Fibromyalgia and Narcotics
What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is an invisible illness characterized by symtpms such as widespread pain, fatigue, irritible bowel syndrome, sleep disturbances, mood swings, slow congnitive functioning and stiffness...to name a few.
For me it all started with the chronic back and neck pain that I have experienced for as long as I can remember. When I started working full time after I graduated from high school the pain began to get worse. I was working as a cashier and I assumed that the pain was due to standing on concrete for eight hours at a time. I ignored it just as I had ignored my other chronic pain throughout my life.
It wasn’t long before an eight hour shift meant I couldn’t walk when I got home because of pain in my feet and legs. My neck pain was so bad that I would lay in bed crying, unable to nod or turn my head. No amount of over-the-counter medication affected my pain. Finally I gave in to the pain and visited a doctor.
My doctor told me that prescribing narcotics to a twenty-year-old who had a tattoo on her neck made her uncomfortable. She allowed me 4 Tylenol 3 pills a week, so I worked less and less until I had to quit my job and find one that was less physically demanding.
I switched jobs, and eventually doctors as my pain continued to worsen. My days were spent getting in and out of the shower and changing positions because everything hurt. I have had insomnia my entire life and now the pain stopped me from getting any sleep at all.
When a doctor finally diagnosed me with fibromyalgia I had quit working entirely and spiralled so deeply into depression that I began to feel that life would be an unending black vacuum of pain.
The diagnosis, however, was wonderful. I knew my pain was real and a quick search of the internet told me that thousands were living with it. I was not alone, but the diagnosis, and the prescriptions that came with it, brought a new problem.
Many people take T3's to manage their pain.
Fibromyalgia and Narcotics
The new problem was called narcotics. I had already been taking Tylenol 3 which has 30mg of codeine for about four months. But at 4 pills a week they were having even less of an effect on my mind than they were on my pain. With a doctor that believed me, and didn’t use my tattoos or my age as reasons not to allow me to manage the pain I was allowed as much Tylenol as I needed. As much as I needed ranged from one to twelve pills a day.
At first I was doing everything I could to avoid taking the pills. I could feel the affect they had on my mind. It was like someone had filled my brain with fog machines and made me wander through it with blinders on trying to figure out where I had left my keys or what I had planned to do that day. With my memory failing and my inability to keep up a conversation because I kept forgetting what I was talking about I decided that narcotics weren’t for me and stopped taking them without telling my doctor.
The week that followed was enough to get me straight back on them no matter what the side effects. I couldn’t get out of bed most days, and when I did manage to get out of bed I couldn’t even consider doing the yoga that used to keep my stiffness at bay. The depression returned, along with bad eating habits and terrible thoughts. Finally, at the urging of my husband I renewed my prescription and returned to the world. Albeit, a little flaky.
I then found myself stuck in a complete catch-22. The narcotics certainly don’t take the pain away, I had come to terms with the fact that the nerve pain that characterizes my diagnosis is here to stay, but they allowed me to do some things. I could write, do the dishes, take walks and spend time with my family and friends. Although all of these things take considerably more brain power and physical effort than they ever have before. Without the pills, as I’ve already said, I was useless.
So, really what was the problem? I would just take some low doses of codeine and I could live my life. Well, I hd two major concerns. The first was the fact that while I was certainly not addicted I was reliant on codeine to live my life. I was as much at it’s mercy as I was at the mercy of my pain. When I took it, though I was able to be more productive it was as though I was walking through a fog. I had to start journaling because I couldn't remember what I had done the day before, my house was full of post-it notes because I could never remember to feed the cat and all my friends knew that if we had plans they would need to call me the day before and remind me, otherwise I very likely wouldn't show up.
My second concern was that I am young, and had been married for a year and half. In that time my husband and I had discussed starting a family. Something that would have happened a lot sooner had I not become sick. Taking the medication I was on while pregnant would be a huge risk, and taking it while I breast feeding was not an option. However, carrying around a thirty extra pounds and later caring for a newborn seem like impossible feats without the benefit of medication. There are many alternative options to manage fibromyalgia, most of which cost money I didn't have. All the ones that are within my budget I was pursuing as aggressively as I could.
I believe that this is a problem that many of the thousands of people with fibromyalgia face. To be trapped between pain, and confusion is a rather unpleasant place to be. I can hardly imagine how much worse it would be if my pain had gone undiagnosed as so many thousands of others have experienced. I also have the great luck of having family and friends that believe and support me, also not something that everyone with this illness can say.
If you have a friend or family member who has fibromyalgia please believe and support them. If you have a patient or an acquaintance who is experiencing pain please treat them and allow them to manage that pain. Fibromyalgia is a real, destructive illness. People who are seeking medication for it are doing so because they need it, and if many of them are like me they hate having to turn to drugs. This is an illness than cannot be handled alone, please don’t make people try.
Other articles about fibromyalgia by A.R. Colton
- Fibromyalgia: How to Feel a Little Better
When you have Fibromyalgia you may find yourself constantly consumed by once simple desire, the desire to feel better. Even if its only a little. I found that when I gave two aspects of my life the special...
- How to Improve Sleep Quality with Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia or FMS is a syndrome characterized mainly by pain, fatigue and poor or no sleep. While there are a wealth of other symptoms, and appear to be more every time I Google a list, these three are the...