When being pain-free feels strange
I honestly cannot believe it has been two weeks since I've written anything. I wanted to write last week, but my body was like, "Nope." Since last I wrote, I had my third set of epidural spinal injections. People ask me how I feel about these injections, like whether they're worth it or not, and my answer is honestly, "I have no cussing idea."
The idea behind these injections is that they will reduce the inflammation in the discs that are bulging/herniated enough so that they're not pressing on spinal nerves and maybe they'll even shrink up and go back to where they belong, between the vertebrae.
That's the idea, but it can take some Hellish pain to get to that point.
My first set of injections were put in what we later learned was probably the wrong place. So, I got to feel all of the Hellish pain, even worse than the pain that led me to getting the injections in the first place, and none of the benefits.
The second set of injections was in the right place. Still Hellish pain, but I got some relief afterward. Not total relief, but enough to take me back from the edge of the cliff a bit.
Let me see if I can adequately paint a picture for you of who I am as a person, what this pain is like, and how it breaks me.
I am, as many know, 35 years old. I was a child of trauma. I have survived multiple physical assaults, a couple of sexual assaults, many severe car accidents (read: the reason my spine is as bad as it is,) and I've covered at least 1/3 of my body with tattoos. Maybe more. When I was 21 I had to have all four wisdom teeth removed on an emergency basis because I had put it off for so long that they'd become diseased and the infection had become systemic.
(I'm irrationally afraid of anesthesia because it killed a friend's brother when I was in highs school and I didn't have dental insurance, don't judge me.)
The point is: I've felt pain.
Spinal nerve pain, though, that's a whole different pain animal.
Spine nerve pain takes you to the edge of insanity. I've talked some about this before, how chronic pain impacts a person with anxiety/depression especially. I believe, though, that even just a regular ass person would be hard pressed to hold onto rational thought with chronic spinal nerve pain.
In October, after months of aquatic physical therapy and one round of spinal injections, another disc herniated. I was so pissed, y'all. I was cursing the Universe and everyone in it.
I sobbed. I begged for mercy. I begged for drugs (we're getting to that.) I cursed my doctors, myself, my spine, everything.
This happened literally just days before I got my second set of injections.
Then, I felt some relief. Enough to help me regain composure, anyway.
I've talked about my injections before but I haven't talked about other things I do for pain management.
I think part of the reason why I have delayed writing about this is because all the people flood you with all the opinions when you talk about pain management and health decisions that are nobody's fucking business but your own, and I tire of that.
So here we go:
I do not and will not take narcotic/opioid pain medications to treat my pain. I am not judging anyone who does or is, but I do not. Addiction runs in my family. I also have depression and anxiety, so being "high" and escaping reality is waaaaay to appealing to me. It could get habitual quick.
I remember being in the ER once and they gave me Dilaudid in my IV and as soon as it hit me, I looked at my mom and said, "It's a really good thing I don't know where to get this stuff on the street because holy shit this feels good," and laughed too loud and hard. She was not amused. I do that to her a lot, the saying things she wishes I wouldn't thing. But at least I'm self-aware, right?!
So if it's for like, a temporary situation like post-op recovery, sure, I'll take the drugs. But do not present these things to me as a long-term pain management option.
That's lazy as Hell of you, doctors. That's right, I said it. Lazy. I'm 35, not 85, and we aren't talking palliative care here. Don't be lazy. Be a doctor.
So, what do I take?
I do take a nerve-blocking medication called Gabapentin, 900mg, 3x a day. (Yes, 2700mg of nerve-blocking medication and I was still having pain intense enough to drive me to tears and insanity.)
I take Flexiril, a muscle relaxer. 10mg, 3x a day. (My muscles spasm and tense a lot and that further compresses the nerves, so that's not good.)
I take Mobic, an anti-inflammatory, 15mg 1x a day.
I take 20mg Prozac and 60mg Cymbalta each day for mental health.
My doctor put me on Cymbalta specifically to help me get through this, because it has been known to help both with depression and chronic pain. My anxiety and depression had flared up so much because of the pain, we decided we'd better try to get ahead of it.
I take all of the following supplements daily to try to help with inflammation/arthritis pain and overall gut/body health:
2000mg Omega 3 Fish Oil Concentrate, 2x a day 480mg Apple Cider Vinegar (Tablets, y'all are crazy for drinking that ish,) 2x a day Multi-vitamins and minerals supplement 1,000mg Niacin, 2x a day Plexus Triplex Combo, 2x a day
All of these help some issue or aspect of my health in different ways. I don't love that I have to take this many supplements and medications but it is what it is, especially for now.
