Benzo Withdrawal

June 15, 2016

Signs From The Universe

Many years ago, I inherited one of my grandmother’s plants: a heavy pot of thick roots and tens of long, robust green…

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April 22, 2016

Oy Vey! The Matzah Balls!

A few years ago, I did a crap load of cooking. I was preparing for Passover, so I was doing what Jewish mothers do — cooking up a storm. I was Martha Stewart and Rachael Ray and Betty-freaking-Crocker — except the Jewish version.

Read More…

February 24, 2016

Why Was I Spared?

Every day I speak to people who are going thru the horrifying post-acute withdrawal experience that I am going through, and I’m just…overwhelmed. Many people kill themselves in withdrawal. Why did G-d spare me? What do I do with this gift of life?…

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February 12, 2016

Challenging Status Quo: #PharmaHarmed

When you’re injured, it’s difficult to pay attention to anything, except your pain.

Pain makes it hard to concentrate.

Hard to take on the responsibilities associated with a full-time job.

Hard to do house work.

Hard to be a mom.

Hard to smile….

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February 2, 2016

Thirty Months Off

Amazingly, I no longer suffer from debilitating muscle spasms or brain zaps. In fact, most of my physical symptoms have disappeared. …

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September 26, 2014

Limping Back to Life

It is said that each year on Rosh Hashanah, “all inhabitants of the world pass before G‑d like a flock of sheep,”…

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August 1, 2014

Morphing From Writer to Painter

Over the last few months my creative muse has reappeared, pulling me away from writing, away from my busy mind, which likes to think and dwell and ruminate. These days, my muse wants me to paint, which is cool because when I paint, I can turn off my mind and have fun getting messy with color….

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May 21, 2014

My Own Yellow Brick Road

When Dorothy Gale of The Wizard of Oz started her journey down The Yellow Brick Road, she was terrified and, with the exception…

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April 23, 2014

Night Time Horrors

I love children’s books. When my son was young, I delighted in introducing him to all my favorites, but I especially loved seeing his…

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Today is World Benzodiazepine Awareness Day.

This is my contribution.

Note: I should have probably taken a moment to think about dressing up, or putting on makeup, or doing something with my hair.

But you know what? This is 100% authentically me, speaking honestly about a topic I know way too much about.

I respond to all comments left here on my blog. Please feel free to leave one.

NOTE: It is potentially dangerous to come off medications without careful planning. Please be sure to be well educated before undertaking any sort of discontinuation of medications. If your MD agrees to help you do so, do not assume he/she knows how to do it well even if he/she claims to have experience. Doctors are generally not trained in discontinuation and may not know how to recognize withdrawal issues. It’s important to educate yourself and find a doctor who is willing to learn with you as your partner in care. 

tweet me @rasjacobson

 

 

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Many years ago, I inherited one of my grandmother’s plants: a heavy pot of thick roots and tens of long, robust green leaves with rounded tips. At first, I thought it was an orchid, but after showing it several florists who could not identify it, I decided to love my weird, unknown plant, no matter what it was.

I’ve had this plant for over thirty years now, and I remember how – just a few days after I moved into my first house – eight gorgeous orange blossoms appeared clustered atop one tall, flat stem. I hadn’t seen the stem growing or noticed any buds, so it was a complete surprise when it arrived on the scene.

Before that day, I had no idea the plant ever bore flowers, and I remember feeling a strong connection with my grandmother, a complicated woman, to whom I was always very close.

Despite the fact that my husband fed and watered it dutifully, decades passed and my plant never flowered again.

In fact, I kind of forgot that the plant flowered at all…

…until last June…

…when my plant burst into color for the first time since 1997.

At the time, I posted a photo of it on Facebook, asking if anyone could identify what it was.

Almost immediately, my friend Regina sent me a link about a rare African lily, Clivia Amaryllidceae, which – according to the article – stated that the plant normally blooms once every 20-25 years.

And as you can imagine, I was beside myself and I spent way too much time telling everyone about my amazing rare lily.

I loved seeing my plant bloom again, and I made peace with the idea that its beauty would be impermanent.

A week later, as each petal shriveled and fell off the stem and onto the floor, I thought about how grateful I was to have been able to enjoy such a simple pleasure so fully.

I resumed regular care of my lily, which meant ignoring it watering it on Saturdays, and I figured I’d have to wait another 20 years or so before I’d see it bloom again.

But guess what?

This morning I walked in to my living room and there it was, in full-bloom again, one year later, to the day.

