One of the most challenging and frustrating aspects of withdrawal is that feeling of being misunderstood, unsupported and isolated. If someone has diabetes, dystonia (like I have) or other chronic illness, or experiences a life event such as a bereavement, people will more often empathise and offer support. They understand these issues – the required dietary restrictions, medication, etc., and they will be able to tell you the stages of grief. Related charities have been set up and support of every kind is forthcoming because there is enough awareness, shared through every medium, on these topics.
Even an addiction to cocaine, alcohol or heroin receives more attention and holds more credibility than protracted benzodiazepine and antidepressant withdrawal. It is saddening indeed that those in withdrawal are so terribly misunderstood.
(I will add that people with thyroid issues, fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome and other “invisible” or difficult to diagnose problems also have to deal with this lack of awareness and the repercussions. So although this is about withdrawal, we acknowledge that there are others.)
As the days turn into months, sometimes years, some of you may find that friends and family become less accessible and less understanding. No amount of explaining, giving of information and pleas for empathy and acknowledgement seems to work. Withdrawal is so complex, it borders on being unbelievable. And because the symptoms mimic so many medical and psychological conditions, somehow there is more of an inclination for some family and friends to offer a diagnosis and speculate about what else could be wrong, than to just trust what you are saying and give the support needed.
If they could appreciate just how brave you are to endure and cope with the intensity of such frightening symptoms, they would be so proud of you. If they knew that you haven’t even told them half of what you are going through, they would appreciate how strong you really are.
But, you must understand that until you mentioned withdrawal and the people you have met on the Internet, they had no clue. More than likely your doctor has confirmed with them that it’s “all in your head” or “you’re in denial about the return of your anxiety, depression, whatever…”
It doesn’t help that they become impatient and frustrated themselves when you make excuses to avoid going out or you are so out of it that you forget an important birthday or anniversary. Of course they want you to be well again and this is why they become fed of waiting. You may even find that those who were supportive in the beginning, having had a time-frame in mind, lose interest if symptoms become protracted. They just cannot believe a prescribed drug could cause so much trauma and devastation that last so long. Of course, you must be imagining it all.
I know it hurts when instead of being supported you are told:
“You need to snap out of it.”
“Don’t be silly. How could medication make you this sick for this long?”
“But you don’t look sick to me.”
“Why don’t you stop feeling so sorry for yourself?”
“You sound like you’re having a nervous breakdown.”
“I think you’re in denial. You have a problem and you should get seen to.”
“When did you lose your motivation and become so lazy?”
“If you get a job and get busy, you’ll feel better.”
“If you stop thinking about it all the time, you will get better.”
“There are days I feel just like you but I get out of bed and go to work anyway. Why can’t you do the same?”
“Stop being so negative. No wonder you feel the way you do.”
“You say you’re sick but you went out yesterday. Today you’re acting like you’re dying. I just don’t get it.”
“Maybe something else is wrong with you. Why don’t you go back to the doctor’s?”
“You need to go back on the medication. Looks like you needed it because you’re a mess without it.”
“Remember, you had anxiety before. Maybe it’s just that it’s come back. You need to deal with it and stop hanging out on the Internet with that lot.”
“Are you sure you’re not just depressed?”
“I think it’s all in your head.”
“Pull yourself together.”
So, sadly, rifts in relationships with friends and family, being accused of malingering and indolence, are just some of the issues that withdrawal can bring with it. This is in addition to coping with the most bizarre and cruel symptoms. Only acknowledgement by the medical profession along with general public awareness will change this. Thankfully, more people are becoming involved in this cause and things will eventually change.
In the meantime, understanding that your family and friends’ inability to relate is normal, will make you less frustrated and more accepting. Remember, to them this is a phantom illness – an exaggeration or even a figment of your imagination! It is not that they don’t care, there is just not sufficient knowledge out there about this problem.
Not all friends and family members are unsupportive. Some have been remarkably loyal and dependable, despite not fully understanding the complexities of withdrawal. If you have one such person in your life, be thankful. There are many who don’t. If you are isolated and without support, I am sorry. Please know that you are not alone. Reach out and you will find people who are willing to help.
The best thing to consider, which I hope will be comforting, is that unlike the person with a chronic life illness, you are going to get better. Everything you are enduring now, is just for a time. There are many health conditions for which there is no cure and a bereaved person will never get that loved one back.
In your case, one day your relatives and friends will see you as you were, or possibly even better than then, and they will realize that you were right all along. You were simply in withdrawal and all you needed was for them to listen to you, believe and trust you, and give you the support you need.
As hurt and frustrated as you may feel now, when this is over, the feeling of having survived withdrawal against insurmountable odds – of overcoming such a cruel, painful and frightening experience – will be much more powerful. You won’t remember a lot of what is happening now and you will be so proud of yourself, it won’t matter who believed you or who did not. You kicked withdrawal’s butt and that makes you as close to invincible as one can get!”
I hope this helps to put your situation into perspective if this is an issue you’re having to deal with. Take good care and nurture yourself well. Imagine that you’ve recovered and someone you care deeply about is now in withdrawal. Then do and say to yourself all the things that you would to that person! In other words, be gentle and kind and love yourself because you are AMAZING!
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