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Those Early Mornings: Anxiety, Benzos, and Insomnia

3:02am. Thursday morning. I'm awake.

Actually, it's now 4:23am as I write this, but I woke a little over an hour ago to a thunderstorm. Chances of returning to sleep... maybe 10%. This has happened a lot lately. Not the thunderstorms, but waking early. I have a feeling some of you can relate.

When this happens to me, I usually stay in bed, open up my iPad, and watch some YouTube videos or sitcom reruns on PlutoTV. I try not to start a movie or TV series since it takes too much of my attention, preventing me from returning to my slumber. Still, I'm usually up for a few hours regardless. I may get drowsy and fade in and out while watching, but not enough to fully fall asleep. And then, it's time to get up.

Yes, yes, I know the horrors of screens in bed. In fact, I've written blog posts about them. "Good sleep hygiene," is what we usually call it. And yes, I do believe in it. It's just that sometimes I get out of practice, develop bad habits, and have to be reminded of what got me here. This morning, I decided to take a different route and be productive. Some may say that getting up and working is the wrong direction, in that it wakes us up even more. And, I get that. For me, though, I know the odds of returning to sleep are very low — so I might as well make the most of it.

The truth is, I've been struggling with insomnia lately. In fact, I've been in a wave lately. Yes, yours truly at almost nine years off benzos, is still having waves. Please remember, this is me, not you, and my journey will not be yours. (see My Personal Symptom Disclaimer at the end).

Insomnia, the Mental Game

I haven't talked about this topic for far too long. Insomnia is a BIND symptom that has significantly improved for me over the years, even though I still have short bouts now and again. I have a tendency to let my own struggles and symptoms lead me to the topics for these posts. Maybe that's a bit selfish of me, but I don't know, sometimes I think it's more real and even natural when I can write about a topic as it's happening.

The rain just picked up outside, and the thunder is a low rumble in the distance. Middle-of-the-night thunderstorms are not the norm here on the front range of Colorado. Back home in Kansas City, it was a different story. And I think I miss them. Not necessarily waking up in the middle of the night, but there is some comfort to a good rain storm. And, normally, it's great for sleep.

For most of us, insomnia is a mental game. At least, that is the case for me. Once I wake up, to use the restroom, from a nightmare, or because of a loud noise, I'm usually up. Getting back to sleep is rare. Ah, the insidious demon of an anxious mind.

If I wake in the middle of the night, can manage to stumble to the bathroom and pee, and return to bed without waking myself too much, I might be able to get back to sleep. But, that is a big if. If during that time my mind finds just one tiny, little thought, or worry, or fear to latch on to — it's over. Ruminations, looping thoughts, a cascade of "what ifs" and "why did she say thats" and "I'm so far behinds" and of course the classic, "why am I still struggling with this," flood our psyches and demand that we pay attention.

Our minds are our worst enemies sometimes, and we long to find a way out. That's why I started opening my tablet to watch shows in the first place. It would take my mind off my own, well, mind. Sometimes, it would pull me away just enough to let me get back to sleep. But, most of the time, it's not very effective. Screens rarely are.

I don't have the answer for insomnia here. I know a lot of tools and techniques, many of which can be effective, but this is not one of those posts. It's more the "stream of consciousness" type. It's 4:54am now, and even though I can write this, I don't think I'm up to research right now. Instead, this is just one of those posts where I say "hi," I'm here, I still struggle too, and I get it." That's it. More often than not, that's all I do. And, according to many of you, it seems to help.

DVDs, Movies, and Pleasure

Let's change the subject a bit. Why? Well, since this is one of those "stream of consciousness" posts, and this is where my consciousness is taking me, I guess I'll go along for the ride. Don't worry, at the end of this section I'll desperately attempt to tie it back to the original topic, and probably fail, as I often do. It's still dark outside, my brain is working at about 35% capacity, and this is all I have in me. What can you do?

Anyway, what I was going to say is that as I'm writing this, I'm also ripping DVD's onto my PLEX server. Like I said, I'm changing the subject here. So, sue me.

I like movies. Some of you may recall that I used to be a screenwriter and taught screenwriting at college in a former life. While I'm still partial to the older movies, there are some recent ones that have impressed me too. I have about a thousand movies and TV shows on a server in my basement which is accessible throughout my house via a software app called PLEX. Following so far? Good.

Now, before I get too far, for those who think I'm pirating videos, don't worry. As a former screenwriter, I've lost revenue along the way from video piracy. So, I can't say I'm a fan of that. No, instead I keep all of the DVDs that I rip onto my server in boxes in the basement. By having them on a server too, I don't have to manually pull out the DVD each time to watch it. Instead, I just pull up a movie as if it was on Netflix or Hulu. Yes, I can't be bothered to stand up, pull a DVD from a box, and put it in the player. Another sacrifice to the convenience Gods.

So, why am I telling you this? Let me see. I know I can relate it to something psychological, philosophical, or something else that ends with "-ological." Oh, I think I have one. Here it goes.

I enjoy finding movies, ripping movies, updating my database about the movies, seeing the new movies on the app on my TV, and reselling the movies I didn't rip or donating them to the VA or other charities. I enjoy that, because I like movies. I realize it may not be the most healthy obsession, but it's also not the most destructive either. It just makes me happy. And, that's my point.

