The Opioid Crisis vs. Us

There is an Opioid Crisis in North America and it’s affecting two factions of people – the ones who take and use opioids illegally and the ones who use and take opioids legally as prescribed by their doctors. I want to focus on the second group because we’re not being given our due in the news. First though, let’s look at some numbers.

*Every day, more than 115 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids.1 The misuse of an addiction to opioids—including prescription pain relieversheroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl—is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.2

**Canada isn’t far behind. “This is a major public health crisis in Canada,” says Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer. “Tragically, in 2016, there were more than 2,800 apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada, which is greater than the number of Canadians who died at the height of the HIV epidemic in 1995.”

New data from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) shows that from January to March 2017, there were at least 602 apparent opioid-related deaths across the country; it is expected that this count will rise as additional data becomes available.

Pressure is being put on physicians in both countries to stop prescribing opioid medications or to cut down on the number of prescriptions they write, and many are complying. So where does that leave us, the People with Chronic Pain (PwCP) who depend on opioid medication to manage their pain in order to have any semblance of quality of life?

Pain

Physicians and Pain Doctors are now more likely to offer Pain Management Programs and techniques in place of opioids. These programs use a combination of non-opioid medications such as over-the-counter or prescription ibuprofen (Motrin), acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin (Bayer) and steroids, plus various therapies, including:

  • Physical therapy – A physical therapist or physician who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation may be able to create an exercise program that helps you improve your ability to function and decreases your pain. Whirlpools, ultrasound and deep-muscle massages may also help.
  • Acupuncture – You may find relief from acupuncture, in which very thin needles are inserted at different places in your skin to interrupt pain signals.
  • Massage Therapy – can help to relax the muscles that may be causing you pain
  • Injections or nerve blocks – If you are having a muscle spasm or nerve pain, injections with local anaesthetics or other medications can help short-circuit your pain.
  • Biofeedback – where you learn to control involuntary functions such as your heart rate.
  • Surgery – When other treatments aren’t effective, surgery can be performed to correct abnormalities in your body that may be responsible for your pain.
  • Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) – can change the thoughts, emotions, and behaviours related to pain, improve coping strategies, and put the discomfort in a better context

Are these programs helpful? Do they work? Do they relieve pain?  Well, from my own personal experience, the answer is no, they don’t take your pain away. They do give you the tools to manage your pain more effectively as long as you employ the tools on a daily basis, but when your entire body is wracked with a deep aching, burning sensation that NEVER GOES AWAY, it’s almost impossible to manage that. When my legs feel like bricks and my arms are burning like fire and I can’t move my shoulder to brush my hair and my knee is collapsing when I walk and my spine feels like it’s going to collapse any second from now from the intensity of the stabbing I feel…it’s hard to be motivated that today is going to be a good day.

Now, I have to be honest and admit that I am still taking opioid medication. I have been, for the last 10 years. I have weaned down my dosage, but I still take it. Right now, I take a Slow Release dosage of OxyNeo (Oxycodone) in a dosage of 30mg, 3 times a day. Each dose is to last me 8 hours. Does it work? Somewhat…it keeps my pain at a 4-5 on the pain scale which I can manage with other techniques. If I didn’t have the medication, I would be at a steady 8 on the scale, all the time. Now, what would happen if my Doctor decided to stop my drugs? I would be hard pressed to manage without them, especially after so many years of taking them. Am I an addict? No, I’m not and here’s why. When you have legitimate pain, it’s impossible to become addicted to a pain medication. It’s when you take a medication that you don’t need that you become addicted to it.

I want to share a conversation I had in a chat with a couple of friends who’ve allowed me to share their thoughts and first names. Read what happened to Lindsay and our replies:

