I found this article which I had written about on Facebook before I had a blog. The first time I read about this girl’s story I felt so alone, so overwhelmed and out of control and consumed by pain that I cried the entire time I was reading it. I didn’t yet realize how many of us were going through the same thing, or how many friends who truly get what chronic pain means that I would meet along the way. I just knew the desperation, anger, and denial that I was piled under. Fortunately, times have changed, or at least my perspective has. I can still really sympathize with this girl, and understand where she is coming from, and I am still incredibly grateful to her for writing her story at a time when I felt hopelessly isolated. This may have been the first time that I realized if more people were less afraid to speak out about chronic pain, we might be treated like human beings, eventually.
My Story: Looking for a New Doctor
National Pain Report
May 26th, 2014 by Kitty Taylor
I’ve had chronic pain as far back as I can remember. It got unbearable a few years ago after a serious injury. My body won’t forget the pain and it feels fresh as day one without medication.
I recently moved to Colorado from Nevada after being with the same doctor for many years. Now I’m having a hard time finding a new doctor willing to prescribe the medication I’ve been taking. I’ve found plenty of clinics that say they specialize in pain management, when in reality they are rehab clinics. Their sole purpose is to wean you off narcotics and put you on highly addicting medication, such as Suboxone or methadone. Some clinics are treating pain with Suboxone long term. That was not the intended use.
Then there are pain clinics, usually the spine centers, that only do injections and don’t prescribe drugs. I wish they would distinguish in their business category what they’re really about.
The first clinic I thought would be helpful turned out to be a Suboxone clinic. On my second appointment there they told me outright that I wouldn’t be continuing on the same medication and that I would be going on Suboxone. If I didn’t agree that, I was told they’d cut my doses so low I couldn’t handle it anymore. So I canceled my next appointment with them.
Drugs like methadone and Suboxone (which may or may not help the pain) are just as dangerous and the addictions to them are intense. The withdrawals are unreal. Coming off the medication I’m on now would be painful, but having to come off one of those could cause months, not just days, of withdrawal and pain.
Not only that, but imagine if you couldn’t get your next dose of methadone or Suboxone, you could end up in a coma! Any doctor that says there aren’t side effects and the withdrawals aren’t bad is lying.
It’s been four months since my last appointment with my helpful doctor and I’m still looking for a new one. One clinic I had a referral to, the doctor refused to accept me as a patient. It’s taking so long to find a doctor and I’ve got to find one quick! There are so few listed and so few that prescribe narcotics or are honest about what they practice. If you are rehab clinic you should not be advertising that you manage pain.
I’ve certainly been made to feel like a drug seeker and nothing more since I’ve moved. My last doctor never made me feel that way. He was caring and compassionate from day one. The only complaint I have about the visits there was that the DEA had them scared to prescribe medications that I had been on for a long time. My medicine and schedules were altered based on word from the DEA, not what my doctor felt was right for me and not what was working for me.
My daily function is greatly decreased since my medications were screwed with and it’s getting worse. First they took away Soma and it was painful trying to find another muscle relaxer. Even the one I’m on now sucks, but it’s better than nothing. Some of them I think were causing more muscle spasms and cramps. It was so bad I looked like I was having a seizure.
Then they couldn’t prescribe more than four oxycodone pills a day when I was on six. They couldn’t even prescribe Demerol anymore because the DEA and the county were having so many problems with it. The hospitals stopped keeping it and the pharmacies stopped ordering it because of theft and robberies!
And this was my response, a year ago:
“This is so much like my story. The way she talks about having to deal with “pain clinics” who only push methadone, or who only push Lyrica and Savella, or who only do injections. None of them have the ability to actually treat acute flare ups. I know from personal experience that even when a procedure at a pain clinic goes wrong and they have caused you intense and unrelenting pain, they do not offer any help, just tell you to calm down, because you’re scaring other patients, and “if it’s really that bad” to go to the emergency room. Pain clinics are a gimmick. A glimmer of hope that turns out to be bullshit when you get up close, every time.
