How do you manage your pain? Meditation, counselling, pacing, massage, physiotherapy, exercise… medication?
We often seem to flinch at long term medication, reacting to it as a necessary evil. And it’s certainly true that popping a few pills to ‘take away the pain’ is a bit of a myth. There are sometimes costs to consider, side effects, and how pain medications interact with any other medication that you could need also. It’s daunting.
And then there are the practicalities of mediation; managing repeat prescriptions (running out is no joke) and even just remembering to take the pills! I have four alarms on my phone at five minute intervals to act as a digital nag… and I still forgot today.
Now, my medication suits me and I (usually!) manage to take it when I need it. This isn’t always the case, and not having the right medication, or struggling to live with side effects or the logistics of taking it, can challenge our relationship with this chronic pain aid.
But even where medication is of help, we can still have mixed feelings about it. I just did a quick google search, “managing chronic pain” and the first website listed was an NHS page advising four approaches: exercise, staying at work, physical therapy… with painkillers listed last. WebMD’s article, 11 Tips for Living with Chronic Pain, mentions some very helpful ideas, but doesn’t mention pain medication at all. I’m now less surprised by the mixed feelings about pain medication. It seems we can be uncomfortable thinking about relying on medication to sustain people long term.
I believe that we can fall into a certain fear narrative regarding pain medication. We fear dependence, we are ashamed of how our bodies have failed to self-sustain, or we fear that the medication will mask the reality of the condition we live with, dulling our sense of who we are.
Chronic pain is an emotive topic, and medication hardly less so. And I am not an expert on pain medication. But emotions? These I feel more familiar with. To have a chronic condition increases the chance we will become more dependent on others. And this dependence typically makes us very uncomfortable, vulnerable.
How do you feel about your medication?
Is it another indicator of your independence slipping?
Does it make you feel weak, as though you have failed?
Do you fear a future with pills?
Let’s flip that narrative.
In what way can your medication be seen as facilitating your independence?
Can the way you manage your medication remind you of your strength, your problem-solving capacity?
Can a future with pills feel… without shame or fear? Can it simply be your future, lived with whatever resources you feel you need?
We can rewrite the stories we tell ourselves about our chronic pain. And if those stories tell narratives of failure and shame, there is urgency in the rewrite. We need our stories to allow us to be the hero, to allow us to rest in what works for us, whether that be a change in diet or a change in medication. We need our stories to let us enjoy what works for us.
Yes to yoga, eating well, gentle exercise, meditation and counselling. These are all choices we make to gift our bodies what we need.
… and maybe yes to medication being a gift also? A gift that we give ourselves too?
*The NHS also provides pain management programmes, indicating their full awareness and engagement with the broad life impact of chronic conditions. I am in no way dismissing these as ‘not enough’. Rather I am simply pondering our sometime reluctance to allow ourselves to feel positive about medicinal interventions.