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My yoga practice teaches me to expand and deepen my appreciation of delightful moments, so I sat down on the floor next to my plant and took the time to really appreciate each flower. This time, I noticed how each orange petal is actually also yellow and green, too. I counted 7 stamens in each open blossom, and I wondered how nature knows how to do that.

And I took time to reflect.

So much has happened in the last few years.

I’ve experienced the most intense physical and psychological pain that I could have ever imagined while coming off the powerful anti-anxiety drug, clonazepam. The terror that I experienced daily for nearly 2 years is almost indescribable. I cannot believe I survived it.

There was a period where my brain was so damaged that the concept of love was just a memory of an idea. I could feel nothing at all. If a friend tied to touch me, her hand was too rough. If the sun was shining, it was too bright. If children were laughing, it was too loud. I was certain people were trying to hurt me. I was certain my food had been poisoned.

Trapped in a pain cycle, all the highly paid “experts” told me I was crazy, that it was “absolutely impossible” for me to still be experiencing withdrawal symptoms after 24 months.

And while the best conventional minds told me I was mad, there were others who knew better. People reached out to me and told me that I would be okay. That I just needed to hold on for another moment.

And another moment.

They reassured me that all the tiny moments would add up.

They said the moments would grow into minutes.

Which would grow into hours.

Which would grow into days.

They told me there would be days where I would go backwards, where my symptoms would intensify. They told me it was all part of the healing.

They told me to trust the nature of things.

Nature knows what to do, they told me.

I’ve always believed in angels, and I believe — more than ever – that we are all surrounded by a powerful, invisible magic. I’ve tried to speak of this many times while I was growing up, of my intense connection to something beyond the visible, a cosmic force that I have experienced directly many times, but I was teased and laughed at.

Today, I realize I’m in touch with something that other people don’t have.

(Or don’t want to have.)

I have an incredible power.

A sixth sense.

I have it and I listen to it.

I know that to “normal people” that sounds crazy.

Guess what? I don’t give a fuck.

My life is not going to be normal.

My path is going to be crazy.

Today, I am certain that my grandmother is communicating with me via this plant that we share, this tender life that we have spent over 60 years nurturing, separately, yet together. Today, she is telling me that I’m on the right path, reminding me that beautiful things happen when we aren’t looking, or waiting, or expecting or trying to control everything.

I don’t have much to offer these days.

No fancy home.

No fancy clothes.

But I can promise you this.

Whenever you are in the midst of something dark, whenever you find yourself in the midst of so much uncomfortable change, underneath all the fear and the dread, I can tell you with absolute certainty that you’re going to be okay.

Trust the helpers.

Trust the flowers.

Trust.

Have you ever had an experience where you have felt the Universe was sending you a message? Please share!

 

Looks good, right?
Looks good, right?

A few years ago, I did a crap load of cooking. I was preparing for Passover, so I was doing what Jewish mothers do — cooking up a storm. I was Martha Stewart and Rachael Ray and Betty-freaking-Crocker — except the Jewish version.

So picture frizzier hair and a bigger nose.

That year, I made 3 times as many matzah balls as I usually would, to make sure that my family would have enough to eat for the entire week. It took hours, but no big whoop, right? These are the things we do for love.

After the brisket went in and the noodle kugel was finished, I realized I didn’t have enough room in my freezer. So, I asked my kind neighbor if I could use a little space in the freezer that she keeps in her garage. She said of course.

Passover comes and so do all the guests. I’m serving the soup, and I’m like where are all my matzah balls? I look in the freezer, in the refrigerator, in the garage. It’s cold enough. I’m thinking, maybe I stashed them in the trunk of my car. Sometimes I stick things there. I look everywhere. I only have 18 matzah balls. The thing is this: that year? We have 24 people at the house. Picturing, standing in the kitchen, confused and cutting matzah balls in half.

I believe it is written in the Torah.

Thou shalt not run out of matzah balls.

But I did.

I apologized to our guests.

Time went by.

Spring came and went.

Months after the holiday ended, I was sitting on my driveway in the sun when my neighbor asked if I would like to have my matzah balls.

“Because isn’t Passover coming up?” she asked.

You guys, I didn’t even remember giving them to her.

Suddenly I was like: Should I be worried? Should I call the doctor? Do I need to check about early dementia? Seriously, how did those balls get over there? Did they roll across the street on their own?