I can’t do cortisone injections, I can’t take most antidepressants, nor steroids, nor do I care to, I am taking Lyrica and two different muscle relaxers at the same time for spasms and I also take all the usual Vitamin D, B-12, magnesium, zinc, rosehips, tart cherry extract, etc, that seem to help maybe? Who knows. The only time I have ever gotten any relief from this pain is after six hours waiting in agony at an Emergency Room, watching junkies and fakers get treated with more dignity than you, because you refused the little cup full of oxycodone and valium (I had already taken my personal comfortable limit of oxy while waiting in the ER, and I told them so, and I don’t do well with valium, it causes panic attacks and it’s written so in my charts if they had payed attention). One time I was told rudely to leave the ER, and then billed $600+ for the pleasure of being treated like human garbage by a very bitchy ER doctor after waiting many hours to be seen. Twice I received actual pain relief that lasted maybe five hours and was the only relief from the hell of fibro that I have had in two years. I haven’t been to the ER in over a year, but I think about how the ER is always full of people who feel better than me. The ER is a very, very, VERY last resort at this point, however.
I’m not even functioning anymore, I’ve been in way too much pain for way too long. I’m just trying to get to a place where I have enough moments in a day to take care of myself properly. I’m not even close to that level on my current treatments. Most days I can’t brush my hair or take a shower. Most days I spend two hours doing a task that should take fifteen minutes. Most days I am overwhelmed and unable to advocate for myself.
The point she makes that I think cannot be overstated is that chronic pain patients don’t abuse medications. Then we wouldn’t have them when we need them. The pain is real and we would never want to not have the ability to treat it.
We are just as scared of finally finding the right drug (can it please be a non-opiate, non-psychoactive drug?) that makes the pain bearable only to have it taken away again, as we are terrified of the pain we are in continuing unchecked. And we are scared of addiction, too. And scared for our organs. And scared for the changes in us caused by taking pain medication. We’ve weighed all that. The pain warrants the medication, or we wouldn’t take it.
The pain is already changing us, rewiring our brains, making us shells of the people we were before, and turning our bodies against us. If there were something better, we would certainly take that instead.
I understand her panic and her logic and I really feel for her.”
Phew, so that’s me a year ago. I don’t regret writing any of that, because at that time it was all true from where I was standing. It’s important to note that I was extremely depressed, and had been disappointed and disillusioned so many times. I had a primary care doctor who believed I was faking, no way of seeking relief except the ER, and I very much didn’t understand what was happening to me. At the time, open therapy was doing very little for me. I spent more time staring at my psychologist in total confusion than I did processing or talking things through. She would ask me questions like “what kinds of self-care routines are you doing on a regular basis?” and I would look at her like she had grown a second head, and she would push, “you must be able to think of one self-care activity, I don’t care how small it is.” I was still confused. Self-care? As in, my needs had to take precedent over others before I was at the point of throwing massive temper tantrums, crying uncontrollably in public and at work, and having ten panic attacks in one day? How was I supposed to even start? What did it all mean? Was this lady crazy? I was supposed to get better, not spend more time wallowing in “my needs”.
That’s my thinking a year ago. The level of brain fog I was enveloped in at that time is pretty evident, and there isn’t a lot of built in logic to my ranting, but I wasn’t even aware yet that my cognitive abilities had been taking a nosedive over the past two years. I knew I had Fibromyalgia, but I didn’t know much about it or much about what my life would look like in a year. To be honest, when I typed my response to that writer on National Pain Report, I didn’t even know if I’d be here in a year. Two girls with Ehler-Danlos Syndrome responded to my posted response on Facebook; one is a dear friend now but was someone I had just met at the time, and another I was too self-involved to reach out to in return. Currently, I am haunted that I didn’t reach back, more than I am bothered by anything that I did write. Reading through this outpouring of my own overly raw emotions made me wince, but seeing how I ignored another spoonie’s attempt to connect gave me actual regret. Both girls have EDS and encouraged me to push forward to a diagnosis.
