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Why Narcotics Can Be a Blessing and a Curse

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I sat there and stared at the pill in my hand. How could one little pill cause so much anxiety? I had swallowed a thousand pills, been on dozens of medications. But this pill was different. I knew that by taking this pill, I was signing a contract. I went to my husband, and started to cry. I fought so long for this option, but now that it was there, I reconsidered everything: did I really want to do this?

I am what you would call an interesting patient. Mitochondrial disease, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and all their friends are illnesses I am far too familiar with. Chronic pain is my life — a ruthless dictator that controls my every move. Many a night I have sat up sobbing; a joint has dislocated in my sleep, or my nerves were sending fire through my body. My illnesses have taken so much — my ability to go to school, to work, to have a social life, even to do basic things, like sleep. I have tried every treatment available to find something to ease it, from physical therapy to acupuncture to meditation and biofeedback, all of which give little to no relief for me. Constant pain is unbearable. It is a nightmare you cannot ever wake up from.

So I decided I wanted to try narcotic relief. I just needed some sort of reprieve, a chance to breathe. But as a chronic pain patient, I know there is no end for me. The pain will not get better with my conditions; in fact, it will only worsen for the rest of my life. Rarely does a painkiller work long term, as you build up a tolerance. Over time, the dose has to be raised until it cannot go any higher, then you try a different medication, and another, and another, and many may not work for you. If I started narcotics now, barely in my 20s, where will I be when I am 40? 60? 80? I had been on short-term narcotics for surgeries or when I had been in the ER, overwhelmed with pain. The pain relief was so wonderful, but as the medication wore off and the pain came back, it was so much worse than before. You learn to live with a certain level of pain, so when the thing that gives you relief starts to dissipate, it is like you are experiencing it for the first time all over again. I dreaded that feeling. So as I sat there with that first pill in my hand, I was filled not only with hope for some relief, but also fear.

I have started narcotic treatment, and I will be honest: It has helped so much. I have had to try a number of different medications to find something that works, but it gives about 50 percent relief, and I have been able to do more than I have in 10 years. I have been able to work a very (very) part-time job, and finally get some sleep. I have to stop myself from doing too much still, because it isn’t a cure. I am still sick, I still hurt, I still experience all my other symptoms and ailments. When I push too much, I will feel awful for days.

But every time I take my medication, every time I stare at that pill in my hand, my heart still stops for a moment. I am still filled with this fear. The fear of the unknown, of the future. Deciding to take narcotics is a serious decision, something that should not be taken lightly. I waited as long as I could, and I am proud of that decision. For me, it has been worth it, but every day I wish I could have managed to wait just a bit longer. Narcotics are a blessing, and a curse. I do not know where I will be when I am 40, 60 or 80, but I can only take it one day at a time. That is all any of us can do.

Originally published: September 12, 2016
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