mental health

A Million Little Pills

“Imagine smiling after a slap in the face. Then think of doing it twenty-four hours a day.”

~Mark Zusak, The Book Thief

First and foremost, let me state that I don’t deny the existence of an opioid crisis. I won’t even deny the fact that illegal drug use runs rampant (as my state prepares to legalize marijuana use later this year). Is it a problem? Of course it is. Do I think it’s something that will ever get solved or even shaved down by government regulation? Not a chance. But I’m sure officials pat themselves on the back and raise glasses of champagne that they’re making a difference in the world. However, this isn’t a post about drug problems – not really.

It’s about the dominos those regulations have tumbled.

People with chronic pain fall into a category known as “invisible illnesses.” We walk around looking perfectly normal to everyone else. Because, unfortunately, pain doesn’t manifest on the skin. And it’s a different experience for each individual. Some people tolerate horrific injuries without a problem (and I envy them). Others? They learn to cope with the fact it feels like a steamroller ran over them fifteen times during the night. On a GOOD day, I walk around with a pain level hovering between 6-7 on that silly chart they hang in the ER. On a bad day? It goes up to 14 – and nurses roll their eyes when I tell them. They consider it an exaggeration, despite the fact I’m trying to convey the truth.

Fibromyalgia doesn’t process pain signals properly. It’s a centralized pain state, and my nerves can’t tell the difference between a stubbed toe and a severed limb. (I know, it sounds silly, but if you spent a day in my body? You’d get it) And trying to convey how I feel to ANYONE? Is frustrating. Even medical professionals get skeptical at times. And I’m not the only person in this situation. Everyone with a chronic pain diagnosis? They’ve heard these same words, particularly since the opioid crisis:

“Have you tried Advil/Tylenol?”

And all you can do is sit there and stare at them in disbelief. Really? Advil? Tylenol? It’s the equivalent of being told to rub some mud on it or walk it off. (And don’t get me started on that whole “exercise makes pain better nonsense”) Because when the new regulations went into place, they slammed the door on medications that helped us EXIST. And no one stopped to think about the consequence of that decision. They didn’t pause and ask if they’d affect someone OTHER than the drug addicts they wanted to target. No voice went up to say, “We need to make sure we have a plan in place for THESE people.” And no medications have emerged to help in the meantime. We’ve had no advocates to stand up for us.

“Have you tried Advil/Tylenol?”

Currently, I’m struggling with an “old friend.” And I go into surgery tomorrow to finally remove it. In the past? My doctor prescribed Percocet to help me sit, stand, and walk while waiting to get me into the OR. He (hell EVERYONE) could see the level of pain I was in. And this time? It’s no different. But the regulations? They tightened. So he uttered that sentence. As if I haven’t already been popping Advil AND Tylenol like candy. And when he asked if they helped, I admitted they weren’t. His response? “You can try a heating pad.”

Yeah, I’ve tried that, too. And willow bark. And chamomile. And soaking in a tub with Epsom salt and eucalyptus. I HAVEN’T tried stabbing a blade into my body to see if that would work, but I’ve considered it. Because that’s what pain makes you want to do. It squirms into your brain and takes over every thought. And when a medical professional hands you the equivalent of a Band-Aid for a hemorrhage? You collapse into a dark place.

“Have you tried Advil/Tylenol?”

This is where people with chronic pain end up. Depressed. Miserable. And – most of the time – refusing to seek help. What help IS there? The medical community has turned their back on us. They’re too busy congratulating themselves on “beating” the drug addicts. Instead, they leave their patients walking on knives, moving hands encased in thorns, and breathing with lungs wreathed in fire. And they shrug when we venture to tell them we’re struggling. Because attempting to DO something? It would mean they made a mistake. And they’re not willing to do that.

I’m one of the biggest advocates AGAINST drugs. I oppose marijuana. But this time? I broke down and looked into CBD. I’ve been in that much pain. Unfortunately, it would interact with my migraine medication, so it’s not an option. That’s what having NO options does to people, though. It drives them to a level of desperation they’d never consider. To a point where I’m removing an organ and agreeing to put myself into menopause – early menopause. Simply because I can’t handle this pain showing up every few months. And I can’t shovel down handfuls of Advil and Tylenol and wait for my liver to decide it’s had enough.

“Have you tried Advil/Tylenol?”

Every day, I hope for someone to puzzle out how to manage fibro. How to bring relief to everyone with chronic pain. But at the same time? I wish pain were visible to the world. If they could SEE what we feel, would they behave differently? Would they work harder to find solutions and ease what we’re going through? If we looked the way we felt, would people take us seriously? I don’t necessarily WANT to look the way I feel, but if it made a difference? As I stare down at the liqui-gels and quick-dissolve capsules in my hand that make up part of my breakfast – and snacks – and lunch – and dinner, I find myself closing my eyes and wondering if I’d hear something different if the doctors and nurses could SEE my pain level.

