Yesterday should have been an easy day. Nothing overly stressful was happening at work. My husband was starting to feel better. Yet, my day was filled with stress and fear. While that sometimes happens for no reason (thanks mental illness), this time there was a very real cause of my distress. It was time to talk to my doctor about my medication.
When you have a chronic pain condition and are untreated, pain relief can seem like the be all, end all. Pain relief is the goal to be sought after and there is hope that once it is achieved, you will finally find some peace. Unfortunately, getting pain relief isn’t necessarily the end of the story.
A couple months ago, for the first time in far too long, I was granted pain relief in the form of medication by one of my doctors. It was almost magical. The medication I had been given worked for almost 24 hours straight. One pill for a day of relief. It was invigorating to finally be close to not being in pain (while the pills relieve most of my pain, I almost always still have some level of pain the medication doesn’t help).
However, after two weeks, she decided she wasn’t comfortable prescribing to me anymore. I suddenly had to come off of a medication my body had become dependent on. As this is medication is an opiate, the withdrawals were abysmal. Just existing felt like too much. Yet, I survived the withdrawals and started pushing forward. I was seeing a new specialist so I approached her about prescribing pain relief for me. In the time it took for her to get back to me, I was overcome by hopelessness and depression. The pain was overwhelming and inescapable. Thankfully, my doctor agreed to prescribe medication for now.
Those are the operative words. For now. I may have been granted pain relief, but every month I have to talk to my doctor before getting a refill. Every month I have to wait to find out whether or not I will be granted another 30 days of pain relief or if I will be facing painful and emotionally devastating withdrawals. I have to wait to find out if I’m still worthy of pain relief.
For those of use with marginalized identities, this struggle is all the more pronounced. As has been discussed in prior articles in this series, those of us outside the norm (white, cisheteronormative, able-bodied, neurotypical men) face a great deal of difficulty when dealing with the medical community. From drugs that have never been tested on bodies like ours to the dismissal of our pain, we often come up against many obstacles on the path to healthcare.
Despite having an incurable illness that causes me near constant pain, my doctors hesitate to treat my pain. I’ve been told again and again that it’s only treating a symptom rather than the disease itself. So what? Why is it viewed as such a bad thing to treat the symptom that causes so much difficulty in my life? I can’t take the medicines that would help treat the underlying illness so why can’t we treat the effects of the illness to make my life more livable?
Due to the heroin epidemic, new laws have been put into place that tightly regulate the use of pain medications. Aside from ignoring the reality of addiction, these laws make it difficult to impossible for people with chronic illness to get the help they need. These laws that are meant to reduce illegal drug use have failed. While addiction and abuse rates still run high, people with chronic pain are being kept from medicine that could immensely help quality of life.
Each month comes the fear and worry. Will this be the month my doctor decides I’ve been on pain meds long enough? Will this phone call be the one when I’m told I will no longer be granted pain relief?
Being granted pain relief is wonderful, but never the end. Always lurking is the fear that this will be the last month of relief, that soon the pain will be back full force and inescapable. And the worst part is, it doesn’t need to be this way.