Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lots of things on the mind

So, I have a feeling this is going to be disjointed and rambling, but that's just how I roll today.

First, I took a sick day yesterday and I feel like a big, silly, doodie head for doing it. I went to the dr even, and she told me I look better than I have in a long time. I am just suffering from allergies, apparently. So, I go to the doctor when I am feeling better than I have in months (if not years) but it wasn't as good as the day before?!?! Yep, I'm a total goof.

The thing is, I have been feeling really, really, good. I'm almost afraid. It isn't like manic-y or frantic. Just.... well, normal. I wake up on time and go to work. When I get home from work, I don't crash and go right to bed. I even get housework done without being so exhausted I can't move. Yes, I still have my limits. If I push to hard, my body tells me. I can just do so much more than I used to and I feel so much better about it! It simply amazes me. We are eating home cooked meals most nights and (thanks to DH) almost every piece of laundry in the house is clean. The winter clothes are in the process of being packed away. I have fresh, clean sheets on my bed. Even the girls have their rooms cleaned!  These are the ways I have learned to gauge my health and well being.  When I am sick, my home looks like hell and everyone in it acts like it! When I am healthy, my family is taken care of and everyone of us shows it.

What is going on around here?

I hate to blame the meds, but in this case, I have to. I can not say I have been able to do any of this without the maintenance med from the neurologist. Also, I am able to control the break-through pain and that is, I think, the biggest benefit. Once the doctor gave me the one thing that actually helps and told me it was ok to take it when I need it, my whole life seemed to run smoother. I have tried to function and push through the pain and I am just not able. Over-the-counter medications work sometimes, but not always and not completely. I am actually extremely allergic to certain pain meds, and others cause as much discomfort as they take away. So, I asked my newest doctor for a prescription for hydrocodone and she was willing to give me a supply until we can find a real diagnosis and eliminate the pain instead of just dull it for awhile.

There is an amazing sort of relief and freedom when I don't worry that I am going to hurt and not be able to stop it. I didn't realize that I was being held captive by the pain. I didn't want to go anywhere or do anything, even if I felt ok because I MIGHT start feeling worse. Skipping events and staying home was preferable to attending them and ruining it for everyone else by feeling grouchy or even making them leave early. I have missed PTA meetings and parties and lots of day-to-day life.

Taking pain meds can be dangerous. They are, without a doubt, addictive - both mentally and physically. Every time I turn around I hear about someone else dealing with the dependency of prescription pain killers - the same ones I take. People have died from this. How many celebrities have we read in the paper about fatally mixing pain killers, anti-depressants, and alcohol? (RIP Heath Ledger.) It happens to real people, too. The brother of a dear friend has resorted to buying Lortab off the street and snorting it for a better high. The husband of the woman I work right next to died just over a  year ago from a combination of Vicodin and Methadone - both of which were prescribed to him (though not in the doses that that he took them in.) Alcohol had something to do with it then, too, but that only serves as an additional warning of something else to avoid. It is scary because I wonder how many of those people started out like me - dealing with daily pain and just needing relief to live a normal life.

Is this a warning to not take them or just a warning to be very, very careful? I feel it is a personal decision. For those who are already dealing with addiction, it might be wise to find an alternative. Only you can determine if the risks are worth the relief. For others, like myself, the horror stories serve as a strong enough warning to never let things go further than they need to.  I do have a prescription, and I do take some nearly every day. I know that my body might become used to it and when I no longer need the pain relief my body will be so used to the chemical that I will feel sick without it. I also know that the normal dose might start to be less effective, and I might need a higher dose to achieve the same pain relief as a smaller dose used to give me. These are all physical consequences. The emotional side effects are much harder to pinpoint until they are nearly out of hand but those are the ones I watch for every day - taking it when I don't need it, taking more than I need, using it for other reasons besides pain relief, becoming grouchy and anxious without it. Some of those can be attributed just to being in pain, so it can be hard to separate the desire for relief from the desire for the actual medication.

I take less than half the daily dose I am allowed. I do not take any when I am not in pain. I always take the smallest dose needed and if I can take something else instead, I do. I don't like the feelings that come with a being stoned and I don't want to learn how to function that way. I will admit that feeling numb can be a welcome reprieve from the stress of the day. I have to concsiously decide to ignore the desire to use the meds as a way to unwind instead of just relieve pain. I can't deny that the thought is there, I just choose not to go down that path.

I know it is not that easy for some. Just a little bit now can lead to a lot more later and when the fix is gone, you are left looking for anything to fill the gap. "Borrowing" one from a friend, is illegal but is forgivable in some situations. Unfortunately, that can lead to borrowing without asking, sneaking a pill from a friend's medicine cabinet or purse, stealing a gulp or two of the cough syrup from a co-worker's desk after hours. It doesn't seem that bad at the time, but it is a symptom of a much bigger problem. This action is usually different from what would be expected, but the same medication that can give such a welcome relief form pain can also twist your mind in sad and desperate way without your even realizing it.

Over the last several years I have taken prescription pain pills quite frequently. I remember the panic of realizing that I was almost out and that it had only been a week since I filled the prescription. Would the pharmacy fill it again? Would the doctor and insurance company approve a refill so soon? What did it mean that I had already gone through so many? Was I addicted? The thought of continuing for the next week, or even month, without anything to ease the daily, constant pain was terrifying at times. I believe that it was the fear of being in pain, not the fear of being without the medication that caused the anxiety but I still worried if my mind was twisted with addiction and I was making believable excuses for my desires.

During the last visit to my doctor, I came to yet, another realization. I had been more worried about taking the meds and becoming addicted than I was about trying to get back my life and become a human again. Did that mean I was addicted to the meds? I don't think so. I am pretty sure that most of my apprehension came from the way my last doctor treated me when she prescribed this medication for me. "I will give this to you, but DON'T become addicted. Do you hear me?"

She would give me a script for 15 or 20 pills at a time, but the dosage read "1-2 every 6-8 hours as needed." Well, I needed it every 6-8 hours for sure! Do the math - 15-20 pills will only last 3-4 days at the highest dosage. Even at the lowest dosage it wouldn't last much longer than a week. I felt like a junkie going back to the pharmacy so often to get refills. I would try not to take any because I felt as if I should be able to deal with the pain better on my own.  I wouldn't take any meds unless the pain was so strong that I needed the higher dose and then I would add feelings of guilt and inadequacy to to already strong pain and depression. If I took the meds when I was not in extreme pain, I beat myself up mentally for wasting them when I might need them again, soon. No wonder I wanted to crawl into a hole and stay there.

First I had to forgive myself for needing help and for needing to take the meds. I came to understand that many of the medical personnel I interacted with simply underestimated the amount of pain I was in on a daily basis. I don't blame them for assuming something other than the truth. When you examine me, physically there is no damage to measure, no proof that I am in pain at all. It wasn't until I stopped hating myself for hurting that I was able to ask for the help I needed. Now, amazingly, I don't need quite so much help as I used to. As I said before, the comfort of knowing I have the relief when I need it has gone further to help me than the pain meds ever did. Today I only took one half-dose of the meds. Tomorrow I might not need any. But then again, I might, and if I need them I am going to take them and I will not feel bad about it. Why should I only live half my life because I am limited by pain and fear?

Maybe I AM addicted. Perhaps I am addicted to feeling human and being strong and confident. If I have to take meds and use them as "training wheels" until I am capable of doing it on my own, I will take that risk - especially if it means I can be a woman, and a wife, and a mother again.

Deb "Not the junkie" Lollar

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