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.
A few years ago, I did a crap load of cooking. I was preparing for Passover, so I was doing what Jewish mothers do — cooking up a storm. I was Martha Stewart and Rachael Ray and Betty-freaking-Crocker — except the Jewish version.
So picture frizzier hair and a bigger nose.
That year, I made 3 times as many matzah balls as I usually would, to make sure that my family would have enough to eat for the entire week. It took hours, but no big whoop, right? These are the things we do for love.
After the brisket went in and the noodle kugel was finished, I realized I didn’t have enough room in my freezer. So, I asked my kind neighbor if I could use a little space in the freezer that she keeps in her garage. She said of course.
Passover comes and so do all the guests. I’m serving the soup, and I’m like where are all my matzah balls? I look in the freezer, in the refrigerator, in the garage. It’s cold enough. I’m thinking, maybe I stashed them in the trunk of my car. Sometimes I stick things there. I look everywhere. I only have 18 matzah balls. The thing is this: that year? We have 24 people at the house. Picturing, standing in the kitchen, confused and cutting matzah balls in half.
I believe it is written in the Torah.
Thou shalt not run out of matzah balls.
But I did.
I apologized to our guests.
Time went by.
Spring came and went.
Months after the holiday ended, I was sitting on my driveway in the sun when my neighbor asked if I would like to have my matzah balls.
“Because isn’t Passover coming up?” she asked.
You guys, I didn’t even remember giving them to her.
Suddenly I was like: Should I be worried? Should I call the doctor? Do I need to check about early dementia? Seriously, how did those balls get over there? Did they roll across the street on their own?
I followed my friend into her warm garage. She opened her freezer and next to the ICEEs, there was my long-lost Tupperware container filled with frozen balls. All 9 bazillion of them.
This is LaDonna, a student at MCC who kindly let me paint her as she did her homework.
Today, I worked with a student who needed assistance with an essay. Intelligent and conscientious, this woman — let’s call her Alecia — makes thoughtful comments regarding the assigned reading material; however, because she writes the way she speaks – in urban English — her writing hasn’t been earning top-notch grades from her professor.
“I be askin’ him what he wants me to do,” she said. “He told me come here.’”
Together, we’re working to get her to recognize some of her most common grammar errors.
“I be writing like this my whole life!” She rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. “Gettin’ good grades, too. How come nobody teach me this?”
When she expressed frustration about not being able to consistently catch her grammar errors, I encouraged her to be gentle with herself. “You’re learning a second language.” I told her. “That doesn’t happen overnight,” I said. “It’s going to take practice.”
In our instant-gratification world, we want to be good at everything today.
But it takes time to learn new skills.
And people are creatures of habit.
We learn something, do it for a while, and it becomes second nature.
We can unlearn a behavior or a habit, but it takes time. The longer we behave a certain way, the longer it takes to change that pattern or habit or behavior.
Unlearning is hard.
But it is possible.
Over the last few semesters, Alecia has been developing her book smarts.
Meanwhile, after living in an insulated bubble for my entire adult life, with only minimal exposure to people from outside my predominantly white, suburban community – I’ve been developing my life skills.
Over the last year, I’ve learned:
1) It’s possible to live alone.For the first time in decades, I’m making my own decisions about everything: how I want to live, where I want to live, what I want to do for fun, the type of people with whom I want to associate. A homebody by nature, it’s really lonely without having anyone to come home to. I need to get a cat.
2) It’s necessary to make new friends. When my marriage ended, nearly all of my friendships died. One woman with whom I’d had a 45-year relationship actually shouted at me when I cried about being separated.
“You’re going to have to figure out a way to be happy and stop complaining about how hard it is to be alone,” she hollered. “No one wants to hear about this anymore.”
It was a clarifying moment. There was no “I love you” or “I’m here for you” or “This sucks” or “What do you need?” or “You’re not alone.” I was crushed, and had to realize that – despite out long history – that person was not a supportive friend. So I’m meeting new people by participating in activities that I enjoy. I joined a divorce support group, several art groups, and I’ve invited people over to my place to play old-fashioned board games, to paint, and to talk. It takes a long time to develop intimate friendships, but I’m doing it.