I followed my friend into her warm garage. She opened her freezer and next to the ICEEs, there was my long-lost Tupperware container filled with frozen balls. All 9 bazillion of them.

I obsessed about forgetting those matzah balls.

And then I got sick. For 15 months, I couldn’t cook or clean or even leave my house.

I couldn’t even think about making matzah balls.

It’s been a few years since I hosted a Passover meal.

At 32 months off Klonopin, I’m doing really well. I’m grateful to be alive, grateful to feel Spring in the air, hopeful that one day I will feel even better. I know all of this is part of G-d’s plan.

And this year, I plan to enjoy someone else’s balls.

#IYKWIM.

tweet me @rasjacobson

I keep remembering the powerful final scene from the film Schindler’s List, when Holocaust survivors give an inscribed ring to Oscar Schindler that reads: “He who Saves One Life Saves The World Entire.” After helping to save so many Jewish lives, Schindler expresses frustration that he couldn’t save more people.

“I didn’t do enough, “ he laments.

This is how I feel everyday.

Every day I speak to people who are going thru the horrifying post-acute withdrawal experience that I am going through, and I’m just…

Overwhelmed.

So many people kill themselves in withdrawal.

Why did G-d spare me?

What do I do with this gift of life?

I’m a member of several private Facebook Groups for individuals who are in the earliest days of the horrifying discontinuation syndrome associated with benzodiazepines like Klonopin, Valium, Xanax and Ativan. People contact me through my blog, via Facebook, on Twitter. I listen to people on the telephone, and I know how they are suffering.

People tell me I’m helping by writing honestly about my withdrawal experience.

But is it enough to simply blog about the experience?

Sure, I am raising awareness about the dangers of this class of drug.

But I want to speak with doctors and have them reconsider their prescription habits.

I want them to understand that just because they went to medical school, it doesn’t mean that they know everything.

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Talk about arrogance!

I want doctors to understand that they should not put anyone on a medication that they would not be willing to take themselves.

That it’s not appropriate to prescribe someone a medication without informing the patient of the risks of taking such a medication.

I want to visit medical schools and speak to our future doctors.

I want to find a lawyer brave enough to help me initiate a class action suit where those of us who have been harmed have the opportunities to share our stories.

I want justice.

Doctors take a Hippocratic Oath promising to do no harm.

And yet.

Doctors do harm every single day.

Our drug companies are not educating doctors properly because pharmaceudical companies are in the business of selling drugs, it’s in their best interest to create individuals who become chemically dependent on the drugs they produce.

Our “more medicine is better” culture lies at the heart of healthcare, exacerbated by financial incentives within the system to prescribe more drugs and carry out more procedures.

I find myself wondering about my purpose.

Should I go back to school to be a good clinical psychologist, diagnosing and treating mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders?

Or an addictions counselor?

Or a counselor specializing in treating trauma?

Or an art therapist?

Or should I go rogue, and — work with out formal credentials — to help counsel individuals who are trying to wean off benzodiazepines safely?

A firm believer in the power of the people, I wonder if I am supposed to become an activist and attempt to singlehandedly spearhead a revolution? Call the media – radio, television, newspapers, magazines. Encourage people to bombard our politicians? Organize protests in front of doctors’ offices and hospitals?

Just the way people were harmed by an unscrupulous Tobacco Industry, the way the the people of Love Canal were harmed by the Hooker Chemical Company, the way the people of Flint Michigan were harmed by trusting their politicians to protect them, I believe those of us who have suffered iatrogenic harm have to fight to be seen and heard.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to do more, to work more, to help more people.

The reality is, I – myself – am still healing.

I still suffer from burning mouth syndrome, shortness of breath, and joint pains.

Pain that makes me wince.

I wish I didn’t have these symptoms, but there isn’t anything I can do about them.

All I can do is make a choice to get up each day and do the best I can do.

If I help one person, it’s enough.

It has to be.

For now.

Do you ever feel like this in your own life? That you’re not doing enough? How to find your answers?

tweet me @rasjacobson

 

 

 

 

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I have a high tolerance for pain. A former gymnast, I was taught to push through discomfort. Once I landed badly after executing a backflip, yet somehow managed to complete my floor exercise routine. After limping around for several weeks, an X-ray revealed that I’d fractured my heel.

Years later, while wading in a river in the Adirondack Mountains, I stepped on a sharp something-or-other, and practically sliced off one of my toes. Since there were no hospitals in the area, my dangling appendage was reattached at a Boy Scout Camp – without the use of any anesthesia.