I still don’t have the diagnosis, but I am treating my joints with much more care and attention and I am seeking physical strength instead of allowing fear of injury to mandate every activity. I also do finally understand what self-care is and have a long, long list of ways to recognize and put disordered thinking in perspective, but I am still learning more every single day. I would no longer characterize my life as hellish. Some days are indeed horrible, but I have good days too, and I am more prone to seize them now than a year ago.
I feel gratitude and empowerment when I take care of myself these days, not selfish guilt, but it took reframing my thoughts, repeatedly. Of course I still forget to make myself a top priority sometimes. There are always improvements to be made, but I am confident (another new development) that I will continue to make necessary changes and seek out information that helps me cope. In the mean time I am trying to find joy in small wonders. Any little victory is cause for celebration. Today, I’m happy that I have made progress since my diagnosis. Visible, written down, real progress. All the hard work has been overwhelming at times, it has even felt like I have slid backwards more than I have been able to put one foot in front of the other and keep climbing, but in one short year, the small changes I have made have taken me a long way from not knowing if I wanted to be here in a year, to planning for the next five, ten, twenty years of my life. I am even starting a business with a close friend, something I thought was ripped out of my grasp by illness which has actually become much more possible because of the life adjustments I have made to accommodate the chronic pain that dogs my every move.
It just proves that accepting and processing what illness means for me personally, minus the guilty nagging voice in the back of my head, has made all the difference. I think others around me may be frustrated by how little I can seem to accomplish in a certain amount of time, but I now realize that this isn’t their journey. It’s my journey, at my pace, and that’s healthier than continuing to constantly feel like a failure for struggling to keep up with everyone around me. I don’t have a magic finish line that I can get to and be “recovered”. The best I can do is the best I can do, end of story. I will work with what I’ve been given, and I will be grateful for what I can do on any given day. Sometimes that means just breathing in and out for hours, nothing else, and sometimes it means charging at life like I don’t know what pain and illness even are.
Throughout all of this blogging experience I realize I have made a mistake. I often write as though my body is this weak thing that never gets off the couch and that I never use like I used to. While it’s true that almost every day is a series of compromises compared to my old life where I never stopped for a minute, there is still actually very little time in my life for rest. I am trying to make more. I am trying to encourage others to make more room in their lives for real, relaxed rest. But I know how hard/impossible that is with people who depend on you.
My body is not frail and weak, not by design any way. In my past life, I used my body every day for real, repetitive physical work, and then I came home and worked in the garden and on fixing up our home. I find it hard to give up those habits of the past me. The problem I see with continuing on like I am, without ever learning how to put my rest first, is that I know people with fibro who work full time and have continued to work without stopping since their diagnosis, and I see those friends take handfuls of pills now to keep on their feet, and they are miserable every second of it. None of them have improved by relentlessly pushing through the pain. They seem to regard their bodies with pure hatred, and I feel so bad for their struggles. Not to say I do not know some successful working friends with fibromyalgia, but those who are successful have learned to adapt, change, flex, and yes, compromise. They are not attempting to live the exact same life as before their illness hit.
There is acceptance before there is success, with a chronic illness. Acceptance does not mean giving up, it means finding another way forward. I am trying to find that way, but I don’t know where to look.
The other aspect I must find is balance. From past experience, the less I move, the more I hurt the next morning. However, too much movement can also send me into a horrible flare up. Other times, it’s just the tiniest sneeze or attempt to tie my shoe that send me into a downward spiral of pain and nausea and anxiety. I cannot seem to figure it all out. The longer I sleep, the more I hurt the next morning. If I don’t sleep enough I hurt more too. On and on like that, until it becomes more evident than ever before that having fibromyalgia and ME means I live a life balanced on the blade of a razor. One wrong move sends me plummeting into an abyss. The climb back out of which is terribly arduous and depressing and takes everything I have, every single time.
Until I can learn to stop falling (with the understanding that it will get better but never stop completely) the best I can do is to become better at getting back up again. The falls are inevitable, really. My ability to stand back up, to keep fighting, is all that keeps me from staying at the bottom of the abyss.
