By: Tara Kerrigan Hayes
Your world can change in an instant. That’s what Josh Fitzmaurice of Sandwich, Massachusetts learned last year, when life as he knew it came crashing down with the flick of a doctor’s pen. As a young, successful accountant, Josh seemingly had it all, until he visited the doctor to investigate neck pain and was prescribed Meloxicam. That night Josh was rushed to the ER, (with what felt like a heart attack), where he was diagnosed with a nocturnal panic attack and was sent back to his PCP.
That’s when he was handed a prescription for benzodiazepines.
Like so many others, he trusted in his doctor and took the benzos (in this case, Ativan), which ultimately would come close to destroying his life. Along with the Ativan Josh was prescribed an antidepressant to which he had an adverse reaction, so his doctor retracted them, but upped the Ativan to twice a day.
One month later his health was on a frighteningly rapid decline. Suffering from increasing anxiety, insomnia, debilitating pain, burning nerves and digestive problems, Josh lost 25 lbs. He thought perhaps he had a norovirus. Medical tests continued, with each being inconclusive and offering no real answers. That’s when Josh began feverishly researching the effects of benzodiazepines and found a whole community of people with the same symptoms as his own. He started to put the stories together and suspected the medications could be the cause of his chronic illness.
After switching to a new doctor, Josh was prescribed Klonopin – yet another form of benzos, but supposedly easy to taper off of. Then another antidepressant was added by a psychiatrist to help “ease” the withdrawal, which only served to cause more damage.
Terrified and lost in what he would later call an “indescribable hell”, Josh had the realization that it was the cascade of prescriptions from a series of misdiagnosis’ that had led to this avalanche of his physical and mental health. After talking with many others in the online benzo communities, Josh began to taper off the drugs, with very little guidance from actual doctors. Every minute cut in dose would bring on a whirlwind of debilitating and horrific symptoms. Josh could no longer work and had to leave his job and move from Brighton back home to Cape Cod with his mother. After suffering through a taper, Josh decided to jump at what he thought was a very low dose.
He took every pill and flushed them down the toilet, in what would prove to be a risky, yet life-saving move. Still, the road to healing would be long and arduous. The abrupt discontinuance of benzos wreaked havoc on his nervous system unleashing a hurricane of new, painful and dangerous symptoms. Desperate to get better, Josh continued to pursue the hunch that he was ailing from benzo withdrawals. That research led him to the website Baylissa.com, by a woman based out of the UK, who has been helping people suffering from benzo and antidepressant withdrawals for almost twenty years.
Baylisaa Frederick would become the only person Josh trusted for advice. They began messaging overseas and it was through her guidance and the support of fellow sufferers in his online community, that Josh tapered off the drugs on his own, but he also humbly attributes his healing to his family. “My mom and girlfriend were my saviors, says Josh, “without them I’d be gone”.
Aside from his loved ones, Josh also derived incredible strength from an unexpected source: nature.
It started with short walks to restore his physical health, which eventually led to hikes, then meditation and long treks in the woods. With a new outlook on life Josh began seeing all things in a different light, including the simplest things like the clothes on his back. He began contemplating nature influenced fashion and seeking a distraction from his symptoms, dedicated himself to learning fashion design through tutorials on YouTube.
Highly intelligent with a natural aptitude for research, Josh combined his entrepreneurial spirit with his determination to recover and Slyk Shades quickly began to take shape.
Fittingly, one of his first prototypes was born of the very trees that had brought him solace amidst his healing hikes in the woods during his darker days. Purchasing a money tree to Feng Shui his bedroom, it was the quote on the pot that caught his attention: “Wealth Is The Ability To fully Experience Life”. Josh had a vision. “Suddenly this idea popped in my head to inscribe that inspirational quote inside wooden sunglasses that I would design myself”. It would be the first of a long line of messages of hope in Josh’s growing inventory.
From the designing to creation of protypes, to the marketing, sales and even photography, Josh himself has mastered every aspect of his budding, mission-based company. In addition to the ONLINE STORE Slyk Shades’ retail has now gone bi-coastal with merchandise carried in eight boutiques so far (including Southie’s own Wears and Wares). Aside from hand-crafted sustainable eyewear, Slyk Shades offers Eco-friendly bracelets (with a story), and other new products to come such as winter hats as well as baseball caps, (with inspirational quotes embedded into the seam). There are future plans for a full clothing line.
As business expands, so does the Slyk Shades Family, quite literally, as Josh recently enlisted the help of his younger brother Justin to lead the growth in his sales department. Justin is not only a sibling and co-worker, but his brother’s biggest fan. “Josh is literally the kindest, most intelligent, and creative person I’ve ever met in my life, says Justin. “He’s my inspiration”.
Soon to be an inspiration to many, Josh is now a fierce mental health awareness advocate and plans to one day start his own foundation to offer a safe space for others seeking benzo withdrawal treatment and support. He has also recently partnered with the non-profit organization, Calmer Choice (on Cape Cod), a universal prevention program that teaches kids about mindfulness and provides them with stress coping skills to diminish the risk of violence, substance abuse and other self-destructive behavior.
As an ode to the very trees they were born of, Josh has also partnered with One Tree Planted, in which every pair sold plants a tree, and so far has contributed to the planting of over 400 seedling trees in California to replace the trees lost in the wildfires.
Though “benzo-free” since April of 2017, Josh is still not fully recovered, yet it’s clear his journey has been transformational not just with his career, but in spirit. He hopes to inspire others to never lose hope and to follow their dreams. Because, as Josh Fitzmaurice puts it, “Life is too short not to”.
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