Close up of woman hands holding a pills.

When I Debate Whether or Not I 'Really Need' My Pain Medication


I often wonder why we as a society seem so hesitant to take pain medication. Whether it’s a tendency to suffer all day with a headache because you don’t feel justified in popping some Advil yet, or hesitating to ask a doctor for pain medications for fear of being labeled a “drug seeker,” why does it feel so embarrassing to admit that you need medication to treat chronic pain? I just wonder where this fear comes from.

Do we resist pain medication because taking a medicine means admitting that something is wrong? Are we so obsessed with being fit and healthy that taking medicine is like admitting failure? Or is it somehow a fear of our own mortality that we won’t face? That having an illness requiring medication means we aren’t in the prime of our life like we wish to be? Is it a societal fear? Do we fear being judged because we are taking a medication? Or are we more afraid of ourselves? Afraid of becoming “hooked” on medications and then craving them?

When I was in high school I used to volunteer at the emergency room, and I’d hear the terms “frequent flyer” and  “drug seeker” fairly often. I never wanted to be “that” patient. The one who got written off as needy or argumentative. I didn’t want to be the one they dismissed as quickly as possible because they didn’t have any “real” issues.

Is it any wonder that I’ve had a hard time asking my doctors for pain medication? Even after being prescribed medicine, I tend to be afraid to take it too often. What will my doctor think if I ask for too many refills? I hate prescriptions that are written “as needed;” well, how often does my doctor think I need this medicine? Does she think I’ll take it once a week, once a month, more or less often? At what point will I hit the threshold where they will stop listening to me, stop caring, write me off?

I feel that any person with a chronic illness has probably been in my shoes. I debate taking my pain medicine, even though I’ve been tethered to my heating pads for days in too much discomfort to move around much. I debate whether or not I should take the medicine the same way that I used to debate whether or not to call in sick to work.  Is the pain really “that” bad today? Maybe I should just try to power through it. How much do I really need the pain medication? (Should I even use the word “need” or does that sound bad?) Even writing about it seems odd to me, as if somehow admitting that I have pain medications prescribed to me is somehow embarrassing. I’ve taken a muscle relaxer the past two nights to try to calm down the cramping pain enough to sleep — is it OK if I take it again today? I never take the maximum dose of my medicines, or if I do I try to avoid taking them more than once a week or so. I’ve had some bad flare-ups that meant taking my medicine for multiple days in a row and I ended up feeling guilty. It’s almost as though taking the medicine is a sign of failure, admitting defeat or weakness. Why can’t I just toughen up and power through the pain?

Then I wonder why is it such a big deal? I have fibromyalgia which means I’ll likely be living with this pain the rest of my life. And yet I still can’t accept that I take pain medication. I take multivitamins every day, and no one questions it (in fact, they tend to encourage it). I take medicine for my allergies and for acid reflux and no one bats an eye. I’ve accepted that these are medications I’ll be taking daily for the rest of my life, so why am I so embarrassed to take my pain medicine when I need it? Doctors happily treat my other illnesses (allergies, acid reflux, etc.),  so why should treating my chronic, endless pain be any different?

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Thinkstock photo by Liderina

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