Hell, I delivered Tech Support without anesthesia.

Since I discontinued using Klonopin thirty months ago, one of the most troubling protracted withdrawal symptoms I’ve had to deal with has been extreme dental pain.

Sometimes, the pain is so bad, my teeth chatter. It was suggested to me that I might be grinding my teeth together. Or clenching.

I was fitted for a mouth guard, which I wear religiously.

I’ve tried changing my toothpaste, adding a special mouthwash, taking vitamin supplements.

Nothing helps.

When I am still and try to embrace the pain rather than resist it, I feel a circle of burning energy radiating from one side of my face to the other.

Not too long ago, someone told me about Burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS). Doctors and dentists do not have a specific test to diagnose this syndrome, but some experts believe BMS is caused by damage to the nerves that control pain and taste.

(Which makes sense, since extended use of benzos causes damage to the nerves.)

Think for a minute about the last time you stubbed your toe.

Or the time you slammed your hand in the car door.

Or that time you sliced open your finger.

When you’re injured, it’s difficult to pay attention to anything, except your pain.

Pain makes it hard to concentrate.

Hard to take on the responsibilities associated with a full-time job.

Hard to do house work.

Hard to be a mom.

Hard to smile.

People who have known me my whole life know that I was once a happy go-lucky person, who was on no medications and living a full life.

I’m frustrated because I know so many people who have been harmed by medications that we were assured would help us.

We are raised from infancy to believe that people in the white coats know what they’re doing and will make us better.

I trusted my doctor.

These days I know better.

  • I know that half of veterans who died from opioid overdoses were also receiving benzos.
  • I know that benzodiazepines are not recommended for patients with PTSD or trauma.
  • I know that older patients are being transitioned from benzos to other therapies because of the heightened risk for dementia and death.
  • I know that as far back as the 1960s, doctors knew benzodiazepines were associated with cognitive impairment. By the 1980s, they knew that benzos caused long-term brain damage, as well as a horrifying withdrawal syndrome.
  • I know that it is not appropriate to prescribe benzos indefinitely, especially for insomnia, (and yet it is done all the time).

These days, we have increasing evidence that these mind-altering medications are harmful, and I believe we need to go into reverse and stop this increasing trend of prescribing them.

I never thought of myself as an activist, but I realize that my blog provides me with a platform from which I can share my concerns about psychiatric medications. It is a place where I  write about my own plight as well as the collective plight of this group of disenfranchised individuals.

I cannot stand by and let anyone else be harmed.

What I’m looking for now is legal representation: a firm willing to take on the responsibility of a potentially huge class-action lawsuit.

I realize I’m challenging the status quo in taking on Psychiatry, Medicine, big Pharma, even the FDA.

I realize my actions are not going to be popular.

I know I’m going to make people angry and uncomfortable. My thoughts are going to be labeled as unconventional, quirky, and anti-establishment.

People are going to say I’m crazy.

To me, this is Love Canal, Tuskegee, big Tobacco, and Flint Michigan all rolled into one. In each of those cases, individuals went to trusted government officials with suspicions that something just wasn’t right. In each case, individuals were reassured their concerns were unfounded; they were assured that they were safe. And in each case, individuals in power chose to overlook documents that indicated harm was, in fact, being done.

I used to giggle about grammar errors, and now I’m taking on what I believe to be a cover-up of gigantic proportions.

I’m terrified.

Disabled as I am, I’m doing it.

tweet me @rasjacobson

If you believe that you have been harmed by exposure to benzodiazepines, contact me via email at rasjacobson.ny@gmail.com.

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Look! I’m smiling!
It’s been thirty months since I took my last bit of Klonopin, a dangerously addictive medication that a doctor prescribed for me when I was suffering from insomnia.

Thirty months since my world flipped upside down.

What happened?

As you’ll recall, back in August 2013, I began to experience extreme withdrawal symptoms after a 1-year controlled taper, despite the fact that my wean was (mostly) supervised by a medical professional. At that time, I suffered from thousands of side effects, too numerous to list here. Unable feed myself, I couldn’t watch television, speak on the telephone, get on the computer, read a book or listen to the radio. I lived in solitary confinement, too sick to leave the house. I suffered irrational fears and believed people were trying to kill me. And I endured a depression so crushing that I considered killing myself multiple times. (You can read more about this horror, HERE.)

The few people who came to visit me can attest to the fact that I was truly a wreck. Unable to eat, I lost 30 pounds. I shook and rocked and paced and cried all day long. And it never got better. Not for one moment.