3) I’m not conventional. Conventional people have jobs they attend mostly Monday thru Friday from 9-5 or any other combination that equals a minimum of 40 hours per week. They have a certain number of weeks of vacation days each year. They marry and have 2-3 children. They look for happiness in things and enjoy shopping and accumulating stuff like computers, cars, homes, and cell phones. They are born in one country and remain in that country their entire lives. They own many televisions and use them regularly. They say things like “Be realistic” a lot. They don’t question authority and believe in doing things the way they’ve always been done. They criticize people who are different. What can I say? I have minimalist values. I don’t believe in big corporations or big government, and I can’t bear the idea of doing the same thing every day. Being unconventional means having the courage to stand up for myself. It means doing out of the ordinary things and, oftentimes, going against social norms.
4) It’s important to invest in myself. Somewhere along the way, I stopped doing things for myself. I became the person who did the shopping and the laundry and the cooking and the cleaning – and I stopped writing and reading and painting and riding horses and playing on swing-sets. I also stopped laughing. I’m trying to connect with the person that I was long ago. She’s in there. Somewhere.
5) Having feelings is normal. For over two decades, I lived with a person who was unable to express love, sorrow or pain. Unwilling to cry, he physically left the room whenever I tried to discuss an emotional issue. He often called me “crazy” when I showed even the slightest bit of anger or sadness. With the help of a great therapist, I’ve learned that I’m not crazy. I’m a whole person who feels things deeply.
As far as I’m concerned, Alecia and I are both warriors: learning how to take what has happened to us, good or bad, think about it, and learn to improve from it.
What unlearning have you done lately? What new idea/practice are you incorporating into your daily life?
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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I stopped into The Christmas Tree Shoppe to pick up last minute items for our Annual Hanukkah Party.
(I know, shopping for Hanukkah at the Christmas Tree Shoppe, the irony isn’t lost on me. What can I say? They have great papers goods.)
Traditionally, there isn’t much décor associated with The Festival of Lights, which – truth be told – is fine by me. I see friends struggling with wreaths and trees and ornaments and inflatables and lights. How do I get ready for Hanukkah? I go down in the basement and open up one blue bin, take out my three favorite menorahs and a couple of dreidels, and I place these items on a table.
That’s it. No fuss. No muss.
The extent of my Hanukkah decorations.
Now, you have to understand. I wasn’t looking for anything, so of course that’s when I found it: a colorful door decoration with the word CHANUKA printed boldly on the front.
CHANUKA? I tilted my head, confuzzled.
Because I’d never seen it spelled that way.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen Hanukkah spelled a lot of different ways. Because the initial sound used to pronounce the word Hanukkah isn’t a sound used in English. The gutteral h is pronounced at the back of the throat, and — when pronounced correctly — sounds like someone trying to hork up a loogey.
So I liked the decoration, but I didn’t want it if Hanukkah wasn’t spelled correctly.
“Okay Google,” I spoke into my phone. “How do you spell Hanukkah?”
As it turns out, the most common spelling for Hanukkah is “Hanukkah” with 8.5 million hits in the Google search engine. “Chanukah” came in with over 3.3 million searches, and “Hannukah” came in with 862,000 hits.
You might be interested to know Xanuka is considered a valid spelling.
So I’m still standing there, clutching this felt decoration in one hand and my phone in the other, trying to decide if I should buy it or put it back.
You know, because it was spelled weird.
(Or at least it felt like it was spelled weird to me.)
And then I laughed at the silly dilemma I’d created in my head.
Because Hanukkah isn’t about decorations or spelling. It’s about miracles.
As some of you know, I was sick for 15 months. During that time, I didn’t know anyone else who had ever been through what I was going through, and those months were terrifying, isolating and awful. Many times, I felt G-d was punishing me.
Some unnameable thing kept me hanging on. Some little voice inside of me – perhaps the G-d part of myself – knew that one day the suffering would end and that I just needed to wait. And pray for a miracle.
