What a weird month …

My doctor wants me to stop taking Ativan. I’ve been taking 2mg every night since the breast cancer diagnosis to help me sleep. It’s been VERY helpful. It completely turns off my manic “am I going to die” hamster wheel in my brain and gives me a full 7 hours of sleep.

I don’t think I would have been able to get through all this cancer treatment without having a good nights sleep every night. I’ve never slept so well in my life. I’m not a great sleeper and Ativan has made me realize how poorly I was sleeping pre-cancer.

Now that I’m “post-treatment” my doctor wants me to stop taking Ativan. It’s not for long-term use. My doc gave me sleeping pills and said “stop taking your Ativan and use these instead.

I took a sleeping pill that night and woke up at 3am having a FULL BLOWN panic attack. I woke up and my entire body was shaking. Gerry thought we were having an earthquake but it was my body quivering so hard that it was shaking the bed. My heart was pounding. I was sweating and terrified. I reached over for Fergus and was convinced he was dead. I reached over for Gerry and couldn’t feel him in the bed. I sat up and started sobbing.

Gerry woke up and turned on the light and through sobs I told him what was happening. He shoved an Ativan in my mouth and 3 minutes later I was back to sleep.

In the morning Gerry got up and googled Ativan withdrawal. Guess what?? You’re not supposed to stop taking Ativan cold turkey. You need to slowly wean yourself off… fucking doctors.ร‚ย  ๐Ÿ™

I talked to a friend of mine who had to wean herself off of Oxy and she told me to go talk to my pharmacist for help. So I called my pharmacy and made an appointment to talk about the Ativan. She confirmed to me what we had learned on Google about Ativan withdrawl. You can’t just stop cold turkey. Ugh. fucking doctors.ร‚ย  ๐Ÿ™

She made a “schedule” for me to slowly taper off. It’s a month long program … and she said that I might find it too quick but that we could work with how I’m feeling.

It’s been rough but I’m determined to get off Ativan. I’ve been slowly tapering and I’ve gone from 2mg a night and now I am on .5mg but I feel like this last bit is going to be the most difficult. I’m super raw right now. Not getting enough sleep makes me feel awful. Like I can’t cope. ๐Ÿ™

But I’ve had a nice distraction at the same time … my friend Mason (who works at Tattoo Zoo) went away for 3 weeks and asked if I could take care of his 4lb chihuahua Dwight. I was like “HELLS YES” and I ran over to his house to grab the dog. Dwight is a delight. ๐Ÿ™‚


I’ve been been a little obsessed with Dwight and my instagram feed reflects my obsession. Ha ha. Nothing like a little tiny dog to keep your mind busy while you detox from Ativan.


Fergus has been pretty nonplussed about Dwight. He is such a chilled out and confidant dog. He is not worried about Dwight. He knows that the more animals I have around me … the happier I am.

I gave Dwight back to Mason today. It was so nice to see them reunited but I am truthfully a little sad. That little guy wormed into my heart with his perfect amount of neediness and his love of snuggling. Love that little guy. ๐Ÿ™‚


In other news I’ve been focusing on doing things that help rejuvenate my body/mind/spirit. Gerry and I have been doing yoga 3x a week at the Y. Almost all the pain from the tamoxifen is out of my system and I’ve been taking Dwight and Fergus to the beach almost every day. Little by little. Day by day I am starting to feel more and more like myself again.

I’ve been talking to a councilor at the Cancer Center about my anxiety. We are working on a plan to help combat my hamster wheel brain (I love a plan).

I am really focusing on self-care. I don’t get involved in anything that drains my energy. I’ve been meditating. I’ve been chanting. I listen to guided meditations before bed. I take melatonin. I do yoga. I walk. I journal. I go to therapy. I talk to my loved ones about how I’m feeling … and yet my brain spins out of control at night.

I’d love to hear what you guys do to help with an uncontrollable hamster-wheel brain? Any tips or tricks?

