Health and Disability · Invisible illnesses · Personal

Why being told I should take opiates freaked me out…

I’m reading Jenny Lawson’s book Furiously Happy at the minute. She’s actually hysterical! I read her first book in a few hours and kept having to make notes about things I wanted to write about myself that she’d brought up. She’s a blogger who has a number of invisible illnesses and I saw her books on a list of ones to read by another chronic illness blogger and I’m so glad I found her! Just the covers of her books make me smile and some of the things she brings up inspire me to write about my own life. 

So I was reading a chapter about her being prescribed antipsychotics and how that made her feel and it reminded me of when I was prescribed some more pain killers by my GP and he said that they were opiates.

It was March this year and I’d been having a pretty tough time. I was up for redundancy at work, appealing against a disciplinary that I’d been given as well as dealing with a grievance that I’d raised. I was in loads of pain that we couldn’t get under control and I’d finally been referred to see an occupational health doctor through work which I’d been waiting for for over a year! My brain was a mess! I hadn’t even really thought about the prospect of redundancy, that was just a side issue that I’d get round to dealing with eventually. The grievance was being dealt with and after I’d written it I felt a bit better to get everything out and feel as if I was being treated fairly and something was going to be done about the points that I’d raised. The appeal against the disciplinary had me furious and I was determined that I would not have a warning on my file so I was concentrating on that and putting my energy into trying to do my job as well as getting evidence, information and employment law examples to put together for my appeal. I was wiped out and suffering. I’d been speaking to my GP every week or so and we were increasing and adding to my pain relief to try and get me through the days.

On the morning of 9th March I went into work as normal. I had my occ health appointment in the afternoon so knew it would be a short day, and I was actually looking forward to speaking to someone who should be able to help me adapt my workspace and myself to manage my job as it was, and look into adjustments that would have to be made after the redundancy process (if I was successful) as the role was different to what I was currently doing. I had a telephone appointment with my GP to talk about my pain relief as I was still in agony. My mobility was suffering, I wasn’t sleeping, I was stressed and anxious and just a huge mess. My phone went and I went into a side room to speak to my doctor. We started talking about how I was doing and he thought for a while (I like that he does this, makes me feel like I’m important and he really wants to get things right), then he said that I was at the top limit of the meds I was currently on and he didn’t want to swap them for something else as that would take a while, might not work and the ones I was on had been working me for a bit, so we’ll add in some naproxen. I asked about the drug and he said he only wanted me to take it when the pain was really bad and it was an “as and when” addition to my current pain relief. He mentioned opiates and I lost the plot. I was already upset and crying (he is always shocked if I don’t cry at him) I’ve been looking up opiates and actually I was already on them as I’ve been taking codeine for years, and I probably heard him wrong as naproxen is actually an NSAID which helps reduce inflammation and is used for arthritis and other pain conditions. Hearing the word opiates just totally freaked me out. I’d been trying to control my pain levels for over 2 years at this point and we still haven’t sorted it out yet! I just didn’t want to be reliant on tablets for the rest of my life, possibly get addicted to them and then not be able to stop taking them. I have no idea how the rest of the conversation went but I agreed to take the tablets and was going to pick up the prescription later on that day. 

I completely fell apart. At work. In a room off the main office, no where near the loos or canteen…so I tried to pull myself together, stopped the crazy snotty crying and attempted to make myself look human without a mirror, tissues or makeup! It wasn’t happening! The minute I stepped out of the room I was asked how I was by a well meaning collegue. I broke down again and stepped back in the room. Thankfully she followed me and brought some tissues as I proceeded to snotty cry at her until I managed to calm myself down and try to explain what was going on. I think that the word opiates sent me into a spiral of dispair because it sounds serious. I’m not a massive fan of knowing   exactly what I’m taking or what’s wrong with me, I’m more of a “let’s just crack on with it” type of a person and the only research I do into new medications is to check that they don’t interact with anything else I’m on, and ask in a couple of FB groups to see how other people have found them. Hearing the term opiates made this whole sick thing seem real. Until then I’d been pushing through, cracking on with my life, working, socialising (to a very small degree by now) and generally acting as if nothing was a big deal. So I needed to use a stick to walk, so what? So I had to work less hours, not a big deal! So I had to cut down going out dramatically, I still got out a bit! I didn’t feel disabled. I wasn’t labelling myself or identifying with being so debilitated by my conditions. I was still in the zone that if I just did the right exercises, or ate the right foods, or took the right medications then I’d be back to my old self. I’ve lived with ME since I was a teenager and it hasn’t stopped me from doing much. I’ve just adapted my life and slowed down when I needed to. This would just be the same. My pain would get under control and I could get back to my life. The word opiates made it sounds like I was properly ill! Like this was going to be a huge problem! (I did kind of realise this already, but I don’t think it had really hit me until this point)

My friend asked me (when I was breathing normally and not snotty crying at her any more) what I was doing? She asked me why I was still coming into work when it was obviously such a struggle. She asked me why I was fighting the company so hard on my disaplinary and the grievance? She asked me what I hoped to get out of it and where I wanted to be in a years time? (She asks good questions!)

