Tonight marks the seventh day I’ve been completely free of any tramadol. The peak of withdrawal for me was this past Friday night. I woke up with sweats, jerking muscles that were cramping, I puked a few times, I had an excruciating headache, and once I got out of bed the panic set in. I was up all night. I could not stay asleep. When I did sleep it was in increments of thirty minutes. It was a very rough night. That next morning, I began to wonder if I needed to enter a detox facility. It was that bad. As the day went on I was exhausted but as I kept focused on music, and moving around it got easier. I am now on day eight and all the withdrawal symptoms have departed!
I feel pretty good considering all my physical infirmities. My nerve tumor pain is high part of the day, but I manage through it here at home. I had a very successful day yesterday. Yesterday I was able to go out to a doctor’s appointment, make a grocery store trip, make a Walgreens stop, make a stop at the gas station, and do my dishes at the sink! This might sound trivial to some of my readers, but for me, that is extraordinary while only being on naproxen 500mg.
I have noticed a few changes since detoxing from the tramadol too. I have been struggling with severe fatigue for years now and concentration problems. I always walked around feeling foggy, and so fatigued I could barely hold my head up most days. This last week I noticed that the foggy feeling has subsided completely. I think more clearly. I believe the tramadol must have contributed to that cloudy thinking. The fatigue I felt was probably intensified by the tramadol as well. I am still tired in the middle of the day but it isn’t nearly as bad as it was while I was taking the tramadol.
I don’t see my pain clinic until the 24th, but when I do they will have to come up with another plan for my case. I am rejecting to be treated any longer with any type of narcotic, or any type of pain treatment that my body will become dependent on, that if I choose to stop taking it, I have to deal with withdrawals like I had to face with tramadol. There has to be a better way to deal with pain patients. There has to be a way to help us without turning us into pill addicts, or physical addicts. They’re doctors who work hard to get these special degrees. They should be smart enough to figure this out.
I strongly believe marijuana should be utilized in this area. If marijuana was utilized for chronic pain patients, it would prevent addiction across the board. Science shows that cannabis is promising for pain relief. “Science also shows that addiction is very low at only 30% likely to have a dependency problem and that the 30% who develop dependency are people who have psychiatric issues before use” (Hasin).
It is time that our nation takes the stigma that surrounds cannabis and completely remove it. We must begin taking rational steps in solving problems we face with addiction to opiates and other opiate type medicine, like tramadol. Cannabis is one logical step! We must begin taking logical steps in treating chronic pain patients and stop imagining they do not exist, that they do not matter, or that their quality of life is not just as important as any other patient treated in our nation. Cannabis would help so many avoid opiate addiction, it would help improve the quality of so many lives across our nation, and it would be affordable to them. If the Obama administration is serious about this new initiative to help fight opiate addiction, he will move to help legalize cannabis nationwide on the federal level for medical use with a proposed bill to congress before he leaves office. The ball is in your court Obama. Help us, not the prescription thugs!!
Hasin DS, Saha TD, Kerridge BT, et al. Prevalence of Marijuana Use Disorders in the United States Between 2001-2002 and 2012-2013. JAMA Psychiatry. 2015;72(12):1235-1242. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.1858.
I have been a chronic pain patient since my first back surgery in 2005. A little background: In 2005 I became unable to walk. Neurologists found a nerve tumor in my S1, L5 nerve root which was located next to the spine. The doctors also found a tarlov cyst directly next to that nerve tumor in the same scan. This was when my life changed forever. This was also when my first relapse back into opiate drug abuse would enter my life again, in a few years that followed the surgery I had, in attempts to remove the nerve tumor and to drain the tarlov cyst. For some of my readers this information is not new information. I don’t want any readers lost however so that little bit of background information is imperative to have. Fast forward to my trip to the Mayo Clinic. I cleaned myself up from using opiates. My pain was unbearable. I could barely walk, I still couldn’t drive and I was unable to work.
I reached out to the top neurology team at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota in hopes that they could tell me there was a surgery that could be done there to fix me so that I could no longer depend on pain meds. I wanted to go back to work, to drive again, and walk again like a normal woman! They were the best in the nation so if anyone could fix me I knew it would be them. I went through a series of scans, and tests. The results were heartbreaking.
The visit left me helpless and permanently disabled with no hope. The team of doctors typed up a report that informed me that there was no surgical fix to my specific case which was so rare that only two people in the United States have the type of non-cancerous nerve tumor I have. They explained that because my nerve had braided itself around the tumor that removing the tumor from the nerve (sciatic nerve) it would leave me with no use of my right extremities, with no control of the bowel and bladder functions so it was best that I seek out a pain clinic to help me manage the nerve pain. The report included an EMG result which showed the previous surgery I had in 2005 left me with nerve damage in the right foot which had not regenerated or repaired itself. They referred me to MAPS.
