The World is a Little Emptier…

The dictionary defines grief as: “Keen mental suffering or distress over affliction of loss; sharp sorrow, painful regret.” As surgeons, as scientists, we’re taught to learn from and rely on books, on definitions, on definitives but in life, strict definitions rarely apply. In life, grief can look like a lot of things that bare little resemblance to sharp sorrow. ~ Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy

My world feels a little quieter, a little emptier…..there’s something missing. Johnna‘s quick, slightly snarky challenging of the CDC on Facebook with her #DearCDC, pictures of ducks on her walks in New Mexico, her pictures of butter and chocolate cake. I didn’t ever meet her in person, but I feel her absence. It’s funny how our little blog family exists. It’s the kind of support that is absent for most of us in an everyday place, but it’s something very real even if we can’t touch it.

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I usually just call them my blog buddies, but they’re close friends….some of them a branch of my family.

I’m probably not making a lot of sense to the people that didn’t spend today watching the video from Johnna’s sister or sharing memories in comments, but every time I think I can take a deep breath and set it down, I get a lump in my throat. I miss her. I remember we knew… I knew, and I’m reading that I wasn’t the only one.

Nobody heard from her after noon on January 24th,and only now are we sharing a memorial. I close my eyes, and I tell her I hope you know you were not alone, you were never alone.

We all made it through 2016, some just barely, and I feel like I’m just now catching my breath from Brenda’s loss. I feel this loss too. This hurts.

Grief sucks.

(I guess that’s the anger part of the 5 stages?)

Johnna Stahl’s Blog Memorial

An amazing woman with a strong spirit. She will be missed. Please consider donating to help with her final expenses.
https://www.gofundme.com/johnnas-final-expenses

Life of an El Paso Woman

Hi everyone. Today we celebrate our fellow blogger and friend Johnna Stahl’s life. Johnna’s loved ones held a memorial for her Friday in Houston. Johnna’s sister, Mary shared this beautiful video of Johnna’s photography and memorial with me. She asked me to share it with the blogging community. Please feel free to share any memories you have of Johnna aka painkills2 from the All Things Chronic blog in the comments. Feel free to also share poems, quotes, music and/or general comments. Johnna will be missed by many.

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I’m so glad I had the pleasure of meeting her last July in Albuquerque. She was very nice and fun to talk to in person and via e-mail. Johnna was a huge supporter of my blog and writing career. She encouraged me to start writing my book and continue freelance writing after a five-year break. Although I haven’t finished the book yet, I intend to finish it later this year or in early…

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The Why

I saw a lot of support for International Women’s Day yesterday, but there was also some really ugly closed minded responses (here’s to the “real women” that didn’t “strike” today). Did you know that *every* March 8th is Women’s Day? And November 19th is Men’s Day? And yes, this year Women’s Day held some extra weight. Because of the events of the past….6 months? (give or take) women are marching, speaking out, striking, 10 Actions in 100 Days.

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I personally lean pro-life, but I’m standing up to make sure Roe V Wade isn’t overturned. I personally lean more hetero feminine female, but I’m standing up for people to have the right to be who they are. I personally am married to a man in a traditional marriage, but I’m standing up to make sure Same Sex Marriage is not overturned in any of the 50 states that it’s now legal in.

I have a mother, and a grandmother, and 2 daughters. I stand up for them. For me. For women that can’t. For my friends, and family, and all of the women in my life that I love. And for all the women before me, after me, and the women that inspire me.  It doesn’t cost you anything to be compassionate and supportive, but it means everything to the peoples that need it now, and in our future generations.

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Chronic illness doesn’t take a day off, chronic pain doesn’t take a day off, life doesn’t take a day off, but I did post a strike notice yesterday on my blog. No, I didn’t march on Washington or lay on my couch and check out for the day. But I spoke out and I supported the women that were doing the marching and the protesting. Because I have daughters. Because I know what it’s like to be a woman in this county, in this time period, in this world.

Why did we speak out on International Women’s Day this year especially?
Because being a woman means….

