the problem with opioids

I know that what you’re about to read is an unpopular opinion and will likely lead to some making the decision to no longer follow me. I don’t wish to portray myself as better than anyone else or pass judgment on how another chooses to manage their complicated illnesses. But even so, I feel like I found my way through a difficult set of circumstances, and if I can help someone else reach the other side I’m okay with taking this chance.

For years opioids stood in the way of learning to effectively manage my pain. When I was taking them I would have told you that the only reason I continued to hang on to any semblance of a normalcy was due to these medications. Often, they allowed me to meet friends for dinner, complete basic housework, or just get my day started. Opioids provided me with the only pain relief after more than a decade of living in constant discomfort, and I was grateful for that.

But now I understand that I was never going to get better if I continued taking them on a daily basis. You see, opioids are excellent for short-term pain relief, like following an accident or surgery, or if taken occasionally for breakthrough pain. When used in this way they don’t have the opportunity to hijack your brain and your body.

I’m not going to go into the science of how opioids work and why they can be so amazingly unhelpful when treating chronic pain. If you want to know the truth, it’s out there. For the sake of brevity, they’re tricky little bastards that can produce changes so sneaky that their negative impact might be labeled as symptoms that an illness is getting worse, or even point to new diagnoses altogether. My increasing pain, disease process, and the inability of my brain and body to communicate properly created this unstoppable progression of symptoms that practitioners wanted to define, explain, and diagnose. After all, that’s their job.

It took longer than I’d like to admit for me to finally do something about my suspicion that the way I was treating my daily pain was negatively impacting my life as a whole. It took me getting off these medicines to see that they were holding me back from gaining a clear picture of my challenges exactly as they are and not muddled by years of failed attempts to get things under control. It took me wholeheartedly believing that while it seemed to me that opioids were improving my day-to-day life I was actually better off without them.

You don’t have to agree with what I’m saying or justify to anyone [including me] why you treat your chronic illnesses the way that you do. Additionally, I am not a doctor and have no understanding of your struggles or even experience. All I know is my situation, and it is my sincere hope that there are others who share in the positive impact of learning other ways to manage their pain.

#nodaysoff

What does the phrase no days off mean to you? I’ve considered these words a lot lately, and in doing so their meaning shifted.

I think most would agree that no days off refers to doing something [or not doing something, I guess] every single day regardless of circumstances. While this idea of the single-minded pursuit of a goal is admirable in theory, that rigidity doesn’t work for me anymore. Is there any behavior I should complete every single day regardless of how I’m feeling? I mean, as much as I love keeping up with my physical therapy if I’m zipped into the AlterG and my hip twinges I am not doing anyone any favors by completing that run. I need to just abort the mission and try again the next day.

But does that mean I’m taking that day off? Absolutely not. Maybe I didn’t complete the workout I envisioned, but perhaps I had a great meditation that morning or pushed myself to do something socially. Maybe I ate a lot of great foods my body needed. I can’t consider a day when I worked hard to manage my pain in other ways as a day off.

To me, no days off means that I do what I can to keep my symptoms at bay. It means that whether it’s the Fourth of July, a stressful week at work, or even my birthday I’m going to maintain pain management as a top priority. I might let certain things slide, but I’m not going to abandon each behavior as if I won’t experience negative repercussions later. While it can be hard on any given day to manage a chronic illness, it’s especially difficult for holidays, special occasions, and even when we are anxious or sad.

With that in mind, I needed a clearly-defined plan concerning how I was going to approach my Fourth of July, and I needed to figure it out before my day even began. I decided to stick to my sugar detox, because sugar makes me feel so lousy and I’m pretty sure that injesting any at this point would seriously impact the work I’ve done and the progress I’ve yet to make. No thanks, that’s not worth it. I did, however, eat as much I wanted of other foods. I also made sure to do my physical therapy exercises, although I rushed through them a bit so I could join in festivities. After I arrived home I indulged a little more, watching a movie on the floor with Celie and staying up later than usual, eventually falling asleep to the sweet sounds of The Office streaming on Netflix [which I know is not good Sleep Hygiene].

Looking back on the day I don’t feel cheated because I didn’t drink or didn’t go out and watch the fireworks. On the contrary, I actually feel like I had a nice break from my usual day-to-day everything. I got to spend time in the sun with people I love, and today I feel motivated to eat well, get in a good physical therapy session, and keep the television off for the evening.

Even better, though, is that because I didn’t go crazy yesterday I don’t feel completely drained today. I was a little creakier this morning, but it’s nothing that a single day of back-to-normal won’t solve. And at least I own that creakiness with a clear understanding of why it’s there and what I need to do get through it.

[Y’all, it is so hard to not insert some sort of Fourth of July pun about being an independent woman I can hardly stand it].

kicking it up a notch

sugar detox - stillmovingblog.com

 

I’ve been off all sugar for a week now, avoiding everything from those added sugars snuck into “healthy” vegan/gluten-free desserts to strawberries and raw honey. I needed a major reset and knew that being a bit drastic would help me accomplish my goals.

And what were those goals? First, to reduce the inflammation in my body and bring down my level of pain. Second, to improve upon the food I eat. Lastly, to stop this fixation on food I’ve recently adapted.

Before I went to Silver Hill Hospital my appetite was lousy. Because I didn’t eat much I could eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted and remain thin. I justified every bite of food that conflicted with what my body actually needed with At least I’m eating something. Although those precious calories were important in one way, they were damaging in many others.

After a lot of hard work my appetite was pretty good by the time I returned home, and since then it’s improved even more. My eat-what-I-want-whenever-I-want mentality stuck around, though. It didn’t take long for me to crave “something sweet” after dinner or a little pick-me-up afternoon snack. I was on the sugar treadmill and I needed to get off.

So, I said goodbye to delicious sugar, and in one short week I’ve already begun feeling better than I’ve felt in years. I don’t mean that hyperbolically, either. I actually didn’t know my body was capable of feeling this good. I thought I was doing pretty well with my diet as I mostly avoided wheat/dairy/alcohol and consumed as many organic/raw/grass-fed/line-caught/local foods as I could. That’s how harmful sugar is. You can get the rest almost right, but if sugar is sneaking its way into your body it’s going to try its best to wreak havoc.

Nutrition classes were part of the Silver Hill curriculum, and I heard all about sugar and what it does for inflammation. It wasn’t new information, but knowing that I usually came in under the recommended 25-gram maximum daily intake I felt okay about where I stood. But, as a person with a body that needs extra coddling, I’ve determined that value wasn’t right for me.

Part of accepting the positive impact that cutting sugar has on my pain is just a matter of being ready. After years of roadblocks, setbacks, and doctors scratching their heads I began to feel like the thing that was going to make me better had to be complex or advanced technology or something. A solution that I perceived as simple wouldn’t validate my high level of pain or all these years of struggle. Cutting sugar is just one part of all that I’m doing to control my pain, however, and finding the right balance of everything I do to continually get better has been anything but simple.

And while the thought of “having” to do all of this stuff that other people seem to get away with avoiding used to aggravate me, it [finally] no longer does. Properly controlling my chronic illnesses doesn’t just improve my health, but also my entire life. The line between what I do for my medical needs and what I do for “everything else” is gone. I now understand that the two move up and down together, so anything I do for my health seeps into the other “non-related” parts of my life, making me an all-around happier person.