What appeals to me most about Hanukkah is the idea that miracles can be found in every day moments, how big and small things that seem impossible can come to pass.
I appreciate the way we gather together to tell and retell the story of how people overcome difficult times, to celebrate the miracle of friends and family whom we love and are loved by; the miracle of having the chance to learn something new everyday; the miracle of our collective curiosity and kindness that inspires us to make meaningful connections with others.
These days, I can even appreciate the eleventy-seven jillion ways we spell Hanukkah.
So it’s decided. Starting now, I’m collecting decor where Hanukkah is spelled any which way.
Because why not?
(So do you think The Christmas Tree Shoppe still has that cute Chanuka door decoration? Or did I miss my chance?)
What are you celebrating this time of year? What kind of decorations, if any, do you set out? What do you love/hate about the holidays?
NOTE: I’m participating in #HanukkahHoopla with 7 other bloggers. In the spirit of the season, we’re giving away 8 gifts to 8 lucky commenters. Click on the menorah to find links to other writers’ blogs & increase your chances of winning!
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It’s Monday again, and – like last week – I’m back to offer a new 4×4 mini-canvas and share a little anecdote.
One of the things I’ve become good at over the last 15 months is meditation. Seriously, I can sit quietly for a ridiculously long time. That’s not to say that my mind is always quiet, but sometimes I actually get to stillness. When I first started my meditation practice, I was instructed to take 3 deep breaths. I was all, “Whatever. How can this possibly help me?” So I inhaled and exhaled and inhaled and exhaled.
I was hardly in a Zen place.
My teacher put my hand on my stomach. “Breathe so your belly inflates like a balloon,” she said.
Apparently, I’d been breathing backwards all these years.
Once I mastered inhaling and exhaling, I was able to relax more fully.
BREATHE is a 4×4 mini-canvas featuring acrylic paint & texturizing medium. Just $20. Interested? Type SOLD in the comments or email me at email@example.com
Who would have thought it was possible to breathe wrong?!
So how do you begin a meditation practice? It’s easy.
1. Sit or lie comfortably.
2. Close your eyes.
3. Make no effort to control the breath; simply breathe naturally.
4. Focus your attention on the breath and on how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Notice the movement of your body as you breathe. Observe your chest, shoulders, rib cage and belly. Make no effort to control your breath; simply focus your attention. If your mind wanders, simply return your focus back to your breath. Maintain this meditation practice for 2–3 minutes to start, and then try it for longer periods.
Sounds easy, right?
Mindful meditation encourages the practitioner to observe wandering thoughts as they drift through the mind. The intention is not to get involved with the thoughts or to judge them, but simply to be aware of each thought as it arises.
Through meditation, I’ve been able to see how my thoughts and feelings move in particular patterns. I have become more aware of the human tendency to quickly judge experience as “good” or “bad” (“pleasant” or “unpleasant”). With practice, an inner balance develops.
In our hurry-hurry-rush-rush world, we sometimes feel guilty when we aren’t doing something.
I’ve soooo over that. Some people pray and some people meditate. Sitting silently is one of the greatest gifts I give to myself each day.
I encourage each of you to try it. Go ahead. Do it right now. Sit quietly and feel the chair beneath you. Feel your feet pressing against the floor. How long can you sit quietly without opening your eyes?
It’s important to take a few moments each day to let go of stress and, to that end, I’m offering BREATHE today for $20.
Have you ever meditated? What was your experience like? What was the biggest surprise for you? What was the biggest frustration?
I was prescribed Klonopin for insomnia in 2005. Seven years later, after a slow, medically supervised wean, I became cognitively impaired, and after 30 months of intense suffering, I have been resurrected - a phoenix, come from the ashes, ready to battle doctors and big Pharma, while offering empathic support to those still suffering protracted withdrawal symptoms.
A perfectionist by nature, I'm learning to find beauty in the chaos. I'm the girl with the big ideas and the big hair. And words. Always words.
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