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42 Responses to Dwight

  1. You’re doing way better than you realize, but of course that observation doesn’t help in the midst of raw and painful panic and anxiety.

    You’re so aware and proactive and positive. You’re doing all the right things, but it’s just going to take a bit more time to get to where you’re reasonably comfortable again.

    I’m so, so sorry about the panic and anxiety. I live with a generalized anxiety disorder and have some awful episodes, so I can somewhat relate.

    In lieu of something helpful, I’m sending a virtual hug. Thanks for all the cute Instagram pics of Dwight!

  2. Ariane K says:


    I have finally weaned myself off my sleeping crutch of choice – loads of melatonin. My doc encouraged me to start using it, but frankly I sleep as well without it – until I start taking it! Then I can’t sleep for shit without it! I’d rather not have an additional dependency…

    I think you’re doing everything right, and it’s probably just going to take some time. Does your counsellor do any trauma specific therapies like EMDR? I’ve been thinking of trying one who does mind-body trauma release sorts of things.

    Sending loads of love! Will life ever be normal again? Who knows. But we’re still here, and that’s something. <3

    • Sarah says:

      I have done EMDR in the past. It’s very effective …

      My naturopath has me taking 15mg of melatonin a night. Why don’t you want to take it anymore??

      • Ariane K says:

        15! That is a lot! I was on 6, which was already kind of a lot. ๐Ÿ˜‰

        Two reasons:

        1) Like I said, I’d rather not be dependent on a sleep aid if I don’t really need it (partly because of cost, and partly already being on so many supplements – don’t want to add more unnecessarily). I’ll still happily take it when I have legit bouts of insomnia, or am travelling, but it felt like overkill taking it every night when most of the time I don’t need it. When I am taking it every night, I find I NEED to take it to fall asleep, which I’m not so into… I think it’s often recommended for people with Fibro/CFS to help with sleep since many people with these have trouble sleeping, but most of the time I don’t have any trouble sleeping – it’s the getting up that I need help with! ๐Ÿ˜‰

        2) I’ve heard it can affect the thyroid when taken long term, and mine is already wonky. On the other hand, it supposedly helps with reflux by triggering the LES sphincter to tighten, which was part of why I had tried a higher dose (though I didn’t really see any improvement while on it). Anyway just not wanting to complicate things with my wonky hormones.

  3. Michelle Betty says:

    As someone who’s been suffering from (and learning to live with) Panic Disorder and a severe anxiety disorder, I know how hard it is to come off any of the anxiolytic meds. I think you’re doing amazing, and not giving yourself enough credit. You absolutely should never stop any med like that cold vegan “turkey”. You may need to stay on 0.5mg for a while (months) – tapering is way more effective at reducing the side effects of panic attacks as you withdrawal. Your doc never should have told you to just stop like that.

    I’ve found that bedtime hypnosis MP3s are helpful (I really like Andrew Johnson from the UK) – also super helpful for that 4am racing mind to get you back to sleep. He has great ones for all kinds of anxiety-related and sleep-related issues. I’ve also used L-Theanine with some success – my vet actually got me on it, after prescribing it for my dog who has “panic attacks” when her nails are cut. It works wonders for her! It’s made from green tea and NOW brand makes a vegan capsule. Maybe that will help? It doesn’t have any drug interactions, as far as my doc told me.

    Just know that you have a whole gang of followers and support out here in the online world, and just reading your blogs is also helpful for us out here too <3

    • Sarah says:

      Thank you so much Michelle. I’ve been adding L-Theanine to my list of “things I do”.
      I’ve also been listening to Hypnosis mp3’s but I’ll look for the ones you suggested.

      Thank you for sharing. It means so much. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Jenny says:

    I also am prone to panc attacks and experience them the most when trying to sleep. There’s something about the pressure of getting a good nights sleep that ensires me to stay awake obsessing over how I’m awake instead of sleeping and am going to feel shitty the next day etc etc that just starts me down a negative thought rabbit hole.