What Lindsay said: 
I just had a run in with a pharmacist yesterday. I suffer from interstitial cystitis, endometriosis, chronic ovarian cysts, degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia and arthritis. Since January I’ve had 9 kidney infections, one or two a month. I have an appointment with an infectious disease specialist at the end of this month, and I have my normal team of Drs and specialists that I already see along with my pain management dr. Well every time I have a kidney infection it causes my IC to flare and my pain because so out of control that I end up in the ER, so my PM gives me extra pain meds to help me get through the infection. Well my normal pharmacy had a pharmacist who’s been snippy with me before and when I handed her the extra script, she blew up on me. She said pain meds don’t help with my kind of pain, it’s only a bandage treatment, I shouldn’t be allowed to take pain meds this long, my regular pain meds should be enough, I’ll OD, my dr is an idiot, I’m not really in that much pain and she wrote a bunch of notes on my account barring me from ever getting extra meds again, including for surgeries etc. I started crying, she used an aggressive tone and lectured me in front of a line of other patients and threatened not to fill my prescription, then did after slamming her hands down and furiously writing on my prescription paper then on my account about how I’m not allowed to do this anymore. I was so so embarrassed and now I’m terrified to have anymore prescriptions or anymore acute pain issues. I hate that this is my life now. I didn’t ask for this!
What I said: 
It’s been said to me by my Doctor that it’s impossible to become an addict to opioids when you actually, truly need them. I don’t get high, and I function completely normally. I could be tested by the police and while the drug would show in my system, I wouldn’t show as impaired. It’s the people who abuse the drug and who take it in a manner it’s not meant to be taken in that ruin it for the rest of us. I would have reported your pharmacist to her association. That was uncalled for and completely unprofessional. She can NOT refuse you unless she refuses to serve you completely. Can you transfer to a different pharmacy for the future? Honestly, if she had done that to me, I would have raked her over the coals….no one, and I mean NO ONE talks to me like that. EVER. I live in Canada and we are facing our own Opioid Crisis here as well. The College of Physicians and Surgeons is cracking down on Doctors who over prescribe or who prescribe too high of a dosage of narcotics to patients. I have been on Oxycodone for almost 10 years now, going from a dose of Slow Release OxyNeo 90mg 3 times a day to 30mgs 3 times a day. plus other meds I take for Fibro, Osteoarthritis, D.I.S.H., Trigeminal Neuralgia, Bipolar Disorder, Diabetes Type 2 and Hypothyroidism, amongst other issues. Three of my drugs clash and shouldn’t be taken together, but I have no choice. I hope you’re able to find a pharmacy that treats you with respect and dignity just like you deserve. Before you give them your business, shop around and ask them what their policy is for opioid customers. Tell them of the experience you had and ask them how they treat that type of situation. Good luck to you and I wish you better, pain-free days ahead. oxoxo
what Angela said: 
I fight this as well and also have issues with my body metabolizing my meds too quickly. The dosages i am on would probably put someone into an overdose but unless you know what i am on, you’d never know i was on anything. Trying to advocate for myself constantly is a huge struggle and mentally draining. The thing is, i am also a nurse and still trying to remain independent through the 9 surgeries ive had in the last 5 years alone. Not only is it a struggle to advocate for myself but i also advocate for my patients the best i can as well. I am constantly fearful that i am going to be cut off from my meds and end up in a pain crisis, in massive withdrawal and become completely unable to support myself. I am also a single mom, so losing my income is a big deal. I am so sick of taking heat because of people who abuse the system. Of every person i know who has chronic pain and take medication, none take them incorrectly, nor do they get high from them. Even if i do take more than usual, i just get sick so if my pain is out of control, i really have to weigh that consequence. I am now in dread because i have to see a new pain management PA next month and my surgeon is moving. Just this thought is really stressing me out.
These are the things we have to deal with as PwCP. It’s not just the doctors we fight with about our medications – it’s the pharmacists as well.
Yes, my friends, there IS a crisis regarding opioid medication and it’s affecting the people who need the drugs the most. The patients. The people with chronic pain. Us.
Me.
Thanks for reading.
There is always hope.
* https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis
**https://www.cihi.ca/en/opioid-crisis-having-significant-impact-on-canadas-health-care-system

Let’s Make One Thing Clear…

Welcome!

FIBROMYALGIA IS REAL BUT YOU WILL ALWAYS FIND DOCTORS WHO DISAGREE

If you’ve been to my blog before, you know that I live with Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Invisible Illness. If this is your first visit, you now know something about me. I want it made very clear that YES…Fibromyalgia DOES exist.

Fibromyalgia-Signs-Causes-and-Treatment

Walk a mile in my very painful shoes and you will know exactly how painful it is to live with Fibro. Every one of my muscles feels like it’s being dragged in concrete and every joint feels like it’s been twisted, then put into a mechanical vise and clamped as tightly as possible. I get shooting pains in parts of my body that I didn’t even know existed, for no reason at all. My arms burn and my hands and feet tingle or go numb.

The brain fog is awful…forgetting what you’re saying in the middle of a conversation is so embarrassing. I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast. I can’t remember if I ATE breakfast. I take medications that cause horrible side effects like weight gain and shaking hands and brain zaps…a sensation like an electrical shock that runs across your brain and where you can feel AND hear a literal buzz. I am constantly exhausted by the lack of sleep that comes with Fibro. It’s never refreshing and it’s never enough.

Yet, with all of this that I and my fellow Fibromites go through, there are still doctors who say “it’s all in your head” and “it doesn’t exist”. Well, tell me then…what DO I have wrong? All my tests come back negative for everything you tested me for…but I have all 18 of the 18 tender points that indicate Fibromyalgia is what I have.

Here are things I’ve had to say to friends and to DOCTORS who have questioned me about Fibro and Chronic Pain at various times over the last 10 years:

1. This is not “just in my head”. My pain is real.

2. I wish Fibro came with bruises, that way, you could see how much pain I’m feeling just so you could believe me.

3. It never goes away. My pain is always there, even when I’m acting “normal”. Don’t let my smile fool you, I am always in pain. Always.

4. There is no standard day or week or month with Fibromyalgia, It changes from hour to hour sometimes. Some days are better than others. Some days I think I want to die (this one always gets me in trouble).

5. Staying home instead of working or doing something fun isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

6. You think I’m faking being sick, but really I’m faking being well.

7. The Brain Fog is terrifying. You try forgetting what you’re saying in the middle of a sentence and see how it makes you feel – you feel stupid and old and easy to dismiss. I lose things easily and am easily distracted. It’s so frustrating.

8. Day to day activities are exhausting. Heck, getting out of bed is exhausting.

9. Even if there were drugs that worked well, I am not a drug seeker and my history will show that. I have ONE Family Doctor and use ONE Pharmacy! I just want relief from the pain.

10. What part of “chronic condition” are you having a hard time understanding? I am not going to get better. I am going to live with this for the rest of my life. I hope to get better but it’s never going to go away. Don’t give me false hope.

11. I’m willing to try just about anything, but just because something worked for some Aunt’s friend’s cousin’s sister doesn’t mean it’s going to work for me. We’re all different and treatment isn’t a one size fits all option. But, whatever…I’m willing to listen.

12. Sometimes, I have to cancel my plans at the last minute. Sometimes, I cancel my plans with the same friend 2 or 3 times in a row. It’s not a reflection on the friend. It’s my body.