Until the symptoms slowly started to disappear.

What now?

I’ve made major life changes so that I can focus on healing. Eliminating toxic people from my life has helped a lot. I get a weekly massage, which helps me heal in ways that I can’t even begin to describe. My body had been deprived of physical touch for so long, and my massage therapist’s hands always know just where to go and just what to do.

I’m working again, back at the local community college, in a part time capacity. I’m taking on more free-lance editing work. I’m selling my paintings. I’m exercising and meditating regularly, making sure to take time out to relax when I feel that I’ve been doing too much. I’m getting out socially and enjoying people again.

Amazingly, I no longer suffer from debilitating muscle spasms or brain zaps. In fact, most of my physical symptoms have disappeared. Symptoms that continue to linger include a constant burning sensation in my mouth where I feel like my mouth and tongue are on fire. Sometimes, this is coupled with the sensation that my teeth are loose in my mouth. I still struggle with insomnia. Benzodiazepines damage dopamine receptors, so I still have a lot of healing to do there, but I get about 6 hours of sleep each night, so I’m not complaining. After 2 years of psychosis as a result of chronic sleep deprivation, I’ll take 6 hours a night. I still get fatigued rather easily. I still have trouble with cognition; my long-term memory is much better than my short term memory, but even that is improving.

These days, I don’t take any prescription medication.

None.

Oh, and I dumped my psychiatrist.

(I don’t believe in the efficacy of psychiatric drugs anymore, so why would I keep her on the payroll?)

And guess what?

I’m feeling fine, better than I have in years.

I’m aware more than ever that we live in a country where making money is more important than anything else. Drug companies spend a fortune on “direct-to-consumer advertisements” which are shown on television, and studies show that when patients come in asking for a particular medication, they are more apt to leave with a script than not.

Physicians are susceptible to corporate influence because they are overworked, overwhelmed with information and paperwork, and feel unappreciated. Cheerful and charming drug reps, bearing food and gifts, provide respite and sympathy and seem to want to ease doctor’s burdens. But every courtesy, every gift, every piece of information is carefully crafted, not to assist doctors of patients, but to increase market share for targeted drugs.

And while I want to believe that most doctors want to help their patients, many are not educated about the real dangers of the psychiatric medications they are prescribing their patients and, as a result, they are harming people.

I’m profoundly aware of the connection between trauma and addiction.

Our culture demands that we hide our pain, that we move through our difficult times quickly, but dealing with trauma cannot be rushed. If someone is grieving the end of a relationship -a death or divorce – or going through a period of with intense stress, it takes time to be able to transition through these times of intense change.

Sadly, our culture shames us if we slow down to take care of ourselves. We learn early on that we are supposed to be productive all the time. We stop listening to what our bodies are telling us (rest, slow down, cry, ask for help) and if we cannot “pick ourselves up by our bootstraps” there must be something wrong with us. We are given diagnoses and told to listen to “experts” who will provide us with medication to “help us.”

I now believe I had to go through this horror is because I’m supposed to use my skills to spread awareness regarding the dangers of all psychiatric medications, particularly benzodiazepines.

Over the last 2.5 years, I’ve connected with dozens of individuals who have shared their withdrawal stories with me. It’s a shame that there is so much stigma and secrecy surrounding mental health issues because, I’ll tell you, there are a lot of people out there who continue to suffer daily from the horrors of protracted benzodiazepine withdrawal as a result of doctors who were either uninformed about the risks of the medications that they are prescribing or prescribing these medications unethically.

They need to know they are not alone.

And they need to know that they will get better.

They will heal.

I’m almost there.

{Special thanks to Jenn Harran, the most awesome massage therapist in the land. And to my therapist, Dr. Bruce Gilberg, for helping me wade through my mess.}

 

 

 

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It is said that each year on Rosh Hashanah, “all inhabitants of the world pass before G‑d like a flock of sheep,” and it is decreed in the heavenly court “who shall live, and who shall die . . . who shall be impoverished, and who shall be enriched; who shall fall and who shall rise.”

Thirteen months ago, right before the Jewish New Year, my life fell apart and, since then, I have been forced to drastically slow down in an attempt to to settle in to this new normal.

Slowing down has been difficult for me.

Ridiculously difficult.

Probably because I was a real mover and shaker in my former incarnation, so I often feel like I’m not doing enough for my family.

I beat myself up, saying I should be able to do X easily, the way I used to.

