She was an 18-year-old freshman at Duke University when she began taking Valium. Home in the Maryland suburbs on vacation, she told her family doctor that she was very nervous about everything, "about school and being away from home.
"I don't remember him telling me very much," she says now, "except to take it (Valium) up to four times a day."
A month ago, nine years after that visit, she stoppd taking Valium, a drug designed for use for short periods of time to treat acute anxiety.
The little yellow tablets made college life bearable, she says. She could speak in front of her classes without getting shaky. She could meet strangers and talk to them without getting muscle spasms in her neck. She could behave like other people, which, she says, she couldn't do without the drug.
But it was nine months before her doctor suggested -- gently she says --that perhaps her nervousness, weight loss and nausea meant she might benefit from some psychiatric help.
Not that he stopped the Valium prescriptions, quite the opposite. "When I needed more, all I had to do was have my mother call his office and the nurse would phone in the prescription," she says.
The doctor never again suggested that she see a therapist and, in the meantime, 20 milligrams of Valium became a part of her daily life, something that helped her get over everyday problems.
"When I was working as a Howard County elementary teacher if I was tense about something I had to do the next day, I'd take a Valium. If I was worried about the workload, or was going to be observed (as part of an evaluation) the next day, I'd take a Valium. I could do my planning then without getting too nervous."
When the woman married about 2 1/2 years ago, she didn't tell her husband she was using the tranquilizer. "I was too embarrassed."
"He must have found out after we were married," she says, but he didn't say anything."But when I became pregnant, he really became aware of the Valium because he realized I'd become dependent.
"It was terrible," she recalls, "because I was taking one or two 5-milligram Valiums a day and when I found out I was pregnant, the doctor I was seeing just told me to stop cold. There was no weaning period. There was no mental support.
"I was very nervous and I would get spasms in my neck when I was talking to people, which was embarrassing I had trouble sleeping initially. The first person who made me realize I needed some kind of counseling was my obstetrician, because I just felt so dependent on it that I was begging him to give me something, and he finally gave me phenobarbital, which I took occasionally. But he was the one who got me to seek professional help, because he said I should be able to get through a day without tranquilizers."
She put off seeking counseling, however, until after she had the baby, about 19 months ago. When she felt that wasn't helping enough, she asked her therapist fort another Valium prescription.
Eight months ago, she sought the help of a local psychiatrist who runs a phobia clinic. At first she didn't want to give up the drug, but she finally reached the point where she was ready to give it a try.
"During the weaning period and when I wasn't taking any, my muscles were tense. I felt light-headed and had a giddy feeling at times ... I've felt a little more depressed, a little more nervous about myself."
But now that she's been completely off Valium for a month, "I find I don't get shaky for no reason. Situations that used to make me tense and nervous don't make me feel as tense and nervous as they did when I was on Valium but hadn't had a pill in a while."
Now, she says, "I don't want to go back on it for anything."