This determination to keep going, it demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that my body is not weak. It is fighting. I am fighting. FMS/ME can’t take everything from me.
I will keep pushing myself. And I will keep doing more and more physical activity despite the pain, but I will not pretend that I do not have these illnesses. Not to myself and not to anyone else.
I am not weak, I am still always on my feet, never napping, never stopping for too long. There are those days when I do feel weak, but it is temporary. And I am thankful for my still-strong, still active body. Though I am mostly housebound and cannot figure out driving or working with all my meds and issues, I do not sit in one place with my heating pad more than once a week, except at the very end of the night, in bed. I do not lounge on the couch, I do not lay down in bed. If I need to lay down, it’s usually the floor that I end up on, because I’ve pushed myself that far and suddenly I am done moving, and even crawling is a challenge then. Some days pass me by and I feel like I have barely even participated in them at all, and sometimes I have nothing to show for myself, no matter how many time I paced back and forth, doubled over in pain every few minutes, trying to remember to do a task that has slipped my mind, yet again. But wallowing in bed is not in the script. If it gets that severe, I will know, my body will force me into bed, but it is not there yet and I will fight with everything I have to stay on my feet even if I get nothing done, even if the pain has me by the throat and chest, and I stare off into space and create jumbled garbage when I sit down to write and paint, even if I doze off in my chair for a few minutes at noon, and snap out of it by using the pain of doing the dishes to wake me up. It’s war. Whatever means necessary, you know?
This is life, fighting a long battle with a group of cruel illnesses who are using my body as their host. Tonight, after I have spent all day floating in a strange haze, I cannot be angry at myself for doing my best today despite the severe brain fog that plagued my every heavy step. The laundry is somehow done, and I managed to take a shower for the first time in four days, which feels like absolute heaven. I am snuggled up in a long sleeve waffle knit, two layered zip up hoodies, leggings, loose pajama bottoms and two pairs of soft cushy socks. Yes, it’s coooooold here!
Being cozy despite not being able to get comfortable, I have to reflect that many are not warm inside this winter, and I am so lucky to be here in this house wearing all these soft clothes, clean and dry. Suddenly my world is brighter and kinder, and I am transported out of the pain of my body and into my surroundings, able to participate again for a brief time, and thankful for every second of it!
If it is a particularly painful or fatigued day. I will allow my body to dictate some of the events of the day, but not all of them. It is enough that I keep trying to find my way, right now. As long as I do not give up, then this is learning, and it is messy and unpleasant and even at times thrilling. There are things my body can still do that would not have seemed possible a year ago. But there is also the agony of steadily increasing pain over time, the horrible fear that my strength and toughness will be outstripped by my worsening illnesses someday. I cannot get rid of the fear completely, but I can choose to not let it take me hostage. Who cares what tomorrow brings, because there is no controlling that. However, I do have control over my reactions, and that is enough to get from here to a better place, in time.
I can choose to live, right here and right now, no matter what is happening with my body. There is so much power in that.
Being grateful is my new go-to emotion.
If I’m feeling numb or distant or like I want to spiral down and down, I pick out one thing I can still do, one personality trait I am grateful for, and one thing that happened that day to be thankful for. Sometimes I just write the answers over and over again until they carry the meaning they need.
Of all the surprising benefits of being grateful, the one that strikes me right now is that it actually makes it easier to feel like I have all the reassurances I need, so I do not need to seek them from other people.
I only figured out in the last year what it means to truly find good in everything, and to make that spirit of thankfulness a priority. I was so ready for a change internally that when the gratitude that people had been telling me about for so long finally sank in, it became a part of my daily life almost immediately and with not nearly as much effort as I thought. Looking back, I started small and worked my way up to being able to write a list of positive affirmations almost every day. Writing those lists has been an incredible experience in the last three months. Now when I feel lost, I can look at the page after page of lined notebook paper and find myself again.
If you are fighting a battle with a chronic condition or chronic pain I especially hope you have the power of gratitude on your side, maybe not right now, but in the future at least. It doesn’t take my pain away, but it is almost like a blanket that keeps me warm no matter how cold the winds in my life are blowing (it’s freezing here, lol).