Fast forward to 2011. MAPS tries to convince me to have a medicine pump implanted into my back and I strongly object. I start out with receiving injections of a cocktail of steroids and pain medicine. Epidural injections, and a few others. They work wonders! I start walking without a cane more often. I start doing physical therapy for a while in a heated tub. There appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Well, the insurance must have seen this light! The light suddenly gets smashed! The insurance suddenly starts denying payment and approval for these injections. I am now faced with the decision to either live with the excruciating nerve pain and go back to not walking most days or allow MAPS to medicate me. During this time also they opted to put me into a trial for an implanted device called a neurostimulator for the nerve. The trial was amazing and it worked so I got a surgery in 2011 to have the device implanted into my back. The machine got me back to walking but it did not get rid of all of my nerve pain so I needed a nerve agent to help with pain. The taste I got back of the freedom I lost for so many years I was quick to choose medications with strict rules. I told the doctors I refuse to go on any opiate based medications. I did not want to be on any addictive prescription.
The PA in charge of my case at the time (2011-2012) throws out the medication name tramadol. She asked me if I have ever heard of it and I said no. She continued to tell me that it was fairly new to the market, which I now know was a bold face lie, she tells me it wasn’t an opiate but an anesthesia base medicine that works well with nerve pain and she thought it matched well with my case. She said it showed no addiction properties in all studies done and no signs of abuse in studies. She told me that people shown to do very well on a very low dose. I was excited to hear all this positive stuff. It wasn’t an opiate, it was going to work on my nerve pain, it wasn’t risky, so I did what any person would do in my situation, I said sign me up! What a huge mistake!!
The first time I realized that tramadol was actually highly physically addictive was when the clinic left me in a situation where I actually ran out of my medicine in early 2015 (I believe it was 2015 or may have been late 2014). I found out the hard way. I had no warnings and it came out of left field. No one ever informed me the pill would throw me into withdrawals! I went without my meds for two days and when I called the clinic they called in my prescription. This was before a law prevented them from calling in scripts over the phone, and this was before tramadol’s drug schedule was changed. When I called the clinic for the refill and explained to them I thought I was actually going through withdrawals they acted like they did not believe me but called in the script anyway. Fast forward to 2016.
This is the second time the clinic has left me in a position where I am dry of my tramadol. Due to a new law they have to do face to face every three months, the patient has to pee in a cup for drug tests, and they are not allowed to send scripts to Walgreens until those requirements are met. Making an appointment to line up with your med count is damn near impossible because they only can schedule so far out in the month, they book up extremely fast, a working mother, and a full time student that makes things even harder. I made a decision that I am NOT going back on the tramadol. I don’t care how bad the nerve pain gets. They will have to find another way to treat it. The withdrawals have been a nightmare!
I knew I was going to run out before my appointment on the 24th of this month so I started tapering off immediately weeks ago. I am on day two of absolutely no tramadol. Yesterday was the worst! My entire body feels like my nerve endings are sending continual shocks throughout nonstop. I sweat profusely, and then shake with chills. I feel very anxious! I have twitches and I can’t seem to sit still for very long. Moving around helps. I paced a lot yesterday, today it is a little better but still have to move a lot. Music seems to help keep my brain focused at least on something other than the anxiety it feels of not having the drug. I’ve been utilizing my heating pads to help with pain. I’m glad my semester ended! I feel pins and needles in my fingers and toes constantly since I started tapering the tramadol and it has only gotten worse since I’ve gone down to no tramadol at all. I have this strange feeling in my brain I can’t quite explain that started yesterday. It is like I am on the verge of paranoia and fogginess…like I think something is there or feel something is there but I’m logical enough to know there isn’t. It is hard to explain. I have a very heavy ringing in my ears. I haven’t been able to sleep except in small increments of 30 minutes. Last night was terrible! I tossed and turned all night and woke up soaked with sweat and had to shower immediately. I have NEVER had that happen, even with the flu!!! My muscles have been cramping. I am very emotional too! I cry one minute and am very angry the next. You don’t want to know about the bathroom stuff…I know that is only going to get worse by day three…my stomach cramps now, it just started actually. I feel nauseous. I had actually decided to quit smoking a few days ago. That was a bad idea. I know that sounds stupid but it was. I had to go buy a pack of smokes because nicotine withdrawal on top of tramadol nicotine was too much for my brain. The nicotine has actually helped ease some of the brain anxiety at least. I still feel very anxious. This shit is scary…. I’m not exaggerating.