13. I wish more doctors understood Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain and took us more seriously. Do you see me as a drug seeker too? What about when my x-rays show a body filled with arthritis? How do you deny my pain then? I just want you to help me find answers and relief.

14. Some days, even my hair hurts

15. There are days when the most I can accomplish is moving from the bed to the couch, and that’s okay. At least I did something.

16. On the days I feel good, I push myself too hard to get things done, even though I know I’m going to pay for it later. I hate being thought of as lazy. When my husband comes home, I can honestly say to him, “honey, today I cleaned up, did the dishes, vacuumed the house, did the laundry, baked cookies and scrubbed the bathroom”. And then I know I’ll be bed-bound for the rest of the week.

17. What you see on the outside doesn’t necessarily reflect how I feel on the inside.

18. My chronic fatigue is at times overwhelming and I can’t push past it. It’s exhausting to be this exhausted.

19. I wish a simple nap would help to relieve my pain, but it will not disappear if I lay down and have a rest.

20. I’m a real person with real pain. I didn’t ask for this but I’m being forced to live with it. I didn’t do anything to get this, but sometimes I feel like I’m being punished.

Oh, it can be so frustrating having an Invisible Illness like Fibro. I truly do wish there were outward signs of this illness so that people could see that you’re ill. Something like bruises or a rash, or big F’s showing up on your body would be perfect (“oh look…she has F’s all over her…poor thing, she has Fibromyalgia…go get the door for her”). I truly wouldn’t mind that if it would help a doctor believe in what I’m going through, trust me. But, as I always say…

there is always hope!

Explaining Exhaustion & Pain

Welcome!

Have you ever felt tired? So tired you could barely move?  Guess what…I have a new word for you!!!

Actually, I think there are many people in my life who this word could apply to…the warriors who struggle along every day despite the illnesses that try to hold them back. My friends and fellow Warriors…you are simply Quanked!!!!!!

Taken from Grandiloquent Words:
Quanked
(KWANK’d)
Adjective:
-Overpowered by fatigue.
-To have the strength reduced or exhausted, as by labour or exertion; become fatigued; be sleepy.Origin uncertainUsed in a sentence:
“After sprunting all weekend, then frooncing to get my chores done, I’m well quanked.”Quanked is a condition in which one’s energy and vitality has been consumed. One who is quanked has used up his or her bodily or mental resources, usually because of arduous or long-sustained effort. To feel quanked at the end of the day; quanked after a hard run; feeling rather quanked; quanked by a long vigil.-See forswunke
Now, in all seriousness, I think the word is an excellent one to describe how it feels to be exhausted when you live with an Invisible Illness. It’s beyond any type of tiredness you’ve ever felt before. It’s sleeping for 12 hours and waking up just as tired as you were before you fell asleep. It’s like climbing a mountain when all you did was go up one flight of stairs. When sleeping on the couch is easier than trying to get up to go to bed.
Now add in being in pain constantly and what do you get? You get you. You get me. You get people like us, who have been living in varying stages of agony for varying periods of time.  I’ve talked with several friends who live with Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain and Chronic Fatigue plus various other Invisible Illnesses and they’ve described their fatigue and pain like this:
  • It’s like swimming through concrete while being on fire at the same time (this was mine).
  • It’s like constantly having a “pins and needles” sensation that never goes away
  • I feel like I’m being randomly stabbed by a crazed maniac, but that crazed maniac is inside my body and I can’t stop it.
  • There are parts of my body that are numb and parts of my body that are burning and other parts of my body are throbbing and it all happens at the same time.
  • My brain is foggy and I can’t remember things like I used to. I hurt everywhere all the time and I’m always tired, no matter how much sleep I get. I don’t like this me that I am anymore.
  • I feel like I’ve been in a war, but you can’t see my wounds
  • Do you remember when you were young and you could stay up for hours and hours at night and never feel old? Yeah, well I can’t do that anymore. I’m lucky if I can stay up past 7pm and I don’t even have kids. I’m too tired and achy and sore.

There are ways you can try to improve your sleep with Fibro and Chronic Pain and the key is consistency:

  1. Sleep in a quiet dark room with a slightly cooler temperature than normal. Wear a sleep mask if necessary.
  2. Power down the electronics (TV, computer, Smartphone, etc.)  one hour before bedtime. The light from your bedside clock is also enough to disrupt your sleep, so check and see if there is a dim light setting, or face the clock away from you at night.
  3. Set a regular bedtime and wake up time. Establishing a schedule can help the body recognize good sleep habits.
  4. Consider downloading and listening to “sleep music”. There are many recordings that are free, including delta wave music which works with your brainwaves to help lull you into a natural sleep. A “white noise” machine may do the trick for you. These can be found in almost any electronics store and come with various sounds and settings, designed to help your body relax and let go.
  5. Limit Alcohol before bed.  You know you’ve read this before but for good reason. Alcohol may make you “feel” tired but actually will wake you up more often.
  6. Eat a healthy snack 45 minutes before bed. This would be something with protein in it like half a turkey sandwich, a small bowl of whole-grain low-sugar cereal, milk or yogurt or a banana. Eating like this before bed helps stave off the “midnight munchies” where you wake up starving in the wee hours of the night.
  7. Get some exercise! Regular exercise like walking or swimming can help the body to rest well in the evening. Start slow and build up over time. Work with a personal trainer if possible who can help you set up a routine tailored to your specific needs and abilities.
  8. Check with your Doctor to ensure there are no other underlying health issues that could be causing your fatigue (i.e.: thyroid issues, anemia, etc.).
  9. Don’t just lay there – get up! If you haven’t been able to fall asleep within 20 minutes, get up and leave the bedroom. Read or do something that doesn’t involve your TV or computer/Smartphone until you feel sleepy and then try again. The bedroom should be for sleep and sex only. The longer you lay awake in bed for, the more used to being awake in bed your body becomes. You need to break that cycle so getting out of bed and moving to a different room is the smart choice.
  10. Medications should be the last resort but are available to help if needed. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist for information about over the counter medications to try first.

