I remember there was a film when I was a teen called When a Stranger Calls — and the infamous line was “the call is coming from inside the house!” That film and specifically that line had me cancelling babysitting gigs for months!
Throughout my life I would have my moments of fear like everyone else. Snakes, Texas size cockroaches, waiting on breast biopsy results, a kiddo who had ventured out of my line of vision at the beach. But I was not prepared when I began to come off of my Xanax after just a short period of time and fear waltzed in, decided it liked the digs, kicked off its shoes and decided to move in.
If you are a family member reading this, I want you to imagine any of the scenarios I described above or you can substitute with one of your biggest fears. If you are a parent think about the feeling that comes over you when you have lost sight of your small child in a crowd for a moment. For the cockroach hater, imagine you have just seen one scurry under your bed as you are about to go to sleep for the night. For the office worker, imagine you have sent a disparaging funny dig about a colleague to your friend only to realize that you have sent it to the colleague instead. Doom, gloom, dread, moments of terror. Now imagine that you feel those terrible feelings but there is no lost child, scary bug or mistaken email with which to link them. This is what many of us grapple with all day, every day.
No matter how “good” of a day I am having, the fear of anything, everything and nothing never seems to fully leave. I have often described it as walking through life as if someone has a gun to my back. Or that I am one of those guards outside of Buckingham Palace — rigid, poised, ready to defend, to fight – but fight what???
Fear is a common symptom in benzo withdrawal and BIND (benzo induced neurological dysfunction), because our limbic system is lit up, injured and for lack of a better phrase, ON FIRE. Our limbic system is, in essence, our stress response system and it is laden with Gaba-a receptors. Remember, it is these receptors that are basically corrupted, or down-regulated as we have ingested benzodiazepines. When the benzo is reduced or removed, it takes a while (and for some, a very long while) for those receptors to come back on line and accept the neurotransmitter GABA to perform the function of calming us down.
Think of GABA as the key and the GABA-a receptor as the lock. We need the key to fit into the lock to basically unlock the inhibitory function that is supposed to occur to calm us down, to chill us out. But benzos have messed with this lock and key and thus we are, for some period of time, walking around without that vital and necessary calming function. Thus, teddy bears become grizzly bears and people, places and things that were once benign or familiar can become scary to us.
Now, why is that? Why would I suddenly be afraid of my dog, my mailbox, my garage? Well, we are meaning making machines. Our brains like stories, they like things to make sense. Having free floating random fear and terror does not sit well with the more advanced, higher level parts of our brain. So, as our injured limbic systems are shooting off sirens and flares, and we don’t have enough of the right inhibitory, calming neurotransmitters our brain feels fear and sees a dog, a mailbox, a dark garage and creates a story. You’re not really afraid of your dog or the mailbox. But your brain has now created an association, and the part of our brain that is trying to protect us by making those associations — DOG EQUALS DANGER, or DARK GARAGE EQUALS DANGER – doesn’t respond to logic, reason or words. This is also the reason why in benzo withdrawal we are not very reassurable.
Can anyone relate to having to look something up 1000 times? Maybe use your “phone a friend” option eight times a day to ask if you are going to be okay? It doesn’t work because that part of our brain that signals danger, and makes associations, even bizarre and false ones, isn’t remedied (at least for long) with words – ourselves our anyone else’s. I have literally driven people mad as I asked twenty times in a few hours “what is happening to me, do you think I am losing my mind?” I might get a few moments of relief as they tell me I am sane or I read a post on Benzo Buddies that this is a hallmark of withdrawal. But a half hour later, I am back to thinking “but what if I am different? Wait, I didn’t share the whole story, let me make sure they understand just how unique my withdrawal experience is...” and round and round I go. Seeking more, needing more and wearing everyone around me down.
So, what can we do about this fear? Well, we may not be able to make it better, but there are things that can make it worse. This is where I turn back to Claire Weekes and the idea of first and second fear. In our injured state, we cannot help that our systems are hijacked, that our bells are rung and just keep ringing. But we can begin to allow and accept that even though we hate it and how it feels, it is a product of being injured. We can begin to substitute “what if?” with “what now?” and “oh no!” with “Oh well!” The antidote to fear and anxiety is indifference, irrelevance. I wake up in a state of fear, rigid in my bed, afraid of my shower — oh well. Now, does that make it all go away? Nope.
But it does and has allowed me to carve out a tiny bit of space between me and my injury and to not add fear to fear. Adding fear to fear with “oh no” and “what if” and “Oh my god” is what Claire Weekes referred to as “second fear.” Second fear is, in essence, being afraid of the state we are in. Many of us, and for damn good reason, are very afraid of the state we are in. And even if we get a respite from our symptoms, we fear that “it” might come back, that we might lose ground and fall apart again.
As we all walk through this crazy terrain together — know you are not alone if you live with a chronic sense of unease, doom, gloom or dread. You are in good company and there are real physiological reasons for the state we are in. All we can do is try to not make things worse. Allow and accept. Or as Claire would say over and over again, “LOOSEN AND ACCEPT.”
We get good at what we practice. I literally practice loosen and accept sometimes a hundred times a day. While it doesn’t typically make things better, I have found over time that it has allowed me to have just a bit more agency in this experience.
The call is coming from inside the house. Don’t pick up the phone. Then as you walk on past just say, “Ring all you want, ya creepshow, I’m not answering!”
One day, the neurochemical shit storm that we face, will quell. We won’t fear our animals, bananas, our family, the supermarket, or our own minds. Things will eventually settle and we will feel comfortable in our bag of skin once again.