I spent a lot of today reading about this wicked poison tramadol. I cried actually at some of the stories I read. I know some of the emotional stuff is the tramadol withdrawal but the stories were sad, scary, and infuriating too. I was so angry I wasn’t told about the addictive nature of this pill from my clinic. I was angry that here I am AGAIN a fucking addict! This time both of my kids are seeing me suffer through this nightmare. Not the same kind of addict I was in the past but nonetheless an addict. A PHYSICAL ADDICT that this clinic created. I was someone who needed help and now I need even more help than when I first began! Why can’t they just let me use fucking weed, FOR REAL now! I don’t fucking get it. I don’t understand it!!!!! It infuriates me. My life is hell right now. I remember cleaning myself off opium…no fun…I remember cleaning myself off the opiates…worse than the opium…. coming off this tramadol of five years…a FUCKING NIGHTMARE I wouldn’t wish on anyone…I know this is just the beginning too. It is going to get worse before it gets easier. My brain and body is going to go ape shit crazy in a week when my pain has nothing to ease it and the brain doesn’t know what to do with the signals because for five years it slept while a drug did its job…I’m pretty scared actually…I’m taking naproxen 500 mg to help with my pain and I do have some left over lidoderm patches if nerve pain gets out of hand to hold me over a few weeks. My main concern is getting my brain trained again to deal with signals being sent and levels of serotonin and all the chemicals that that tramadol screwed with for five years…I wonder how long that is going to take?
It says here, https://www.addictioncenter.com/painkillers/tramadol/withdrawal-detox/ that, “In response, the brain adapts to the constant presence of the drug and adjusts chemically. Because of the influx of tramadol, the brain attempts to self regulate by speeding up and slowing down some of its processes. When the user suddenly stops taking the drug, the brain goes into “overdrive,” causing moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms” (addictioncenter). The timeline below from the AddictionCenter webpage is just for withdrawal symptoms not how long the brain takes to be normal again chemically. I guess I have a rough two weeks ahead of me….
|Days 1-3||Onset of general withdrawal symptoms, including feelings of pins and needles, sweating, nervousness, nausea, anxiety, palpitations, insomnia and drug cravings.|
|Days 4-7||Drug cravings persist, along with insomnia, disorientation and confusion, and blurred vision.|
|Days 8-14||Symptoms should be fairly mild by this point. Depression, anxiety, and irrational thoughts may persist.|
For a week I worried about presenting my autobiographical speech for my communications class. I had to prepare a speech that fell between three to five minutes. My first initial concern was, how could I have prepared my story of 36 years in under five minutes! My second concern was that majority of my classmates were fifteen years younger than me. My final concern was how was I going to share my story, a very dark story, filled with missteps and trauma with a youth on looking from a perspective I imagined was a huge difference to my own life.
Today I had to present my story to my classmates. My heart was racing; my face I could feel began to blush, palms sweaty, and my voice trembling I stood up there and gave it my best shot. I focused on my breathing and trying to appear loose. Little things were making the anxiety worse like the clicker for my slide show was not cooperating fully. The content making me feel uneasy as well.
Someone had said, “Maybe you shouldn’t share some of your story.” Referring to my past drug addiction and perhaps some of the trauma I went through growing up. I contemplated this myself as I went over the speech several days. I spent days refining it, cutting things away from it, adding material that was brighter. In the final draft however I kept the drug addiction, the information about my mother being mentally ill, and I kept the information in it about my disability.
I mean why should I choose to omit these things when they belong to me? Yes, they belonged to me. So much so, that if these things did not exist I would be a completely different woman today. Quite frankly, I am proud of who I am today. Do I enjoy having a dark past? Does anyone? No, but you have to own your mistakes in order to prevent repeating them. I acknowledge what I have done wrong in my past and I do not plan to repeat them ever.
I stood there, looking at the crowd of my fellow students, feeling my heart in my throat. I took a deep breath and I began from the beginning. Each section I arrived at I’d glance over my classmates, hoping they would be preoccupied with some electronic device so I could feel at more ease with the next section. To my amazement every eye was glued to me. Some were even leaning into the desk as if they were leaning into my story wanting to hear it all, word for word, what I had gone through, what I had conquered in my life thus far. This increased my anxiety.
Fleeting thoughts running through my mind, “they are judging me; they are so young, can they even begin to understand what events I am sharing…” I was trying so hard to push those thoughts aside so I could get through to the end.