If you tend to be a worrier at night, with a million things running through your head, allow yourself 10 minutes of this. Set an alarm and let your thoughts go wild. At the end of those 10 minutes, it’s time to stop. It takes practice but it gives you the opportunity to get all those worries out without mulling them over for hours. This isn’t the time for solutions, just the time to acknowledge that they’re there. At the end, say something like “I’m glad I had this time to worry about everything, but now I’m going to sleep on them. I’ll deal with them in the morning”. It tells your brain you’ve acknowledged the worries, and you’ll do something about them later. And off to sleep you go.

Another way to sleep better at night is to be organized during the day. The less you leave to chance during the daytime, the less you need to stress at night. “Did I sign Johnny’s papers for camp?”  “Where did I put the chequebook?” “When is the next Book Club meeting?”  Whether you use your smartphone, an organizer or the calendar at home, by having a regular system for keeping track of appointments, meetings and paperwork, you’ll stress less knowing you have it all in one place and you’ll sleep better at night.

Sleeping better isn’t always about being in less pain. It’s about doing all the things you can to make your environment as sleep-conducive as possible which may result in less pain. Removing as much stress as possible from your sleeping area is one of the biggest and best things you can do, so try and think of all the things that will make your bedroom area the most comfortable it can be. Perhaps there are items from this post that will help, such as pillows or a special scent. The key is, whatever you do, do it with consistency. None of us wants to feel quanked.

Remember…there is always hope

On Being BiPolar…

Hello again!

When I posted about the various conditions that I live with, I deliberately left out mentioning Bipolar Disorder. I decided that because it was such a huge part of my life, it needed a post of its own. And guess what…here it is!

I was first diagnosed as having Bipolar Disorder just a couple of years ago when I was 54, but the reality is I’ve probably been Bipolar since I first entered puberty at the age of 13. Up until that point, I was a fairly quiet girl who loved nothing more than grabbing an apple and a book and climbing the neighbours’ maple tree to read for hours.  I could easily go through a book a day and would stay up there until my mom called me down for dinner. Once I turned 13 though and my period started, that initial surge of hormones did something major and destructive to my body and I swear that’s when I experienced the onset of my Bipolar Disorder. I went from nice girl to rage monster in 0.2 seconds flat. I become a mouthy little bitch who ditched her books for boys, smoking and drinking and fell in with a group at Junior High that was definitely the wrong crowd. I lost my virginity just before turning 14 (at the drive-in watching Star Wars) and started to do drugs like pot and hash. I also began disappearing from home for days at a time, staying with friends after partying much to the dismay of my family.

I was fearless during this time. It certainly never occurred to me that any harm would come to me. I did what I wanted when I wanted, and if my Dad tried to discipline me, I just didn’t go home. My poor sister would often be sent to go looking for me, a task she obviously resented (and that I wasn’t aware of until we were grown-ups), but I was only found when I wanted to be found. I was still in school and managed to stay in classes until I finished Grade 11. Then I made the decision to hitchhike to the United States for some adventure, which led to me meeting the man who would become the father of my two children. I had many adventures during my time in the States, and most of it was likely fueled by my Bipolar state. There were a lot of crashes too, and I can remember times where I would be in desperate tears wondering what was wrong with me. Why was I acting like a cheap prostitute half the time and a modern-day adventuress the other? My impulsiveness was out of control and even today, it still is.

I came back to Canada from the States when I was 20 and the mom to my son Troy after discovering I was pregnant when he was 6 months old. The dad left us and after staying with a friend in Bellingham, WA for a few weeks, I realized that my best option was to come back home. Shirley, my friend in Bellingham had already done so much to try and help me, but I couldn’t keep taking advantage of that friendship. Her brother even offered to marry me to keep me in the country so Troy could claim his America birthright (Troy was born in Sacramento, CA on January 30, 1982), but as flattered as I was, I decided it was easier to move back to my own home country. Despite everything I had put him through, my Dad came down to help me bring my few meagre belongings back and to meet his grandson for the first time. I found a place to live in Surrey, BC, went on Social Assistance for a period of time and then gave birth to my daughter Ashley on May 1st of 1983.

Time passed, I met a man, married him after a few years of living together, divorced after 3 years, had one more long-term relationship and then finally met Ray. We went through a lot of ups and downs in our relationship, partly because of my having kids and he was a bachelor, and partly because of my undiagnosed Bipolar Disorder. He even insisted we go for counselling at one point when things were really bad for us, which definitely helped us, but it didn’t change the fact that I still had incredible highs and lows in life and I never knew which version of me we were going to get.