    Before bed I like to make lists. I think about the things I want/have to accomplish the next day and long term goal making as well. That way when negative thoughts start up I can honestly tell myself I’ve got my shit together for the next day.

    I like having some white noise because I find absolute silence deafening and I become fixated on the fact that it is time to fall asleep.

    And when I do have a full blown panic attack I always wake up my partner and ask him to put his hand firmly on my heart. Weight brings me back into my body and out of my panic cloud. I also verbalize my anxieties so that they stop playing repeat in my head. It also gives my partner the opportunity to reassure/problem solve with me.

  5. If my hamster wheel won’t stop I take Rescue Remedy, helps it quit spinning. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Sarah Grace says:

    Not to make light of what you are going through (I also have a hamster wheel in my head most of the time) but I try to remember the great line from Haunted Honeymoon with Gene Wilder. He is supposed to say “Woops, there goes my imagination again” whenever he begins to feel panicky. Sometimes this helps me when I feel like I am freaking out or can’t calm my mind. Also, I lightly plug my ears and hum as I exhale– this creates a buzzing sound in my brain that is distracting – in a good way – and can sometimes reset my mind. Sometimes, I have to get out of bed and do lunges or squats–something to get whatever’s going on in my body to move through a little faster.

    • Sarah says:

      Thank you for sharing Sarah. I love Gene Wilder. ๐Ÿ™‚
      I’m going to remember this next time I have anxiety and it’s going to make me smile.

  7. Wendy Burmister Downey says:

    Take a look at l-theanine for anxiety. It is a natural remedy for anxiety that I have found works as well as lorazepam without the dopeyness. Look at aor.ca for the product zen theanine http://www.aor.ca/products-page/products-list/zen-theanine/
    It is safe and fast acting. Of course check with your pharmacist for any interactions. Magnesium is useful as well. It is a natural relaxant. A bisglycinate form is the best in my opinion.
    Hope this helps! (BTW I am bipolar and suffer from anxiety and hamster brain as well. I have worked in the natural health industry for many years and have some knowledge in this area. Contact me if you like!)

    • Sarah says:

      THANK YOU!!! I’m already taking L-Theanine. I should have added it to my giant list of things I’m already doing. Thank you for your help Wendy. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Samantha says:

    I have had a really rough time coming off benzos. They’re dangerous to withdraw from and not as easy,simple or at home as oxys. In addition to withdrawing from both I am also 3 weeks away from completing a certificated addiction counseling program. My point in divulging that is innot only have experience but I understand the neuro chemical processes and changes that are happening.

    The panic attacks you’re having could be a result of withdrwal. Please research The Ashton Method for benzo withdrawal. It’s suggested that you do a slower taper than you are already doing liquid titration for the least possible side effects and possible post acute withdrwal symptoms.

  9. Samantha says:

    I don’t know wh it didn’t let me finish my comment.
    I found a very helpful woman who had a great website (I believe it’s offline now)about benzo WD named Baylissa Fredricks. She wrote a book that’s called Recovery and Renewal, it’s on Amazon. She gave me a copy of the first version called Benzo-Wise, it’s out of print now but it has wonderful WD coping tools and devices. I’m sure her current book is just as helpful.
    There was nothing that helped my benzo WD and acute benzo WD anxiety, I had to just ride it out using breathing and meditation. Today I use Bach Flowers, Rescue Remedy and chamomile.
    If you want to talk or have any questions feel free to contact me. We are FB friends and

  10. Samantha says:

    It cut me off again! Sheesh I’m long winded!
    My email is violettfem at yahoo dot com.

    Good luck <3

  11. Tasha says:

    I have a very active mind when I go to bed and sometimes it keeps me up for hours. One trick that works for me, and who knows if it works for a single other human, is a semi-meditative routine.

