Living With Chronic Pain - Headaches, Migraines and Painkiller Addiction

Tuesday 29 April 2014

Something I'm always extremely open about in my posts, is my personal experience with mental illness.  However, I've never really written about my physical health issues.  So today, I thought I'd share with you my experience with something I deal with on a daily basis - chronic pain, specifically headaches.

It's extremely difficult for me to explain what my headaches are like, and over the years I've had a lot of trouble trying to describe them to doctors and specialists.  The first thing - which seems to be something that neither doctors, nor anyone else can understand - is that I don't just "get headaches", I have a continuous headache - every day, all  day.  The pain is always there - I wake up with it, and I go to sleep with it at night.  It seems to have been like this for as long as I can remember, but I believe it actually started around the age of thirteen or fourteen.  I am now twenty nine, so it's been a long time now with very little relief.

My pain varies in degrees - some days it may be bearable, whereas other days it may be terrible.  Then there are the days it goes past the point of headache, and ends up in migraine territory!  Once that happens, there's nothing I can do, or take, to make it any better.  I tend to become violently ill whenever I have a migraine - extreme nausea and usually vomiting.  On the other hand though, I don't seem to get the "aura" effect many people talk about - the spots before the eyes etc.  I generally get at least two migraines each month.

Image: Courtesy of makelessnoise under Creative Commons license. 
Over the years, I have been to many doctors and tried as many treatments as I could afford to try.  I have tried preventative medications, diet changes, natural remedies, Chinese medicine, massage, acupuncture, acupressure, naturopathy, osteopathy, chiropractic, physiotherapy, and at one stage I was even having a muscle relaxant injected into the base of my skull twice a week!  The list is endless and I just have not been able to find an answer.  I have undergone MRI's, blood tests, xrays - you name it - but nothing!  I can't even explain the frustration I feel at this point in my life.

I feel like I have missed out on the best part of my life because of chronic pain.  My teenage years were not the way they should have been - both for physical and mental health reasons - and my early twenties were spent just trying to put on a brave face and fight my way through each day.  Now I'm nearing thirty, and it makes me so sad that I haven't achieved most of the things I would have liked to, because of my health issues.  I feel that I can never make concrete plans, because history has proven that I can't rely on my pain level being bearable on any given day.  I hate having to cancel on friends or commitments, so a lot of the time I just don't even bother making the plans to begin with - I've been disappointed too many times.

Along with pain, comes painkillers.  It's only natural that when you are in constant pain, you need something to help you keep on going.  However, in my case, painkillers have caused me a whole other set of problems.  I have Gastritis and the beginning signs of some nasty ulcers in my tummy - caused mainly from the over use of over the counter pain relief.  There was a time in my life that I would take upwards of twelve ibuprofen tablets a day.  Even then, I'd usually have at least four or six codeine on top of that - and mostly on an empty stomach!  The worst thing is, that even that amount of medication never actually took the pain away, it just helped me make it through the day and get to sleep at night.

Another problem with overtaking these sorts of painkillers, is that it can cause a rebound effect.  Your body becomes so used to it that when you don't take the pills, the pain automatically starts up again, because your body is craving the drugs.

I hate that I rely so much on these drugs each day.  I no longer take as many as I have in the past, however I still take painkillers at least four times a day to get myself through.  It's taken me a long time to bring it down this much, and I'm sure it will take me a long time to get it down even further, but I am trying.  On days where I'm at home and have nowhere to be, I try my best to go without painkillers, or at least keep them at a bare minimum.  At least then if it gets really bad, I know I can go to bed and sleep or rest.  However, that's not an option when I have to be at work, or in a social situation - that's when it becomes extremely  difficult to get by without medication.

The reason I am being so open about this, is because I hope that someone out there in the same situation, will read this and make the decision to either limit, or stop their own use of these kind of drugs, before  it's too late.  I want people to realise that when the doctor tells you, you need to eat before taking pills, or you should only have a certain amount of them, if at all - it's for a reason!  It really  can cause you a whole lot of grief, and I'm living proof of that.  If I could go back in time and change things, I absolutely would.  At the point I am at now, it's near impossible for me to just stop taking the tablets full stop.  It is going to take me a long time to ever fully stop taking them, not to mention the permanent damage I have now caused to my body.  It makes me really sad to think that purely because of being so desperate to get even just a little bit of relief, I have now caused myself other health issues that I will have to deal with for the rest of my life.

I believe that a lot of my depression and anxiety has stemmed from my chronic pain.  Not all of it, but a good part of it.  People have sometimes asked me, "what have you got to be depressed about?", and I think, 'seriously? - you try being in pain every minute of every day and then come back and ask me'!  It's very difficult to explain to someone, unless they are going through the same thing - just like it is with mental illness.  Sometimes just the pure frustration of feeling so alone and as though no one understands - nor cares - can be enough to make me want to just pull the covers over my head and cry.  But that brings me to another issue - guilt!  I often feel guilty for my sadness, because I know there are so many other people out there who have worse illnesses or problems than I do.  Who am I to complain, when there are people out there with missing limbs, or terminal cancer, or are deaf or blind or unable to walk, or even worse?  I feel so guilty for letting this get me down, but sometimes, I think I just get worn down by it all.  I become exhausted from putting on a fake smile or laugh, and pretending everything is ok - purely because I know if I were honest with everyone and told them how miserable I really  feel every day, eventually they would not want to be around me.  Who wants to be around someone who is always in pain and feeling bad?

There are so many factors in coping with chronic pain, whatever kind it may be.  From physical to emotional, it effects every  aspect of your life.  So, if you  are experiencing it firsthand also, please know that you are not alone.  I'm right there with you and I know how tough it is.  I know how frustrated you feel, and how much you just want to feel better.  I wish I could provide the ultimate answer to fix it, but unfortunately I haven't found it for myself yet.  But one day I will... I'm counting on that!
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1 comment:

  1. Hi Stephanie,

    You and i have never actaualy met, i got onto reading your blog through my fiance Marco knowing your fiance and i'm now friends with him on facebook too. He's promoted your page quite a few times so i thought i'd take a look.

    I'm glad i did, we seem to have a lot in common and i feel i can relate to some of the stuff you go through. I myself have suffered briefly from depression and have a brother with a special need, i also get headaches and migraines, though nowhere near as often as you. I've also been following quite a few beauty/other YouTubers for quite a few years now and it's fun to see someone else discovering the beauty community on there.

    I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your experiences and being so open about Mental health, and proving that it's actually quite normal to not 'be normal'. You're an inspiration to others, never stop what you do.



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