by Tricia Leimbach
Let’s just say that fear has been a part of my life since I can remember. As a small child, I was filled with anxieties that I noticed were not shared by my peers. The motto in my house was: “if you don’t worry about it enough, you won’t get the desired outcome”. So, worry I did. I worried that my father wouldn’t return from work at night, that my mother’s multiple sclerosis would eventually kill her and that no one liked me at school, etc.
Those feelings of anxiousness and basically feeling “less than” followed me, not only throughout my childhood but also into becoming an adult. As a result, in my early twenties, due to the anxiety and relentless feelings of intense fear, vertigo and out of body terror that would set in on a daily basis, I began to suffer from anorexia.
Then, one day at age 35, after decades of suffering, the answer (or what I thought was the answer at the time) arrived! My doctor suggested I try Xanax, a benzodiazepine, and so, at his direction, I did. Within fifteen minutes of taking my first pill, I felt cured! The warm, comforting feeling of complete calm and drowsiness seemed surreal. Where had this drug been hiding all my life? At last, the answer had revealed itself in a little peach-colored, football-shaped pill!
At first, I found that I didn’t need to take the medication daily. It’s effectiveness worked for me for the next few years…until it didn’t. After a decade of taking the drug exactly as prescribed, it suddenly wasn’t doing its trick anymore. I sought help from my doctor who said it was “normal for it to lose its effectiveness over time” and that I should “take more to combat the problem”. He never once warned me of the devastating effects that could follow simply by increasing my dose and continuing on benzodiazepines long-term (as it turns out, guidelines recommend they only be taken on an intermittent basis or for no longer than 2-4 weeks, including the tapering off time, when taken daily). By the time I was 43 years old, I was up to being prescribed and taking 2 to 3 milligrams of Xanax a day.
The years that followed were quite nightmarish. The initial feeling of calm after taking a Xanax was now an elusive memory. I continued to take the medication but found myself feeling as anxious as ever (I later discovered this was most likely to the onset of tolerance and interdose withdrawal). In fact, this manifested in a more severe form of anxiety than I believe I had when I sought help from the medication in the first place. As it turns out, the medical literature backs up my experience in stating that long-term benzodiazepine “treatment” can actually exacerbate anxiety, PTSD, etc. as opposed to helping it.
I made the decision arbitrarily, without my doctor’s opinion, to stop taking the Xanax. By then I had learned of the devastating and life-threatening effects of this horrible drug and I wanted no more! I checked myself into a local hospital where they gave me Librium (another benzodiazepine with a long half-life) for a week and told me I was good, done, end of story.
Wrong! This was only the beginning of an even worse nightmare! After a couple of months of remaining off the Xanax, in what was essentially a glorified cold-turkey withdrawal (proper cessation of these drugs usually requires a many months to years long taper), insomnia set in like nothing I have ever experienced before. I literally did not sleep for over 2 weeks. As a result, psychosis set in and I completely lost my ability to think rationally. Hell, I couldn’t even feed myself or take a shower. I felt insane. On day 16 of no sleep, I climbed a seven-story story building, where I was staying in with my brother, and let myself go over the ledge. Believe it or not, I felt I had made a conscious decision to die rather than be subjected to what I was certain would be next—an infinite stay in some psychiatric ward I wanted no part of. “No, not me—I’d rather die,” I thought. And so, instead, my thoughts made irrational and desperate by total insomnia, psychosis and severe benzodiazepine withdrawal, I chose, in that moment, instead to be dead
After jumping, a tree broke my fall and I landed in a bush, which would serve to save my life. I feel those circumstances of sheer luck, and the blessing from God, are the only reasons I am here writing this today. The fall resulted in that I broke just about every bone in my body I even broke my face but, miraculously, there was no brain or spinal damage. My body healed after a few months from the physical injuries. The healing of mind was another story. The cause of my suicide attempt was never addressed by the medical community; my insomnia continued, except for a few brief hours each night from taking Ambien (another awful drug, a Z-drug or nonbenzodiazepine, which it turns out has a very similar mechanism of action to benzodiazepines!).
Eventually, I entered another treatment program where I would stay for five months. There, I was tapered off of Xanax over a three-month period (I later learned that even this is a rather fast taper compared to recommended guidelines and anecdote from others who are tapering off benzodiazepines slowly and appropriately). The year and a half following the taper are a complete blur, as my cognitive thinking didn’t return until 18 months after stopping Xanax. During that time, I was afraid I would never be able to hold down a job again and, despite my obviously severe iatrogenic illness, a result of benzodiazepine-associated damage, I was denied disability.
I consider myself one of the lucky ones, as I am alive. I have all my “marbles” back and I now know how to live life free of anxiety and without prescribed medications, which so frequently don’t help, but instead harm. I still struggle with the fact that the treatment center claimed my actions in taking the Xanax, even exactly as prescribed, was that of a so-called “addict.” This is a classic case of “blaming the victim,” as my body responded with physical dependence and withdrawal, exactly as it is detailed may occur in the medication’s own medical literature (granted, buried in a wall of text and not at all explained in detail as to the extent of suffering and horror are actually possible when you stop taking the medication)! I maintain that I was an unfortunate victim of a global medical disaster brought on by the ignorance and denial of a medical profession that has yet to acknowledge its responsibility in creating the problem (or, at the least, in contributing to it), the failure to provide patients with informed consent they deserve, the corruption and greed of the pharmaceutical companies and drug “regulatory” bodies more than willing to look the other way, and the dangerous misprescribing of and outright ignoring of recommended guidelines for these medications that are only intended for intermittent or very short-term use.
I know that my life was spared so that I may go on to help others. I am willing to do whatever it takes to get this message out to the world and stop this madness. Thank you for listening to my story and feel free to contact me anytime if I can help this cause in any way!
NOTE: The words ‘benzodiazepine’ and ‘Xanax’ do not seem to be recognized in my spellcheck. Perhaps this is further proof that not enough has been written about these devastating and dangerous medications!
Tricia’s video for World Benzodiazepine Awareness Day 2017:
Tricia lives in Madeira Beach, Florida. She is a widow and the mother of two sons. She spends her time blogging and as a champion for all causes that include mental health. Tricia has enjoyed an extensive career in television broadcast news, public relations and non-profit development. She began her career at ABC News in London, England under the helm of the then anchor, Peter Jennings. Tricia went on to produce an Emmy-Award winning documentary series entitled “Our story” and she was also Executive Producer of the Ford Motor Company’s Employee network, FCN. Tricia has had the honor to serve on the Board of Directors for the Susan G. Komen Foundation as well as Development Director and Founder of the Jimmy Johnson Scholarship Fund.