because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

Get Well: An Interview with Musician and Benzo Warrior Kraig Rieger

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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?

                         *Kraig Rieger, 2020

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.

You can listen to GET WELL on BANDCAMP, AMAZON, SPOTIFY  & YOUTUBE.

And if you search Come Back K! on iTunes, you can buy the entire CD there.

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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.

 

 

 

Raising Awareness About The Dangers of Benzodiazepines

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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.

Becoming Real

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BECOMING REAL is a 16×20 multimedia painting featuring acrylic paint, vintage papers, oil pastels & colored pencils. Reproductions are available by request.

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.

At all.

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.

It’s a dream come true.

Tweet me at @rasjacobson and follow me on Facebook at rasjacobson originals.

Press Release For My Art Show on 9/16/2017

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Here is the official press release which I’m sending out to anyone and everyone here in Rochester. If anyone has contacts at the New York Times, the LA Times, or the Chicago Tribune, I sure would like to get some national exposure. This is not about selling paintings. It’s about raising awareness about the dangers of psychiatric drugs. So many people are suffering in silence right this very moment, their voices unheard. I’m grateful to be able to use my art as a vehicle to share my story, which is the story for so many of us.

• • •

Reproductions of this piece are available as wall art, on magnets & coasters, as well as porcelain trivet tiles.

ARTIST TO DISPLAY WORKS IN “THE STATE OF UNDRESS” PROJECT AT WHITMAN WORKS COMPANY OPENING SEPTEMBER 16, 2017

Renée Schuls-Jacobson’s Art Represents her Healing Journey

Toward Mental Wellness & the Struggle of Others With Invisible Challenges

 August 1, 2017 – Rochester, NY – Whitman Works Company in Penfield, New York is pleased to present “THE STATE OF UNDRESS PROJECT: THE HEALING OF RASJACOBSON”. The exhibit’s opening will take place September 16th with a reception from 6:00-9:00 p.m. at 1826 Penfield Road, Penfield, NY. This exhibit represents Renée Schuls-Jacobson’s on-going healing journey after becoming disabled as a result of improper treatment and withdrawal from a powerful anti-anxiety medication.

During her illness, Jacobson realized there was a profound disconnection between how she looked and how she felt. While speaking with others who were willing to admit that they, too, were struggling to overcome invisible obstacles of their own, she became interested in the tension between outward appearance and internal reality, creating impressionistic portraits based on the stories people shared.

As a result, Jacobson’s art reflects this duality, and her colorful crowd of characters is enigmatic. Despite her use of a cheerful color palette, her subjects often appear deep in thought, even a little sad.

Jacobson hopes her artwork (and the accompanying non-fiction narratives) will allow people to speak more freely about their own insecurities and invisible disabilities which are, to some degree, present in all of us. She also seeks to educate the public about the dangers associated with psychotropic drugs, like the one she was prescribed.

The artist will be in residence for the opening of the exhibit on September 16, 2017 from 6 PM to 9 PM. The show will continue in the Whitman Works Company Gallery through October 7th. Regular gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 AM – 6 PM. For additional information please visit the gallery shop in person at the address above or online at www.whitmanworks.com.

 

 

I KNOW WHY CRAZY PEOPLE HOWL AT THE MOON: MY BENZO STORY AT PATREON

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This photo was taken on July 30, 2013.

I was in Florida with my (then) husband.

We were out to dinner with his cousin when the world tipped sideways.

This is not an exaggeration.

The world suddenly shifted, and it would not be right again for 36 months….

• • •

So many people have been reaching out to me, asking for help. They want to know what my life was like before benzos, how much I was taking, for how long, how I weaned, how fast, what my withdrawal was like, how long the symptoms lasted, and what my life is like now.

I can only speak to so many people a day, and it’s never enough.

And that is why I decided do something completely different.

I’m sharing the full story of my battle with benzodiazepines at Patreon.

And you get to read the story as I’m writing it.

It’s taken me nearly 4 years to kick benzos’ ass!

You will too!

• • •

If you’d like to read more, contribute to MY PATREON PAGE at https://www.patreon.com/rasjacobson. For $1 per month, you can read all about my story. I will post relevant art, writing & videos at least 4 times a month.

Please help me share my story!

XOXO

My Video for #WorldBenzoDay

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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

 

 

What it Means to Survive

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The last time I tried out for Survivor was in 2013.

I was healthy.

Or at least, I thought I was.

(I had no idea that taking .5 mg of Klonopin at bedtime as prescribed was destroying my brain and my central nervous system.)

After 33 months of healing, I’m feeling well enough to be a contestant on Survivor.

Again.

I have no idea how I’d do.

I like to think I’m strong, but last week I got a bunch of splinters in my fingers and I complained for days.

I can handle extreme heat, but relentless rain? Not so much.

I get along with nearly everyone, and I find people endlessly fascinating.

But living with strangers? For over a month? In less than 4-star accommodations?

That could be rough.

This weekend, I enlisted a friend to help me make a video.

And yesterday, I submitted my video to Jeff Probst.

So, three years later, I’m crossing my fingers.

Again.

Here it is for your viewing pleasure.

If you are moved to tweet this post to @SurvivorCasting & @JeffProbst, I’d be grateful.

tweet me @rasjacobson

Why Was I Spared?

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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

 

 

 

 

Limping Back to Life

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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? 

My Own Yellow Brick Road

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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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