Like it should be no big whoop.

Except, sometimes, even completing one thing on my to do list is wicked hard.

I know a few people who have been through benzo withdrawal. These good people reassure me that the burning mouth and the fatigue, the dizziness and the agoraphobia will eventually all go away.

I want to believe them.

I do.

In the meantime, I have to surrender to the idea that my life may never be the way that it was.

To accept what is right now and enjoy today.

This moment.

Right now, my cat is resting next to this keyboard. His body is relaxed, his breathing even. He is a living meditation. Nothing bothers this cat. Even when I clumsily step on him, he never makes a peep. He eats and cuddles and plays and sleeps. He isn’t concerned with the idea that he should be doing more. He just is.

I want to live like my cat, without worrying about what I should be doing.

I’m fortunate to have people who care about me: folks who continue to check in with me via telephone or Facebook. It’s easy to feel forgotten when you’ve been sick for a long time, so I’m grateful to these people who keep showing up for me.

I’m trying to stop beating myself up about the things I can’t do and congratulate myself for the little things I am able to do.

Yesterday, my husband and I went apple picking.

Apple picking has always been a family ritual. This year, however, we didn’t have our son with us. And we didn’t ride the tractor. Holding on to my husband’s arm, we walked slowly up the path to the orchard. I’ve been feeling particularly dizzy recently, feeling like I am being pushed to the left by an invisible hand. It’s a frustrating feeling, and a distressing one too.

Part way up the hill, a woman emerged from one of the rows of apples. She held a camera, and asked if we’d be willing to pose for a photograph for a nearby small town newspaper. At first, I was uncomfortable with her request. I hardly feel like my best self these days, and it’s been a long time since I’ve felt well enough to wear anything other than yoga pants. I didn’t have any makeup on and my hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail because that’s about all I can muster these days. I didn’t like posing for the camera. I felt exposed and raw. It’s hard for me to smile these days, due to the emotional blunting caused by the drug.

And yet.

I did it.

More importantly, I was there: taking in the view from the orchard, grateful to see the apple trees heavy with fruit; able to appreciate the leaves turning from green to red and yellow and brown.

I couldn’t have gone apple picking 13 months ago.

And this year, I was able to go with assistance.

This is where I am today.

Caught in an the middle place.

Desperately uncomfortable, but alive.

I’m here, limping along, like everyone else.

I’m challenging myself to write more, to paint more, to get out more… but many times, I am still too sick.

I hope that next year at this time, I’ll be able to easily attend Rosh Hashana services, to listen to the rabbis words, and feel that my life has been enriched in ways that I cannot yet imagine. For now, l’ll dip my apple into honey and wish everyone a sweet year filled with good health and happiness. If there is a reason for my suffering, I sincerely pray that it will one day end so that I can be of service to others who are going through their own dark times.

For now, apparently, it is still my time to receive.

I’m sharing a photograph of myself, the way I am right now, in hopes that one day I will be able to look at photos of myself and see how far I have come.

September 26, 2014
L’shanah Tova, everyone.

For better or for worse, what has changed for you in the last 13 months? 

One year ago today, I swallowed my last dose of a medication that was prescribed to me by a doctor, a medication I believed was helping me with a “chemical imbalance.”

Almost immediately, I began to experience severe benzodiazepine withdrawal, a horrifying syndrome associated with stopping this class of medication. Nearly a year later, I still have symptoms, but my mind and body are definitely healing.

Over the last few months my creative muse has reappeared, pulling me away from writing, away from my busy mind, which  likes to think and dwell and ruminate. These days, my muse wants me to paint, which is cool because when I paint, I can turn off my mind and have fun getting messy with color.

And for that I am grateful.

Truly, there are no words to express my gratitude to G-d for allowing me to find a creative outlet during this ordeal.

Perhaps even more amazing is the fact that folks like and are willing to pay for my work.

Since I was (and continue to be) too debilitated to hold down a traditional job, being able to earn money by doing something I love has been fantastic for my self-confidence.

It is with great joy that I share my most recent piece with you.

ROAR, an unframed 12″x24″ acrylic painting on canvas, is ready to ship.  I’ll accept payment of $225 (+ shipping & handling) via PayPal. Leave a comment if you are interested in purchasing this piece, and I’ll contact you as soon as possible.

I completed ROAR this morning.

And it feels perfect.

Because I’m coming back to life.

I am.

It’s happening slowly.