“Have you tried Advil/Tylenol?”

mental health

Roar

This past weekend, my husband and I watched a documentary on Hulu: Hysterical. (No, I’m not a huge documentary fan, but our favorite comic, Iliza Schlesinger recommended it) The focus centered around female comedians, but the underlying message was more than that – or maybe I just took more away from it. The things the women discussed were things that impact EVERY woman. And the longer I sat there, the more I found myself reflecting on my life. I heard words people have muttered under their breath (or blatantly said to my face). I saw magazine articles I’d come across while sitting in waiting rooms when I idiotically forgot to bring a book with me (never do that, by the way). And I remembered relationships with old boyfriends.

Even today – NOW – women STRUGGLE with social standards.

(For the men out there – I get it. You have problems and standards you battle, too. However, I’m not guy. So while I can stand up and preach about what you’re going through, it’s going to fall flat. You can mutter under your breath that I’m not being “equal,” but there’s nothing I can do about it. You can either wander off somewhere else or sit quietly and maybe gain a new perspective.)

The ANCIENT (and yes, I’m going to call it that) image of women keeping house STILL persists to this day. We’re expected to present ourselves a certain way – in public AND at home – speak with specific words and tone, maintain a household to meet society’s standards, and have aspirations of keeping our husbands and children happy and satisfied. And it’s utter BULLSHIT. This is why women suffer from depression and anxiety! That crazy image doesn’t work, and it has no place in modern society.

Women are EQUAL to men!

We have the right to do what we want. That includes NOT getting married, NOT having children, NOT cleaning the house all day, and NOT waiting on a man hand-and-foot! We can get whatever jobs we want. If that means we net a bigger paycheck than our spouse, so what? Maybe the house doesn’t look like a magazine picture. So what? Is it comfortable for the people living there? (For the record, no one lives in those damn houses. They’re staged by professionals for the photo shoot) Maybe you don’t have dinner piping hot and on the table when your husband gets home every night. (The horror!) Who the fuck cares? In our house, my husband does the cooking, NOT me. He loves cooking, he’s a thousand times better at it (my idea of dinner before we got married was a bowl of cereal or cheese and crackers), and it’s a healthier option. And he doesn’t mind in the slightest – which is more than I can say of my past relationships.

We’re sitting in the 21st century, and women are still fighting to get their voices heard. If you dare to stand up, you’re hit with criticism for being a bitch. Speak up about something, and you’re told you’re too mouthy. (And, of course, no man will have you) And women use these same insults against each other! That programming is so deeply set in our brains that we hesitate to tear it out! So we tell one another not to say anything, not to make waves, not to DO anything. And then we sit in the corner of our perfectly-kept houses, wishing we were dead.

It HAS to stop.

I spent SO much of my life following that pattern. Because getting slapped down HURTS. When I tried to stand up and say something was wrong, I received insults and sneers. (If I had a penny for every time I’ve been called a bitch, I could retire to a private tropical island) And females are VICIOUS with each other. I stopped standing up. I crawled back into the corners. I let myself get pummeled into silence. I put up with getting pinched and fondled. I watched men get congratulated while I was insulted – for the same behavior. They were model workers; I had shortcomings. When I attempted to say something, I was labeled a troublemaker. At one job, I received a TEN-MINUTE lecture for walking in the door in tennis shoes. (My heels were in my desk, and the office was down a cobblestone street.) Meanwhile, a recent hire wore Converse every day because he jogged on his lunch break. I got another lecture for wearing jeans to climb around oil pipelines. (Never mind that I ended up falling on the rocks the next day and tore straight through my khakis) The men at the job had jeans and no one said a word. An old boyfriend whined when I got home late and dinner wasn’t ready. He was laid off at the time and home – chatting with other girls online. My work schedule also inconvenienced him after he totaled his car and needed to borrow mine.

And I said NOTHING.

Because I’d already learned that NO ONE wanted to hear me. I accepted the blame. I watched other promotions and knew there was no point putting in for them. I had ZERO chance. I ACCEPTED my place. Through school and friends, I’d learned what I was supposed to be. The words, “I’m sorry” became dominant in my vocabulary. It took me forever to dig into my brain and find that damned mind control chip. To realize how screwed up everything was. And when I finally tore out the programming and look backward, I was horrified. Why did I let all of those people – men AND women – shove me into that tiny box labeled, “Women’s Place?” How did I become so afraid and small?

I stopped flinching at the insults. And I refused to back down or sit down when they loomed over me. Which is extremely difficult and scared the shit out of me, in the beginning. And I won’t lie – people HATE me for it. I’ve heard everything in the book. (Though, since I’m married, all of those warnings that no man would have me didn’t come to pass) I refuse to be afraid to stand up for myself and those around me. And you know what? There are other women out there doing the same thing. When you fight your way out of the box, you look around and see others who’ve done the same. It’s a relief (knowing you’re not alone always is), but it’s also empowering. Because you realize that it’s POSSIBLE to break down the walls.

Women HAVE voices. And we deserve to use them. We deserve the places we’ve carved out for ourselves in this world. And NO ONE – man OR woman – has the right to tell us differently. That first roar of defiance? It’s shaky and quiet – I won’t deny that. But as you find your strength and root out that programming, it gets louder. And when it joins with everyone else’s? It has the power to create change. Never let ANYONE extinguish your fire.