Benzodiazepines and sensory issues
I thought I would bring a slightly expanded version of one of my comments on a recent post (Being kind to your body, and nasty assumptions) over to one of its own:
I should probably also add that I know I was lucky in the way I reacted to benzos; an awful lot of people do become physically dependent. I got some psychological dependency going for a while, but they did make life much more bearable. For a while, I did take higher than the prescribed dosage (for the first few weeks of the month, until the pills ran out!), just to try to get some relief.
Not considering/knowing that I might be autistic and experiencing very real sensory issues and overload, doctors assumed that I had a huge mess of anxiety disorders (panic disorder, GAD, social anxiety, and even agoraphobia when I avoided overwhelming stimuli). Some of my overload reactions were even seen as psychotic symptoms, for lack of a decent understanding of what was going on. I didn’t know any other way to interpret what I was experiencing, much less the mental health professionals (ouch). For years, I had multiple “panic attacks” every day. Sometimes the only way I could get to sleep was to wait for the waves of “panic attacks” to completely exhaust me. I now know that this is my nervous system shutting down under sufficient overload, out of self protection. After I crashed out of college, I barely left the house for years, trying to avoid the “anxiety”.
Scarily, the more I see of other people’s experiences, the more common this sort of thing seems. That’s the main reason I keep sharing experiences I’ve been trained to find embarrassing, in hopes that someone else can benefit from knowledge I’ve picked up the hard way!
Anti-anxiety meds will blunt your reactions to sensory issues, but do not address the problem. At all. Nor do the various forms of therapy aimed at changing your responses to anxiety-provoking situations; the sensory stuff kicks in before the anxiety-related thought patterns they’re looking at.
Learning that the sensory issues are real, and how they’re working in my case, let me figure out some ways of coping with them, directly. Even if CBT does not work directly to stop the sensory reactions, you can learn to change your reactions to the “symptoms”, once you know what’s going on. Besides learning to work around overloading situations in the first place, and use things like mp3 players to cope. That’s even without taking into account my previously-unrecognized hypoglycemia/diabetes: eat a piece of fruit before leaving the house, avoid >50% of “anxiety” symptoms while out and about. Between the two problems, they account for pretty much all the “anxiety” I was experiencing on a daily basis. Now I know that I can manage this without uncomfortably sedating myself.
These meds did, however, greatly help the muscle spasms. Very possibly for the same reasons that I don’t have many opioid receptors now (wipe out dopamine receptors, you also wipe out related opioid receptors), and do not get nearly as much relief from opioid pain medications*, I have never had a physical problem stopping taking rather hefty doses of benzos–besides just losing the muscle relaxant effect, which was a ton of help with the very painful tardive dystonia I got from neuroleptics. (Which were also prescribed, in large part, to blunt my sensory sensitivity/”anxiety”.) I have atypical reactions to a lot of medications–not just psychiatric–due to both neurology and ethnicity.
This is the only type of psychiatric medication I would consider taking again, though not for the main reason it was prescribed before. A lot of people do run into problems, and I am definitely not trying to dismiss or minimize their experiences. These are some tough choices.
* Also probably feel the effects of not getting much relief from endogenous opioids, either, leading to a lot more pain. Both facets are apparently a common problem under the fibromyalgia diagnostic umbrella. I have also been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, for lack of a clue why these things were happening, when my pain is coming from the same old dystonia and associated med-induced problems. I wonder how many other women in particular, now that they’re pushing atypical neuroleptics so hard, are getting diagnosed with fibromyalgia for the same reasons?
I also wonder how many other people are not getting appropriate treatment, especially in the UK, to quote from that previous post:
It’s been much worse since I moved to the U.K., since the NHS is weird about benzodiazepines, thanks to earlier overprescription and a huge class action suit. Flexeril/Skelaxin/etc. don’t work for me. And I just figured out a few months ago that it’s not fibromyalgia, it’s the same old crap! I am also concerned about stigma if I seek specific treatment, since it did come from neuroleptics, and I’ve already run into medical stigma here over the (bogus) bipolar diagnosis. “You brought it on yourself by being crazy, now live with it” is not helpful.