Fast forward to now. I finally received a proper diagnosis at the age of 54 and what a relief that was – to finally have a name for what I was going through. It took some time to realize that I had had this going back to my early teens but there’s no denying it, not when I compare then to now and the symptoms I experience. My highs and lows mirror what I went through as a teenager, except now I’m on medication to help regulate those mood swings. Dr Leong put me on a medication called Seroquel which helped immediately – what a relief! Once I had some clarity back in my life, it was easy to see what I had been missing and what I had been doing. It was embarrassing as well. I could remember some of the highs and the impulsive behaviours – like shopping. I would shop online at 2am for things I really didn’t need but wanted nonetheless. It’s not that we couldn’t afford it, but it was all just frivolous stuff… jewellery, clothing, things like that. I mean, where do I go that I need to dress up? How many dresses does one lady actually need to own? Plenty according to me! And I’d conveniently “forget” to enter these transactions in our budgeting tracker so I could pretend I hadn’t spent any money.

If you’ve read my other posts, you’ll know that after a long period of being on the Seroquel with no problems, I began to have hallucinations while taking it that were directly related to the drug. I would hear music playing when no one else would hear anything. It was very distinctive and alternated between classical, jazz and country (which I don’t like). There wasn’t any singing, just music but after a while, I started hearing voices too. I was seen by a Psychiatrist to ensure I wasn’t developing Schizophrenia, but once given the all clear on that, my doctor decided to do an EEG and MRI, to make sure we hadn’t missed anything, like a brain tumour or scar tissue in the brain. I posted about that here and I haven’t heard back regarding the MRI – possibly because there’s nothing to mention, and possibly because Dr Leong just moved to a new practice and I haven’t heard from him yet. He is keeping me on as a patient, so that’s good news and he’ll keep Ray too since his new office is in Mill Bay which is about a 30-minute drive away from Langford and Ray will need to take time off work to drive me there. Transit is not an option.

At any rate, as I’ve mentioned, we had to stop the Seroquel and I started a new medication called Abilify. I have been SO happy with this new drug. I’ve regained some of my energy, I’ve found my interest in doing things around the house again, such as housekeeping and crafting and things like that. Look at what I made the other day:

IMG_0470

Our Nest

This is a multi-media art piece I worked on for a week, just a bit at a time. Sorry, it’s a bit glare-y, it’s framed with glass on top. This is the first thing I’ve worked on in over 2 years so you can tell how long the Seroquel dampened my emotions and interests and how the Abilify brought back ME!

I hate the fact it’s taking drugs to make me feel things again but I’d rather be on medication than not. I don’t like bouncing between raging and being depressed. Or being manically high and overly cheerful and then crashing and sleeping for days on end.  My insomnia is already bad, and I’ve gone up to 8 days without sleep. At least with Abilify, my sleep patterns are closer to normal than they’ve ever been (but still pretty wonky!).

No, it’s not easy to have a Bipolar Disorder, but it’s a part of me for life and I’ve finally learned to accept it. Acceptance is the hardest thing but without it, there is nothing but stress. By realizing this is a part of me, the same way I have silver in my hair, or I have the ability to sing, it normalizes the disorder and makes it more natural. I go a long way in making others feel comfortable with who I am as a total person as well. I don’t want people to see parts of me, like the Manic part and the Depressed part. I want them to see the whole me and that includes all the parts, good and bad, high and low. Its taken a long time, but I’m finally there. It took the proper diagnosis and the proper medication, but the real me is finally back again.

It’s about time.

There is always hope.

Good Advice…

I want to share with you some valuable advice from another Pain Warrior. This is a person who lives with Chronic Pain from Fibromyalgia and his name is  Tom Seaman from The Mighty.  He just shared these thoughts recently and they struck such a chord with me that I had to share them with you.

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I used to blame myself for having Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain and not being able to do things like everyone else. I figured there must have been something I had done in my past to cause it. I was a pretty rebellious teenager and did a lot of heavy partying, including drinking and drugs. I was in a very abusive relationship with my first “love”, the man who became the father of my two children. I have no doubt these things may have contributed to the stresses in my life, along with a huge and ugly surge of hormones when I started my period at the age of 13 (and turned from a normal young girl into a rage monster…no lie, you can ask my sister!).

As other stresses entered my life, my Chronic Pain got worse. So did my Osteoarthritis and my Chronic Fatigue. I was a single parent for a period of time and worried about my kids being on their own so much while I commuted three hours a day and worked at a job I loved. There were other relationships including a marriage that didn’t work out before I finally met my (now) husband Ray who is the finest man I could have ever hoped for. All of it took a toll on my health though, and I believe that a surgery I had in 2004 was the catalyst for my real downfall.

I had been suffering from severe Gastric Reflux Disease…GERD. I thought it was normal to eat a handful of Tums at a time and so had done nothing about my heartburn until Ray convinced me to talk to my doctor. She sent me for tests that showed I had a very severe form of GERD and recommended that I see a surgeon to have a surgery called a Nissen Fundoplication. It was named after the doctor who invented it, and basically what they do is take the top of the stomach and wrap it around the bottom of the esophagus, effectively preventing anything from backing up into the esophagus again. This means no more acid reflux and no more heartburn. It also means you lose your ability to vomit, so if you ever come down with the flu or become pregnant, you are in huge trouble. If you are dry heaving or attempting to vomit, the strain on the Fundoplication can stretch it enough that it loosens so you do bring up the contents of the stomach, and need to have the surgery redone. In my case, I need to go to the hospital and have an NG tube placed down my nose and into my stomach to empty the contents…a procedure I’ve had done 3 times now, so I’m a pro at swallowing the NG tube now.

