The solution was closer than ever I knew.
I want to start with the fact that I am 99% better after 18 years of chronic pain. I had reached my fifth year of remission from cancer and things were good, but I had a high-stress job as an attorney and one day the stress was too much to take. I stood up from my desk and my body suddenly felt like I had been hit by a truck. It hurt everywhere. After a few weeks of ineffective over-the-counter pain relief medications, my doctor put me on opioids. This began 18 years of constant doctor visits to try to diagnose me.
At about the same time, I found out I had contracted Hepatitis C from a blood transfusion seven years earlier. This was difficult news, but the hardest part was that doctors did not yet realize the physical pain that the virus could bring. Maybe that virus caused or contributed to my pain—I don’t know. Over the next few years, I was told I also had lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, Epstein-Barr Virus, Sjogren’s Syndrome, fasciitis, and many, many other conditions.
Failed Standard Medical Care
Attempts were made to manage my health problems with prescriptions, hundreds of them tried over the years. I tried Chinese alternative herbs, acupuncture, prednisone therapy, water therapy, cupping, a pain psychiatrist, special exercise, rest, ice, heat, a TENS unit therapy, physical therapy, ultrasound therapy, cortisone injections, epidural injections, you name it. The opioids were the only thing that stopped my pain for any length of time. Hoping to go off the drugs eventually, I managed to lower my dose over the years.
Eventually, my Hepatitis C was cured by a new medication. My pain was reduced, but I had long felt defeated and depressed by all the appointments, the drugs, the fight, the losses, the drama. My spouse was tired, too. He wanted me off the painkillers, believing they were bad for me and were causing other symptoms. Then the opioid epidemic hit, and my insurance company pretty much forbid me to continue my painkiller prescriptions. My pharmacy was also under pressure not to fill my prescriptions.
The Consequences of Chronic Pain
My pain management specialist was overwhelmed with the new paperwork required to prescribe these drugs. By now my marriage was dying and so was my social life. But knowing I had to rally, or my life would be over, I found a different pain specialist who helped me wean off the opioids using new drugs that weren’t previously presented to me as an option.
Then my husband left me; I was devastated and for a while suicidal. I got myself together again and started seeing a cognitive-behavioral therapist. Initially, it didn’t help all that much because I mostly needed just to vent and grieve. Then she happened to mention mindfulness meditation. I started doing guided mindfulness exercises that helped me focus my attention without evaluating what I was noticing. I kept this up daily for over a year. The mindfulness exercises helped me to understand the mind-body connection—I become more aware of what I was thinking, feeling, and how my body was reacting to life events.
Calming Down My Nervous System
This might sound strange, but I started talking to my body in an earnest, self-soothing manner. I reminded my body that I recognized it was expressing pain, but that I was on top of the situation and would take care of it, and there was no need for it to continue to throb with pain. This worked and my body calmed down. I don’t know what caused me so many years of terrible chronic pain. Maybe it was hepatitis, maybe the work stress, maybe one of the diseases that my numerous doctors diagnosed. But I believe my journey to self-help and put myself in charge of my well-being was critical. Today, I’m still practicing mindfulness and meditation and trying to pay more attention to my mental health. And I’m very grateful.
(This blog was submitted through the “Your Story” link by Rita. Rita, thank you for your courage to share your story and help others!)