Easy is absolutely nowhere to be found in my new post-illness life, although people on the outside looking in must think I am lazy and everything is handed to me while I sit back in comfort and make demands on everyone around me, that simply is not the truth. In all this craziness, gratitude helps, that’s for sure. My life isn’t easy, I just make the best of it. Hard to prove, though!
Fortunately, all that matter is that I know how much grueling, non-stop work is going on even on those all-important rest days when I seem my laziest to the casual observer. Among the changes fostered in me when I adopted gratitude into my outlook, it’s finally getting easier not to care what people think. I have always been so self-conscious that by age 10, even sitting with my family in a restaurant, I was sure I was so hideous that everyone must be laughing at me, and every “her” I heard, I was sure it was me being discussed in all my disgusting glory (my self esteem was not the greatest, as a kid), so gaining some ground there is awesome, to say the least.
Apparently when everything else falls apart, we get time to explore ourselves, and pull all the good things we have buried back up to the surface again.
It honestly feels like all this soul-searching could be the most important thing I do for myself in my entire life. I am grateful for the chance to pursue it.
Even in between flare ups I can only do one thing. One thing before I have to lay down. Sometime just one thing the entire day. I cannot shower AND leave the house on the same day. I cannot do light work in the vegetable garden AND make dinner in the same day.
In fact, any one thing I do choose to focus on could be the last all week, if I hurt myself!
So how do you pick which task gets your attention?
Before chronic illness I would make a list, and I did all the hardest chores as fast as I could. No matter how awful I felt. Powering through and forcing myself to do everything that everyone around me “needed” was my way of life. I swore by that.
As I developed more and more symptoms, inevitably that behavior translated into trying to ignore my pain and push on. I was in much more pain, cognitive issues were becoming a daily and noticeable problem, I was having much more severe flare ups, I was always anxious and I was even having suicidal thoughts for the first time since high school.
Now, three years in, I finally understand that overdoing it is a ticket to my own personal hell, and I don’t have to buy that ticket.
Only I can know what overdoing it means, and I am the only one who can give myself permission to take a break, change tasks, or stop altogether. Of course, real life gets overwhelming and self care can fall to the wayside during a crisis, but the important part is that this is a habit that is sticking. And I am learning gratitude as a result. In between flare ups, I am capable of doing one thing. That is something to be be grateful for.
I am learning that it doesn’t have to be frustrating picking where my energy goes. It can be freeing, too. I am acknowledging my limits and despite the chaos that causes and the emotions it brings up, I have faith that my life will ultimately be better as a result. I can focus on the good that is left, rather than what I miss. It’s a process, I still have days of utter and complete depression in the midst of a long flare up, and I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong with that. Thanks to chronic illness my life will be full of ups and downs that are much more dramatic than before I got sick.
Post-chronic-illness, I am sorting through the wreckage for the potential in me, the things that I value about myself even when my body is not as strong as it was. Being able to do one thing, even if it is sleep and recover all day, is a gift that I am finally willing to accept.
What I am Grateful for Today:
Chronic illness is a battle, a burden every day, but it gives us a unique perspective on life. I feel like most spoonies I meet, whether online or in person, have the important things figured out (but we rarely feel like we do!). Those with chronic pain and illnesses have had to pare down their lives to the bare necessities for survival. We are skilled at finding the silver lining in almost every kind of adverse situation. We do not fret the small stuff; we are tough. These are just a few of the truths that I am incredibly grateful for.
Most of all, I’m grateful for all of the wonderful #spoonie support that happens every second, both online and in our communities. Where would we be without each other?
Click the badge below to head over the site and get started expressing gratitude through photos!
There is something trance-like about scrolling through the #CapturingGratitude wall, and I hope more people join the revolution immediately! The idea is to post pictures of anything you are grateful for, easy as that. Setting up an account takes two minutes, and then you’re ready to upload pictures of everything that lights up your life. It’s like public meditation, and it helps me focus on all the little moments in life which I need to consciously recognize and appreciate.