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I’d never met Scott before this interview, and he literally knew NOTHING at all about my story.
This conversation was an incredibly positive experience for me, and while I know many of you have seen it, I thought I would share it on my blog, in an effort to continue to spread the word about the dangers of longterm benzodiazepine use, even if you are only taking it exactly as prescribed, which is what I did.
The interview is also available as a podcast here, if you prefer.
I am so fortunate & grateful to have been interviewed by, my friend, the multi-talented Ya’cub Shabazz of Sankofa Studios for giving me an opportunity to share my story on his inspirational podcast.
I hope you will learn a bit more about my experience during benzodiazepine withdrawal as well as my artistic process — and then click over to check out Ya’cub’s website, his podcast series, & his educational series.
It took many years from me to heal my brain after withdrawing too quickly from clonazepam, a powerful anti-anxiety drug.
How I wished there was someone I could see and talk to who had been through the experience!
I promised that if I ever got to the other side of this injury that I would do something to give back to those who are still struggling.
To that end, I am joining forces with Reverend Heather Elizabeth of Bye Bye Benzos, and the two of us will be co-facilitating a one-hour ZOOM call to talk about our stories as well as information about some of the modalities that helped us — and continue to help us — as we move through complicated trauma.
Participants may join with or without video at 11AM EST, but we must be able to see your real name. (People with “nicknames” will not be allowed into the call.)
Heather and I will join the meeting at 11:11AM EST.
The ZOOM call is 100% free, and there will be an opportunity for Q & A.
If you are interested in joining us, please go to Rasjacobson Art, LIKE my page & click GOING or INTERESTED and you will receive the link & the password on the morning of the event.
In the meantime, you can hear more about my story HERE and HERE & hear Heather’s story here HERE.
As many of you know, I was profoundly injured by long-term benzodiazepine use. In 2014, while disabled and mostly homebound, I began writing about my experience with benzodiazepine withdrawal in my online blog.
Five years later, Kraig Rieger found my blog.
Suffering from hundreds of horrifying symptoms, he read that I’d healed and reached out to me via email for support. Though we live thousands of miles apart in completely different time zones, we’ve been communicating for close to a year, and it brings me great joy to share this interview I did with him about the CD he has managed to produce despite the fact that he is, in fact, very sick.
GET WELL chronicles the horrors associated with a syndrome that is not recognized by most medical professionals. Like so many of us who have been harmed, Kraig hopes to raise awareness about the dangers associated with medications commonly prescribed by physicians.
RASJ: What were you like pre-benzos? What were your interests?
KR: Most of the interests that I had pre-benzos have stayed the same. I’ve always enjoyed NBA basketball, pro wrestling, reading, different genres of rock music, exercising, movies, etc. I played sports in high school, including basketball and soccer, and I have continued to follow basketball throughout my life. The hard thing about life pre-benzo and life now is I find it much harder to connect with hobbies and interests and mustering the energy to care about things can be difficult at times. I sort of have to force myself to care about things. One of the most difficult things for me is my interest in going to concerts has completely disappeared. I always think about buying tickets, and then I worry about how I’m going to feel on that particular day and decide it’s not worth it.
RASJ: What brought you to benzos in the first place?
KR: About ten years ago, I had some sleep-related issues that were a result of anxiety because of a job I took after college. Initially, the medication helped, and then it didn’t.
RASJ: How did you end up deciding to go off the drugs? How was it handled?
KR: I was off and on benzos for many years, and I quit taking them cold-turkey several times not knowing you aren’t supposed to do that. At one point, after I abruptly stopped taking them, I became terribly depressed. I started having crying spells and feeling like I was genuinely losing my mind. Looking back now, I would do things very differently.
RASJ: What is your life like now? What are your greatest challenges as you move thru this weird healing?
KR: It’s been about two years since I quit taking the medication. I still struggle with inexplicable anger when forced to confront any stress and oftentimes for no discernible reason; I also have bouts of severe depression for no apparent reason. I have burning sensations in random places on my body, most noticeably my face and my calves, and my vision is blurry. Anhedonia – the absence of joy — is another tough symptom I’ve had the entire time. I bought a new guitar during this recovery, and my wife was like: “You’re not even excited.” The lack of joy and happiness has been the hardest thing to cope with on top of other tough mental symptoms.
