Ten years ago, Emma Haimes was traveling the world, training to be a teacher and enjoying the life of a healthy and happy 23-year-old.
But after catching a virus that reduced his lung capacity by 60%, he was put on a prescription drug that made his life “absolute hell.” The drug, bromazepam, belongs to a class of drugs called benzodiazepines – it is used for the short-term relief of symptoms of extreme anxiety. Emma was put on a daily dose in 2012 after a brief bout of anxiety related to her lung condition. Although it helped treat her breathlessness and anxiety, she had no idea the effect the drug would have on her life—even when she stopped taking it.
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Bromazepam is usually used for a short period of time or as an ‘as needed’ medicine as it can prove to be ‘habit-forming’ and addictive if taken for a long period of time. Emma didn’t know this. It had been four years by the time he stopped taking the drug. Now 33 years old and living in Cardiff, Emma says her life is troubled by extreme fatigue, constant headaches, heart palpitations and muscle aches, which she says leave her feeling “beaten up” every day.
She struggles to leave the house and day-to-day activities can make her heart spin more than three times its normal rate. Her severe withdrawal symptoms have meant that 35 priority ambulances have been called in the past five years.
“It stems from a virus that I caught 10 years ago when I was doing my teacher training,” Emma said. “I caught a virus from one of the schools and I knew right away that something wasn’t quite right. Then I went on a fast for about a year feeling like I couldn’t breathe properly. I went through A&T twice E went and was told they didn’t find anything physically wrong. I somehow graduated and went to France and again I felt like I couldn’t breathe properly. About three of my stays in France Months later it got so bad that I demanded that they send me a specialist.”
The specialist found that Emma had only 60% lung capacity and developed asthma as a result of lung damage caused by the virus. She had also developed anxiety as a result of her physical ailments.
She said: “I started having panic attacks and so they [doctors in France] Suggested I take this medicine which will ‘help me get my life back on track’ as he put it. I’m feeling really naive now but I honestly thought it was as gentle as paracetamol – quite a safe thing to take.”
Bromazepam, along with another drug to treat her lungs, helped for a while, but the side effects meant that all her feelings were suppressed. It causes sedation and works to reduce anxiety by affecting neurotransmitters in the brain.
“It completely suppressed everything, you just kind of fainted for everything. Maybe my lung capacity had improved within about 6 months of having it and so I thought ‘I need to take daily medications. Don’t need to be on, I’ve never had a need before, so I told it to go away,” she said.
Emma says that when she described how she was feeling and the side effects she was experiencing, doctors saw it as a symptom of her anxiety and increased her dosage. It was only when Emma returned to the UK and had been taking the drug for four years, until she was told it could be addictive.
“When I came back to the UK I went to the doctor because I was having heart palpitations, and then I found out that the specific drug I was on is only prescribed in the UK for a maximum of one week because it is so strong, ” He said.
“So they clearly weren’t going to prescribe me any more because I was on it for four years. They said they could offer me a sister drug, which is diazepam I believe, and said you could put it that way. can leave.”
Anyone taking bromazepam regularly for a long period of time is advised to reduce it rather than take it immediately because of evidence of physical dependence and severe withdrawal symptoms. However, Emma, filled with anxiety to find out that she had been taking the drug for so long, decided to immediately withdraw and go ‘cold turkey’.
“From what I know now, I wish I had done this, but alarm bells rang for me at the time because I had just been told that this class of drugs was overly potent and I didn’t have to be on it for long. Should have. More than a week,” she said.
“It didn’t make sense for me to go on anything else that I’ve been doing for four years already. I thought in the worst case I was going to have some side effects. But at least I’m on this drug. I’ll be clean and free from what I shouldn’t have been on for more than a week. I had absolutely zero idea that turning it off cold turkey could kill me.
“At no time was I told that I would still deal with the side effects of doing this for five years. I did not wish to die, I was told that tapering would be the best option but no one told me that cold Turkeying would become as life threatening as it has been. Otherwise I would clearly have gone down the other path.”
Now, five years after quitting the drug, Emma says the withdrawal effect is “100 times” worse than the problem that caused her to be given the drug in the first place. Studies show that about 50% of people who use benzodiazepines for only four weeks experience symptoms such as anxiety, dizziness, problems with concentration, nightmares, and weakness.
