Closer to Fine
I’ve been meaning to write this post for a few weeks now but wanted to get other posts out of the way first. I guess it’s fitting that this has also become a birthday post.
People are always wandering in new to this blog because of the whole publishing thing, so for a quick recap: I deal with chronic pain. My condition is depressingly formless with no real name, just morphing symptoms that look like a lot of things and might be ten different things but in the end makes all medical professionals scratch their heads. For ease of use, say that I have fibromyalgia and hypermobility disorder. For translation, what I suffer is random, frequent, unpredictable and largely uncontrollable bursts of body pain. It’s been in the joints, and it’s been in the muscles. It’s moved around. It comes and goes. With it comes a lot of body misalignment; for example, this morning I put out a rib getting dressed. Or I might have just been walking across the hall. I’ve put out my shoulder by nothing more than breathing. Sometimes the pain is minimal. Sometimes it’s excruciating. This is something I’ve been dealing with for several years, and it’s something I will deal with for the rest of my life. Some days I am better at dealing with it than others. That’s the backstory.
A few weeks ago I became very, very bad at dealing with this pain. I have a battery of drugs, a TENS unit, PT tools and more pain creams than a drugstore, but during the first week in August a bad wave came, and I went under, big time. I had things I needed to do and things I wanted to do, and nothing was happening. I had a friend coming for an extended visit and I could not prepare. I could not sleep at night. I hurt all the time, and nothing I did or refrained from doing helped. The whole summer had been one long slow slide of pain, and that week, I broke. The night before my friend was due to come, I could not stop crying. For a few minutes it was cathartic, and after that it was a cycle I couldn’t get out of. I wasn’t even upset anymore, but I couldn’t stop weeping. While I slept I had strange visions of a silver woman with long hair weeping silver tears that filled the room and emptied her until she was a shell. In the middle of the night I got up, wrote down what was hurting and how I felt mentally, and I handed it to my husband. He’s a pharmacist and a longtime veteran of clinical depression, and he took one look at that list and said, "Heidi, you’re depressed." And my butt was promptly hauled to the doctor, where I was put on the antidepressant Effexor.
This was something we’d been thinking about for a long time, because several antidepressants have been found to alleviate chronic pain, especially those that have to do with misfiring nervous systems. Several fellow pain sufferers who take these drugs have urged me to take this step for some time now, but I’d been holding off for fear that the side effects might cut into creativity, as can sometimes happen. Dan had pointed out I could always quit if that happened, but I feared having to make the call between pain and work. Also, I was simply afraid of what the drugs might do. It upset me, thinking about toying with my brain. It seemed to me that my brain operated the way it did for a reason. For all the drugs I take, I do prefer to let nature take its course when I can, and I held off as long as I could. But it was clear to me that week there was no more putting anything off. And so Effexor and I shook hands.
Quite simply, the decision has changed my life.
I say it’s appropriate this is a birthday post because as I sit here getting ready for year thirty-seven, after battling this condition in all honesty since about 2003, I cannot look back and tell you a time when I have ever felt this good. I don’t quite have the energy I had when I was twenty, but I’m amazing close, and I’m absolutely a lot happier. I still hurt, quite a bit—at this moment that rib is really driving me crazy, and I occasionally have to stop typing and shift—but as all my fellow sufferers promised me, on Effexor, the pain doesn’t matter. I don’t know how to describe that accurately. I keep trying, but I don’t think there’s any way to get it if you haven’t had a lot of pain for years and then abruptly get the feel of dealing with that same pain on one of these drugs.