1. Carrying your keys between your fingers as a “weapon” when walking alone at night.
2. Turning your headphones off (or way, way down) to make sure you’re not being followed.
3. Mastering the “I’m walking quickly but not so quick you’ll know I’m afraid” when someone is behind you.
4. Calling friends when alone in a taxi/Uber/Lyft/walking from the Metro to your car in order to feel safe.
5. Texting your bestie/boyfriend/parents/brother your driver’s details “just in case”.
6. Messaging them when you get home to let them know you’re okay.
7. Sitting near other women on public transport to minimise the risk of being harassed.
8. Pretending to be on the phone in any number of situations to avoid harassment.
9. Giving men fake names/numbers rather than risking them lashing out at being told “no, thank you”.
10. Staying silent when being verbally harassed out of fear if you say something it’ll turn violent.
11. Keeping your drink covered with your hand/ getting your friend to watch it if you need to go to the bathroom/having to throw it out & get a new one if it was unattended at a bar so you don’t risk getting drugged.
12. Making sure someone always knows where you are if you’re going on a first date with a stranger.
13. Toning down statements with words like “just” and “sorry” to avoid being perceived as pushy or aggressive or bitchy.
14. Faking being happy even when you don’t feel like it to avoid being seen as a bitch.
15. Not being TOO perky so that people don’t think you’re stupid.
16. Pretending to be patient when you’re interrupted/talked over repeatedly by men.
17. Spending money each month on period products, which are still considered a “luxury” by men/governments.
18. Hiding said products up sleeves/in pockets when going to the bathroom in public places, because there’s still a stigma around periods.
19. Wearing makeup because you’re conditioned to believe your bare face isn’t good enough
or heck, just because you like it – and being told you’re fake/called false advertising.
20. Or not wearing makeup because you don’t want to & being told you look tired/sick/”you’d be so pretty with just a little make-up”.
21. Debating whether the tweet or Facebook status you’re about to post will result in being harassed,& having to make the decision about whether it’s worth it.
22. Answering/deflecting personal questions about your relationship status/fertility/home life from friends/coworkers, potential bosses, current bosses, or random strangers.
23. Dealing with birth control/side effects if you have sex with men & want to avoid getting pregnant because there’s still no male equivalent available.
24. Fighting with the knowledge that the government (dominated by men) has the power to legislate against your body, and standing up to make sure they don’t.
25. And, finally; dealing with people telling you your concerns aren’t valid, you should stop complaining because “women are equal”. (Also known as the “what rights DON’T women have?!” argument.)

March 8, 2017

The owner of this site is female and on strike in solidarity with The Women’s March and International Women’s Day.

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“We ask justice, we ask equality, we ask that all the civil and political rights that belong to citizens of the United States, be guaranteed to us and our daughters forever.” ~ Susan B. Anthony

Journaling, Grief, Life….

Fair warning, this one’s been kicking around in my head for a while, so I decided to go with the brutally honest approach. Not something we humans do often or well…..so look away if that’s too much. I hope you won’t because I think we all could use a little introspection sometimes. I know I can. And maybe you’ll learn something, or ….well, I dunno something good.

Oh, but first updates:
Dr Lungs has given up on me. I got the results of my PFT (“normal” or whatever that means), and got told “dysphasia patients have this issue sometimes. The coughing, the breathlessness, the productive cough; it comes with the swallowing dysfunction. Your next step would be a speech therapist for occupational therapies. Good luck.”
Yeah, same to you too buddy. So, this is how it ends. I guess I choke on a spoonful of frosting or fall down the stairs. (Or both! I’m an overachiever!)

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Appointment with pain doc next month, appointment back to neuro in May to keep an eye on the tumor. And now it’s time to go bug my PCM because 2 of my other docs have told me I quite possiblely have EDS (Ehlers Danlos Syndrome). It fits. With my prior dislocations and hypermobility (I can cross the bones in my forearm), it’s a distinct possibility I’d finally have some answers.

Now on to the harder stuff to write about and the reason for the title. In the cold light of day, I’d pull my sleeves down, look at the floor, and mumble “I’m fine.” I’m a solitary person, terribly introverted, and unusually prone to stoicism.

But in the quiet dark, late at night, away from too many questions and judgements, I am self destructive. My arms bear the scars of me trying to take my pain out on myself. Those scars are from many, many years ago but when I am overcome with grief and pain I hear the girl responsible for them whispering to me.

Last week I put out a post that was password protected because I needed to get pain out and away. But I wasn’t sure I wanted those words just out in the public eye. And the next day, the cold light of day spoke up, and I deleted it. I guess you could say this is the follow up.

Because I have been chewing on, pondering, turning it over and over in my head, contemplating grief and mourning.

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Thirteen months ago, on January 20th, I got the phone call telling me we had lost my sister in law Brenda. But what I would come to learn by the end of that day is that I had lost 2 people.

