Pills for Breakfast: Five Things I Wish I Knew Sooner About Chronic Pain

Pills for Breakfast: Five Things I Wish I Knew Sooner About Chronic Pain

I first woke up with horrible rib pain on February 3, 2013, the day of the Super Bowl.

By the next morning I was in the ER with a morphine IV. They completely misdiagnosed me at the hospital and then gave me medication they said would cure all that ails me. Except of course it didn’t.

And thus, I was thrust into an entirely different life than the one I had on February 2, 2013.

I had no idea how much my world had changed or how to deal with it. In fact, back then, I didn’t even know that I would be classified as someone with “chronic pain.” It took me months to figure out where to find the right support groups on Facebook.

pillsdin300I’ve learned a lot since then about how to cope with my situation. But I wish someone could have handed me a pamphlet back on that fateful day in the ER spelling some of it out for me, saving me the trouble of having to learn so much of it the hard way.

While that didn’t happen for me, that doesn’t mean you have to be in the dark about all the craziness that comes with this illness.

Below are five things I wish I’d known sooner about chronic pain.

1. Doctors are not gods

In fact, they aren’t even very smart sometimes. When I first got sick I went to the ER, where the doctor looked me straight in the eye and told me that a stomach ulcer was the only logical explanation for my symptoms. He was wrong. Then, I went to a family practitioner who told me I had Costochondritis. She was wrong too.

After that, I went to a doctor at a University Hospital. After I told him I had been enduring level 10 pain for weeks, he gave me prescription strength Aleve because he was too scared to give me anything stronger. Aleve for level 10 pain!

The list goes on, and on, and on. I kept searching and searching until I found a doctor I could trust. Thankfully, I have. He’s two hours away and I have to cross state lines to get to him, but it’s totally worth it. He’s experienced and he believes me when I say I’m in so much pain that I want to die. His visits are two-way conversations as opposed to a one-sided lecture.

In short, I had to fire a lot of doctors before I found a good one. Don’t be afraid to do the same.

2. You don’t have to take a shower every day

I seriously wish I had figured this one out way sooner. Showers are the type of thing that completely wipe me out and send me to lie on the couch in front of Netflix for hours to recover. Add in blow drying my hair and I’m basically done for the day.

When I first got sick I was so stressed about trying to follow our crazy American standards of cleanliness that I still tried to shower every day. Eventually, I realized that was basically killing me, so I started to do the every-other-day thing and now I’m on the twice-a-week plan.

Even after I made that life choice though, I still tried to keep up appearances on business trips because I am stupid. I’d wake up every morning, hop in the shower, blow dry my hair and do a full face of make-up. Then, I’d either end up having to spend most of the day recovering in my hotel room or popping tons of pain pills. Or both.

Thankfully, I’ve since learned that even on business trips, it’s all right to skip a few days. Like on my recent eight-day trip to Brazil. One of my survival techniques was showering only once every three days. I used lots of deodorant, perfume and dry shampoo; and then on the third day, when my hair was especially dirty, I just wore it up in a top knot.

My body had a lot more miles on it each day and nobody even seemed to notice. Or at least they didn’t say anything to my face.

To sum up, if showers make your body rage with pain, it is completely all right to skip them. Just don’t forget to buy some dry shampoo.

3. Sleeping pills save lives

When I first got sick, I was in such severe pain every single day that I couldn’t sleep through the night. The pain was like a huge claw that grabbed my ribs and woke me up in the middle of the night, or worse yet, wouldn’t let me fall asleep in the first place.

The thing about sleep though is that it’s kind of important. In fact, if you don’t get enough sleep, you go crazy — which I did. My body never got any down time, so the pain just ratcheted up every single day, and my brain never got any time to reset. I got severely depressed to the point that I was planning ways to kill myself. I was such a mess that I thought I wanted to die solely because of the pain, but it was actually the lack of sleep that was pulling me closer and closer to death.

With severe chronic pain, Tylenol PM may as well be Skittles. And so, I didn’t think there was anything out there that could help me. Until I told my pain specialist about the situation and he put me on Amitriptyline.

I mean, yeah, sure, that stuff knocks you out cold. But, on the up side, that stuff knocks you out cold.

After just two days of sleeping like a regular person, my suicidal thoughts drastically decreased and I was suddenly able to use my logic and reasoning skills again.

Since I’ve started taking the medication, I have skipped it a couple of times for various reasons, to disastrous results. On one particular occasion, I was between doctors and ran out, so I missed two nights. Just two nights. You wouldn’t think that would be such a big deal.

Well, it was. By the third day I was in so much pain that I ended up getting a shot of dilaudid from the doctor, which I had a reaction to. I then spent the entire next night throwing up repeatedly. It was the worst 72 hours of my life.

So, if you are having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor about your options. Seriously.

4. Pain pills can give you the will to keep going

It took awhile for me to get on the right dose of the right pain pills. When I first got sick, I had no idea that doctors would be scared to give me the medications I needed or that there was any sort of controversy around opioids. I just assumed that, like with any other illness, I would get the care I needed.

Alas, that was not the case. Like I said before, at first they tried to give me anti-inflammatory medications, which did nothing for me. Then, when the doctors finally did put me on Narco, the dosage was so low that I thought the pills couldn’t help me. It wasn’t until I started doubling the dose that I realized relief was possible.

It makes me incredibly sad whenever I read that someone is trying to avoid opioids just for the sake of avoiding them. There is no reason to live a life enduring excruciating chronic pain every day, when modern medicine has come up with a way to put it at bay. Obviously, the pills won’t make you 100 percent, but for me they temper the pain enough to allow me to hold down my job and even go out sometimes.

