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I walked into the psychiatrist's office with some personal and social troubles when I was a young woman. I had no idea I would be prescribed very potent medication at that very first visit. I naively thought that the 10 day prescription was just that, for 10 days. That was 40 years ago. For 1 years I tapered from a "cocktail" of seven prescribed medications. The last nine months I tapered from benzodiazepines using diazepam substitution. I was on Rivotril and Ativan.

I now realize that I have experienced withdrawal many times during my patienthood: when a prescribed medication was discontinued, the dosage decreased and including between dose withdrawal. Inevitably the withdrawal symptoms would precipitate additions to my medication regime, a visit to emergency, or even hospitalization.

A list of some tools I found useful DURING TAPERING AND RECOVERY

  1. Take a thorough look at your situation:

    • What is your attitude?

      • Fear of becoming "crazy"?
      • Angry at being labeled "mentally ill"?
      • Feeling you are "ill"?
    • What are you hearing from others?

      • Are others - doctors, family - saying: "you have an illness"?
      • Has a doctor said: "These drugs help"? Have you been told: "You have to take these for the rest of your life"? Worse, have you been threatened, i.e. "You'll end up in hospital"?

    Are there conflicts in your closer relationships? Be aware that as you change your relationships may change. And this could be wonderful. And there is a chance that major changes may be necessary.

  2. Gather as much information as you can handle.

  3. Yet take care not to scare yourself with everything! And continue gathering the information, as you become stronger. Being informed is crucial to keeping up your determination.

  4. Keep a diary

    • Record how you are today.
    • Record the times that you feel positive.
    • Record what helps and record what hinders your progress.
    • Use the records to help you see your progress when times are tough.
    • Use the records to solve an issue.

    When I was in a "state" I could not see the progress I had made, nor could I recall that I had had good periods. So the records are reassuring.

  5. Maintain a positive attitude!

  6. This keeps discouragement at the door. And those that discourage you. Use affirmations. Write the affirmations on a card and post where you will see them.

    Examples of what I did to keep positive:

    • I told myself and supportive friends: "I will not let the 'medical system' get my spirit".
    • "I will get well", "It can only get better".
    • Then I noted that I actually started to have one hour periods of feeling OK! Imagine I felt better for an hour!
    • I was open, in certain circles, about telling some people that "the addiction process was medically induced and medically supervised." I labeled the diagnosis as "iatrogenic" clearly putting the responsibility where it belonged. And I took the responsibility to ensure I had inner resources and the assistance I needed to reach my goal of getting off prescription drugs.

  7. Plan all the rewards you need for when you are drug free.

    • I planned, and did take all my left over medication to the pharmacist.

    • I requested the pharmacist record all I returned.
    • I announced to certain people the first day I did not need to take medication. And I even received flowers for my achievement! That was a surprise!
    • I continue to note specific improvements living drug free.
    • I use the terminology "drugs", not "medications."
  8. Listen to wise persons who you can trust.

    • I was reminded to "go slow" when life was not as I wanted.
    • I greatly decreased my expectations of myself.
  9. Use good judgement to take care of yourself.

    • I had a friend take care of my dog as needed.
    • There were times I had to carefully consider every physical move I made.
    • I did not drive for many months.
    • I avoided other potentially dangerous activities.
    • I took pride in my good judgement. The medical system had no idea of the potential dangers I faced daily.
    • I obtained assistance with my financial affairs. I was in bad shape and vulnerable!
  10. Be creative in devising your "tools" to get through.

    • When I could not sleep I watched TV shows in a foreign language I did not understand.
    • I knit 60 dishcloths to lull myself to sleep.
    • Take care of #1! I had a bath every time I felt bad about myself.
  11. Practice respect, understanding, honesty, patience, etc. etc.

    • I could become quite irritable and the vigilance regarding my integrity kept me from getting into "hot water."
  12. Do homework from "self help" books.

    • One that I found useful was "The EQ Edge" by Steven J. Stein and Howard E. Book.
  13. Advocate for yourself.

    • I asked my pharmacist for information of benzodiazepines.

    • I "worked" with the psychiatrist for two months before he would agree to diazepam substitution for tapering.
    • I had to read a drug manual to determine why I was so sedated. The doctor missed many problems.
    • I educated a few friends.
    • "Think" when in a difficult situation and be credible.

      • I feared on three occasions that I was psychotic and I was SCARED. I had the very firm belief that I would not let the "system" get my soul and going near a doctor was the first step to giving up my soul. [affirmations].

So my strategy was:

  1. Do not go near any medical person, or anyone else who would invoke the "system", i.e. where I would be drugged or the Mental Health Act imposed upon me. [I look after #1].
  2. Identify the stimulus. A TV show, or automatic thoughts.
  3. Stop the stimulus immediately. This is an emergency where I had to save myself! [took control of my life].
  4. Calm myself down. And I worked at this very hard. [take responsibility for the withdrawal process]

  • Twice I had to attend the emergency department for other health problems. This potentially is very risky for those of us undergoing drug withdrawal!

  • I used good judgement to get necessary assistance.
  • I needed my eye checked. I knew I was agitated but I clearly stated that I could deal with this myself. [assertive: I am in control of my life!]
  • And I worked very hard to not give the staff any reason to believe they should intervene with the agitation, i.e. drugs, or psychiatric admission. [this can be done against your will, believe me!]
  • I was offered Ativan. I was clear, I had done the research and said "No, thanks." The doctor offered another solution which was acceptable to me.
  • I now wear a medical alert bracelet that says I have adverse reactions to all psychiatric medications. If I am in a crisis and can't respond I want to be reasonably sure that I will never be given a benzo or other similar drug again.

Hints for presenting yourself as credible: [or others will walk all over you]

  1. a. be nice.
  2. do not show the agitation.
  3. have the pertinent facts at your fingertips.
  4. do not challenge the staff.
  5. stand firm.

And this may be "sucking up" but it works to get your needs met and to reach your goal: to get off the drugs.

  1. Do not trust any medical person

    • Who has not demonstrated sincerity and real knowledge of the withdrawal process! Ask questions to find out if they really understand drug effects, tolerance withdrawal and tapering. Don't put yourself in patient/doctor relationship with anybody who is not fully informed!

  2. Realize that the effects of the drugs and any withdrawal symptoms are NOT pathology.

    • You are not mentally ill. It was the doctor who prescribed the drugs who has the problem!

  3. Realize that no psychotherapy will be effective while using the drugs, or while tapering.

    • A knowledgeable Registered Psychologist was clear: the drugs interfered with any therapeutic treatments he could offer. Because many of your issues are drug related they will simply disappear as you become well. If you still have family, social, personal or other issues to address wait until you are well and find a health care provider who does not prescribe drugs.

  4. Learn and use all the cognitive skills you can absorb.

    • Books: David Burns has written several self help books using cognitive skills. Some groups and some counselling professionals offer these skills. Check out their qualifications and familiarity with the effects of prescription drugs.

  5. Use your own form of faith or spirituality.

    • If the world fails you, put your faith elsewhere.

  6. Get practical help (e.g. home assistance) if you need it.

    • I do not have supportive family, and I did not want to compromise my relationships with my friends. Tapering is onerous! And long term!

    People's Stories

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