Then, something happened. I locked eyes with a few classmates. Something in their facial expression told me they were not judging at all. They were curious, almost mesmerized by my words of defeat, hurt, loss, agony, joy, success, and hope. Standing up there suddenly felt different. I was still anxious but I felt acceptance from the crowd.
Five minutes is not a long time, but when you are standing in front of crowd feeling naked as you share your life history, those five minutes feel like forever. In the moment I locked eyes with a few classmates it changed. Three minutes passed by so quickly and before I knew it I was ending the speech.
The claps I received felt like at any moment it would turn into a standing ovation from the entire room. It filled me with accomplishment, confidence, and acceptance.
The class sat and listened to about five more speeches and class was over. I was approached by a few students in amazement. They said, “They were so touched, and inspired by what I shared.” I said, “Thank you so much” and walked on out of class.
Then one student called out my name, “Rachel!” I stopped in the hall. Her eyes were glossy and on the brink of shedding tears as she reached out to put her hand on my arm. “Your story was so inspiring Rachel, you have greatness in you. Wisdom came out as you presented your story perfectly. You inspired me. I can’t begin to tell you how much I related to what you were saying up there. I see you reaching your goal to graduate and you will be an honor student I see in the future” wiping tears from her eyes as she shared some more of her story with me.
She shared with me her history with an abusive past. She talked about how her journey to where she is now wasn’t the easiest either. We shared thoughts about courage, strength and a desire for independence.
She said to me again, “Rachel, I am so glad you shared your story and I got to be lucky enough to hear you give it so gracefully.” I reached and hugged her I was so overwhelmed with warm feelings for this woman. I did not think I gave it gracefully. I thought I was a wreck standing up there trying to speak to the room. Anxiously, I was throwing most of my flaws into the wind of that small communications room, giving out bullets that could be used to harm me later.
She lifted me up to a level at this moment I can’t describe in words. She said I moved her but yet here she was moving me. She was moving me closer towards determination. Closer to victory over all I had done wrong in my past. She was moving me closer to acceptance that I had in fact been a drug addict, an abused woman, a lost young lady feeling hopeless with the death of my dad, but that those things were OK because I am not the only one carrying scars from childhood, or young adulthood.
It was an amazing end to my school day. I am glad I didn’t cut away some of my dark past. Today I took responsibility for all of it. Today I didn’t hide behind a sheltered computer screen, BLOG post, or safer environment. I am glad that I was able to stand up in front of strangers today to finally own it all.
I am not ashamed of that. I am not ashamed of any of it anymore. Today proved to me that I am finally not ashamed of where I have been, or where I come from. Most importantly today proved to me that I am where I belong and my future is going to bright. I am so excited about my life, my entire life. It deserves to be celebrated.
So Wednesday in English Composition we were made to get into groups to do an assignment. While we were working on the work a fellow classmate asked me why I decided to go back to school at my age? I couldn’t answer right away. It wasn’t that I didn’t have an answer, in that moment it felt that it was a complicated, personal and long answer. I simply told the classmate that I have something to prove I guess. I wasn’t ready to give that entire piece of myself up in that moment. I have thought about that question since Wednesday. Why did I decide to finally go back to school? What was it that finally pushed me to that point of committing to such a long, tough road to travel? Why couldn’t I answer the question? A few things have entered my mind…and now I can share that piece of myself.
The roll over crash I survived in 2012 really jolted me. Jolted me in a good way. It made me realize without a doubt the potential I had been wasting for years would have been a shame on the memory I would have left behind and the obituary that would have been left. I guess that was the main event that pushed me to finally decide to commit. I know you are probably wondering why I waited until spring of 2015 to take the step of enrolling.
Well that is where my disability, and my health came into play. I set a two year mark for myself. I had told myself if I could work, and continue driving bus for two years then I would know I had a 90% chance of being able to do it physically. Driving bus might sound easy but trust me it is a very demanding job. You have to have many skill sets in order to be a successful bus driver. Responsibility needed for that job can be overwhelming at times. Maybe one day I can share with you what it takes to be a successful bus driver.
Now there is still a chance I do not finish or make it to my final goal I know. These things are out of my control and I do not think I should waste my potential on something I have no concrete evidence of happening. I could end up in a wheel chair. I could end up having no other choice but surgical removal of the tumor leaving me with no use of right leg, stuck with a colostomy bag. These things are just a possibility. So is me getting hit by a bus in my work parking lot. Does this mean I should not go into work? No, it means that shit happens all the time that we have no control over and we keep moving forward in spite of those possibilities. It is called living.
So I guess my short answer as to why I decided to return to school at my age would be I got tired of wasting potential I knew I had in a life I know could end any moment of any day.
