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How Klonopin Destroyed My Life
In 1991 I was a healthy, happy woman with a fulfilling life and beautiful family. I had been married for 4 years and had a 2-year-old daughter. I was a full-time homemaker, which was the fulfillment of a lifelong wish, and was expecting my second child.
After the birth of my daughter in 1989 I had experienced postpartum depression for 15 months. This had been gone for a year and I was happy about my second pregnancy but a little worried about developing the depression again. If I had known the length and severity of the hell I would soon enter, I would not have allowed myself to become pregnant again.
My son was born in September 1991 and I once again experienced depression. I thought it didn't feel like the first bout I had when my daughter was born and asked the doctors to test me for physical problems but they insisted that I be medicated. Antidepressants didn't work and when my son was 6 months old my mother committed suicide which threw me into emotional turmoil for a while. At that time my psychiatrist refused to treat me without medications.
He gave me one dose of Xanax one night when I was in the hospital and very upset. It calmed me down and the next day he spoke to me and told me he was prescribing Klonopin for my "obsessive thinking" as Xanax was too addictive. He did not tell me it was a tranquilizer nor that Klonopin and Xanax were remarkably similar drugs. I did not think to look up information about it anywhere as I trusted the doctor.
I don't remember the starting dose but I recall him continually increasing the dose whenever I had an appointment and mentioned that I had been having a hard time. I never asked for a bigger dose. I did not recognize the signs of tolerance and dependency. He even told me to take extra doses any time I had extra stress, without consulting him. By the end of my nine years taking this drug I was on a dose of 6 mg a day. Every time I saw a different doctor for any reason and they asked me to list my medications I told them and they seemed surprised about the dosage but never warned me of it. I think they thought I must have been truly crazy to need a dose that strong.
Within a year after I began the drug I was even more severely depressed. As the years passed, in spite of my beautiful children and loving husband, a rewarding volunteer job of teaching and directing a Sunday School program for preschoolers at my church, and many friends and other useful activities, I was convinced I was miserable.
I hated my husband and told him so often. I would fly into intense rages and destroy things in my home. I tried to overdose on the Klonopin after taking it for one year. Later during my usage, I would pound myself all over with a hammer, trying to make as many bruises as I could. I actually got angry with myself if I could not raise very many bruises. Toward the end of my years of captivity to this drug I would cut myself with a piece of broken glass.
During these years my personality changed completely but it was so insidious that I never attributed it to the medication. (I also took 75mg a day of Pamelor, an antidepressant.) I thought that I really was angry and hostile, lazy and unmotivated, depressed and hopeless. Also I developed a promiscuous side. I had an affair with a married man who had been a friend of my family and mine. I found myself flirting with any man I met, all the time not wanting to be intimate with my husband at all.
Because of the changes to my personality I wreaked considerable damage on my family. In 1999, after 8 years of drug captivity, my husband and I separated and began divorce proceedings. I thought I didn't love him and never would. I thought I would be so much better off without him.
I even stopped attending church. I was raised a Catholic and it has always been an important part of my life. It is a huge part of my identity. But I could not connect with God anymore.
I was sleeping 18-20 hours a day but getting very angry with anyone who disturbed me, as I woke easily. My children had to go around on tiptoes afraid to make the slightest sound all day while I slept. When I did awaken on my own and spend time with them I was angry all the time. My son (now 9) has discussed this with me since my recovery and told me that when I was asleep he wanted me to wake up and pay him some attention, but when I did wake up he wanted me to go back to sleep. My husband told me all the time while I was medicated that I was lazy, as I had no interest in participating in any activities and slept all the time.
When I was going through the stress of my divorce and living alone I got involved in dating and behaved indiscreetly. In April 2000 I discovered that I was pregnant. At once I called my psychiatrist who had prescribed the drugs for me all those years. His response was that I must stop taking all medications AT ONCE! My obstetrician told me that I could taper but the psychiatrist frightened me. He made it sound as though if I took any medications it would harm my child and he warned me of nothing in stopping them that quickly.
I looked on the Internet for information but all I could come up with was that quitting Klonopin causes "sweating, stomach distress and insomnia" for one to three weeks. So I prepared myself mentally for that occurrence.
I remember the first night after I gave up all drugs. I did not sleep all night and was tense and agitated. After that I have only vague recollection of bits and pieces of the next week or so, and then no memory at all of the following three weeks. I lived alone and it was truly frightening. A couple of times one friend or another would come and sit with me for a few hours. But after a few days I could not even remember anyone's telephone numbers even though I had known them for years.
I became irrational and could not form thoughts and make decisions. The man I was seeing at the time came over and wanted to help but I would not even let him into my home. I became afraid of him and tried to barricade myself inside and hide from him. He did get someone to let him in and he stayed with me for a time. He said I would say things that would make no sense and I would repeat the same conversations with him over and over. He said at first I didn't sleep at all for days and then I slept all the time.
