaints of ‘problems following lists or written instructions, reduced ability to think creatively and abstractly, poor focus and concentration.’ Your theory is that there is something special about YOUR brain, causing you to have a different experience than other humans. Yes– there are enough people with symptoms like yours to fill a web forum or two—- but among the 200 million people in this country alone, there are large groups of people complaining of pretty much any symptom you can imagine. That’s human nature.
The idea that you, and perhaps another 0.1% of the population (that’s generous), have something different about your brain that made it respond in the way you describe, is not plausible to me.
On the other hand, conditioning is a universal phenomenon– in almost all animal life. Conditioning is why you find your way home at the end of the day. I am confident I could ride a bike today, even though I haven’t been on one in 25 years; that’s the power of conditioning.
The first issue in your case is distinguishing whether you truly HAVE ‘trouble following lists or written instructions, reduced ability to think creatively and abstractly, poor focus and concentration’– or if instead you only THINK you do. If you want to know the answer to that question, see a neuropsychologist and go through the battery of tests that determine those things. But if you do that, be prepared to accept the likely answer– that you are normal in all of those things.
If you DO have those problems, then you have to consider a mechanism— and a reason why you are uniquely effected. You also have to rule out other reasons…. for example, something must have been a problem for you, for you to start benzos in the first place. Either you had anxiety, or you had an addictive nature that caused you to take them. How do you know that one of those things– things that were present BEFORE the benzos– didn’t progress to your current problems?
This is often what I fear is wrong with me, that I’ve conditioned myself to have these reactions. My mom was on Zoloft for several years and went off it with only a few days of brain zaps. Why is this so severe for me? I don’t have the self-confidence to be calmed by the thought that I’m an outlier or that maybe way more people do have problems but don’t recognize the problem as from their medication. There are millions of people who are taking or have taken SSRIs and benzos who, as Junig mentions, seem to have nowhere near the trouble getting off the meds that I have had.
And on the other side, I read from those critical of psychiatry that these drugs cause irreversible changes in brain functioning. Trust me, when you have exaggerated anxiety to negative thoughts, reading that only heightens the feelings of helplessness. Maybe there isn’t anything that can be done for me. I can’t go on like this indefinitely, I know this. So I ask you again:
What am I supposed to do?