In each edition of eNews we are featuring a consumer who lives with chronic pain, their individual journey on how they manage their condition, and what words of wisdom they might like to share with others who could be experiencing a similar condition.
Leah is a remedial massage therapist based in Sydney and has been living with a condition called cervical dystonia for 14 years. After being on opioids for eight years Leah decided to taper off her medication three years ago. She said one of the most important things she did when she decided to start tapering off opioid medication was to research opioids and find out how what they did to her brain.
Leah thinks the knowledge she gained through independent research really changed the way she felt about herself while taking medication and enabled her to offer herself a greater sense of self-compassion and kindness.
Another technique that Leah attributes to a lot of her success in tapering off opioids was the process of learning how to pace herself.
“I had to completely change the way I thought about pain. On really hard days now, I don’t ‘power through’ pain, but I also don’t take an opioid so I can ‘power through’,” said Leah.
“That was a huge shift for me. Really being aware of my limits and giving myself the permission to stop instead of pushing through my pain."
“Learning how to pace myself throughout the day has taught me to find a new type of life rhythm, and it’s enabled me to recognise when I am starting to overdo it by listening to my body’s signals. It’s about prioritising things that I need to do in life, and it’s taught me I can’t do it all and I have to let go of some stuff and that is OK."
“Rest isn’t ‘doing nothing’. It is restorative.” said Leah.
When it comes to what advice Leah has to offer other consumers who are using opioids and may wish to taper off but might be anxious or apprehensive, Leah strongly encourages people to really understand what opioids are doing to their body.
“The core of it is pain education. To really understand opioids, and then really understand the way it interacts with the brain, and to understand the way the brain operates when in pain – I would say is the most important thing,” she says.
“Often pain will increase when coming off opioids, and that is because your brain is crying out for the drug, because it is addictive. This does lessen in time, but there is definitely a period of adjustment. But a human brain can change, and the brain will eventually calm down and learn to adjust without the opioid.”
Leah says that the lack of pain education given from doctors and medical practitioners to consumers about how the process of tapering off opioids occurs, absolutely contributes to the reluctance many people with chronic pain have when it comes to coming off their medication.
Because consumers don’t know what to expect and aren’t informed of the process that is involved in tapering off opioids, it is even harder for them to taper off safely and effectively because they essentially are being kept in the dark.
When the burden of finding alternative solutions is placed solely on the person with chronic pain, Leah says it’s no wonder consumers burn out or develop mental health issues.
If you have your own story about chronic pain that you’d like to share with us, please get in touch via email at firstname.lastname@example.org