RASJ: What motivated you to create this CD?
KR: I tend to gravitate to a guitar regardless of feeling good or bad, so I just started working on songs regardless of feeling bad. It took me about a year after quitting the medication to even have a tiny spark of desire to compose anything new. While going thru this process, people tend to become completely consumed by terrible, dark thoughts, and I figured it would be a good chance to write a concept album all about the same subject. Overall, playing guitar and writing songs has been a good distraction throughout the misery.
RASJ: Which songs do you connect with most deeply?
KR: I wrote “Walks” in about a day. It’s a really simple song, but the bridge has a pretty interesting chord progression that is fun to play. The opening line references taking walks outside, which I’ve done throughout this process to ground myself and feel some semblance of normality.
“Seasons” is one of my favorite songs on the album. I almost didn’t record it because we had nine songs done at that point. I like how my voice sounds on this track, and the song details how long the process of feeling better can take as you pass through season after season, year after year, not feeling well.
“Mirrors” is the first song that I wrote for the album. It details how devastating an invisible illness can be. I look at myself in the mirror, and the bizarre thing is that I don’t look like anything is wrong with me at all. On the outside, I even look pretty healthy physically. It’s amazing how appearances can be so deceiving.
RASJ: What else do you want people to know about this CD?
KR: The most interesting part of recording this album is I worked on it with Nate Smith, another person currently going through benzo withdrawal himself, someone I met on a forum. I would send Nate the recording with rhythm guitar, vocals, and sometimes bass, and he would finish the songs by adding drums, vocal harmonies, and other instruments. He made the songs sound really good. I would send him the bare bones stuff thinking ‘these songs aren’t very good,’ and then he would return them to me, transformed. It’s been a cool collaboration.
RASJ: Tell me about the awesome cover art.
KR: A friend of mine from high school designed the cover art which depicts a man standing in front of a mirrored medicine cabinet. The viewer understands that this man is exhausted and his reflection reveals the face of a skeleton. The cabinet is filled with empty bottles, and the man knows that nothing can really save him from the misery. That’s what we were going for. Mundi’s work can be found on Instagram @mundi.art.
And if you search Come Back K! on iTunes, you can buy the entire CD there.
Thank you for letting me share a little of your story here, Kraig. I’m incredibly proud of you for finding a way to transform your horrifying experience into something beautiful and relatable. I hope you find yourself on the other side of this injury very soon. Trust me when I say that healing is possible. It just takes a very long time.
Feel free to contact me if you’d like to share your Benzo Warrior story on my page.
Many people believe that playing video games rots people’s brains. But what if playing video games – in moderation – can also help people to heal from brain injuries?
When I was going through physical withdrawal after coming off of clonazepam, I was so impaired that for many years, I could not read or write.
For a time, I couldn’t bear to look at any electronic screens. There was something about those blue screens that I just couldn’t tolerate. If you’ve ever watched a TV show on a broken television screen, that’s kind of how I experienced screens: the picture appeared pixilated and it was just too stressful for my poor, injured brain to handle.
At some point, someone suggested I start trying to “retrain my brain” to handle stress by playing simple video games. They suggested that I would be able to measure my distress tolerance by seeing how long I could play, that it would be a fun way to chart my healing process.
The game seemed easy enough to play: you simply try to get three or four or five of a one color candy in a row and try to blow up a certain number of translucent gels or collect nuts and cherries. No one was being shot at or injured, and – for some reason – the colors and shapes didn’t bother my eyes.
And while I’ve never been particularly interested in video games, I downloaded the app.
At first, I could barely play for even a minute. It was impossible for me to tolerate all the action on the screen; my eyes watered and I found my pulse rate would increase to the point of discomfort.
Instead of quitting though, I decided I would challenge myself to play every day for as long as I could.
I mean, if someone said playing video games helped him to heal, well… I was willing to give it a try.