I went ahead and had the surgery, and for what it was done for, it worked extremely well. I’ve had no problems with heartburn except a very rare exception every now and then. Unfortunately, I suffered nerve damage in my sternum area where an incision was made to hold one of the instruments in the surgery and which caused me tremendous pain for many months afterwards. I was drugged up on morphine pills (plus pills for nausea and itching) for so long that my friends could barely recognize who I was. It got to the point that I had to be hospitalized to wean off the morphine because I was hallucinating that I could hear a band playing, and I kept looking behind my computer to try and find them. The doctors were at the point they were going to crack open my chest to try and find the problem when the Thoracic Surgeon suggested trying Gabapentin for nerve damage and it worked. Unfortunately, that 11 months of pain and misery put me into such a Fibro flare that I don’t think I’ve ever properly recovered from it.

I went into quite a depressive spiral during that time. I was off work for months…I tried to go back but had to take more time off. I missed working…it’s always been my passion and to not be there with my team was hard. I was missing church and my Lifegroup, and missing my friends and times of social gatherings…I was just miserable. Eventually, I got better – well enough to go back to work, etc. but I’ve never felt 100% again. A year later, my body decided to go rogue on me and I ended up in 2006/2007 having 3 separate surgeries in a 6 month period of time; my left ovary burst, my gallbladder gave out and then my right ovary burst, putting me into surgical menopause (I’d had my uterus out at age 28). That in itself was traumatizing, so again, my Fibromyalgia kicked into high gear and I was flaring badly. I had one more surgery in 2007 that actually had to be cancelled while I was on the operating table as the Anesthesiologist couldn’t find a vein for the IV. I have tiny crappy veins and I’d been left waiting all day without liquid. No wonder.

So, my poor body went through the wringer during that period between 2006-early 2008 and I blamed myself so much. I don’t know why, there was nothing I could have done to prevent anything, but still…it just seemed like I was constantly ill or recuperating and I was never able to go out with Ray when he wanted to. All I wanted to do was sleep or rest and I felt like the worst wife in the world. All the chores were left for him, I had no energy to do anything…and yet he never once complained. He truly is the most remarkable man, and I know God picked him especially for me. Ray takes the best care of me and I am so grateful.

When I read the words that Tom Seaman posted, I was reminded of all of this all over again. It’s easy to get into a “blaming yourself” mindset but nothing we’ve done is our fault. Fibro picks its own victims (ooh, I hate that word) and we have to live with the consequences. I know we all try our best to live with it and make the most of life, but we have a tendency to try and fault ourselves I think. We feel guilty that we can’t be there for our families, our friends, our employers, our volunteer work. We drop hobbies and things we enjoy because we just don’t have the energy to do them anymore. We see others picking up the slack for us, and there can be a sense of shame. And often, we retreat because depression kicks us hard.

Today, I say NO MORE!  We have been dealt an ugly hand, but IT IS NOT OUR FAULT. If you are feeling these feelings of guilt, shame, anger, depression or other negatives, STOP. Nothing you have done has caused your Fibro. If you are living with Chronic Pain or Chronic Fatigue, accept it. It is what it is. You can’t change it so you have to accept it. The only other alternative is to wallow in misery and I don’t think that’s an acceptable alternative…and neither do you, honestly. Take Tom’s words to heart, and my words too…

THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE!!!!

Conditionally Speaking…

Welcome back!

I’ve talked specifically about a few of the conditions I live with, but I thought today I’d give you an overview of the 13 different health issues that make up who I am. Some are serious, some are just an inconvenience, but all of them are a part of me. Here’s the list:

  • Chronic Pain
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia / Myofascial Pain
  • Osteoarthritis (in all my major joints)
  • Forestier’s Disease (aka D.I.S.H.)
  • Type 2 Diabetes (on insulin)
  • Trigeminal Neuralgia
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Gastroparesis
  • Internal Adhesions/Scar Tissue/Chronic Pelvic Pain
  • High Cholesterol
  • Brachydactyly Type E
  • Raynaud’s Disease
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Vulvar Intraepithelial Neoplasia 3 (VIN 3) – now healed

So I’ve talked about my Chronic Pain from Fibromyalgia and Osteoarthritis, and when I say I have arthritis in all my major joints, I’m serious. I have it in my shoulders, elbows, wrists and fingers, my cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine, left hip (right hip has been replaced), knees, ankles and toes. Some areas like my left hip and right knee are quite serious and will need replacing, but the rest I’ll have to live with. Meanwhile, my thoracic spine has a different type of bone condition called Forestier’s Disease or D.I.S.H., which stands for Diffuse (Widespread) Idiopathic (Of Unknown Cause) Skeletal (Referring to the Skeleton) Hyperostosis (Excessive Growth of Bone). It forms in the shape of a bone spur, but instead of a normal spur that could be removed, it looks more like melted candle wax on the spine, so nothing can be done about it. I also have regular bone spurs on my right hand – I had one removed from inside my pointer finger as it grew through a tendon, and there is a second one on the outside of my middle finger growing through the knuckle. Both have been very painful and interfere(d) with typing and writing. Of course, I have weird fingers anyway…which leads to another thing on my list.

Brachydactyly.  Pronounced Brackee Dack Til ee, there are several types of this disorder and I have Type E.  It’s described as such, from Wikipedia:

Brachydactyly (Greek βραχύς = “short” plus δάκτυλος = “finger”), is a medical term which literally means “shortness of the fingers and toes” (digits). The shortness is relative to the length of other long bones and other parts of the body. Brachydactyly is an inherited, usually dominant trait. It most often occurs as an isolated dysmelia, but can also occur with other anomalies as part of many congenital syndromes.

