Living with Chronic Pain is no picnic. Intractable pain day after day wears down the body, the mind and the spirit and it can be extremely difficult finding anything good in the experience, but I have found a few things I wanted to share with you. Remember, these are my own personal thoughts.
If you’re a spiritual person, it can deepen your faith. Now, in all honesty, Chronic Pain with no resolution can have the opposite effect and have you turning away from your Higher Power because you haven’t been healed, but I tend to think in the positives anyway. I believe that having Chronic Pain helps you to draw closer to your Higher Power as you find something…anything… to cling to when times are bad. God is an excellent listener and doesn’t mind if you yell at Him – He already knows you’re doing it, so what’s the point of pretending. Go ahead and be angry at Him. Yell, rant, rave, swear…do whatever makes you feel better. He can handle it. And then when you’re done, take a moment to thank Him for listening to you without judgement.
You develop inner strength. Nobody develops inner strength like a person who lives with Chronic Pain. As the hours and days and years go by and nothing about your physical situation changes, there is resilience. It’s the necessary component that allows you to pick yourself back up after setbacks and keep going. To say to the world “I’m not done yet”. It’s the part of you that refuses to give up when others might say “it’s too hard”. Only you can determine your own resilience and whether or not you can keep going, but so far, you’ve had a pretty excellent track record to keep going. You are brave.
Patience really is a virtue. In a world where everything needs to be had RIGHTNOW!! patience seems to be an old-fashioned quality. A person with Chronic Pain learns about patience very quickly – an oxymoron if ever there was one. You wait for appointments, you wait for doctors, you wait for your pain to subside, you wait for tests, you wait for results, you wait to feel better, you wait for answers, you wait, you wait, you wait. Depending on how complex your situation is, there may be several doctors involved in your care, so you wait for all of them to coordinate their schedules to see you and treat you. You wait endless hours for flare-ups to subside. For sleep to come. For pain to stop. For nausea to disappear. For bones to heal. And in all of this, you learn patience because you have no other choice.
You finally have time to… When you’re feeling up to it, you finally have time to do those small things that you never had time for earlier: watch a favourite show on TV, read a favourite book, phone a friend for a chat, go for a massage, get your hair cut, organize the junk drawer, clean up the hobby room, work on a craft, write a letter to send via snail mail, look up a simple recipe to try that isn’t exhausting, order some flowers, send a love note to your spouse, go through your kid’s baby books or old photos, play a computer game, take an online course, go to an exercise class…the list is as endless as your imagination.
You’re forced to slow down your pace. If you’re anything like me, most people with Chronic Pain or an Invisible Illness probably were Type A Personalities at some point in their lives – always on the go, go, go. If you were a doer who was always busy before, you’ve been given a gift to slow down and appreciate life around you. I became fully disabled in October 2009 but probably should have gone on disability about 2 years sooner. I had to really push through those last 2 years, to the point that I often lost the thread of a conversation right in the middle – I wouldn’t have a clue what we were talking about. I couldn’t manage more than one task at a time when I was famous for my multi-tasking abilities and I would jeopardize safety in firefighting drills by not remembering the steps to take to get out safely. By taking Disability and being forced to slow down, I was able to regain those skills again, in a more family oriented situation.
What gifts would you add to this list that you’ve received since experiencing Chronic Pain or Invisible Illness? Does this list ring true for you? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
TRIGGER WARNING – I AM TALKING ABOUT SUICIDE
I have a poem I want to share because I wanted to reflect on the growing number of suicides that are happening in the Chronic Pain world. People with Chronic Pain (PwCP) are not getting adequate treatment and are suffering desperately, leading many to take illicit drugs off the street, which can lead to drug overdoses, or to just outright commit suicide, because their pain has become too much for them to manage.
Marijuana is becoming legal on October 17th in Canada and medicinal marijuana has been available for some time. There are several states in the US where cannabis is legal as well. Many patients find that this is a great treatment for their pain, but for those that don’t even have this option, what is left for them? Inadequate treatment plans, mismanagement of their conditions and a crackdown on necessary treatment with opioid medications because of fears of addiction. It is medically impossible to become addicted to an opioid when you’re body actually needs it. Addiction happens when you no longer NEED the drug, but you continue taking it because your body develops a craving for it.
Data indicates that from the approximately 36,000 suicides that happen in America every year, 10-15% of those are from PwCP*. That’s a powerful statistic and one that really caught my eye.
If you are living with Chronic Pain or know someone who is, and are having a hard time coping, please don’t keep it to yourself. Ask for help. Let someone know you are struggling. There is NO SHAME in admitting you are having dark thoughts or in a depressive state. I have gone through depression and so has my husband. Because of my Bipolar Disorder, I have to be on medication 24/7 or I will disappear into Manic/Depressive cycles that cause great despair in my life. The manic phases are sheer chaos and the depressive phases are dark and very scary and I have come very close to not wanting to live in those moments. It’s only because I have a great husband and a great doctor that I am still here, alive and kicking and cheering on the people like me, who live with chronic illness and mental illness and are doing life every day and surviving.
TRIGGER WARNING – this poem is about suicide
It’s hard to continue to fight and stay strong
It’s scary in dark places, where you linger so long
It’s cold and its brutal and you’ve given up hope
When you find yourself at the end of the rope
Too many times, you have been to this place
Too many times, with the tears on your face
Begging for mercy, all the words that you’ve said
And this time you’ll be using the gun at your head
You’re too tired to listen to the love all around
The words smash together til they make no more sound
It all has no meaning to you anymore
As the drugs take effect while you crash to the floor
How can I reach you, to show that I care?
How can I save you, how do I dare?
I’ll risk our whole friendship to do the right thing
While you stand on the bridge and go for a fling
In hindsight, it seems like your problems were small
You just couldn’t see it, so big was the wall
The gap that you’ve left can never be filled
The sorrow I feel will never be stilled
And those left behind will be mourning in pain
If only we had time just to talk to you again
We’d try harder to reach you, to bring back the light
We’d do everything different, we’d not stop the fight
Until we had you back safely, on this side of grave
Oh the things we would do, if you we could save.
There is always hope
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 relievers, heroin, 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?
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.