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

Finding the Closure Store

How many times in your life has someone insisted you “need closure?” You end a relationship – you need closure. You get in an argument with a friend (or even just an acquaintance) – you need closure. You have some kind of incident (I’ll leave the details up to you) – you need closure. Your barista hands you the wrong cup of coffee in the morning? Dammit – you need closure!

Closure starts to sound like a physical object after awhile doesn’t it? Either that, or it starts sounding like some kind of talk show “professional” advertised on late-night television. (Personally, I’d prefer the kitschy object) Everyone has the opinion you need it, they strongly recommend you seek it out, but no one quite knows where the store selling this magnificent solution is located.

Where IS that elusive closure store?

Allow me to clear things up for you. Closure is different for every person and every situation. Which is probably why you’re having so much trouble tracking down that store. (And please DON’T try booking yourself onto a talk show) Also, whether you NEED it or not is entirely up to you. You NEED to breathe. You NEED shelter. You NEED food. You NEED water. Closure? Nah, not in the essential pyramid.

So what is closure?

Closure is nothing more than the point where you can finally move on from a bad situation. (Which means you should probably let your barista off the hook. Seriously, was one wrong order THAT detrimental?) That is the entire magical definition. It’s also why it’s different for every person and every situation. Some people do have physical objects – like baseball bats to their ex’s heads (please note: I’m NOT advocating this!). Some people are subtler: they finally manage to tell their story without crying. You might even achieve closure and NEVER REALIZE IT! All of a sudden you look back and realize you’re miles away from that nightmare. Who knew!

If you’re still fixated on something, then you haven’t achieved closure. No magical store is going to do it for you, either. Trust me. You think I haven’t hunted for that store over the years? Of course I did! I wanted that wand (baseball bat – I’ll admit it; I wanted a baseball bat) in my hands SO many times. I never found it. Instead, I found paper shredders (paper shredders are awesome – just watch your fingers and remember they overheat), Unfriend buttons, and weeds in the yard. Did you know you can rip weeds out of the yard without any repercussions? True story.

You do what it takes to mark something OVER.

The point of CLOSURE is to END it. You don’t revisit it, you don’t bring it back to conversations, and you don’t give it space in your mind. You want that anxiety OUT of your head space. If that means visiting a gun range and turning a target to Swiss cheese, so be it. If it means turning old records to confetti, do it! Take the burden of liars, manipulation, and misery OFF your shoulders. Dump it in a hole and bury it out in the woods where no one can find it ever again. (No physical people – I’ve been informed this is illegal)

But stop looking for the store. It’s just not there. And what works for one person won’t work you, anyway.

mental health

Our New Normal

The human world – it’s a mess.

Sebastian, THE LITTLE MERMAID

Right about now, everyone’s definition of “normal” has shifted a few degrees. I’m one of the lucky ones: both my fiance’ and I already work from home, and our children have four feet and don’t require school (in fact, the little black and white one is already too smart for her own good), so those aspects of our lives didn’t change. But we lost our ability to go to the gym, our grocery habits had to change, we’re still planning for our wedding, and we like to have a monthly game night with friends.

Enter a level of chaos.

My fiance’ reads the news, and I can feel his stress level increasing (for the sake of my sanity and everyone around me – not to mention inanimate objects in the immediate vicinity – I avoid the news).

I encountered people on Facebook that I thought better of suddenly deciding they were entitled to “hazard pay” and extra vacation time when other friends and family members are working on the REAL front lines, in ACTUAL hazards, without any extra pay or benefits – just begging for proper PPE, and I wanted to scream and demand they take their piece of shit petition down and replace it with an apology (frankly, I still do).

I stare at the wedding prep calendars and the boxes that are unchecked as tasks are delayed due to businesses being closed down as non-essential. It wasn’t too bad when the first orders came out, but now the orders have been extended into June, which eats into my timeline. I’m an organized person who lives by checklists and deadlines, and my stress level is starting to bubble.

Kickboxing has been one of my biggest stress relievers, but that’s closed now, and my only consolation is the classes via Zoom…without a bag. Shadow-boxing isn’t the same, I don’t burn the same level of calories, my living room feels cramped compared to the studio, and I have interference in the form of my four-legged children. I have two other exercise routines via my Nintendo Switch and my Wii U, but it feels lacking, and I miss my partner drills and the camaraderie of the studio. We could kayak, providing we could find somewhere to park the car, but there’s that question mark.

I find myself looking at the frustration, the uncertainty, and my anxiety and depression hover right above my shoulders, waiting to pounce. There’s a lot of negativity feeding both of them, and the outside world is doing it’s damnedest to provide fodder. It is the easiest thing in the world to succumb to either one right now, and those of us who suffer from either are the most susceptible.

So what do you do?

I don’t know what YOU can do, but I can tell you what I’M doing. Maybe somewhere in there you can find something that will point you in the right direction.

First, much as I want to, I’m not giving in to the worst of my desires (other than removing those people from my Feed so I don’t have to see the crap I don’t want to). We have the power to choose what we see and don’t see, what we accept and don’t accept – much as we like to forget that. Clean out the trash. I felt better for it.

Second, I’m helping the people I can. That means, where we can, we’re ordering things for the wedding from Etsy – finding people who are local (i.e., this country) who can use the income. Artisans are hurting right now, small businesses are hurting right now, and going to them helps. We’re ordering take-out/pick-up from restaurants that are still open to provide income to those workers. We’re being smart and ordering ahead of time and not fussing about any delay in the pick-up process. We’re being patient with every person we interact with when we go to the store because we know they’re stressed.

Third, I’m maintaining my routine. I have my schedule set for myself, and I’m sticking to it. Sure, it’s hard to get motivated to write at times, and I know that I’m going to edit a lot of what I’ve written because my heart’s not in it – at least I’m getting words on the screen. If I don’t dissolve into a lump on the couch, I hold the clouds at bay a little bit longer.

Fourth, we’re looking at the things we CAN do. My fiance’ picked up corn hole boards from our local Feed and Seed store (they’re an essential store) that are blank, so we get to paint them ourselves. I have the paint leftover from my craft projects, and now we get to figure out what to paint on them (actually, I already know – my business logo). We’re going through our To Do Lists for the inside and outside of the house and figuring out what can reasonably be accomplished (Lowe’s is open, after all). The outdoor painting has to wait for the idiotic pollen to die down, but we can still plan.

Finally, I’m just doing whatever makes me feel like ME. Whether it’s wearing something fun (I love this moto jacket I just got), playing around with my hair (face it – we’re going to have some scary hair by the end of this), or just dancing around the office for a song – five minutes of feeling great is five minutes that the anxiety and depression don’t stand a chance.

Everything is a mess and chaos right now, and we’re all going to have to face a new normal for a while. It sucks – no one is going to deny that. But it doesn’t mean we have to spiral down into our dark places. We know what waits for us there. Good can wait for us here, if we’re willing to adjust.