I can't sleep right now. So, I could lay there in the dark obsessing about my latest ache or pain or twitch. I could watch some YouTube video or movie on my PLEX app. I could even turn on the light and read a book — which I do on occasion, but not as often as I'd like. Or, I could get up, throw on a robe, and go to my office and do this — rip movies and write to you. Both of these are productive and pleasurable. Not a bad use of my time, I'd say. Hang on... I need to change out a movie. Give me a sec...

Okay, I'm back.

Now, I will admit that getting up isn't always the best idea. For those who may fall back to sleep, laying there might be the better choice. Plus, even if you are not sleeping, you are still getting rest. Perhaps adding a soothing soundscape might help, or a meditation recording, or the sound of a podcaster's voice (yes, I know some of you fall asleep to my voice). If that is the case, give it a go. But, if you know that for you this is not going to work, then perhaps change things up a bit. Who knows?

My point is this. I'm making good of a bad situation. I will eventually sleep. It will catch up to me. Perhaps this afternoon I will find time for a short nap. Perhaps I will wait until tonight and will sleep through the night. Perhaps I'll even have short nights for a while. But, eventually, I'll get back to my normal pattern. Sleep will return. It always does.

In the meantime, though, I really have two choices. I can obsess about it, get angry about it, blame anybody from here to there about it, and ruin a brand new day from the ground up. Or, I can make the most of it.

I just wrote a 30-something paragraph blog post for my site, ripped six DVDs, and feel pretty damn good. I made the best of a bad situation, and I'd say that's a good start to the day.

My Personal Symptom Disclaimer

Now, the disclaimer.

Yes, I still have symptoms. Sometimes strong symptoms. In this recent wave I'm dealing with cognitive issues, dysphagia, throat tightening, tinnitus, muscle aches and pains, gastric distress, insomnia, and others. Is this all caused solely by benzos and BIND? No. It's not. Does this mean you will have symptoms at nine years out? No. That is highly unlikely. I am definitely in a small minority.

Every one of us has more than one factor at play here. None of us can truly say, "it's absolutely the benzos, and only the benzos." There are too many factors. I updosed during my taper, have moderate to severe ADHD, took a fluoroquinolone antibiotic which can cause neuropathy all by itself, have had three bouts of COVID including long COVID, recently lost my father, mother, and dog all in the same year, been under constant stress, let many of my tools which helped me recover lapse, and on and on and on. I have plenty of comorbidities, as they say in the medical profession. So, I can't say it is definitely one thing or another.

In fact, the reason that I am doing well now is in part, due to my BIND. It taught me how to enjoy the little things, how to see the good in each day, and how to make the most of life and live it to the fullest — even for those of us who have certain limitations.

In addition, I have come a long, long way. I am significantly improved from the early days of my withdrawal. And, that includes my insomnia. I typically get 6-7 hours of sleep a night now, and that is wonderful. I never was a long sleeper, so it's rare for me to get an eight-hour night. Only in the past week or so has the insomnia returned. And, I'm not really worried about it. I know that it will pass and I will get back to restful nights again soon.

I am pleased more than you know, that sharing my story has helped thousands of people who are struggling with benzo withdrawal and BIND. But, please, don't use my experiences as a litmus test of what to expect for yourself. We all are different. Very different in this journey. I happen to be in the minority of individuals who still struggle this far out. Will this be you? Most likely, not. In fact, the odds are definitely against it.

Also, times have changed. We know more and have significantly better support systems now than when I started my taper over 10 years ago. The truth is, with education about what to expect, a team to support you, and a positive mindset, anyone can taper from benzodiazepines successfully. I truly believe that.

I often wonder why I still struggle with symptoms from BIND to this day. And, it comforts me to think that maybe there is a reason for it. Maybe, just maybe, it's because I'm supposed to. Because, by being reminded of what it is truly like dealing with BIND's symptoms, I can relate better to you. And you know what, I'm okay with that.

It's amazing what we can tolerate in life when we believe it is for a purpose. I have a purpose, and that's a wonderful thing.

I Am Happy

Please take care of yourself, and don't use me as an example of what it will be like for you. I am happy. Honest. I am happy. Who cares if I have a few sleepless nights. They will pass. They always do. So what if I still have some symptoms now and then. They're not nearly as severe as they were in the early stages of my withdrawal. This experience has made me stronger. My symptoms don't own me. They're just there, I deal with them, and I get back to my life.

I'm actually excited right now. I've had a ball writing this blog post. Insomnia can be so incredibly lonely and isolating. But, as with all my posts and podcast recordings, when I speak to you I don't feel so alone. It may seem corny to say that, but that doesn't make it any less true. I love talking with you, and that hasn't changed. And, I am grateful for that. I am grateful for you.

It's 5:33am. The thunder is still rolling outside in the distance. I'd go for a walk, but I might get drenched. I could go back to bed, but I know I would just lay there in the dark — sleepless. And that isn't very productive. I'll try and find time for a short nap this afternoon. I guess I'll just keep working. I'm in a zone now, and I might as well make the most of it.

We do what we have to do. But, what's more important, is that it's a brand new day. And, I get to decide if it's a good day, or a bad day. I chose the former.

Now, try and get back to sleep,

With love,

D :)

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