After a while, I found I could last for one full life. Then two lives. Eventually, I was able to play long enough that I actually ran out of lives and had to wait to play another day.
Strange as it sounds, this is how I began to measure progress.
As I became more successful at the game – I could play longer with better results and less physical distress – I found a little place inside myself that reasoned that I was actually healing and that I could apply the same principle with everything.
There is something about the immediate and concrete feedback in video games (e.g., through points, coins, dead ends in puzzles) that served to reward my continual effort. In fact, research has shown that the extent to which individuals endorse an incremental versus entity theory of intelligence reliably predicts whether individuals in challenging circumstances will persist or give up, respectively (Dweck & Molden, 2005). These implicit theories of intelligence have implications for how failure is processed and dealt with.
Being immersed in Candy Crush taught me an essential basic lesson: persistence in the face of failure reaps rewards.
And my experiences of failure did not lead to anger, frustration, or sadness; instead, I responded to failures with excitement and interest and a motivation to improve my performance. When faced with failure, I was motivated to return to the task of winning, and I felt optimistic about reaching my goals.
Shortly after I started playing Candy Crush, I started painting.
At first my paintings were primitive – simple hearts and words. Over time, I tackled imaginary monsters, portraits of pets & people.
Six years later, my brain is nearly healed.
I still have some trouble with long-term planning and some memory loss between August 2013 and September 2015.
But I’m reading again.
I’m painting & participating in art festivals.
I have friends again.
A social life.
And I still play Candy Crush every day.
(PS: I’m on Level 1197, in case anyone was wondering.)
What weird thing do you believe helped you to heal when going thru difficult circumstances?
Last year at this time, I was nervously preparing to show my artwork at my very first art festival.
The event was to take place in The South Wedge, a funky/artsy neighborhood here in Rochester, New York.
I had no idea what my booth would look like or how my display was going to work.
I had no idea what I was doing.
Fast forward twelve months.
Today, I’m calmly preparing for the same show in the South Wedge this Saturday.
So it’s a mile marker, an anniversary of sorts, and – as such – it’s an opportunity to reflect.
When I started painting in 2014, the paintings were for myself.
When I was sick and mostly homebound, it NEVER occurred to me that the affirmations I used to get through benzodiazepine withdrawal would one day become a business, a way for me to connect with and help people who are going through their own invisible struggles.
Now that I have a little space from all of that, I see I was experiencing what Carl Jung refers to as the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ – a period of spiritual desolation suffered during which time all sense of consolation is removed.
It has taken me over five years to get to where I am now.
Those of you who’ve been with me for a long time can probably see the changes better than even I can. I never knew I possessed the kind of strength necessary to get thru the kinds of crises I faced, and I can honestly say I am a stronger, a more empathetic person on the other side of this mess.
I’d like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to everyone who has believed in me, supported me personally, financially, intellectually, and spiritually.
I want you know that in a real way, YOU helped save my life. When you bought my work, or shared it, you showed me you believed in me. You saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.
To me, this is nothing short of a miracle.
And now it’s the holiday season.
The Season of Miracles.
Everyone is rushing around, furiously shopping for gifts to show their friends and family members how much they are loved.
And that’s awesome because presents are fun and fabulous and obviously I’m selling my work, which is weird and wonderful and I love everything about the festivity of the season.
It’s important to remember it’s not about the stuff.
The greatest gift you can ever give to someone is your time & attention.
Check in with the people around you. Really check in.
Not via text message, but with a phone call. A meal. A walk.
Sit down with your most cherished people and tell them you love them, you need them, and you support them.
Many of us feel we have to hide the fragile parts of ourselves, the places where we are insecure.
Get curious about what people are really feeling, what they’re really going thru but not sharing.
And we’re not doing enough of it these days.
Just because someone looks at you and says ‘I’m fine,’ it doesn’t mean they’re fine.
I’ve always seen and heard things that other people didn’t. Early on, I could feel other people’s energy and emotions and see people with superimposed color trails ― white, blue, red, orange ― around them. Often, I heard people’s thoughts as clearly as if they’d said them out loud, which, in many cases, I believed they had. As a child, hearing people “say” things and then being told they had not said them was extremely confusing, and I was often accused of making up stories or telling fibs.