The best thing I can say is that Effexor has lifted me up. I didn’t realize until the first few days of drugs how narrow my world had become, how thin my focus until abruptly the world expanded back to appropriate size. Long-term pain is like water over rock; you do your best to deal, but it wears you away bit by bit until suddenly you are underwater. By will you can raise up again, but it’s very hard. And different pain in different places treats you differently. Pain in my legs, hips, or backside makes me restless. Pain in my shoulders makes me lose my focus. Pain in my neck or head cripples me and tends to make me cry, even when I don’t feel sad. None of this changes on the drug, but with it I feel separated from the pain. I am more able to observe it and deal with it. Instead of living in that misaligned rib or being angry about all the work I now couldn’t do, I took half an hour to lie on a heating pad to try and calm it. I tried to loosen the muscles using PT techniques. I carefully considered my pain pill options. And eventually I became accustomed to it enough that I could work anyway. When I hurt in the middle of the night it’s the same sort of thing. I’m much less likely to get up and go to the computer, and if I do it’s for a specific purpose. (I was on the computer last night, but mostly so I could email Dan a reminder to fill a scrip.)
But there’s more. It’s difficult to say at what point it was chicken or egg at this point, but I had a lot of life anxiety too, either independent of the pain or caused by a weariness that came from dealing with the pain. My therapist and I talk regularly about this part of me that worries, that tries to make things safe, so much that we’ve named it—if you’ve read my work, you know this part of my brain as Randy. The two are not entirely the same, but they’re not alien to each other either; since the Effexor, the Randy in my head has spent several weeks sleeping on a sunny beach with a drink at his side and beautiful naked men in his line of sight. My god, but it’s well earned. I just don’t worry about things like I did before. It’s funny: I move more slowly, more languidly, judging my actions less and simply riding waves, but I feel acutely that I have more time. Frequently I look up and find myself surprised to see it’s noon instead of despairing that it’s 3PM. I think so far that’s my favorite part.
And I can still write. I still see the stories in my head—three or four have wandered in since the drug, and I’ve actually done a better job of editing the current mess (Two to Tango) than I’ve yet been able to. I’ve done a little drafting of new material, but not much; right now, I’m resting. I will write, but I don’t feel panicked about it. Oh, I’m still Virgo, looking ahead and watching currents, debating courses of action, hatching plans and attaching contingences and alternate routes. But I’m doing so with joy, with ease, and with determination, not out of panic or frustration or a sense of being behind.
I am not in nirvanna. I still hurt, and I’m still tired. But I hurt a lot less, the hurt bothers me less, and I have my focus back. The fog is gone. The weariness, not of body but of spirit that goes with dealing with chronic pain, is gone. In the past week I’ve had three alarming bouts with vertigo—one was while I was swimming laps, which let me tell you, was fun. Two of those episodes were crippling, and the pain that’s come with them all has quite literally laid me flat. Even this isn’t upsetting me. It concerns me, and I’m investigating things—but still, I’m separate from the pain. It is not me. It is part of me, it is part of my life, but it is not me. I cannot express to you how freeing this is.
Going on the drug was not easy, and I’m not talking about the decision. There were some funky side effects, including a bad drug trip for a few hours the first night. I had to wade up the dosage scale very slowly. I went through bouts of mania and sleepiness. And even with the drug, I still have to do mental work. I still have to be Heidi the Amazon, facing down the pain, the day, the work, the challenge. But what I love most is that I can. That’s something I haven’t known, not fully, for a long, long time.
Today is my birthday. I’m celebrating with a chiropractic appointment (to fix that rib and check on the vertigo), a massage, a parent-teacher conference, and a homemade cake I helped frost. I’m spending some time with myself enjoying the nice weather. But mostly, cheesy as it sounds, this birthday I am most grateful for the gift of myself. The gift of my mind, cleared, freed, and empowered. Yes, I have to take a pill every day to get it. I don’t care. Every day I’m aware of the miracle that feeling this good in mind (and sometimes even body) is, becasue I know quite acutely how it feels to not have it. I am so grateful and so happy. And so very fortunate to have married who I did, because he made sure I got on the drug and acclimated to it intelligently.
Thank you to everyone who helped me with this. Thank you to those who encouraged me here. Thank you to those who quite literally have walked with me as I acclimated to it. Thank you to those of you who have received less of me than you deserved in the past because of the pain but have been patient with me anyway.
Thank you Effexor, for the best birthday I’ve had in a long, long time.