Why couldn’t I answer the question on the spot? I never thought others would be interested in why I was thirty-six and in my first semester so shock was a factor I think. Also it isn’t easy telling a stranger, a stranger who is most likely fifteen years younger, that you really fucked up in high school. It isn’t easy to say out loud that you were an abused child, angry teen, addict, etc. I know I should wear my sobriety on my sleeve as a badge of honor. I just don’t know how to do that in the real world. That is something else I am figuring out on this journey. I have lost lots of friends to overdoses so to be a survivor is a miracle in my eyes. I have to figure out how to wear it on my sleeve like a badge of honor in front of my fellow students and professors I guess…
It is a new year! I can hardly believe it is 2015 already. I will be 37 in one month. I never imagined I would be where I am today. I drive a school bus part time and I enrolled into community college. I started my first semester January 12th. I have a week in so far. It is challenging with being sick and disabled but I am one determined woman. It must be that thing called ambition driving me. I am going for my teaching degree.
I have come far in my life. I was reflecting back on my life and all I have been through and it really does amaze me. From a chaotic, traumatic childhood, a lost teenager, a drug abusing young woman, a disabled grown woman to a sober, wife, mother and a college student. It has been one long road to this point in my life. A road full of missteps, loss, sadness, trauma, delays, joy, corrections and triumphs. I think that makes me remarkable. Yes I am remarkable.
There are so many people I have lost through the years. I wish I could reach out to them and show them that I am finally on the road to healing completely. If only there was a staircase to heaven. I am working hard to achieve a dream I’ve had for quite sometime that before I let fear, and missteps prevent me from going for that dream. Not anymore. I am taking power back over my life and over my happiness.
I will always be a working disabled woman. I think I am finally reaching the point in my life of true acceptance. My disability and health problems were an excuse for a long time. I do not use that as an excuse anymore. Self pity is what I suffered from. It took me a long time not to be so angry about having a disability so young. I still get frustrated over it being more challenging for me to do things compared to a well person. Riding a bike, dancing to music, cleaning my house, getting out of bed, getting dressed, and doing things with my family. I am finally learning to pace myself with those things and if I can’t do it on my own to ask for help or try again later.
Some mornings I do not think I can make it through the day. Somehow I do it. Somehow I get dressed, go to work and go to class. At the end of each day I am amazed sometimes that I made it though. I like to think I get that from my dad, may he be resting in peace.
My dad. It was very emotional for me after my first day of classes. I cried briefly as I was leaving the campus. My dad would have been so happy for me and so proud of me. I often wonder can he be happy and proud where he is? Where ever that is…
There are a few things I have learned by becoming disabled and I honestly do not think I would have learned them otherwise.
One, people matter, the people you have in your circle matter a great deal. They can lift you up, or bring you down. They can make your shoulders heavy with weight or help you carry burdens you have. They can make you cry, or they can make you smile. They can make you angry, or they can make you happier. Everyone knows this of course but to practice having the positive ones around you is a lot harder to practice. I have learned how to do just that, surround myself with positive and discard the negative. You have to believe in your worth in order to be sure you discard the negative people and hold on to the right people.
Two, no one can survive alone and isolated away from human connections. It feels great to make someone smile. It feels great to know others might face the problems you face. It feels great to say I have some great friends in my life.
Lastly, love abundantly. Life ends for everyone but memories can last forever. You impact the world daily with every action and even when we are gone we can impact the world. It is best to leave a lasting, loving, positive impression in stories shared with those who loved you.
Going to college will hopefully leave a lasting impression on my daughters. I want them to be strong, independent women who will not allow anyone or anything hold them back from what they want to do or become. I also hope that I leave a lasting impression that you should never give up and quit without a hard fight.
I hope I live to see the day my two girls go off to college, or get married and have a family of their own but I have come to the realization that I might not. My dad died when my youngest brother was 13 years old. My dad was only fifty when he passed on. We never know when our time is coming but we know tomorrow is never promised. I try to make the most of today everyday. Even in all my pain, struggles and monkeys on my back I make the best of it because that is how I want to be remembered.
I want my children, family and friends to share stories about how strong I was, how loving and determined I was in my life.
This life of mine has not turned out like I dreamed as a very young child but this life I am living has nothing in it I would trade away. My life up to this point has made me who I am today. I am pretty impressed with who I am today and I believe many around me are too.
I have a long road ahead of me to get my teaching degree, I know. The difference between Rachel five years ago and the Rachel today is I am ready and excited for the challenge and the adventure. May God stay with me every step of the way and lead me where it is I am meant to be like he has my whole life thus far.