The Many Negative Associations with Painkillers
Painkillers – hero, villain, friend and foe in one. What’s your opinion about them? Have you been told:
- Don’t take them, they’re bad for your liver and body.
- You’ll become reliant, dependent, or addicted to them. A good-for-nothing, pathetic junky.
- You’ll need more and more of them to kill the pain and eventually, nothing is going to save you.
Maybe you’re the one who tells yourself such things. These were beliefs that had been drilled into my head as a child and young adult; scary old wives’ tales of the horrors of addiction and untreatable pain. That was why I only took the mildest painkillers, whilst enduring my two worst life-and-death situations.
The Dangers of Leaving Chronic Pain Untreated
Bravo, what a brave, strong girl. So self-reliant, self-sufficient, so much willpower, and all that crappy jazz. This approach isn’t wrong per sé, especially if they were acute, one-off episodes. But when the pain is chronic, neverending and unyielding, it can become dangerous to not treat it.
Pain is a deep, dark pit that co-exists with the poisonous snakes of severe depression, anxiety, and yet more pain. There can always be more pain, and there can always be different kinds of pain.
Chronic illness patients learn to identify the unique characteristics of every pain symptom over time. Almost as if we were connoisseurs of pain. Pounding muscle pain pairs well with Sjögren’s Syndrome, whilst those mini joint aches are distinctive of Lupus. This confusion in my brain is a hangover from epilepsy, whilst that severe headache is Lupus manifesting in the Central Nervous System.
The longer you need to deal with pain, the more your sensitivity to it increases. This is due to a number of factors: you’re sick of being in pain, previous bad experiences train your brain to be hypervigilant, and your body starts to become sensitised to the overexposure. This oversensitivity does nothing to help your body, your mind, or your situation. It only makes you more fearful, depressed, anxious, and leaves you feeling beaten and defeated.
Changing My Pain Management Strategy
Over the years I have become more liberal when it comes to my relationship with painkillers. In fact, I carry a strip of tramadol in my wallet wherever I go. And just like every other person with chronic illness, I have a pouch filled to the brim with all sorts of emergency meds in my bag. My new ‘strategy’ is to pop a pain pill after two hours or so, if my aches do not subside after my morning meds. This is especially helpful if I have an appointment or need to leave the house. If I can nip pain in the bud, it saves me from a bigger pain flare, where I would need steroids instead to control it. That solution isn’t any better, as steroids come with its own set of nasty and sometimes permanent side effects.
How This Strategy Improves the Quality of My Life
This strategy can make such a huge, positive difference to my entire day. It improves my quality of life, just like that. After taking a pain pill, I start to feel life returning to my body, and the cogs of my brain resuming their action. It becomes possible to get some work done, clean the house, do some exercise, or go out to socialise.
All these activities in turn, have huge benefits to my life and to my physical, emotional and mental health. I pay off some bills, boost my self-esteem, reclaim some independence, improve my living conditions, and spend quality time with loved ones. We all know how important these factors are as a human being, and to live a decent life.
All these great benefits, just because I decided to take one pain pill instead of wrestling with pain, and wasting my day away. It also isn’t just the current day that’s wasted away, but the next few days needed to recover from the pain itself as well.
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Not All Pains are Equal
Of course, it’s important to know what specific medications or complementary treatments you will need to treat each type of pain. This may be confusing in the beginning, but you will learn to understand your body better and what it needs to heal in time to come. For example, taking tramadol might help with my period cramps, suppressing an early Lupus or Sjögren’s flare, and standard types of bodily injuries. It is not going to do anything for Lupus CNS headaches, epileptic brain fog, or nerve pain in my feet. You need to understand the root cause of the pain, and target it from there.
Because the source of Lupus CNS headaches are inflammatory in nature, NSAIDs (anti-inflammatories) are needed to suppress them. This means Ibuprofen or its equivalent. This is tricky for me however, as I also have Antiphospholipid Syndrome (a blood clotting disorder), and all NSAIDs interact with my blood thinning medications. Hence, I need to be cautious with how much I take. The other alternative – which I’m currently using – is a temporary increase in my steroid dose. It’s ‘safer’ than taking an NSAID painkiller every day under these circumstances.
Painkillers are useless for epileptic brain fogs. For these, I take a benzodiazepine such as clonazepam, to help me get a better night of rest. This in turn helps to give my brain a break, so that it has more resources for healing whilst I sleep. A lack of or poor quality sleep is after all, the biggest trigger for epilepsy.
Pregablin (Lyrica) is what I take or took for nerve tingles and pain. This medication is a different class of painkiller; it specifically targets neuropathic pain. It is also used to treat epilepsy. Taking pregabalin is not going to do much for my other sources of pain.
There is No Cut-and-Dry Solution to Managing Pain
As you can tell by now, I need to know what sort of pain I’m dealing with, before I know what works. It isn’t as straightforward as ‘pop a pain or chill pill’, but ‘pop the right pill’. There is no cut and dry or hard and fast rule as to how and what you should do. But do what’s best for you. Best being how it makes you feel from an over all perspective.
I have lifted all the internalised stigma I used to have about painkillers, and now view them as one of my biggest allies. However, I am not saying that it is the only way we should cope with pain. Medications are toxic to a degree. But bearing with pain is also toxic in equal measure, as it impairs our quality of life, and shrivels us up into a shadow of who we once were. In other words, pain sucks the life out of us.
I definitely do not pop pain pills like candy all day long. They are my allies, not my masters. I am not their slave, but I am indeed grateful for the reinforcements and support they grant in times of need.
If Not for Painkillers…
If not for painkillers, I’d be spending more time in bed suffering for no good reason. I’d be unable to meet my friends and family, which helps with my emotional and mental wellbeing. It’s a proven fact that humans need community in order to survive and thrive. I’d be unable to do whatever amount of work I can, which not only helps to make me feel like a useful member of society, but also helps to pay a few more bills, stimulate my brain, and educate me.
If not for painkillers, I’d be unable to cook a proper meal for myself, wash up, or clean the house. Food is also medicine, and to be able to nourish your body is a blessing. To keep the house tidy and organised brings a sense of peace and joy, and is important for our mental wellbeing. It isn’t pleasant to feel like you’re a pig living in a sty, or relying on liquid nutrition and snack bars for all your meals.
If not for painkillers I wouldn’t be able to clean up after, care and spend time with my birds. Quality time with pets have plenty of emotional benefits, which is another form of healing. I’d also be unable to write or blog this much, activities that I view not only important for its advocacy aspects, but also as things I’m passionate about. I wouldn’t be able to work on my hobbies or educate myself as much I want to, which are all food for the mind, body and soul.
How then, can you call painkillers evil in and of themselves? For those of us who live with chronic pain, they are one of our biggest allies.
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*Note: This article is meant for educational purposes and is based on the author’s personal experiences. It is not to be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your own doctor before changing or adding any new treatment protocols.
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