Brenda died, and someone I love very much walked out of my life….threw me out of his life, without a discussion, or an explanation, or a chance to apologize. He was angry, he still is angry, and for the last 13 months I have staggered through denial, and bargaining….pleading with him to talk to me, along with depression weaving its way through the days and weeks and months. Bouncing back and forth between 3 of the 5 stages of grief. Mourning a loss because of a change, not a death.

I have spent 13+ months now turning the whole thing over and over and inside out, trying to understand. Patiently waiting for a chance to talk, to straighten it all out, to apologize. I’m trying to understand.

I know my culpability in the whole situation. I would be the first one to tell you how profoundly flawed I am. The mistakes I have made stay with me, the times I made the wrong call, the moments in time I wish i could go back to and make it right, make it better. I know I am flawed. I know when I’m wrong.

But I also know that when I know better, I try to do better and be better. I learn. I work at it. I try. I hope. And I love completely and unconditionally. I am not perfect, but I am real, and I am honest, and the mistakes I made were never deliberate, never meant to hurt someone, never meant to hurt him.

I spent a long time angry at my mother for my childhood. But as I grew up and went on to have kids of my own, I realized in the process of letting go and forgiving her that 1)when she knew better, she did better. No one can fault someone for not knowing better. and 2) I wasn’t exactly the easiest kid in the world to raise. My mom did what she could with what she had.

I got caught up in the searing pain in my chest as I heard the words that my son didn’t want anything else to do with me. The agony of watching him “block” me on all social media, refuse any contact, or allow me any part in his life. I got lost in denial, bargaining, and depression swirling around me and through me.

The pain, the hurt, the visceral agony in my chest gave way to disbelief, bargaining, pleading, hoping, writing to him, apologizing. Months rolled on, I survived 2016 (mostly), another holiday season…a little more rejection.

The anniversary of Bren’s death reminded me I had lost him too.
And oh Gawd! this hurts.
The clock marches on, the sun rises and sets, another cycle of the moon, I keep thinking.

After 13 months I move forward, just a little bit. baby steps.
I forgave my mother. I own that I was not the easiest damn kid to raise. I forgave my father for walking out and choosing over and over to stay gone. When he died, I was at peace, because I had forgiven him.

My husband cannot seem to get his relationship with his mother to move forward at all. She can’t or won’t grow or try. She won’t apologize. They can’t connect.

I am living with an inoperable brain tumor, but that’s not what drives me to try to learn to be a better mother. I try to learn how to relate to my kids as they get older and my role changes. I apologize when I’m wrong. I try. I hope.

I know I have made mistakes. I know I made the wrong call sometimes. I know I am nothing close to a perfect woman, wife, mother, daughter, sister, or friend. I do know that.

And I guess embracing that means I move just a little bit further as I grieve a change. Is it anger? I’m not sure. What I do know is I have reached a place that tells me, that even with all of my mistakes and imperfections, there are some things I don’t deserve.

I don’t believe that I deserve the way I have been treated. That’s not an easy sentence for me to type and put out there. But it is the truth.

The Trouble With Breathing

It’s the easiest thing in the world, right? Just inhale and exhale. Take a breath. Coming up from underwater, you break the surface and take a breath, filling your lungs again. Close your eyes and sleep, all the while breathing without thinking about it.

Breathing is one of those voluntary/involuntary actions we have. We can choose to fill our lungs, or blow out as much air as we can. We watch a movie, laughing or crying, and still breath without thinking about it. Diving under the water, we close our windpipes, holding our breath, and then pulling air back into our lungs as we break the surface.

I have spent almost a year now (yet again…..long story, I’ll share that one in a separate blog) just trying to breathe. I thought it started with choking on chocolate milk  and the subsequent MRSA infection in my lungs and my throat, but since I have had a cough for almost a year and I’m still coughing up green……yuckshitohmygodyuck… and they can’t find evidence of a persistent group of staph that may or may not have set up a new village, we’re still playing the “Do Xunnie’s Lungs Exist?” game. (Or maybe there’s a tree in Xunnie’s lungs?)

Today’s adventures were going back to the pulmonologist for a lung function test. This is the follow up to the seeing my neuro about the still coughing and occasionally choking (yes, that’s related to where my tumor is), then sent to pulmonologist because I’m still coughing, who sent me back to my neuro for a swallow test (yuck), which said yes my tumor is responsible for the dysphasia so neuro sent me back to pulmonologist (can we just call him Dr Lungs to save time?) who read my file again, made faces, and ordered my function test today. (Are you keeping up? Fortunately my neuro & Dr Lungs are across the hall from each other.)