Brachydactyly.svg

I was born missing the bone as shown in Type E, but it wasn’t apparent until I was about 5 or 6 years old and the ring fingers on both hands stopped “growing”. Each one is about a half inch longer than my pinkie, and that’s it. When I make a fist, there is no knuckle formation either.  You can see the flatness in the photo beside my hand.

PamFingers2  PamKnuckles

People always think my ring finger is swollen, but it’s actually the extra skin that would have covered the finger if it had grown to full length. My feet are the same way as well:

PamToes1

I can’t actually bend any of my toes individually – if I try to bend them, they all bend at the same time.  The second and third toe are mildly webbed on each foot and then you can see how severely affected the “ring toe” is affected. That’s because of the missing bone in the foot, just like the ring finger. The pinkie toe is basically normal. Each foot is the same.

Now because this is a genetic condition, I was quite interested to see if my kids or grandkids would have the same thing, but no…I’m the only one who has presented with it. I was adopted at birth and always wondered if anyone in my birth family had it too. I was able to find my birth mom approximately 15 years ago, and again, I am the only one on her side of the family with this condition. She doesn’t know about my birth Father’s side, but I believe I may have tracked down a family member for him and I’m just waiting to see if she contacts me. His name is Arvay Bernath and he was born and raised in Nanoose Bay, BC on Vancouver Island. He dated my mom Bonnie Rebecca Anderson from Parksville, BC on the Island and they were engaged when she became pregnant with me. Her dad didn’t approve and so they broke up and I was put up for adoption. Arvay appears to have passed away in 1997, but from information, I found on MyHeritage.com there is a relative named Lily Bernath who started a search page. I left her my contact info, but she hadn’t been on the page since 2017, so who knows if she’ll get my info or not. At any rate, he or his family may or may not have Brachydactyly too, or I could just be an anomaly.

So, what else is on that list. Ah yes, the ever lovely Gastroparesis, which means (again according to Wikipedia):

Gastroparesis (GP also called delayed gastric emptying) is a medical condition consisting of a paresis (partial paralysis) of the stomach, resulting in food remaining in the stomach for an abnormally long time. Normally, the stomach contracts to move food down into the small intestine for additional digestion. The vagus nerve controls these contractions. Gastroparesis may occur when the vagus nerve is damaged and the muscles of the stomach and intestines do not properly function. Food then moves slowly or stops moving through the digestive tract.

Now, the way they determine if you have this or not is through something called a motility test. In my case, they wanted me off ALL of my meds first to make sure they weren’t contributing to the problem, so for 2 days prior to my test I had to quit my medications cold turkey. That included my meds for Fibromyalgia, my anti-psychotics AND my opioid narcotic for pain. Do you have any idea what going through withdrawal is like? It was horrendous. I had the shakes, the runs, I couldn’t eat or sleep, and for those 2 days, I alternated between thinking I was dying and wanting to die.

On the day of the test, I went to the hospital to where the Nuclear testing is done. I knew that I was going to be eating an egg sandwich with a radioactive tracer in it and that tracer would be monitored through a series of special x-rays, but I explained to the nurse that everything I ate was immediately running right through me like water. She was so sweet…she “reserved” me a private bathroom, brought me my sandwich and told me to eat as much as I could while I sat there. Talk about embarrassing!!! It’s embarrassing writing about it!!! But, I managed just over 3/4’s of it, which she said was enough. She brought me into the x-ray room where there was a gurney to lay on, and then gave me a warm blanket. The first pictures were taken every 2 minutes, so I just sat. Then they took them every 5 minutes apart, then 10 minutes apart, then 15, then 30 and finally 2 pictures 1 hour apart each. In between, I slept on the gurney, and my nurse brought me as many warm blankets as I wanted. She also brought me a cold wet face cloth for my forehead. When it was all over, I gave her a big hug and thanked her for being so kind. Then I took my medications asap!!!!

The tests showed that I have a moderate degree of low motility so my food sits in my stomach for a long period of time before moving on to the intestines. This explains why I always look bloated and pregnant. There are medications that can be taken, but I’ve asked Dr. Leong if we can just hold off and wait on that for now. This is more of an inconvenience than anything right now, and I just don’t want any more drugs in my system than I absolutely need. If the problem becomes hugely bothersome, we’ll revisit it, but in the meantime, I’ll just try to watch what I eat, drink more water and try and exercise a bit more.

Which leads to Hypothyroidism. For a long time, I assumed that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was the only reason for my constant exhaustion, as my Thyroid numbers always came back normal on blood tests done every three months. One day though, my thyroid went rogue and those numbers were crazy. I had been especially tired…like dragging my ass tired, needed toothpicks to keep my eyes open tired

DraggingMyButt

Oohhh, that is NOT a good look on me!!! Dr. Leong put me on meds and I could feel a difference in a very short period of time. On my next 3 month course of blood work, everything was back to normal, so now I take Synthroid on a daily basis for the rest of my life, to ensure I have a properly working system. So glad that was an easy fix!!

The other few things on the list are all fairly minor. I have had a number of pelvic surgeries over the years, so there is a lot of internal scar tissue left over that has attached itself to things like my bladder and bowel, etc. There are occasions when I move a certain way, and those adhesions stretch very painfully – it feels like velcro being ripped apart except it’s my body doing the ripping. It takes my breath away sometimes, it’s so painful, but it only lasts for a minute or two, then it’s gone. The High Cholesterol is managed easily with medication (too much ice cream!). The Reynauds is something that happens when my fingers and toes are exposed to the cold…they go bone white and lose sensation, so I have to be careful when getting things from the freezer or being in cooler windy weather, etc.