And without them, I’m sure I would be dead by now. If you need pain pills, take pail pills.

5. You don’t have to accept crap

One of the things pain communities like to say over and over and over is that once you accept the situation you’ll find an inner peace. Except, I don’t buy it. I don’t think you have to accept the situation. I don’t think you have to accept the fact that your life is now just one, long string of pain or that you’ll have to endure such pain for the rest of your life. I don’t think anybody should accept that.

I have accepted the fact that I can no longer drive long distances, swim, wear bras with underwire, or sit up straight for more than 45 minutes at a time. I have accepted that my life is different for now. But only for now.

Because I cannot give up hoping that one day I will finally wake up pain free. And you shouldn’t give that up either. Nobody should.

Crystal Lindell

Crystal Lindell

Crystal Lindell is journalist who lives in Byron, Illinois. She loves Taco Bell, watching “Burn Notice” episodes on Netflix and Snicker’s Bites. She has had pain in her right ribs since February 2013. It is currently undiagnosed.

Crystal writes about it on her blog, The Only Certainty is Bad Grammar.

The information in this column is not intended to be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Only your doctor can do that!  It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s personal experiences and opinions alone. It does not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report or Microcast Media.

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Christine

It is SO refreshing to read an article written by an actual sufferer who isn’t afraid to say that opioids do help and that taking them does not make you a drug addict. My daughter was diagnosed two years ago, but I believe suffered to some degree for years previous to that. She had many factors that are believed to be triggers for Fibro, including emotional and physical trauma, including two car accidents, as well as Epstein Barr virus. I feel that due to her age, and her appearance (purple hair), she was instantaneously treated as a pill seeker. It’s been very sad to see the treatment she has gotten just because of her age. She was found to be disabled a year and a half ago, yet we hesitate to get her a handicapped placard for the car (I have to drive her most of the time to appointments or shopping, when she can get out of the house, which is rare) because I know that we will get the evil eye and probably an occasional ignorant comment if we use one. So, I continue to drop her at the door and park the car and walk myself. Until I can no longer do this for some reason, we will avoid getting the placard. It’s quite sad that other people’s ignorance changes the way sufferers socialize or go about their lives. Right now we are trying a new natural supplement and cream in the hopes that she will be able to try some alternative therapies like hydro-massage and use a heated pool, and then can cut down on the opioids. Best wishes to everyone on here. Prayers to you all for healing and relief.

eric

Dear Crystal:

I have read your column before and its great. I agree with everything that you have written. Also great article. We need more people in pain write articles for the PUBLIC to read. Like were around you every day, because we don’t come up and tell you I take oxycontin with breakfast. Don’t you. but if you knew you would probably freak.

Take care

Eric

robin birdfeather,BA,MTPT,CFS

Dear Crystal,
Apparently the website I mentioned was left out of the text of my letter. It is Myofascial Therapy, org. I hope this gets through to you.

robin birdfeather,BA,MTPT,CFS

Dear Crystal,
I empathize with you, and would like to let you know about a group specializing in pain management. Please go to our website: for self help information, a directory, and a lot of info links. Unless one of us is a doctor, we do not diagnose; however, we always get to know the doctors in our regions of practice who refer to us and are familiar with various types of pain. (I am mostly retired, live in CA.)
You would probably have a better chance of a diagnosis going to the doctors we know, who may or may not refer you to one of our members, depending on the diagnosis.
There are several TriggerPoint Myotherapists around the Chicago area, as you’ll see. Good health to you.

Stephen M

This is great, I hope you don’t mind, but I’m adding it to my blog (http://bit.ly/IPkills or http://intractablepainkills.blogspot.com)

Thanks Crystal for this article. I dont wan to be one of those annoying people that say “have you tried this?” However what you have described sounds much like my pain. Have you looked at regional sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) aka Complex reiginal pain syndrome (CRPS). Ihave friends that have it in the torso and its crap. Mine is through most of my body and into my left chest and I hate it.
Thanks for a great article. Hope you are right that its pain now and not forever.

I know what u mean with all that u said here. I have chronic back pain. I’m an RN. So, I’ve done a lot of research and have a lot of knowledge. I drive over 2 hours also to get quality medical care. I’ve had a really rough time lately especially emotionally and thinking of suicide only because of the daily pain.
Your pain in your ribs…have they did an MRI? If you Google dermatones……u can see how your nerves go to all parts of your body. Consider it. Talk to your MD.
one of the things that anger me the most is your accused of being a drug seeker. Especially with back pain. Has that happened to u? If not it will. Also a pain center may help u too. Good luck!
Good luck!

John Quintner

Crystal, you have certainly learnt a lot since your original post. Yes, drugs do occupy an important place in the treatment regimen. But not everyone responds to them.

Here are a few more things that you have probably learnt:

1. Everyone is an expert in your pain. I think this tells us that being in pain is an almost universal human experience.

2. Shun the quacks who promote their own pills, potions and needles.

3. Beware the “false messiahs” who promise you riches but fail to make the delivery

BL

If you aren’t able to leave your home but once every 6 weeks or so to go to the doctor, you can go longer than 1 week without a shower. There are things we all think we have to do or have to have, until we have no choice but to do without them. And we find out we can live without things like showers, sheets on the bed, seeing friends and family, going to church, talking on the phone. There are just so many things that we think are “have too’s” until chronic severe pains robs us of them.