    I lay with my eyes closed and imagine I am in a peaceful place. For me it’s lying in a field. I start by imagining the touch sense. How long is the grass? Is the wind blowing and the grass is tickling me or is it short and rough? Then I move on to sight and imagine if the sky is bright blue or if there are clouds around. Are there trees around? Are they fruit trees or pine trees? Are they sparse or far away? Can I smell flowers? Are there any bunnies bouncing around? I focus on every detail from the warmth of the sun on my skin to the gentle scent of lavender wafting in the breeze.

    Every time I imagine it the scenario is different but what I find is that by the time I’ve painted this picture completely in my mind that I’ve emptied my mind of the worries for long enough that my body starts to relax. Sometimes I need to keep it up until I drift off and sometimes I can calm my mind enough that it can wander off and I stay relaxed.

    Like I said, I have no idea if this works for anyone else but it’s definitely a nice brain vacation nonetheless. I hope you find peaceful slumber. I know how hard it can be!

  12. Meagan says:

    I had been on Ativan some years ago for anxiety. I accidentally took myself off of it-I had been in a car accident (only fractured my sacrum and dislocated my shoulder, luckily), and became too distracted and realized, a week later, that I had only taken it once or twice. I ended up stopping all together, but then had a massive panic attack. When I talked with my doctor, she prescribed me klonopin,which knocked me out so hard, I couldn’t even walk! Thankfully, I was out with friends who managed to get me to another friend’s place,where I slept for about 3 hours. If I had been alone, I would have passed out on the concrete and no one would have known what was wrong with me. Or, had I been with untrustworthy people,well, I don’t even want to know….Yeah, so I was stumbling down the street in the middle of the day with two big guys pretty much carrying me. Everyone probably thought I was strung out ( It was NYC). Sigh. Turned out, the doctor had prescribed me way too strong a dose! Idiots.

    Glad you figured things out before it got worse. I know exactly how a panic attack feels and wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Such an awful feeling. You feel as though your drowning, dieing and going crazy. No fun. Hope you make it through this hurdle OK. Glad to hear you’re in good hands.

  13. Kali says:

    I have a 9 month old baby, and for the first 6 months of her life I had severe post-partum depression. I was taking 4mg Ativan per day just to keep it together, as well as several other drugs. Sleeping without them was pretty much out of the question. A few months ago, when I started feeling better, I began tapering everything. I find “Super Sleep” chew tabs made by Webber Naturals really help – they have Melatonin, L-Theanine and 5-HTP and work fast. They’re at Costco, if you go there. Also, I’ve found that watching TV or reading anything interesting/intense before bed screws me up – I just can’t quiet my mind.
    You could try alternating days when stopping the 0.5 mg Ativan. At least you’d be getting a decent sleep every second night.
    One thing I tell my patients (I’m an oncology nurse) is to wear a sleep mask, I’ve been told that can help a person have a more solid sleep.
    Take care and good luck.

  14. Melanie says:

    I’m reading this just nodding my little worrywart of a head away. Its all too familiar. Im sorry the bastard doctors have messed you around, they play Russian Roulette with your health and get away with it too often. Im on a bunch of meds for GAD and bipolar. I was on benzos for a bit but now I’m on an night time antipyschotic called Seroquel for insomnia. I did CBT last year and found it helpful in general with the overthinking. (Now I overthink the overthinking). Im due to go to a Mindfullness course in August (cant come sooner). My “sleep hygiene” still leaves a heck of a lot to be desired though. I cant imagine how painful and uncomfy you must feel having been through the “works”. Thanks for sharing, hope the sleep improves and you get your groove back. “Let her sleep, for when she wakes, she will move mountains”. xx

  15. Kali says:

    OMG, can’t believe I forget to mention Young Living essential oils. If you can get your hands on the “peace & calming” blend, it helps! I use it every evening to mellow out. Lavender works great too. I only recommend Young Living brand because it’s the freakin’ best (I’ve tried many kinds).
    Party on.

