Thirty Months Off

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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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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?

 

 

 

Many Happy Returns Of The Day

Today is my parents’ anniversary. They’ve been married for 52 years, and they still really enjoy each other’s company. This is a video that I meant to share on my blog shortly after they celebrated their 50th anniversary. Unfortunately, I never had a chance to make it live. Better late than never, right? Please join me today in wishing my parents continued joy, love and acceptance. Whatever they’re doing, it’s working.

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.

What I Wore – The Parade of Hats

By now, you’re getting the idea that I love hats. Since my last post, the temperatures took a major nose-dive, and in an effort to stay warm (and raise my spirits), I pulled out a few wacky hats from my collection.

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This little number was given to me by my friend, Teri. Someone in her family knitted (or is it crocheted? Hmmm.) especially for her. Can you appreciate the feather and faux gemstone? I knew that you could.

Then I have this hat:

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I gave the original Spider hat to a dear friend, but when I had the opportunity to have another one, I simply had to do it. I have absolutely no idea why I made the Hang-10 sign with my hands.

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Now that my son is in 10th grade, my polar fleece jester hat rarely makes an appearance. Tech Support has never said he’s embarrassed to be with me, but I try to be sensitive and not push the dorky envelope too far off the table. My amazing fingerless gloves are from Baabaazuzu, a company that was born in late 1993 after Sue Burns, a gifted graphic designer, cut up the shrunken remains of her favorite sweaters, pieced the fragments together and made jackets with matching hats for her two daughters.

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I won this colorful skully in a blogging contest held by my friend, author, Kasey Mathews. Jen Wagner the Creator of JAMMS hats designs these great warm hats that are wicked stylish. I love having a pop of color on my head on gray days.

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This stocking hat comes from HandCandy. It’s super warm on the inside, as it’s lined in polar fleece, and the tail is wicked long and can wrap around the neck so the wearer doesn’t need to fuss about a scarf. And while I love the colors and the mix of fabrics, this thing is heavy and leaves me feeling choked. Truth be told, I would have probably done better to swap this hat for a scarf or a pair of mittens because I really adore the varied textiles and broad stitchwork.  For now, I wear this hat as a house-hat. A what?, you ask. Sometimes it’s just so darn cold outside that the chill creeps inside so I keep my hat on even while I’m inside.

And my fingerless gloves, too.

I know, right.

They don’t come sexier than me, folks.

I’m always looking to add to my hat collection, so if you have a hat you’d like to donate to the cause, or if you represent a hat company and you’re looking for a middle-aged spokesperson, I’m your girl.

Stay warm, everyone!

 

What I Wore – A Furry Hat

Hats: you either love ’em or hate ’em. My husband will put on a scully to shovel the driveway, but he’d never consider wearing one into his office during the light of day. And the closest my 15 year-old son will come to a hat is a hoodie.

Me? I love hats, and I think I actually look better with a hat than without.

The hat featured is one of my favorites. I actually bought this “LIFE IS GOOD” hat for my son when he was in 5th grade. I thought the fluffy ear flaps would look adorable on him and keep him super cozy on freezing winter morning when he had to wait for the bus. I was sure he’d love the huge smiley face on the back. Alas, my boy never took to this hat, so I started wearing it. It’s probably a little too small, but I love it anyway.

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On this particular day, I also tried wearing a very bright lipstick and while it looked great in the tube, I don’t think I’m able to pull off such a bright shade. It’s good to try new things once in a while though, right?

What kind of fashion risks have you taken recently?

The Girl Inside: Wordless Wednesday

Look at this girl. This girl loves full-length skirts and fearlessly twisted her long-sleeve shirt into a halter top. This girl raises her chin at a jaunty angle. This girl is sassy. This girl still lives inside me, and from time to time, she comes out to play.

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Look at that belly.

 

So who lives inside of you?

tweet me @rasjacobson

 

The Purrrr-fect Gift

The dog formerly known as Mojo, 2009

In 2009, around this time of year, we got a dog. The world was white and unbearably cold, and getting a pet seemed like a wonderful idea. We were dogless and surrounded on all sides by barky-barkers. We figured, how hard could it be, if everyone has them? Hubby researched carefully, making sure to find a breed that would be a good fit for our family.

Looking back now, it probably wasn’t the best time to read Marley and Me. I was nervous about lineage and more than a little anxious about making sure to pick the right dog from the litter.

In the back of my mind, I remembered how my friend Cindy had brought home two freaky Wheatland terriers, and she hated them. Hated. Them.

“Do they smell? I feel like they smell,” she kept asking.

I swear she lost 10 pounds in the few days she had those dogs, and they quickly went back to the breeder.

I told my family I was nervous about our decision to get a dog. I told them I’d never had a dog, that I didn’t really want a dog, but my husband and son promised they would help with everything. They would pick up the dog poo every day. They would feed the dog. They would change the water. They would play with the dog. I wouldn’t have to do anything except enjoy the  dog.

I know people love their doggies like family, but I kept thinking of them as eternal babies, and I couldn’t figure out how we would ever be able to take a spontaneous day trip ever again. Everyone kept telling me I was just nervous about the unknown. I don’t think that was it at all. In fact, I think I knew exactly the right amount.

What I knew was that I didn’t want a dog. I just wasn’t great at vocalizing my truth because I didn’t want to upset everyone.

Eventually, I did though. And yes, everyone was upset. But I knew that as mom, ultimately I would be the one who would have to care for the family pet. The truth was I’d wanted a cat for my entire life, but Hubby was allergic, so I figured the whole cat thing was never going to happen.

Fast forward 4 years. Almost to the day. Hubby called to say he’d been to a breeder, someone who specialized in hypoallergenic Siberians.

Oh no, I thought. We’re talking about dogs again.

But we weren’t talking about dogs at all.

Hubby had been looking at cats.

He'd been looking at this guy.

He’d been looking at this guy.

He wanted me to go with him to see the latest litter.

“But you’re allergies…” I stammered.

They say good things come to those who wait.

And in our case, our good thing showed up as a tiny, white, long-haired kitten. He was purr-fectly perfect in every way. He loved to be cuddled and held and hugged — and he always went in his litter box, so none of us had to go outside in the bitter chill of winter. Mo loved to chase wadded up balls of paper and string. He seemed to love us, and we all fell in love with him.

One year later, Mo greets us each morning with emphatic meows; an exquisite snuggler, he pushes his head against our hands to let us know he’s in the mood for attention. He gazes into our eyes, plays tag, and soothes us with his purr. This boy gets lots of love.

Mo hanging out on a favorite chair.

Mo, 1 year old.

We are truly fortunate to have Mo as a member of our family.

If you’ve always wanted a cat, but you’re concerned about allergies, look into Siberians. And check out our breeders’ website HERE. Laurie knows what she’s doing!

How did your pet become a member of the family?

tweet me @rasjacobson

FRIEND – a 4×4 canvas of a Labrador Retriever, just $40

For the last few weeks, I’ve been going canine crazy. While I may not be a dog owner, I can absolutely appreciate the love that folks have for their doggies.

I started experimenting with painting dogs, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. So far I’ve done a Weimaraner, a Wheaten Terrier and this White Labrador Retriever, with more to come.

4x4 acrylic painting with texturizing medium, just $40, including shipping to those in the United States.

4×4 acrylic painting, just $40, including S&H to those in the United States. Friends in Canada need to add an extra $8 to cover additional S&H charges

If you’d like this painting to be yours, simply type SOLD in the comments, and I’ll contact or — if you have an idea for a special order, feel free to email me at rasjacobson.ny@gmail.com.

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Extra views:

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Side detail.