Category Archives: When Life Doesn’t Fit in a File Folder

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

Sketching Project: Joe

Nearly a year ago, I joined Neutral Ground, a peer support group for people who are divorced, widowed, or ending a significant relationship. A non-profit organization, Neutral Ground has no religious affiliation and is open only to adults.

Actually, that’s not true.

A year ago, I Googled “Need Help During Divorce.”

It took me nearly 6 months before I got up enough courage to attend my first meeting.

That Thursday night, I sat in my car in the parking lot for over a half hour, bawling my eyes out, grieving too many things at once.

I’d lost the person I thought was my best friend, the person who’d promised to love, honor and respect me for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.

From the outside, it must have seemed like I had it all: a beautiful home in an affluent suburb; new cars to drive; a country club membership. We took regular vacations and owned a second home in Florida. I had fancy friends who threw fancy parties.

And yet.

I was desperately lonely.

No one is going to understand why I left, I thought. These people are going to think I’m nuts. 

But the thing is, they didn’t. The people at Neutral Ground made me feel welcome. Despite the fact that we’re all going through the same thing, we all process things very differently. Where one person is angry, another is sad. One woman misses the dog; another misses the snowblower. We listen to each other’s stories and monitor each other’s progress from week to week. We attend social events with each other and encourage each other to keep going. Every few months, there’s a communal dinner and everyone brings a dish to share.

It’s nice.

Not too long ago, I actually got to a meeting a little early.

(This doesn’t happen very regularly.)

Anyway, this guy was there.

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And I just so happened to have my backpack with all my art supplies inside.

He was kind enough to let me paint his likeness.

And he was extra kind to let me post it here.

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If you’re going through a difficult time in your life, I urge you to seek community. Everyone needs a place where they feel understood. Neutral Ground has been that place for me. We are not alone. We are never alone.

tweet me @rasjacobson

 

 

 

Why Was I Spared?

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

 

 

 

 

Challenging Status Quo: #PharmaHarmed

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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.

Staring At Strangers

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My first attempt at painting a stranger in watercolor.

At age 48, in the throes of a divorce, I’m figuring out who I am.

What I like to do.

After not investing one iota in myself for the last 20 years.

People keep telling me to do things that I enjoy.

“Have fun,” they say.

It’s awful to admit, but the concept of fun has become completely foreign to me.

In an effort to find fun and fill my craving for a creative community, I joined a sketch group. Convening mainly on weekends, we travel to different locations to meet and commit art together.

I’ve found that I feel less lonely while making art in public, so in-between meet-ups, I’ve taken to visiting local coffee shops to practice painting strangers.

In stealth mode.

Unfortunately, people often got up after only a few minutes, leaving me with an unfinished piece.

Which was unfulfilling.

I was taking too long in an effort to get it right.

I realized I had to speed up my efforts and focus on capturing the essence of an individual – his or her energy – in a quick sketch completed in just 4 or 5 minutes.

Once I stopped trying to be perfect, an interesting thing happened.

I started smiling.

Suddenly, people are approaching me. They call me “brave” for painting in public. Sharing how they used to love to knit/weave/paint/sew/make quilts … until someone told them they were terrible, and they stopped.

Sometimes people pull up chairs to sit with me and we end up talking about art, children, politics, love, divorce, grief.

And then they aren’t strangers anymore.

This morning, I went to the gym and, in addition to my mat and my sneakers and a change of clothes, I brought a backpack filled with pens and pencils, watercolors and brushes. Settled next to a cozy fireplace, I spotted a man with a strong profile, staring at an iPad.

After I finished sketching, I decided to walk over to introduce myself.

Awkwardly.

(You know, because I’m still the same dork you’ve come to know and love.)

Anyway, Taylor graciously allowed me to interview him and take his photograph. I received his permission to post his face and his likeness here on my blog.

So I’m setting a goal to complete one new sketch each day for a month. I’ll see if I want to continue after 30 days.

The most important thing?

I’m having fun again.

And I’m meeting new people.

Taylor

This is Taylor. While working as a lifeguard at Walt Disney World, he realized he enjoyed the medical aspects of his job. He’s currently studying to earn his Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing. And he’s a very good sport.

 

How’d I do? What brave new thing have you tried to do recently?

The Most Difficult Year

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“FREE” – 7.5″x 11″

This year has been the worst year of my life, one punctuated with little joy. Separating from my husband of 20 years has been personally devastating, and I’ve had to deal with the shame associated with the end of a failed relationship, not to mention the pain of knowing how much the dissolution of our marriage has hurt so many people that I care about.

Over the last 10 months, I’ve faced a lot of painful stuff.

