Women’s health

Things You Should Never Say to Yourself Living with Chronic Pain

When I was seventeen and working the crappiest food-service job of my life, I had an accident. I fell and somehow my tailbone slipped out of place. It didn’t bother me for fifteen years until one day, out of the blue, it flared up. And I have been living with chronic pain ever since.

Chronic pain is something that lasts for more than three months. It can be intermittent or get progressively worse. Mine is permanent; I have good and bad days. As someone living with chronic pain and depression, it is so easy to feel sorry for myself and allow despair to win. It’s also easy to be depressed knowing this is a reality of aging.

I may not be able to control my pain, but I sure as hell can control how I react to it. Below are four things you should never say to yourself if you live in chronic pain. These are all based on personal experience, and it is my sincere hope that if you also live with chromic or even just occasional pain, it will give you hope that you can control your thoughts and improve your outlook.

“No one knows how I feel.” This is absolutely false. One hundred million Americans live with some form of chronic pain, according to the Institute of Medicine, in a report commissioned by Congress. That means that about out of every three Americans knows exactly how you feel, so you are definitely not alone.

One day not too long ago I was having a pity party. I put it out on Facebook that I was having back pain and it never seemed I would ever get better. It was then I found out friends of mine also had crippling back pain to the point of getting surgery, lived with constant migraines, or had even been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

I’m not saying that to scare you. I am saying that to let you know you are less alone than you think. A lot of people who care about you understand the frustration, and they are there to link arms with you.

“I’ll never be able to do ‘X’ again.” As someone who loves to jog, this is probably the hardest thing to face. I couldn’t take my beloved early morning jogs without paying for it in agonizing pain for days after.

So I had to adjust. I looked at exercise options I could do instead of running: biking, swimming, walking, and yoga. Since I don’t like to bike or swim much, I started walking (slowly, and only for 15-20 minutes) and going to yoga class. It gives me a sense of accomplishment I am doing some exercise instead of none, and the yoga is helping strengthen my back.

My goal is to be strong enough to run again, but I literally have to walk before I can run. I have to adjust to where I am now, and I refuse to allow myself to feel sad about it.

“There is no hope/treatment for my pain.” I saw my general practitioner to discuss the pain. All she gave me were meds I can’t even take because of my anti-depressants.

I saw a chiropractor whose treatment actually made me feel even worse and who wouldn’t give me strengthening exercises to do at home, even though I repeatedly asked him.

So now I am taking matters into my own hands. I am going to a clinic specializing in back pain to see if cortisone injections or something similar will help with the pain. I am also open to acupuncture or going to physical therapy. All this is to say I am getting second and third opinions. I am not accepting substandard care and will continue to look for ways to treat pain.

“I can’t.” Just like my inability to jog, I found myself saying “I can’t” to a lot of different little situations: taking the stairs at work, bending down to pick stuff off the floor, getting on my hands and knees to scrub my bathroom, etc. My thought is, My back hurts, so why bother?

That’s not the case. I do have good days. So I need to ban the I can’t mentality and trade it for Let me see how I feel right now. If I’m having a good day, I need to take advantage and climb those stairs. Maybe I’m having a bad day, but I can get on my hands and knees to scrub if I am careful.

The victory here is I am re-programming my thoughts to align with how I feel. I am cognizant of the bad days and don’t overdo it. On the good days, I do more, but I don’t go nuts. It’s about being in tune with your body and refusing to allow the negativity to win.

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Don’t allow yourself to become a hostage to your pain. You do have to adjust your life to live with it, but that is a sign of strength, not weakness. You control how you live with your pain – it doesn’t control you!

Is there something I missed in this list? Comment below!

Blood Be Gone: Why I LOVE Mirena

Let’s talk periods for a blog entry. And no, I’m not talking punctuation marks.

What I am talking about is Aunt Flo. The Curse. Your monthly.

Whatever you call it, periods are something all women from teens to well into their 50s have to endure, and I’m no exception. We shell out hundreds of dollars a year on tampons, pads, cups, pantyliners, and other things to stop us from being the vampire victim every 28 days or so.

CSI: Constantly Soiled Items

Speaking for myself, my periods have always been a horrid curse. I was diagnosed with menorrhagia (abnormally heavy periods) in my early 30s. As early as my late teens, I could sleep with a tampon, two pads, and be on a towel, and I would still wake up on a bed that looked like a crime scene. I ruined countless items of clothing and bed linens. “Ultra heavy” pads and tampons were utterly laughable. As a teacher with one 20-minute break in a nine-hour day, I had to wear yoga pants so I could drag through the day. And it was gross. Just gross.

Sick and tired of the blood and anemia, I drew a line in the sand at the age of 31. I went to my OB/GYN, begging for something, anything, to relieve my symptoms.

That was when the miracle of Mirena was introduced into my life.

What Is Mirena?