  16. Nods says:

    Hi Sarah

    I’m a mental health nurse in the UK and there’s some really good cognitive behavioural self help information on anxiety and panic at http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk – just type a keyword in and it’ll search the site.

    I’ve been following your blog for some time (How It All Vegan was one of the first books I got when I went vegan) and you’re already doing some of the stuff that helps but you might find some other things that may work for you.

    I’ve had generalised anxiety disorder all my life and the thing that I find the most helpful for me is the information on unhelpful thinking and how to challenge this. This has helped me to make my anxiety manageable.

    I hope that you find something useful to you. Keep on taking one day at a time.


  17. Sarah says:

    I’m so glad you had such an adorable distraction from all the stress and anxiety! My mum took in my sister’s dog at a time when she was going through a period of serious illness, and caring for him had such a healing impact on her. It seems that Dwight has had a similar effect on you ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. Stacey Jennings says:

    Bless….your blogs are so wonderful.

    Mediation saved my life. For real. I was having cripping panic attacks several times a day … Job related stress. I couldn’t cope. I’d be at work sobbing uncontrollably into the carpet. I eventually went on stress leave. I ended up going on a week long silent retreat in California (where I know live – originally from Victoria). It really taught me how to ride those waves in my brain – I’m like Kelly Slater on good days. But up
    To that point Ativan was my go to as well.
    While on retreat I was having a bad attack – and one of my teachers (vinny ferrario) said shitty feelings are no different that good ones. Just feelings. And they come and go.
    It’s been very freeing. Not attaching or avoiding
    I highly recommend their meditations if you don’t know already. http://www.dharmapunx.com Noah and Vinny talk “our language”
    Also – Wes Nisker and Tara Brach http://www.dharmaseed.org

  19. Natasha says:

    Hi Sarah!
    You are a spectacular source of inspiration for all human beings, we’re so glad to have you around.
    I’m not sure if you’ve heard of ASMR – it’s a guided relaxation technique for getting to sleep. It works so damn good – do try it out if you haven’t already. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Peace, love and vegan powers from New Zealand. All the best for you and your family

  20. Mel says:

    Hi Sarah, I have just recently found you when doing a vegan app search. I am glad I have found you and I hope you are healing and starting to sleep better and find peace. I have heard that there is a Bach Flower remedy for “the chatter brain” that wont stop at night, it’s “White Chestnut”. Have you tried it?
    Love & Light,
    Vegan Mel from New Zealand xxx

  21. Annie M says:

    Dear Sarah, It amazes me that your doctors have never prescribed cannabis for many of the symptoms you have had though out your illness. The inability to eat, anxiety, insomnia, can all be helped with the right strain of cannabis. It is an amazing substance, non-habit forming, no hangover, no side-effects, and it really works! It is so sad that it has gotten such a bad rap. There is nothing to be afraid of with this plant. It can be used effectively and can be titrated to your needs by your own control.
    Please ask around and see what you can find. And while you’re at it, John-Hopkins is doing studies with LSD to control death anxiety which you may want to look up. That too has been transformative for people with one guided “trip”. I know it sounds crazy but both of these substances have been in use for thousands of years. I’d be curious to know your thoughts.

  22. martina says:

    hey sarah,

    glad to see things are looking up! amazing!

    this is late but in case you’re still having trouble sleeping – I too have a hamster-wheel brain (minus cancer trauma and panic attacks though), and for years would lie awake in bed unable to fall asleep for an hour or two after hitting the hay. Finally I started doing a little bed time meditation to keep my mind from wandering. it works well for me.

    I’m visual so I picture a full moon. Nothing else, just the glowing moon. If my mind wanders and I start worrying about something, I can direct my focus back to the moon image. It took some practice but has worked so well. I guess it sounds simple and maybe wouldn’t work for everyone, but at least it helps keep track of when the mind wanders so I can stop that when I need to.

    be well!

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