And finally, the Vulvar Intraepithelial Neoplasia 3 (VIN 3) which is now healed…well, we talked about that in the post entitled I’ve Got The Lady Garden Blues. 

So there you have it. Thirteen separate conditions with one healed and Chronic Pain is a part of 7 of them. It’s a tough road to walk, I have to be honest. I live with pain 24/7 and have for almost 30 years now. I’m going to do a separate blog post about my Fibromyalgia because that’s been my predominant pain for so many years, but suffice to say that you have to be mighty strong to live like this, to get through the day to day of actually living in pain. I know some people who just couldn’t. They tried so, so hard, but in the end, their pain was too much for them, and they took their own lives.

I’m a huge advocate for assisted suicide for people who live with severe, unretractable pain. We take better care of our pets when they are hurting than we do our humans, and I think that is just plain wrong. I believe every human has the right to choose to die with dignity and I wish our Government would get on board with this. I know things are happening, and we’re getting closer, but it’s not well within reach for everyone.

Thanks for indulging me and letting me share more about me with you. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them here. And remember…

There is always hope!

Furiously Happy – A Tribute

I’m doing a tribute today to an amazing woman named Jenny Lawson. You may have heard of her. She’s an incredible writer and the author of the books “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened”, “Furiously Happy” & “You Are Here”.

 

She writes about her own struggles with depression and man, can she write!!! Her sense of humour is incredibly warped and twisted (just the way I like it), she blogs as The Bloggess (thebloggess.com) and there are several Facebook fan groups as well, one of which I belong to. We are her Tribe. We get her. We understand what she goes through and experiences, and even if some of us don’t live with depression, most of us know someone who does. For me, it’s my husband.

I wrote this piece one day when I was feeling overwhelmingly happy that I had found this particular Tribe to call my own. Here goes:

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I live with several health issues that leave me in constant chronic pain: Fibromyalgia, Osteoarthritis in all my major joints, Myofascial Pain, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Forestier’s Disease, Trigeminal Neuralgia, Diabetes Type 2 (on insulin) and Bipolar Disorder. I had Total Hip Replacement on Feb. 7/17 (with my left hip needing to be done as well and possible knee surgery on my right knee later on) and am having a good recovery. I am still in pain, and always will be.

I used to think that my “furiously happy” would come when I no longer lived in pain. Its only been in the last year or so that I’ve come to realize that will never happen. I will NEVER be without pain…that’s just the nature of my body. And when I realized that there would always be the pain, I thought at first “then I will never truly be happy”. I have an amazing husband, whom I love beyond measure. I have 2 grown up kids that I still worry about and three grandsons that I never get to see because of distance. We keep in touch though with social media, and that’s a good thing, but it’s far from being furiously happy.

Because of my health, I had to give up a career that I adored…Admin Support at the Executive level as well as being a Certified Event Planner. I loved my job with every fibre of my being, but came to a point where I physically couldn’t manage it any longer, and with my chronic fatigue, would never be able to manage again. Everything in my life seemed to be about loss…losing a job, losing my hobbies, losing professional relationships, losing friendships, losing mobility, losing at life.

Hubby and I decided in 2013 to make a move to Vancouver Island from Calgary after the weather in Calgary became too much for my body to handle…too cold, too much snow, too long of winters, too icy…too, too, too. We moved here without a job for Ray or even knowing what our apartment looked like – we rented it sight unseen. Slowly, we started making Victoria our home – walking by the ocean, going for coffee or dinner at various places. I soon realized how much I loved it here, even though there were really no friends to share it with (two couples and one girlfriend and that was all that I knew – and even then we rarely saw each other).

One day, I found the Jenny Lawson book Furiously Happy. I have never laughed so hard in my life. I gave the book to Hubby to read and HE has never laughed so much…and he’s not one to show much emotion ever, good or bad. But he laughed and often. From there, I found her website and her other book and then all of sudden, there was THIS group. People like me. People who were struggling and depressed and suffering mentally and physically and I thought to myself “God, thank you for bringing me home”. Because I realized quickly that I seemed to be good at encouraging other people in their struggles, so I didn’t have to think about mine. I could offer advice or words of comfort, or just the right kitten picture and something would change for the good in that other life. And MY life felt better because of it.

And then I knew, the way that I became Furiously Happy was by being myself and sharing my life with those of you here who needed what I had to offer…a shoulder to cry on, a hug, some understanding, appreciation…whatever you want to call it. I became Furiously Happy because OF Furiously Happy. And now I have my Hubby and my family and my friends and my volunteering AND MY TRIBE!!

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Now, the reason I’m giving a shout out to Jenny today is that she has been undergoing a new treatment for her depression called Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).  It’s described like this: (TMS) is a noninvasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain to improve symptoms of depression. TMS is typically used when other depression treatments haven’t been effective.

Jenny started treatment 2 weeks ago…and people…IT’S WORKING!!!!!

I want you to go to her blog and read all about it. If you know anyone who is experiencing major depression in their lives and no other treatment has worked, then this MIGHT be an answer for them too. I admire this woman so much, and I’m so delighted that this is working for her, I simply had to share. Please go check it out, buy her books (you will laugh, trust me) and find your tribe if you haven’t already.

If you live with Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, or Invisible Illness of any kind, you can’t go through it alone. You need to find a support group. If you look me up on Facebook, I can introduce you to the Fibro group I belong to. We support everyone who is in pain. And if you’re a fan of Jenny Lawson and want to join the group on Facebook I belong to, use the contact page on the blog here, and let me know. And remember…

there is always hope