Mirena is one of four hormonal IUDs available in the United States (the others being Skyla, Liletta, and Kyleena). It is a small, plastic, T-shaped device about 1.25” long and just as wide. Prescribed and inserted by a medical practitioner into your uterus, it shells out a low dose of the hormone levonorgestrel. There are strings that are trimmed after insertion you can still feel, but it shouldn’t interfere with your normal activities.

Advantages of Mirena

  • Up to 20% of women reported periods stopped altogether after their first year
  • Has a five-year success rate of 99.3% in preventing pregnancies
  • Effective for five years (although some women get a new one after 3 years)
  • Thanks to the ACA (Obamacare), many health plans cover Mirena
  • On the market in the US since 2001 with an extensive body of literature supporting its effectiveness
  • Nothing needs to be done prior to sex – it really is a “set it and forget it” form of birth control
  • If you change your mind and want to start a family, 90% of users who wish to become pregnant do so within 2 years of removal

Disadvantages of Mirena

  • Mild to moderate discomfort when it is inserted (from my own experience, I won’t lie – it hurts like a bitch)
  • Irregular periods and spotting after insertion
  • Side effects include: lowered sex drive, nausea, acne, weight change, change in glucose tolerance, lower back/abdominal pain, and mood swings

Of course, check with your physician to see if you are a candidate for Mirena. But in my personal experience, I saved my pennies to get it and gave my OB/GYN the green light to insert it. And the day I got my Mirena was the last day I had to worry about periods. Other than a couple days of light spotting, I haven’t had a single problem with my periods.

And it has been liberating. I can travel without worrying about my period. I can swim whenever I want. Stained clothing is but a distant memory, and I can even wear white pants without fear. My quality of life has gone up dramatically since Mirena came into my life. And yes, I do suffer from some side effects, but that is nothing in comparison to the joy and freedom to live my life on my terms without suffering from menorrhagia and anemia every month.

So what do you have to lose? Discuss Mirena or another hormonal IUD the next time you go to your GYN. You may just change your life, and for the better.

What has been your experience with birth control? Has it enhanced your quality of life? Comment below!

My Journey with PCOS

My Journey with PCOS

Surprise! You have ovaries full of cysts!

That is definitely not what I wanted to learn from my OB/GYN after an ultrasound, but she confirmed my suspicions.

Between 5-10% of woman of childbearing age have PCOS, or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. I want to share with you what PCOS is, and what I have done to help manage my symptoms.

Basically, PCOS is a hormone imbalance that causes small cysts to develop in a woman’s ovaries. They usually come and go, although sometimes the cysts do need to be popped.

While PCOS is not fatal, it is a pain in the ass to live with. It also predisposes women to heart disease and diabetes if it goes untreated. It sucks that no one knows what causes it, and there is no cure.

Here is a list of common PCOS symptoms:

  • Elevated risk for diabetes. Many women with PCOS take Metformin to help regulate this.
  • Depression or anxiety.
  • Acne, oily skin, dandruff.
  • Excess hair growth, known as hirsutism. It can be on the chin, neck, chest, stomach, or back.
  • Fertility issues. Many, though not all, women with PCOS have difficulty conceiving.
  • Irregular periods. They can be to frequent, too infrequent, or extremely heavy.
  • Thinning or balding hair. It can be in small patches or full-on pattern baldness.
  • Difficulty losing weight. Because of those icky, stubborn hormones, women in our condition are most always overweight and losing weight is harder than for most people.
  • Sleep apnea.
  • Skin tags.

After I was diagnosed at age 31 – and I suffer from every single symptom mentioned above – I wasn’t about to live with PCOS without a fight. I got an IUD to help ease the suffering with my extremely heavy periods. It was a lifesaver because my Mirena made my periods stop altogether. Gone were the cramps, bizarre food cravings, and wild mood swings.

However, my OB/GYN referred me to an endocrinologist to help with the prediabetes and the stubborn weight I could not lose no matter how hard I tried. But the less-than-compassionate endocrinologist said all she could do was refer me for bariatric surgery.

Have my stomach stapled? She couldn’t even refer me to a dietician?! Screw that!

That experience left a bitter taste in my mouth, but I took up jogging and did lose some weight. Because of that and taking Metformin, I am no longer prediabetic. I also take anti-depressants, which I am not ashamed to say.

I can’t deny that living with PCOS sucks. Because it does suck – a lot. I can live with the bald spots and the nasty hirsutism, but barely being able to lose weight and the depression due to hormones make me furious. I don’t like the thought of my own body betraying me.

You do not have to suffer in silence. There are some great Facebook groups for women with PCOS – the biggest being “Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).” Just type that in the search bar. It has over 16,000 members, but so many of them are trying to conceive that the drama is too much for me. I like “PCOS not TTC (trying to conceive”. At over 1,000 members, it is still a big group, but we are all just trying to live with our symptoms and not baby-crazy.

It’s strange to think tiny little cysts in my ovaries have caused so many issues with my health. But I do not let my PCOS define who I am. I got birth control that works for me, I eat healthy (most of the time), and I exercise to manage my symptoms. Menopause is a long ways away, but I will manage this disease as best I can.

Do you know anyone who suffers from PCOS? Comment below!