To be honest, it was scary to experience reality in a profoundly different way than everyone around me, and over time, I learned to be quiet about my visual and auditory “hallucinations” due to the negative feedback I received.
On August 14, 1999, during the traumatic delivery of my son, I had a near-death experience (NDE). I remember feeling myself levitate from the table. Hovering above my body, I looked down at myself — and the entire room — from about eight feet above. I remember seeing the top of the surgeon’s flowered paper bonnet, and peering down into one of those pink, plastic hospital-order basins. That’s a lot of blood, I thought to myself. I wonder whose blood that is. I also remember feeling like I was being pulled away from the scene below, almost as if I was on some kind of a conveyor belt. I didn’t experience a white light or the feeling of overwhelming love and connection the way many people do. Instead, I felt something malevolent tugging at me. It was scary, and I didn’t like it.
The next thing I knew, I was back inside my body, lying on my back in a room lit only by a dull blue light.
“Am I dead?” I said aloud, to no one in particular.
A nurse reassured me I was not dead at all, and then she left me, ostensibly to locate my husband who was somewhere in the hospital.
Lying in my hospital bed, I found I could hear and connect with the consciousness of others whose physical bodies had died in that space. I felt these agitated spirits swirling around me. Many were angry about being trapped in that room, and they shouted at me to listen to them.
From that moment on, the voices followed me everywhere. It was hard to focus on nursing my newborn son with angry spirits shouting at me. And it was scary not to have anyone to talk to about what I was experiencing. The only way I could deal with the voices was to ignore them, and that is what I did.
Or what I tried to do, anyway.
I stopped talking about what I was hearing, and I tried to exist on one level of consciousness, the way everyone around me expected me to exist.
That’s when the insomnia started.
It was awful.
At night, I’d get out of bed and press my ear against the brick chimney in the bedroom I shared with my husband. “Do you hear that?” I’d ask him night after night. “Do you hear people talking?” But Mark never heard anything and, after a while, he got upset with me for waking him up so frequently.
The rest is a story that many of you have heard.
Busy with a newborn all day and tormented by voices all night, I wound up in a psychiatrist’s office, where I was poly-drugged, first with SSRIs – Celexa, Zoloft, Prozac; then with the anticonvulsant, Lamictal. Eventually, I was given Klonopin, a powerful anti-seizure medication. After seven years of dutifully listening to “experts” and taking the medication exactly as prescribed, I learned Klonopin is not supposed to be taken long-term, that it has many dangerous side effects, and I slowly weaned off of it with the assistance of a specialist. Unfortunately, this wean was a disaster. I endured an horrifying iatrogenic injury which left me disabled and debilitated for many years.
While healing from that trauma, my world blew open again. The voices returned, and this time I could see things, too.
It’s taken me a long time to figure out what brought me to meds in the first place & I’m finally crystal clear on it.
Today, I own all of it.
I’m an artist and a writer and a teacher and a mother.
Instead of being afraid of the visions and the voices, I now embrace them. Being a medium is like being a translator, decoding a universal emotional language into English ― and at times, hearing words and phrases, feeling impressions of things or watching little movie clips. It is a receiving of information rather than a retrieving of it.
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to work with a modern-day healer who did a SIX-HOUR cleaning with me, during which time he sealed up a portal through which malevolent energy was being transmitted. He confirmed that I am plugged into something powerful. (Not that I needed his validation.)
Working with CD was transformative. All my broken soul-pieces have been integrated. I no longer hear angry voices. I’m alert & aware & whole & so very grateful.
Three months short of five years, I am here.
I am healed.
And I have a new understanding about myself and the world.
Western culture teaches us to seek medical help when we are sick, to visit the dentist to get our teeth un-mucked, and we think nothing of hiring specialists to assist us with personal hygiene, legal, financial and medical matters. We hire handymen to help us with things that break in our homes, landscapers to weed our gardens and plumbers to unclog our drains.
