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When You Try to Wean Yourself Off Your Chronic Pain Meds Too Early

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I just had surgery on my wrist and thumb last week. Much to my surprise, this surgery has been the most painful one I’ve ever been through. I’ve had hip replacements, knee replacements and my feet reconstructed multiple times. I’m not sure why this one was so painful other than maybe because you have more nerves in your hands and fingers than the larger joints — at least that’s my take on it.

x ray of broken fingers

I’m fairly good with narcotic medication. When I say “good,” I mean responsible. I don’t know if it’s because I’m just used to being in pain from the rheumatoid or if I just have a different chemical makeup than others.

I have a friend who has chronic pain like myself, and when you find someone who knows what you’re going through it is the greatest gift. To have someone by your side or at least a phone call away who just gets it is so validating. They understand everything that comes with the chronic pain… the fatigue, the nagging stress, the moments of strong will and the moments you feel you just can’t handle it anymore. They understand those moments of sheer hysteria.

Her husband recently went to the doctor for his severe back pain. For years he just dealt with it and refused any narcotic medication the doctor had prescribed. But the pain got to be too much for him, and he promptly went and had the prescription filled, got home and took his first pill. While sitting there he asked his wife when the high would kick in… she sat there laughing a little and asked if he was in any pain. He said no and she calmly said, “Well honey that is your high… you’re pain free.”

I think that’s one thing people with out chronic pain don’t understand. The outward perception of someone on narcotics is that we’re just walking around high as a kite when in fact it’s the only thing that helps us lead a semi-normal life. It’s what helps take just enough pain away so we can dress ourselves in the morning and get a shower after a long day.

Yesterday I had decided the pain medication was starting to become almost an inconvenience for me. It had been almost a week, and although I was still in pain it wasn’t as bad as the previous couple days. All I had been doing was sleeping. The medication was starting to knock me out. I wasn’t able to get anything done. So I took it upon myself to stretch it. I wanted to see how long I could go without any pain medication. I wanted to see how much pain I was truly in. I wanted to see if I even needed half of the narcotic I was taking. I felt comfortable doing this considering the previous day the pain was fairly under control.

For some reason I was able to really pay attention to how my body reacted to this. I was extremely surprised by how different those two hours made me feel. At first I was fine, but then I noticed a slight headache, I felt foggy headed and felt somewhat agitated. This was weird; it had never happened or at least I’d never noticed it before. All of a sudden I was more pissed off at the smallest things than I ever would have thought. Pissed off? Yeah pissed off, and I had no idea why. I kept thinking, “What the hell is my problem?” I felt slightly nauseated and just not myself.

A bunch of thoughts started running through my head. Is this what withdrawal was like or was I in more pain and trying to subconsciously deal with it? After 24–48 hours I finally decided I had tried to do this way too soon. The pain had gotten out of control and was more than I could take. All I wanted was to just fall asleep so it would stop. I took my medications and finally fell asleep. That’s all I wanted was to knock myself out. That might sound bad to some, but for someone with chronic pain, you know exactly how I felt.

It has always been in my nature to push myself. I have determination. I have strength. I have that relentless need to be more than I am. I admit sometimes I push the envelope too far and it ends up backfiring. Well, 90 percent of the time I push too hard and it ends up backfiring, but if I didn’t, would I be where I am now? That 10 percent of every time I pushed, it’s got me to where I am. Right?

You would think after 19 years of battling rheumatoid arthritis and 10 years of battling lupus that I would have shit down by now. That’s one thing about a chronic illness; it will always, always keep you on your toes. Just when you think you know the ropes, you think you have it all figured out, that you know your limits… it will be there to slap you in the face and remind you that you don’t know shit. The sheer unpredictability of a chronic illness is what makes life hard, is what makes life interesting, and it’s what makes life… life.

In a quick summary though, I would suggest not to try to think you are She-Ra or tough, or that you think it will be OK when messing with pain and pain medication. Take what your doc gives you and how much and how frequent. Pain medication is given so your body has an easier time healing. Take that shit seriously.

Editor’s note: This is based off an individual’s experience and should not be taken as medical advice. Please see a doctor before starting or stopping medication.

This post first appeared on Medium.

Originally published: May 23, 2016
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