Boulder writer Matt Samet chronicles his benzo hell in Death Grip
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I was finally taken off benzos at a hospital; however, they put me on three other pills and told me I was majorly depressed. Basically, I called a number I'd seen on a wall in Boulder for a benzo support group. The group wasn't meeting any more, but the woman who organized it, Alison Kellagher, said she'd be happy to talk to me. It was in speaking to her and seeing that she'd gone through the exact same thing -- had actually tried to quit four times before it finally stuck because the same thing happened to her. They'd tell her it was her, they'd put other meds on. Meeting someone else and finally hearing what was the truth basically is what allowed me to get better. Also, finding some support groups online, connecting with people who had gone through or were going through this, was hugely helpful.
So it was really just a matter of hearing that you weren't nuts, or depressed, or whatever, and that it eventually got better?
Yeah, I think exactly it was. Hearing that the symptoms, because the symptoms are very profound and strange and troubling. They're things that probably sound, to a psychiatrist, like manifestations of anxiety, but they're basically a thousand times worse and last a long time. To hear other people enumerate these symptoms themselves, to compare mine to theirs. Yeah, that's what gave me the perspective that this was a very real syndrome that had a beginning, a middle and an end. And that I was in the middle of it, and that was what was going on. I didn't need to keep looking for other solutions anymore, I just needed to give myself time to heal.
You're a hardcore climber and former editor-in-chief of Climbing magazine, but I understand this interfered pretty severely with your climbing, right?
Yeah, I didn't climb for about a year and half. I didn't do much of anything for about a year and a half, couple years. As the taper got harder, then afterwards, I was very, very sick. I could do a little bouldering, where you're climbing close to the ground, with crashpads. But I was often so dizzy and shaking sweaty and kind of confused that being on a cliff was completely overwhelming. Not to mention being just physically fatigued.
But now you're back to climbing? No lingering side effects?
No, I still have a little trouble breathing, which has kept me from going in the high mountains, but nothing else. It's all gone.
You've got another book and have been writing about climbing and some other stuff for years, but this seems like a bit of a departure. Was writing it part of moving past it, or did you just feel like it was a story that was important to share?
It was definitely tough to write a different genre. I don't know if I pulled it off or not, I guess we'll see. I had the germ of the story, because I'd written a feature article that ran in Outside in 2010. That helped me sort of get my mind around it, but to be honest I didn't write the book as any sort of catharsis. I worked through all that stuff a long time ago. I wrote it in the hope that someone who's going through this, or is seeing their life fall apart while they're on psychotropic meds, understands that there's another perspective here. There's not just the one they're being told during those fifteen-minute med check-ins, and there's not just the one that are in those pharmaceutical commercials they're seeing during the nightly news. There's potentially a huge downside there, and you can get trapped, I think. I got trapped in a way that I never would have imagined the first time I took a benzo. Had I know where I would end up, I certainly never would have gone down that road.
There can be healing, but you have to be very patient. The doctors told me I would feel a little funny for two to four weeks [when I quit], but for me it was two to four years. I think their timeline is a little skewed -- a little overly optimistic.
Before we wrap up, is there anything else you want to say?
I just urge anyone who's reading the book -- the book is maybe pretty frightening for someone who's in a withdrawal state, or on the drugs -- but I just want people to understand that I absolutely have gotten better. It's been six years since I've taken a med and I'm the happiest and healthiest I've been in my life. I'm glad I made the choices I did, even if I had to go through hell to get here.