And yet, somehow we remain resistant to the idea that things can get clogged up in our heads, too. Old emotional pain can build up in just the same way that a drain can become clogged. We aren’t always great about working these things through on our own – and, in fact, sometimes we need professional help. For some people, talk therapy is enough. For others of us, with more complex trauma, we need to call in the big guns.
And guess what? There are talented practitioners who know how to unclog gunked up emotional pipes, too.
Clearing my emotional mess has allowed me to see my psychic abilities as a blessing rather than a curse. Doing this work requires a willingness to deconstruct one’s life & figure out where you got off your path. It is possible to put yourself back together, but only YOU can do it. As painful as it may be, looking at your life is an opportunity to rebuild.
If you’re interested in learning more about my experience and/or would like to meet with this amazing healer, feel free to contact me and I’ll put you in touch.
Do you believe there there’s another dimension beyond the one we see with our eyes? Or is this waaaay too woo-woo for you? Leave a comment!
I’ve been consulting with people in benzodiazepine withdrawal for nearly a year now. It’s something I do quietly, privately. Right now, I have four or five people who call me regularly for emotional support. Each of them shares a similar story.
They were going through a difficult time in their lives – usually involving profound loss or grief – when they started to experience somatic symptoms. Rather than being sent to therapy to discuss their life experiences, these individuals were sent down the psychiatry route.
After a short meeting with a psychiatrist, their behavior was determined to be pathological or disordered, and they were told to take was medication which would help alleviate their symptoms.
In each case, they were prescribed benzodiazepines which, they were assured, would work for them like magic. And for a time, they did. However, just like any drug, these drugs lose their efficacy and individuals find themselves needing to take more to achieve the same results. Some people become tolerant more quickly than others, for whom reaching tolerance may take years.
It doesn’t matter.
The end result is the same.
Once you hit tolerance, you’re in trouble because you can’t stay on the drug, but you cannot get off without scads of horrifying side effects.
Today, I received this message via email (shared with permission):
I had a severe seizure in the late afternoon yesterday. My eyes spasmed and blinked uncontrollably. My mouth twisted and stuck in a contorted position. As my jaw moved with violent force from left to right, my bottom lip moved up and down up and down. I felt dizzy and sick. My eyebrows went up and down, my neck convulsed, along with my lips. My teeth chattered nonstop. I feel violated by my own brain and body.
This has been going on since for over a year!
I am hopeless and in despair.
My primary doctor has destroyed my life and murdered me.
I am suicidal & asked for a closed casket.
I don’t think I will make it. The stress is slowly killing me.
I don’t know what to do.
If you are having an adverse reaction to a drug that can’t be stopped, how do you get off of it? How?
This woman is a warrior.
Her brain is zapping her; her body is betraying her. She cannot walk or talk or watch television or listen to music. She cannot enjoy a casual lunch with a girlfriend or go to the beach. She’s homebound and isolated, having to endure thousands of horrifying symptoms.
The fact that people are continuing to suffer is unacceptable.
Pharmaceutical companies have known about the dangers of benzodiazepines since the 1970s and ill-informed physicians continue to prescribe benzodiazepines longterm without understanding their efficacy, and patients continue to be harmed.
Up until now, I’ve used my art work and my blog as vehicles to bring attention to this travesty.
Moving forward, I’m offering education and individual case consulting for medical personnel.
I’d like to visit medical schools and speak to future doctors about my experience and the experience of so many people who have been harmed by psychiatrists who have mistakenly deemed certain drugs as “safe” and “tried and true.”
For more information on how I can help you better help you, your loved ones, or your patients, please contact me HERE.
Last night, I shared with a new friend how someone hurt my heart this weekend.
I explained how I’d been dancing on the beach, basking in the sunrise, grateful for the opportunity to plant my feet firmly in the sand and be so close to the ocean. “I selected the spot carefully,” I said. “Off to the left of the only sunbather on the beach.”
I told him how I’d popped in my headphones, so I could tune out the world and tune into my body.
Fifty months ago, in the throes of acute benzodiazepine withdrawal, my body was in continuous pain. Unable to walk or talk, or take care of any of my most basic needs, I was confined indoors (mostly) for over a year.