And while I’m not quite ready to roar, I’m reconnecting with old friends and making new ones along the way, like Dorothy Gale did on her journey to Oz.

I’m healing old wounds and learning to forgive myself and others.

And I’m growing, learning to say: “I’m an artist,” the way I once said, “I’m a teacher” or “I ‘m a writer.”

It still feels strange, the way I imagine those ruby slippers felt to Dorothy when they magically appeared on her feet. This painting thing is shocking like that. I didn’t choose to become an artist; the images simply reveal themselves to me in dreams and visions and I do my best to realize them with paint.

And buttons. And ribbons. And texturizing medium. And other found items.

If you like what you see, follow me on my Facebook page, RASJacobson Originals. I post new work as it becomes available. These days, I’m doing things slowly and with great intention so I don’t become overwhelmed.

Thank you for continuing to stick with me as I heal.

What’s something you can do that no one (or very few people) know about? I wanna know!

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When Dorothy Gale of The Wizard of Oz started her journey down The Yellow Brick Road, she was terrified and, with the exception of Toto, completely alone. A girl whose life was turned upside down after an event that was completely out of her control, she didn’t yet know that the cyclone would bring unexpected gifts to her life. She didn’t know she’d make new friends and learn valuable lessons along the way; she was simply trying to survive. It was only later, when she felt safe and whole, that Dorothy was able to express gratitude to everyone who helped her as she limped along down life’s path.

As I tap out this post, I’m far from feeling whole, but I’m feeling well enough so that I’m able to look back at the events of last 9 months with the tiniest bit of ever-emerging perspective.

During the weeks I spent recuperating at my parents’ house last August, I paced the hall, occasionally stopping to look outside to the large picture window in their family room. It was summer – normally the season I love most – but during benzodiazepine withdrawal, I was unable to step outside to enjoy the sunshine for even a moment.

One particularly difficult afternoon, my parents’ footsteps seemed especially loud. My father had the television on full blast, and when I tried to calm myself by taking a hot bath, my mother barged in on me as I laid naked in the tub.

A few hours earlier, my mother and I had an uncomfortable exchange. She’d gone to the grocery store to buy a whole chicken and had made some homemade broth for me, which I tearfully refused. It wasn’t that I didn’t want what she had made – I did! I was starving! – but I simply couldn’t put anything in my mouth. I was sure that anything I ate was going to make my symptoms worse. When I tried to explain that I couldn’t eat the soup she’d made, my mother crossed her arms over her chest and gritted her teeth at me.

“Well,” she growled, “You can make your own food if you don’t like what I make for you.” Yanking open the refrigerator door, she pushed me toward the open compartment. I stood weeping, trying to decide which foods wouldn’t taste like poison. Everything seemed dangerous.

Standing in my mother’s kitchen, I panicked. Having already left my husband and son in hopes of finding a better place to heal, suddenly I felt I’d made a terrible mistake in coming to Syracuse. My parents did the best they could, but I needed more than they could give.

Something inside me understood I needed more than a house with a roof over it in which to heal. I needed love and patience and kindness. I needed someone to murmur encouraging words and tell me I was going to be okay.

Stepping into sweatpants, I put on my sunglasses and dared to walk across the street. As my bare feet touched the hot asphalt, I prayed to G-d the entire way, begging Him to let Gina be home.

I’m pretty sure Gina could tell something was wrong with me right away, but maybe she couldn’t. I certainly believed that anyone who felt as crazy as I did simply had to look the part on the outside.

Ever gracious, Gina pushed open the screen door and offered me a cup of tea. At that point, I was having weird fears and I confessed I was scared of tea. Without batting an eyelash, Gina offered hot water with lemon.

My hand shook the entire time we talked. I told her what was going on, that I’d stopped taking an anti-anxiety medication and that I was afraid I was losing my mind. I told her about my crippling insomnia and scary dreams.

Gina listened, remaining calm and reassuring. “Do you like massages?” she asked.

Nodding, I looked at the lemon floating inside my teacup.

Gina stood up, went into her kitchen, and opened a drawer. She copied a phone number on a tiny scrap of paper, which she handed to me.

“This place offers acupuncture and therapeutic massage and a bunch of other services,” Gina said, returning to her chair. “I think they even have a juice bar and a cafe with organic food.”

I stayed at Gina’s house for several hours that day and, again, the following day. Sitting in the safety of my old friend’s screen porch, the two of us beaded bracelets and talked quietly. Occasionally, we were joined by one of her cats or one of her children – but mostly, it was just the two of us.