What was frustrating though is that even with all of this, I was still spending about half of my days in excruciating and mind-numbing pain.
Then, last Wednesday, I tried CBD Oil for the first time.
Let me state for the record that friends have been telling me about the magic of CBD oil for months, but I was afraid that it wasn't legal in Tennessee. There's a lot of conflicting information!
In 2015, from what I've read and understand, a bill was passed wherein CBD oil was reclassified and was no longer classified as Marijuana. Several folks I know in the homeopathy world told me that it had become legal in all 50 states and I'd seen several companies that ship it to all 50 states.
I was hopeful but had trepidations. I work(ed) in nonprofit and I kept thinking, "I know the THC content is really low, but would it show up in a urine screen?" No one wants to lose their job because of a homeopathic pain remedy!
Then I found out I'd actually lost my job, permanently, because I hadn't been able to return to work after exhausting 16 weeks of FMLA time. This happened the week after the other disc herniated.
I was desperate for pain relief (DESPERATE) now it didn't matter how it impacted my job.
A friend of mine knew I was broke, and knew that I wanted to try CBD Oil, so she sent me some. I started taking it last Wednesday, the day after my epidural spinal injection.
I started with about half a dropper, as the information sent to me about how to use it indicated a step-up plan. I didn't notice much, and by Wednesday afternoon I was sobbing on the couch in pain, begging for mercy and drugs, just as I had after the last two spinal injections.
My boyfriend suggested maybe I take a whole dropper. He suggested that I was likely beyond the pain relief that would be provided by a step-up plan and ultimately he convinced me and I took the whole dropper.
45 minutes later the pain was bearable. It wasn't gone, or super low, but it was bearable. I took another dropper before bed and the pain went down further. I was able to sleep through the night that night, too.
Thursday I woke up feeling OK. Not super fantastic, but not a whole lot of pain, either. It was a low/moderate pain. I took a dropper in the morning with my coffee and that sustained me pretty well. In the evening I took another dropper, and I slept through the night again with very low pain.
Friday I took a drop again in the morning with coffee and then spent the entire afternoon battling to resolve my long-term disability claim, confirm my new health insurance through the healthcare marketplace (no job = no insurance, had to get emergency coverage!,) and battling to resolve the issues with the pharmacy to get my prescriptions refilled.
At about 4:00PM the sciatica started in my left leg, and quickly spread all the way to my foot. Within an hour, the pain was at a 7/10. I took a dropper of CBD oil right then, to see if I could stop it from getting any worse.
Up to now, if the sciatica started up, there was nothing I could do to stop it. Not wearing my portable TENS unit, not ice, not heat, not extra meds, nothing.
But... the CBD oil worked. Within 45 minutes of taking it, my pain was back down to about a 3 or 4/10. I thought, "Well I'll be damned.'
Saturday, same thing, woke up feeling pretty great, left the house with my boyfriend and actually did stuff for a few hours, came home, the pain was starting on my left side, I took a dropper, hour later pain is at a 2 or 3.
Sunday, same thing as Saturday, took the oil, I was fine.
I left the house and did actual human adult things for two days in a row!
Then, Icooked dinner on Sunday. I got my own clean laundry from the basement and folded it and put it away! I took another dose of CBD before bed and the pain stayed low and I slept through the night. AGAIN.
Yesterday, Monday, I had aquatic physical therapy for the first time in almost two weeks on top of all of the activity from the weekend. I cooked dinner last night.
I was still ok. I had to take the maximum recommended daily dosage yesterday, but I was ok. More than ok, my pain never got above a 5, and mostly stayed at a 3 or 4.
I woke up today feeling a little soreness on my left side and across my lower back. That was it, a little soreness. It was enough to tell me, "Ok, you've gotta take it a little easy today. Not too easy, but maybe not cooking dinner and things."
After so many months of living at least half of my days in horrible, mind bending and numbing pain, I almost didn't know what this strange feeling was.
The strange feeling? It was the feeling of not being in horrible. It legitimately took me a day or two to figure out.
The CBD oil feels like a freaking miracle. If it continues to help like it has for the past six days, along with the reduction in inflammation from the last injection, I think I'll actually be able to do some healing and not just damage control. Maybe I'll even get to return to the working world in the New Year!
With that, I bid you adieu. It is nap time.
Thanks for indulging me.