After a few days I developed an intense fear of him. I believe I got the past and present mixed up and had hallucinations. One night I wanted to escape from him, so I ended up running several miles down the street barefoot in my pajamas carrying a stuffed animal I sleep with, at 4 a.m. He followed me in my vehicle but that only frightened me more. That day I was taken to the emergency room, telling everyone that my boyfriend was trying to harm me and thinking he was trying to follow me.
Unfortunately he couldn't come with me to tell them what was going on, due to my fear, and I was in no state to tell them myself. I don't even know if they knew I was pregnant. When I "woke up" 3 weeks later I was in the psych ward on Thorazine (a major tranquilizer) and some other medications. I was shaking like a leaf and so dizzy I could not stand up. My heart was pounding so loud and you could see it beating in my chest just by looking at me. I was so extremely sensitive to light and sounds and any kind of stimulus.
The nurses and doctors kept telling me to get out of bed and attend the therapy groups. They made me make my own bed and I had not had my hair combed in all that time. My friends had to spend days working the horrible tangles out of my long hair when I went home. The staff was convinced that all the symptoms I had were due to "my depression" and when I insisted something else must be wrong they blamed it on the pregnancy. I had no idea that all that was caused by the benzodiazepine withdrawal.
An endocrinologist finally came to see me and diagnosed hyperthyroidism. He put me on Propranolol, a beta blocker, and PTU, an antithyroid drug. I stopped taking the Thorazine because it made me throw up. I also stopped taking an antidepressant the psychiatrist had me on as I didn't feel I needed it.
I came home and endured 4 months of endless hell. Most nights I did not sleep at all. When I did fall asleep it would only be for a short period before I was awakened by something internal. My heart pounded constantly and accelerated further if I did even the slightest thing such as blink my eyes. I could not endure people talking to me or the television, especially anything tense. I jumped out of my skin every time anyone even walked into the room. The dizziness was more than I could stand and I felt as if the room was moving even while I was lying down with my eyes shut.
I tried many medications for the insomnia: Benadryl, Vistrol, Trazadone and some of the OTC sleep aids but they all made me feel worse and didn't even help with the sleep.
At the end of August (4 months off drugs) I had surgery to remove most of my thyroid, as the doctor felt it was getting worse and they could not treat me with radioactive iodine because of the pregnancy. The pain medications I received in the hospital made me feel frightened once again and another psychiatrist came to see me. He prescribed four medications – one an antipsychotic, and told me I'd never get better if I didn't take them. I never saw the prescription. I refused to take them and asked my obstetrician who told me the prescribed medications would sedate me beyond recognition and it was just the pain medications making me feel that way. I quit taking them but then endured three of the longest days of my life with continually recurring panic attacks.
The rest of my pregnancy was something I only endured. I could do nothing but sit and watch TV or read a book. Every time I tried to move around the pounding heartbeat grew more intense and sleep was impossible. My mind was stuck in the horrifying present. I found it literally impossible to even think about things I used to do and could not imagine anything different for the future. I couldn't even imagine daydreams. I was stuck in a nightmare and couldn't wake up.
My son was born healthy in December 2000. Labor was easy as far as the pain. After what I had already gone through, that pain was nothing. When he was born my first comment was, "We did it!"
It wasn't until a month later, at 10 months off the drugs, that I did the right research and realized why I had been suffering so much. It was very freeing for me as it gave me power to recover. I no longer had to worry that terrible things were wrong with me. I had the strength to tell the doctors not to try to give me any new medications which would probably have made things worse.
I am now at 13 months off benzodiazepines. I take no medications whatsoever. I have had to give up caffeine, salt, sugar and drugs of any kind. Even antibiotics have unwanted effects on me.
My life is in pieces but I will recover completely. I have lost my marriage, my children (the ex got custody because of my mental state), my home and my money. I have been unable to work since this all began and I could not even drive for 10 months. I am now homeless and penniless due to my baby's father taking advantage of my illness and weakness. Because of my behavior over the years I have lost many friends. During the last year of illness I have become isolated and my self confidence is not fully recovered.
One thing I have gained already that is priceless to me: my mental health. While I took the Klonopin I was hospitalized regularly and underwent many forms of therapy, while existing in a living hell. I felt for so long as though I was drowning and everyone could see me but would not save me. I lived in a twilight world of hopelessness and despair, hatred and anger, and self-loathing.
Now that is gone and hope is a precious gift. If my baby had been a daughter I was planning to use the name Dawn because of my new chance at life. I have been given a new dawn and I will arise like a phoenix from the ashes of my life.
For a photo of me with Baby Aaron, who saved my life, click here.
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