Eventually, despite the fact that I was inexplicably terrified of talking on the telephone, I screwed up enough courage to dial the number on the scrap of paper and make an appointment for a massage.

Looking back now, I realize that asking my parents for help set me on a path: my old personal Yellow Brick Road, if you will. Making the difficult decision to leave my immediate family to take care of myself brought me to Syracuse, which brought me to Gina, which ultimately brought me to the next part of my journey, where I made another decision which saved my life.

At the time, I didn’t know I was on a journey.

I simply thought I was alone in Hell.

What I see now is that I  was never alone, for when we ask for help, the Universe always delivers a response.

What is a difficult personal challenge you’ve survived?

• • •

{Today, I thank my parents – Phil & Joan Schuls – for offering all they could to help me during some of my darkest hours. And I thank Regina Barnello Wright for answering the door when I came knocking.}

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I love children’s books. When my son was young, I delighted in introducing him to all my favorites, but I especially loved seeing his reaction to Maurice Sendak’s “In the Night Kitchen.”

The story features young, adventurous Mickey who stirs from his bed and embarks on a strange adventure. Young Mickey is thrown into cake batter, flies across the sky, and ends up right where he started — safe in his own bed.

I always thought fancied myself to be like Mickey: brave and curious, eager for new experiences and unafraid of where they might lead. But during acute withdrawal, the world was filled with monsters. Where I once appreciated Sendak’s idea of an ever-changing landscape over which one had no control, suddenly that lack of control wasn’t fun at all.

One of the monsters I battled was insomnia. Not only was I terrorized while I was awake, but I couldn’t escape my demons even when I closed my eyes. If I was lucky enough to fall asleep, I experienced horrifying vivid nightmares, causing me to jolt awake, my heart pounding in my chest.

Click HERE to see more amazing art by Morgan Huneycutt @behance.com.
Click HERE to see more amazing art by Morgan Huneycutt @behance.com.

One night, I journaled about my nightmares, detailing them in my black and white composition notebook. The next morning, I looked at my scribbles:

A fat, yellow caterpillar with a woman’s face writhes in a thick puddle of mucous in the middle of a dark room.  The creature wears a blonde wig perched crookedly on its head. I open my mouth to scream, but no sound comes out. I try to run, but the stuff on the floor is sticky, so I cannot move. The caterpillar-woman gurgles as she moves in my direction. Her mouth is no longer a mouth; it is a dark swirling cavity. I am surprised when she stabs me, since I hadn’t noticed her huge spiny bristle filled with some kind of clear fluid. Feeling my flesh burn, I realize I’ve been poisoned and, as my clothes melt into my skin, I can do nothing but wait for the creature to devour me.

You know how you feel when you wake up after having a single nightmare? That disoriented, terrified moment when all you want is to hold onto something solid. That moment where you look for reassurance from a person sleeping next to you?

That night, I recounted 9 separate nightmares.

I read about a man with pointy teeth whose fingers turned into knives. About dark, swirling water: the place my son drowned while buckled in his infant carrier. I read about fires and hurricanes and war and plagues and famines.

Each nightmare was darker and more catastrophic than the one that preceded it.

Even scarier? I barely remembered writing about them.

I spoke with my therapist many times while I stayed at my parents’ house, and she reassured me that I was on the path to healing, that my neural pathways had to learn basic things — even things like sleep — again after having been dulled for 7 years. That my healing would take time. She was encouraging, and I was prepared to wait it out.

But after nearly 3 weeks of little to no quality sleep, the exhaustion was killing me. Though I was terrified with the idea of taking any medication to help me rest, my parents convinced me to try some of the pills my doctor had prescribed.

I should have known better.

That night, I had a rare paradoxical experience. Much like the horror in many of my nightmares, I experienced a kind of “locked-in” syndrome, where I was completely awake and yet utterly unable to move or scream. On the outside, my body was still; on the inside, I writhed and buzzed with electricity.

When the effects of the medication wore off the next day, I wandered into the kitchen to find my parents. My father greeted my brightly. “Did you sleep last night?” he asked.

I looked at him with wide eyes. “No more pills!”

• • •

{This week, I express gratitude to Monica Cassani at Beyond Meds. If you or someone you know is hypersensitive to medications, check out her blog. You are not alone! I also need to thank Val Erde, who offered support from across The Pond, and to Marna Meltzer & Michelle Goldstein for offering me hope during my darkest hours.}

What monsters have you been battling recently?

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