I never thought I’d heal.
So there I am, quietly expressing gratitude to the Universe when this woman ~ this stranger ~ tells me to move myself down the beach. She tells me I’m distracting her.
“Your ass is in my face,” she says.
Obviously, she didn’t know about what I’d been through ~ but it felt terrible to be shamed for feeling being myself, for expressing my joy.
“Aw babe,” my friend said. “Don’t cry. All that’s over now.”
The rabbis teach that to truly know another person, we must not know only their pleasures and their successes but also the sorrows they bear.
Burying my face in my friend’s shoulder, he stroked my back. “If you need to cry, it’s okay,” he said. “Cry long and hard.”
The moment he gave me permission to share my sadness, my burden was cut in half, and I didn’t feel like crying any more.
I don’t know if he realizes the gift he gave me, but I do know these tiny interactions are what life is all about.
And I believe it is our charge to remember to do that for someone else every day.
Be on the lookout for someone to help today.
Who/what helps you feel better when you’re feeling low?
Four years ago, after weaning off a powerful anti-anxiety medication, I had a seizure in my kitchen.
Lying on my back, I stared up at the ceiling, baffled by what was happening to me.
For months, I suffered hundreds of physical and emotional symptoms that kept me locked in a state of constant terror.
No one knew how to help me.
In February of 2014, I flew out to Arizona, to The Meadows of Wickenburg, a rehabilitation facility where I watched shattered people heal…while I remained terribly ill.
No matter what I did, my brain remained scrambled.
I had absolutely no evidence that I’d ever heal.
While in rehab, I spent a lot of time in the art room. I painted a tree and a house and a bird. A boy told me my picture was pretty, so I gave it to him.
Back in Rochester, I kept painting: hearts & animals, monsters & sad-faced girls.
My paintings got bigger and bigger. I created The State of Undress Project and connected with dozens of people, exchanging life stories and forging friendships.
Three years have passed, and I just had my very first art opening. People I’d previously only “known” online showed up and introduce themselves in person. A childhood friend I hadn’t seen in over 30 years drove over an hour to be there. My parents were there, old friends and new, and I felt loved and supported by everyone who was in attendance.
Sitting here this morning, I received payment for a commissioned painting I have not yet painted. People are buying my work. They tell me they like my goofy videos. I have travel plans to look forward to. Work plans. Artist friends who generously answer my newbie questions. Patrons who are actively collecting my paintings, if you can believe it. And yesterday, a new artist friend asked me for advice.
Recently, after completing a whimsical painting of a funny looking critter, my cousin commented that he reminded her of The Velveteen Rabbit, a book I’d many years before. Upon revisiting it, I see what she means. The book offers many lovely themes, but the one that had the most resonance for me is its reminder that It’s Important to be Real.
(Rabbit doesn’t need the garden rabbits to tell him he’s Real, and he doesn’t need the Boy to keep loving him in order to stay that way. Once he recognizes his own Realness, the Rabbit has the confidence to be his own person.)
It sounds like it’s easy, this ‘being real’ business.
But it isn’t.
And I see it now, how I’d fallen off my path.
How I’d stopped creating, stopped loving, stopped trusting the voices that guide me.
How I was surviving but not thriving.
How I was spending my days living the way others wanted me to live.
A way that wasn’t my way.
How I’d stopped being real.
The Velveteen Rabbit also reminded me to remember the people who have helped me.
(Even after he’s Real and living with the garden rabbits, the Rabbit still comes back to visit the Boy whose love gave him life. He could have easily forgotten the Boy, living in Rabbit-land, but he doesn’t. The Velveteen Rabbit teaches us to never forget the people who made us who we are, even when we’re living in two different worlds.
So I’m thanking all of you: my parents, my family, my friends ~ new and old ~ my patrons, my followers… (Even those of you who have hurt me ~ and you know who you are ~ you taught me something. I may be a slow learner, but I’ve definitely learned from you. Better late than never, eh?
It’s time to stop focusing on the past.
Why? Because it’s happening.
I’m becoming real: a full-time creative who gets to express herself in color and words.