I hadn’t thought about any of this. I hadn’t given myself the time, I was too busy fighting. Fighting work, fighting to stay in work, fighting my body which was an utter mess and when I stopped to think about it I had no idea why I was doing it! I wasn’t enjoying my job anymore, I used to love it, but since I had to leave my management role due to my health it just wasn’t the same. I was so angry with how I was being treated and wanted to prove a point. To whom I have no idea, but I felt like I was the one who had to do this. I felt as if I had to make that point and make the company realise how they were acting. Speaking to my friend and thinking about it sensibly I realised that I was making myself ill for no real benefit. I already had a huge fight against my own body and I didn’t need any more. And tablets are just tablets and if they help then brilliant! Being so freaked out by a word isn’t like me. I wasn’t behaving like me. I was a huge ball of stress, anxiety and fury that had been released on my Doctor as he had said a word that triggered everything off inside me.

I was a bit calmer but still a snotty mess so I cleaned myself up and went off to my occ health appointment. Now that is a blog in itself, safe to say I know I am blessed by the amazing medical professionals that I have and have had looking after me and this man was the opposite end of the scale. If I’d been feeling slightly normal I wouldn’t have stayed very long at the appointment, but unfortunately for both of us I stayed through the entire thing and left in as bad a state as I’d been in earlier!

The next thing on my list for that day was to go and get my eyebrows done. )I’m very blonde and they need to be dyed regularly so you can see them otherwise I look very albino like.) I was very tempted to just go home and crawl into my bed and cry for a few days, but my stubbornness and determination to not let horrid people affect my life got me to my appointment. Of course the first thing I did when I walked in was burst into tears! My beauticians is in an Optitians so not even very private, but being smiled at, said hello to and asked how I was tipped me over the edge again! “I’m awful” I snotted at them ” work is a nightmare, I’m in pain and exhausted, I’m stressed to the limit of what I can take and I’ve just had a horrible appointment with a nasty man who said all the wrong things!” A cup of tea was put in front of me and sweets were offered as I tried to get control again. I failed dismally but they were lovely! My beautician came out, took me into the treatment room and it all came out again! Wails of “what am I doing?” “Why am I fighting so hard?” “I’m going to be addicted to pain killers cos I’ve pushed myself too far!” Came out of me as she dyed and waxed my eyebrows. I was answered with the very sensible responses of sound advice. The second time I’d been told this today (I have such good friends) and it actually sunk in this time.

I was too ill to work. I needed to take some time off. I needed to rest and try and get my pain levels under control as I could not live anymore in this agony. So I rang into work and said I wasn’t coming in until I’d spoken to my doctor. I booked an appointment with him and I emailed the occ health company to complain about the doctor who saw me, copying in my HR manager. Then I went to bed.

Hearing that I was going to have to take opiates shocked me enough to take my health seriously, not that I hadn’t been before, I just think that I’d been trying to find a cure and that made me realise that I had to learn to live with how I am at the minute. It scared me enough to STOP. To take a good look at how I was living and what it was doing to me. I was freaked out enough to properly listen to people around me and hear what they were saying. I was so worried about becoming an addict that it made me look at what I actually wanted out of my life. I wasn’t living, I was existing. Fighting just to get through everyday, and that’s not good for you. I was damaging my health in an attempt to be the person that I used to be, the one who could do anything, the one that pushes through and then takes a break when she can. I’ve changed since then. My body doesn’t push through to that extent anymore. I’m pushing through the pain and fatigue everyday with everything that I do, but I don’t assault my body with more than I can manage. I push myself to do the basics, to feed, wash and clothe myself. I carry on pushing to go out most days. To meet up with people and have a nice time. This is how far I should be pushing myself. Not struggling to get to an office job for 9am everyday! Not stressing myself out about HR issues and redundancies. I have enough to worry about. I have enough to do everyday just to stay as myself. I don’t need all of that extra stress, anxiety and frustration. 

The word Opiates freaked me out, and I’m glad that it did. Who knows where I would be now if I hadn’t had that breakdown/breakthrough? Who knows how bad my health would be if I hadn’t stopped and thought about what I was doing? Where would my mental health be if I hadn’t listened to people who had my best interests at heart?

So thank you to my GP, to my work friend who asked the right questions, to my beautician friend who gave the right advice and my honest friend who told me that no-one had said anything to me before because everyone thought I had my shit together, as I shouted down the phone at her that my shit was so far from together it was scary! (I still felt horrid when I got home that night and did the sensible thing, the thing that I tell other people to do I rang a spoonie friend who would get it) I feel like my shit is coming together now, and I don’t freak out about a new diagnosis or new medication because I know I can deal with anything that comes my way…but please stop coming my way…a little break would be lovely 😜

Vic xx

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