I'm 15 1/2 months off valium and have made many strides towards "healing". I am very close to where I was before I took that tiny blue pill in 2008. Yet I understand the frustration of being over a year off a benzo and still feeling like my CNS is not quite right/there.
I had done a fair amount of reading on recovery, including the Ashton Manual and heard folks post quotes from various "benzo wise" type books. During my taper, I was pretty much of the school that it would be six months "or so" to get back to feeling pretty decent. One thing I did not count on was getting Shingles at 6 weeks after my taper ended. Putting that aside for a moment, even though I [...] Shingles may have partly been a result of my taper and prolonged stress, I can say that by six months off, I was overall feeling about "75%". Then I got thinking about what that meant. Was I referring to 75% of "normal"? And what is normal? I wasn't necessarily feeling so "normal" before I took the valium. I took the valium for a reason. I was out of balance in some areas in my life. Was I referring to 75% of my "ideal state of health" if I were feeling my best self as a 45 year old male? or did I mean 75% of where I was before I took the first valium pill? I've seen folks here long for "their old self" or "to only feel "normal" again. That concept seems to confuse me.
I think it makes a difference how you define "normal". Is "normal" some state of pre benzo happiness? Can one be happy most of the time on most days? Can one be consistently happy when you have a sick parent with a terminal disease and other day to day struggles that are part of "normal" living? Maybe "normal" is coping with the day to day struggles of life without a pill and not feeling lousy most of the time? Is normal having "enough energy" to get through the day? Is normal not being in some form of pain? Or the normal state of human condition to be in some kind of pain but suck it up? I welcome other's descriptions of normal.
Some folks take a benzo for sleep trouble. I had not only insomnia, but overt anxiety for which I took the low dose valium back in 2008, along with some other mild health issues (slightly overweight, fatigue, poor nutrition/eating habits and some occasional blues as a result of the above mentioned ) it gets more complicated. BEFORE I took a benzo, I would say my overall health was only about 75-80% of an "ideal".
So "my normal"
was not my best state of health if all is going great. I was about 15-20 pounds overweight (not grossly so) before I took a benzo, was quite anxious as a result of some family stress and a sick family member had cancer. I ate "poorly" at times (partly to soothe my stress and pain with sugar). On most days before valium, if I had to rate my level of happiness on a scale from 1-10 and 10 was the highest, I was a 6 to an 8 with plenty of "6" days. On the other hand, after valium I initially had mostly "8" and some "9" days when I was on that trip (I first took valium for a 3 week summer trip in which I was "worried" about stress, jet lag and motion sickness so asked my doc for the valium script). Once I was back home, I did a c/t and ended up in the ER and reinstated. Once back to 5mg in the Fall, 2008, I was mostly having "7" days. Of course, my father had leukemia and I had a lot to deal with at the time, but who knows, maybe without the valium at the time, I might have been a 5 or worse. I just knew after a few months, that I needed to get off the stuff and began tapering in January 2009. There were plenty of "3" days during taper, I'll tell you that.
Today, I still have low to moderate anxiety which I describe as 15 to 20% higher than it was before valium. It's a subjective estimate. I can't explain it other than to say that my CNS seems more sensitive to stress and new situations than it was before. Yet, I have worked on developing some coping skills and practice mindfulness and meditation on a daily basis. I've wondered whether one can expect something as subjective as "anxiety" to diminish over time. It's paradoxical because some experts have suggested that the more you think about it and resist it or try to change or eliminate anxiety, the more it may continue or escalate. I've heard folks pose the question many times on this forum as to whether "benzo withdrawal anxiety" is different from existential anxiety. It seems many folks think that there is something concrete and perhaps more physical about "benzo withdrawal anxiety". I can say that when i was tapering, a few days after each cut, I felt a rise in agitation/anxiety that I would say was a direct result of lowering the valium dose and was not related to my day to day worries and concerns in life (i.e, not existential). I'm not sure at 15 months post taper whether I can as easily distinguish two separate types of anxiety. It's almost a blend.
The hope I have is that maybe the CNS is still healing and stabilizing in the 2nd year, as one Benzo Wise book seems to suggest and some of you have agreed. Maybe there is a process that is time based and may take up to about two years post taper (for some, a little longer even) whereby the GABA center somehow gets back to some balance or homeostasis. Meanwhile, I've updated my signature recently to suggest that I'm feeling about 95% on most days, meaning 95% of the pre benzo state I was in before taking valium. That means that I'm feeling about 70-80% of an ideal I have in my mind of how a "normal and happy" male in his forties might feel on most days.
That doesn't mean that I don't on some days feel 90% or better, like when on vacation, for example. Some days when I've got the flu, I might feel 60% or less but on average, about 75%.
In some areas today, having lost 25lbs and eating much healthier diet in the last six months, I am in much better physical health than "before". One could possibly even say I'm 100% or better in terms of that aspect of my health (diet, weight loss, exercise and nutrition). In terms of insomnia, I no longer wake at 2AM and toss and turn with trouble falling back asleep til 3 or 4AM. However, I do for some reason awaken at 5AM almost every morning after sleeping about six hours, even though I don't have to be up until 6:45am (almost 2 hours later). Is that still a sleep disorder? I tend to think it's not. Before benzos, I would go to sleep tired and wake up very tired. Today, I wake up very alert and have no need for coffee to feel alert. Yet, I am disappointed I can't seem to sleep that 7th hour. As a result, I still get fatigue and feel tired and lack of energy by around 2PM after lunch, something I had before benzos and maybe a little worse before benzos due to all the sugar and soft drinks I used to consume. Yet I'm inclined to say my insomnia is mostly gone, at least the kind for which I first took that valium from 2008-2009
I guess the bottom line is that everyone probably has their own way of measuring "success" or "healing". I seem to have trouble with terms like "getting back to my old self" or "100% healing". I suppose for some symptoms like twitching or nerve burning sensations, if they are gone forever, it's easier to define as 100% but for other symptoms like anxiety and insomnia, it may be a little more difficult. Some philosophies might suggest that "normal" is that there is suffering in life. If one is managing to meet daily challenges and struggles in life and can still find some happy moments, maybe that's all one can realistically hope for? I would like to think that there's more, but I don't need one more thing to worry about