Why I Became a Pain Relief Trailblazer and Why You Should Too
Pain is one of the most fascinating, frustrating and excruciating life experiences we all get to have. It is a universal experience, yet so individual in its presentation that it is exceptionally hard to treat most of the time. And eliminating pain altogether is a really bad idea because pain keeps us alive; without the feeling of pain we would all be the literal walking wounded because pain tells us to stop doing things that are harmful to our bodies. Pain is your best friend and your worst enemy wrapped up in a package you can't refuse.
What is acute pain?
Acute pain, or pain that lasts less than six months, is the kind of pain you want. This pain helps us to rest and heal from injury or illness. Rheumatoid arthritis pain is not acute pain, it is a particular kind of chronic pain, nociceptive pain which means the pain results from an injury or inflammatory process. Our bodies are constantly accommodating to our internal and external environments and a body in pain eventually will teach itself that pain is “normal,” and the nerves that transmit pain will up-regulate in order to create pain more easily. This is why I work so hard to decrease my pain levels every day- my life has been a painful one since I was two years old so if anyone has a body where pain has become normalized it is mine. I don't want to imagine how painful my life would be if I didn't have a pain toolbox and use it every day.
"Uncle Sam Is the Worst Drug Fiend In The World!"
This was the title of a New York Times article on March 12, 1911. The article quotes the opium commissioner, Dr. Hamilton Wright who says, “Of all the Nations in the World the United States consumes the most habit forming drugs per capita. Opium, the most pernicious drug in the world is surrounded by far fewer safeguards than any nation in Europe.” 1 He goes on to blame over-eager physicians, druggists, and pharmaceutical companies. Sound familiar?" In doing my research about the opioid controversy I found out that we are in the third opioid “epidemic” here in the U.S. since 1900.
The sad fact is that we have a very confused relationship to pain in this country and we have had for at least a century.
Here in the U.S. there is a large push to eliminate any and all pain completely through the use of pharmaceutical medication, and when that isn't possible we ignore it or blame the patient using words like “secondary gain,” or “drug seeker,” and then call the person in pain depressed which makes the pain an emotional problem, another hard issue to get real help for. If I sound a bit jaded, I am. I'm jaded because by now we should know better. Take a look at the white papers for the CDC or the American Pain Society regarding chronic pain treatment and you will find that they both recommend integrated care, meaning using a team of health care providers, including physical and occupational therapists, pain management nurses, nutritionists, MD's, and social workers. They have recommended this for years, and yet when do the boots on the ground ever follow through? Unless we want to continue to torture ourselves, it's time we get over the territorial nature of medicine and let others in. But I can't wait for my doctors to change, I'm in pain right now.
This is why I have created my own version of integrated care. I never hesitate to ask my rheumatologist for referrals for therapy, being a former occupational therapist myself I know how useful it can be. My house has become a healing mecca, as over the years I've tried hundreds of “alternative” treatments and the ones that work I will purchase. I have magnet wraps, a far infra-red sauna, massage wands, an electrical therapy point stimulating device, and pain relieving gels, to name a few. At times I visit the acupuncture doctor, and when I have the money I get massages. I work with an energy healer that I trust who guides me in my lifestyle choices. Over the years I've worked with many other kinds of practitioners depending on my needs at the time, including cognitive behavioral therapists, neurofeedback and biofeedback practitioners, structural integration specialists, all of whom have helped my pain in life-altering ways. Money is always a factor in deciding what to do to help myself; unfortunately most so-called “alternative” treatments are never covered by insurance so often I rely upon the items I use in my home instead of having the luxury of a massage but I know every little bit helps and when I can use my rainy day fund I do. I've learned to prioritize my needs so I buy clothes on sale or at thrift stores in order to afford good food and an occasional massage. I do use hydrocodone at times, but the side effects for me make this a not very attractive choice unless the pain is so bad my body refuses to sleep.
Finding another path to take
This is my route to a well-lived life that involves moderate to severe daily chronic pain. My advice to all of you who are feeling stuck, not taken care of, or not heard by your doctor regarding your pain is to raise your voice and advocate for your needs. It is good practice in general, and the only way to effect change in todays health care climate. Ask for referrals to health care practitioners that you think may help you. Talk to people about different alternative treatments and practitioners in your area and never hesitate to ask about discounts or try before you buy programs. Be careful when doing your research on the internet and look at multiple sites to make sure what you are reading is legitimate. But be brave! Over the years I have tried almost every logical sounding idea I found, and some (like the sauna) actually work better than I could have dreamed.
This is your life, and your pain, and if you don't help yourself with it, no one will. It is really up to you to take action on behalf of yourself and what's better to fight for than your life? Let's not wait for the doctors to start following the CDC guidelines on pain, let's lead the way. Let's pave the way to a less painful life, and if the medical community follows, we will all be better off for it.
Has menopause impacted your RA?