A 2019 report by Public Health England warned that ‘hundreds of thousands’ of people in England were dependent on them. It provided face-to-face support for patients and better training for doctors on the risks of drug dependence, as well as calling a 24-hour helpline to advise those on how to wean their medication.
“The whole experience of your life changes,” said Emma. “Everything was the same but at the same time absolute hell. I couldn’t think properly, I didn’t know how I’d ever live in France – it felt completely different to me. Suddenly I’m having these Heart palpitations, nightmares, hot and cold sweats but only a few weeks not years on end.
“I’ve basically spent most of the last five years in isolation unable to get out. Before I traveled the world, I lived on a yacht and was very adventurous. I snowboarded almost at a professional level. done and then with that I couldn’t even leave my flat to go to the stores. I’m still learning how to actually go out and do things. It’s getting there but I have to redecorate myself To do. “
Emma now struggles daily with the effects of withdrawal, so much so that she says she has called over 35 ambulances since coming off the drug. She says mornings are “hell” and that she’s felt like she’s had the flu for five years in a row: “Even leaving my flat, my heart rate would get very high. Over the past five years I’ve There are 35 priority ambulances as a result of that. I often feel like I have been beaten, I regularly have severe, muscle aches, all my muscles are constantly vibrating.
“I think what the drug did is changed my body’s natural ability to regulate stress, anxiety, so when that drug went off it’s almost as if my body forgot to regulate itself. I I am in this state of constant excitement, which is frankly, drained and uncomfortable.”
She said doctors struggled to treat her and didn’t know for a long time where her symptoms were coming from: “The first two years doctors didn’t know it was a side effect of getting off the drug. I’m told Had things like ‘we will never know what happened to you, you have to accept it’.
“And then it was incidentally a paramedic who was sent to one of the ambulances called for me and he said, ‘I think this is the drug you were on’. She was the first one to actually sit down with me.” The medical professional was the amount of time it took to go through all the symptoms and everything. She said ‘this is medicine, I’ve seen it before’.
“The first doctor I saw after that [said] ‘We don’t know how to help you, we don’t have the resources, we can’t do anything’.
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Emma says she was asked to do holistic therapy and breathing exercises to manage her symptoms. She said it was also suggested that she visit a medicine and rehab centre. She says that other medications she’s been prescribed to manage symptoms have also had adverse reactions, which means she’s unsure about how she’ll manage any future medical treatments.
“I don’t know at what point I will be able to have children and be able to do so, or if I need medical care—the doctors don’t know. It’s completely changed my life,” she said. said.
Emma, who first qualified as a teacher when she was prescribed bromazepam, tried to return to the profession after quitting the drug in the hope that the withdrawal symptoms would subside: “I wanted to go back to teaching. Tried it, I forced myself to go through the early stages of withdrawing and getting a full time job and I did it for six weeks and then my body just broke down.
“It completely changed my life. I was a very active, ambitious, adventurous person — and I still am, and I, you know, I’m working to get back at that. But really In the U.S., it changed my life when I was on medication, because it completely suppressed my ability to experience life. And then obviously, when I came off the drug, it completely changed my life Turned it upside down. I don’t call it dramatic, I say it very rarely. In fact, it’s like being tortured every day for five years.”
Emma, who is now on a gradual recovery, says she wants to raise awareness of the addictive nature of some prescription drugs, and what she says is the lack of support when people stop taking them. What he did five years ago.
“I feel like I’m getting there. I’m getting better. And I want to come back stronger and build myself up than the setback type,” she says.
“And live the life that I think I could be the way I lived before it happened and come back in a stronger way and really appreciate things far more than they used to be.” . I’m working on music. I signed a record deal last year. And I just released my second single.”
Emma is also producing a documentary called The Soundtrack Film, which highlights the dangers of some prescription drugs and how others with their condition can change their lives.
She also produces a regular podcast – The Soundtrack; From rock bottom to rock musicians – seeing as how much damage unsuspecting patients like them can do to drugs that make them feel better, not worse.
She said, “I’m really trying to make a story and make a film that whatever life throws at us, don’t give up hope and feel about coming out through the darkness and out of the other side of it. does.”
“I’m working from home on that and just focusing on that first thing when I’m recovering. I’ve heard anecdotes that the five-year mark is a real healing point for a lot of people who have gone cold turkey, So that will actually happen next month.”
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