I’m late to the party, I know.
I have lived in the world of chronic pain for over three years, and I have avoided medication for just as long.
A few disclaimers are in order. I do not think medication is bad. I hold no judgment towards medication or people who choose to use medication. I have been able to avoid medication because of periods of manageable calm that give me breaks from the flare ups. I have managed my pain through activity pacing and cutting so much out of my life, which has been possible because of not needing to support myself financially. All of these things have given me the option of holding off for so long.
There are a number of reasons I have held off for this long.
The number one reason is that I am terrified of side effects, especially the effects of long-term use. I am most terrified of side effects that might affect my cognition, concentration, learning and memory. The only part of my body that feels normal right now is my mind. The only part of my body that has not been turned upside down is my brain and its ability to think and learn and create. I am terrified of that being taken away by medication, and up until now, the pain has been worth it to keep these parts of me.
The second reason I have avoided medication is because I grew up learning that medication should only be taken when absolutely needed. No one ever told me that medication was bad. I was vaccinated, given antibiotics when needed, and always received proper medical care for the normal breaks and bruises of an active childhood. But, medication was only for when you really needed it. Advil or Tylenol were only taken when things got really bad, and not too many or too often. Even to this day, taking medicine for a cold seems like a strange practice. In general, taking medication feels a bit foreign.
The third reason I have avoided medication is because it has been confusing if I need it and even more confusing what type of medication I might need. My pain does get severe, but it is not severe all the time. I have horrible flares that slowly resolve into periods of manageable calm. During the times of calm, I convince myself that I don’t need medication, only to freak out when the flares set in again.
When I keep my activity levels low, and I mean literally quite sedentary, spending large portions of the day lying down, my pain stays around a 3-4, sometimes going even lower. These are manageable levels of pain, but the only problem is that as soon as I increase my activity levels, by even microscopic amounts, the pain soars to a 7 and holds there for weeks or months just from one day of too much activity.
I have managed my pain through a sedentary lifestyle, but that is getting old. And this has been my breaking point. I am tired of managing my pain levels through lying down all day and missing out on life. I am tired of what feels like wasting my life away on the couch.
And so, I am entering the world of medication.
How is it going so far? Interesting…
I am only at the beginning of this process. My doctor first prescribed Cymbalta, and it only took one dose for me to feel like I had a hangover. Mainly I had a splitting headache and the dreaded cognitive effects I was hoping to avoid. The morning after taking my first dose I tried to write an article for one of my freelance jobs and realized that I was unable to think or concentrate. Each thought came with a several second lag from my normal speed of thinking, and attempting to string thoughts together felt like clawing my way through mud. This continued all day. At my doctor’s suggestion, I stopped taking the medication, waited a week and then tried one more dose. The same thing happened, so we could be sure the effects were from the medicine.
Side effects like that are not worth it to me at the moment.
Take two has been Elavil. I have been taking it for about a week and so far no side effects that I have noticed. Hurray! At the same time, no noticeable effect on my pain levels, but that may come with time or with an increased dose if needed.
I am entering the world of medication because nothing will change if I don’t try something new. For so long I convinced myself that I just needed to keep up with my physical therapy for long enough and things would get better. If I was just tenacious enough about my exercises, diet, supplements, and lifestyle choices, I would see improvement over time. This does work for me for a time. I do make improvements from adjusting these parts of my life, but then one wrong move and I send myself into another horrendous flare.
I’m ready for a change. I’m ready enough that I am going to take the risk of medication, despite the horror stories I have read and the multiple people who seem to be trying to get off these same medications just as I start them. Oh the irony.
I hope it’s worth it. One thing is certain. Nothing will change if I don’t try something new.