Recognized the places where I haven’t always been honest.

Acknowledged my shadow self, the parts of me I’m ashamed of ~ the parts of me that feel damaged and broken.

The places I need to grow and change.

It’s been hard for me to write.

Anyone who has gone through a traumatic experience understands how sadness and fear drain you. Many times, I feared that I’d never write another word.

When I was sick, I felt like G-d was punishing me, stripping me of everything I’ve ever used for strength.

Everything I’d ever hidden behind.

This year, I’ve endured endless hours of alone-ness while trying to learn who I am now, the person I want to be in the future.

How strange to be 48 years old and realize I don’t know me at all.

One thing I’ve learned is that I’m a girl of paradoxes.

I crave the company of other people, and I like my solitude.

That I’m a wild artist who needs connection, and a homebody who needs to recharge.

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That I’m tapped into some whacked-out energy in the universe: something that allows me to see other people’s pain, something that simultaneously scares me and makes me feel special.

That I’m smart.

And yet.

There is so much I don’t know.

That I want to be touched.

And yet.

I’m afraid of being touched.

I never thought I’d be living in an apartment at this stage in my life.

I liked having a home with soft leather couches, a pretty well-manicured lawn, two cars in the garage.

And yet, I felt trapped by all of it, unable to pursue my own dreams and desires. Unloved. Unsexy. Unseen.

I’m a brave woman. And I’m a terrified little girl.

All the time.

Until recently, I had no experience making independent decisions.

I’ve always relied on the expertise of others.

And waited for people to tell me what to do.

I followed instead of led.

And I liked it that way.

The thing is, when you believe others know things better than you do, you never have to make a mistake. Living on my own, I have no one else to lean on. For anything. Now? I’m accountable for every single decision in my life.

I’ve never lived like this, an unconventional girl in a conventional city.

So that’s where I am.

At the end of an awful year, I’m feeling strangely hopeful.

And I’m wishing each of you a wonderful new year filled with good health and much happiness. And I encourage each of you to take strides to move confidently in the direction of your dreams.

And if you haven’t dreamed about what you want in a long time ~ if your dreams have become the dreams you carry for your children, combined dreams you have with your spouse ~ dare to consider what you would do if you found yourself suddenly alone without anyone to care for you or anyone to look after. How would you fill your hours?

What are the biggest changes you’ve ever made in your life and what prompted you to make these changes?

 

 

 

a broken knee, a broken heart

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Back in August, I walked 5 miles on a really uneven surface.

In cowboy boots.

I knew I did something dumb almost immediately since both my knees started making audible popping sounds.

I tried anti-inflammatories and ice and heat. Nothing helped. At one point, it got so bad that I couldn’t walk at all. That’s when I got scared.

I don’t like to run to the doctor too quickly, and it takes me a long time to admit that something is wrong.

In November, when I couldn’t walk without tears, I knew it was time to make an appointment.

After an exam and x-rays, my doctor determined that I have arthritis in my knees and meniscial degeneration. That’s simply a fancy way of saying that my knees are old and plum worn out. He also said that things weren’t so bad that we had to consider surgery.

My right knee healed quickly, but my left knee earned a cortisone shot (holy big fat needle!), and I’ve been wearing a heavy-duty knee brace for the last 8 weeks.

I seriously didn’t think I’d ever walk without pain again, but it’s getting better. It’s just happening slowly.

Apparently, that’s the way healing works. It takes a ridiculously long time so we feel grateful when we finally get thru it.

All my knee stuff got me thinking about pain.

Some of you may know that my husband and I recently separated.

It sucks.

It’s confusing. And it hurts.

Some of the time, I appear to be fine.  Some of the time, I’m lonely. And sometimes, I’m downright afraid.

It’s an invisible wound.

I never appreciated the pain associated with divorce before now. In fact, my ideas about divorce came mostly from movies. I imagined two people screaming and trying to push each other down a staircase.

But my situation is nothing like that.

My husband is a good man.

We’ve just grown apart.

These days my heart actually aches the way knee aches.

My day is punctuated by awkwardnesses.

I still like to receive his texts. I still reach out to touch his knee when we’re seated together because it feels natural, even though I know I shouldn’t do that any more. I want to confide in my husband the way I once did because… well… he’s been my confidante for over 20 years.

How do I ask my parents to take down that painting of me that they’ve got hanging in their living room: the poster-sized me wearing my wedding dress, holding all those purple irises? What do I do when a someone I’ve known for my entire married life decides to ignore me in the grocery store? And how do I stop crying when I hear love songs on the radio?

People keep telling me to be brave, to stay strong.

That the pain will get easier.

Unfortunately, no one can predict how long my heart is going to hurt, and there are no cortisone shots to take the edge off the pain.

Which is worse? A broken body or a broken heart? Any practical advice would be appreciated.

Candle 6: #Hanukkah Hoopla

This was my grandfather's menorah. His name is etched on the bottom.

This was my grandfather’s menorah. His name is etched on the bottom.

Check out Rebecca Klempner’s piece “Ready For a Little Hanukkah Hoopla”

Comments are closed here, but leave Rebecca a comment for a chance to win some fab cyberswag. You don’t have to be Jewish to win. Duh!

tweet this post for an extra chance to win handmade stationery from me!

Showing My Colors To The World

Some of you are waiting to hear my next report about how I survived the horrors of benzo withdrawal.

I know you’d like to read that I’m 100% well again.

I’m not there yet.

But…

An amazing thing has come out of this horrifying experience.

About 3 months ago, while healing in Arizona, I had the opportunity to hang out in an art room again.

I was astounded by how good it felt.

To create.

To play with colors.

Because I’d forgotten.

When I got back home, I started painting three-dimensional hearts on 4” x 4” canvases.

At first, I didn’t show my stuff to anyone.

I figured if they were good enough, I could hang them in the bathroom.

Or something.

Eventually, I got brave and posted a few photographs on Facebook.

The response was overwhelmingly positive, so I decided to try my hand at larger canvases, too.

To my surprise, people liked my weird whimsical paintings, too.

It never occurred to me that being able to create something out of nothing is one of my super powers.

All I know is that I’m committing art again.

And I’m having a great time doing it.

And people are buying what I make.

Here are a few examples of my 4″x4″ mini-canvases:

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I also have greeting cards.

Based on original pieces that have been sold.

Based on original pieces that have been sold.

And here is one of my paintings.

LOVE UNBUTTONED, c. 2014

LOVE UNBUTTONED, c. 2014

If you’re interested in purchasing greeting cards or original art, or if you’d like to commission something special for someone you love, I’d be honored to make something for you.

More about the events that brought me to where I am now. Eventually.

But not today.

{This post is written in memory of Blaine and dedicated to my friends from Wickenburg, Arizona: Missy, James, Julie, Joan, John, Paula, Anthony, Jesse, Riley, Abel, Grant, Carlos, Nyki, Kris, Rob, Scott, Lauren, Frankie and Darcy.)

Warts and Unwelcome Surprises

My feet, without warts these days.

My feet, without warts these days.

I was certain I’d contracted the stupid wart during my time spent barefoot on the slippery deck of the middle school swimming pool, where we girls were required, by law, to take ten days of instructional swim.

After weeks of applying Compound W with no visible improvement, I pulled off my sock and showed the offending bump to my father and, a few days later, I found myself sitting in his car. As he drove down the Boulevard, he warned me that the doctor was probably going to have to burn it off. He told me it might hurt.

But I wasn’t worried.

I was tough.

I’d had a mouthful of silver fillings put in without Novacaine.

Besides, that wart was gross.

I wanted it off.

Dr. Stone’s office was dark and cluttered with odd pieces of furniture, weird lamps and gadgets. An olive green corduroy jacket drooped from a hook on the back of his door. After inspecting my foot for less than .3 seconds, the doctor walked across the room to retrieve a silver thermos from a cooler. Uncapping the top, white swirls of smoke escaped as he took an extra long Q-Tip swab and stirred it around in whatever magic solution was in there.

I didn’t flinch as the liquid nitrogen sizzled against the offending wart.

When he was finished, the doctor explained what was going to happen and what I needed to do.

I hardly heard him.

But then my father piped in. “While we’re here, doctor…” he started. “She’s got something in her left ear…”

What is it? I wondered. Is it a tumor? Why hasn’t my father mentioned it?

Dr. Stone flipped on his headlamp and leaned in to get a good look, his face too close to mine. His chair creaked.

“Ooooh!” The doctor pushed back in his rolling chair. “She’s got a big ole blackhead in there.” I swear the man giggled as he jumped up to get his instruments.

I was horrified. The wart was bad enough. I didn’t want another ailment. “Dad!” I whispered, covering my ear with one hand. “How long has it been there?”

“I don’t know.” My father shrugged. “A while.”

The doctor returned with an instrument of torture, which he used to scoop out whatever was inside my ear. This second procedure took forever. Every once in a while, the doctor made happy noises.

I sometimes think back to that day in the dermatologist’s office.

Back then, I thought the worst thing that could happen to a person was getting a wart. Or a blackhead in her ear.

Now I know better.

tweet me @rasjacobson