Which brings us to right now. I’m still coughing (and coughing up green uck), so today they stuck me in a tube? chamber? thing, plugged my nose, and yelled at me to breathe really hard. Not fun. So I promptly came home and started coughing and lost my voice. Again. Time to brush up on my ASL anyway.

So we’re waiting for lung function test results. I just want to stop coughing shit up, but I’m pretty sure this is the next stage of my tumor.

I’m going to die by choking on frosting.

The Last Time….

People always get stuck on the last thing….the last time…..the last words, when someone they care about dies. You can use all of the expressions; passed over, passing on, gone to Heaven, going home, shedding this mortal coil. But it all means the same thing. They have died. Their spirit moved on, the shell is left here. Ashes to ashes…

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What was I saying? oh, right! The last thing. We get stuck on the last thing. The last moment he/she/they were “just fine”.
“We were making _____ and then he was on the floor.” Seizure, heart attack, diabetic crisis, choking.
“I just saw him.” “I just talked to her.” The last words. The last thing, the last time you saw them.

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In the blink of an eye, they’re gone. Sometimes it’s quick and unforeseeable, accident, heart attack, suicide. Sometimes a long illness finally takes them. Even if it seems like they might survive, and then…..gone.

2016 took a hell of a lot of people. And some of the people that inspired this thought train that I’m pouring into my keyboard were included in that. But not all of them. Right now, there’s a big outpouring of grief and support for a 4-year old little boy that just died from cancer where I live. That makes 2 kids I’ve heard about in the last 6 months that cancer claimed. The other one was a 2 year old little girl.

I guess I’m just chewing on my own experience with losing people I care about. I think about the last thing I said, or the last time I saw them. For my Dad I told him how much I loved him, for Bren I messaged her “I love you”, my first step-dad I hadn’t talked to in over 2 years and I regretted that more than I can express in typed words, and an old friend died a couple of years ago and the last thing I said to him was in anger.

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The end, the unimaginable, the quiet closing of a chapter will happen. And I don’t want to make the same mistake of not saying the important stuff, or of saying something in anger again because I know how much the regret hurts.

I know the clock is ticking. I’m living with an inoperable brain tumor, and for the first time my husband wasn’t able to immediately wake me up for my morning thyroid meds (I guess I kind of freaked him out when he couldn’t wake me up, but clearly I have woken up and I’m not quite dead yet)….but it was a wake up call. So to speak.

Don’t wait. Say I love you, tell them they matter, you just never know when it could be the last thing.

 

 

Tell Me What You Can’t Remember

I’ve been pretty quiet lately. Mostly because I feel like I’m up to my eyeballs in trying to understand and survive the new version of Sims~The Insane America version. And, based on the blogs I have seen, and the spreading silence of the others, I’m guessing a lot of people are doing the same thing.

But, I saw my neurologist today, so I figured I’d post an update (and I can share the song I have had in my head for weeks now!)

So….oh, back up. Actually I have a funny story and it sort of relates to my new reality of “Is this brain tumor or not?”.

Last night I was making dinner and …..well, I had to stop for a few minutes and ended up calling hubs (who I knew was already on his way home from work) and …
ring……ring “Hey baby, what’s up?”
“Oh hey. Um, how far out are you?”
“I just pulled into the neighborhood, why?”
“Oh……I may or may not need a stitch or two…”

….”See you in a minute.”

I was slicing mushrooms and the chefs knife decided I was a mushroom too.

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Fortunately it wasn’t big or too deep, so we actually went over to urgent care. They said yes, I needed to come get checked out, but instead of 1-2 stitches, the doc elected to do surgical glue.

So I am being a little bit whiny today because I tried to chop the end of my finger off. And ow. And 1/10 do not recommend.

So, forward to today. I had a follow-up with neuro after my swallow test last month.

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Mild Dysphasia. Because of brain tumor or not? Hard to say for sure, probably yes, but stable for now. So I tell Dr Neuro I’m having more memory issues. It’s worse if I’m forgetting something and I start to get flustered or if I’m already upset. But it’s a thing, and I’m starting to write things down and back myself up with support people or apps/phone/tablet/etc. So she asks me “What don’t you remember?”

Ummmmm, I don’t know. I can’t remember. Anyway, she followed up with a memory (Alzheimer’s?) baseline test and a quick neuro exam. Declared me stable (ish) and gave me 4 months before I have to see her again, and bounced me back to pulmonology because I’m still coughing, my voice comes and goes, and occasionally I have a productive-ish cough. It’s gross and hanging around since MRSA last April.

So I go see pulmonary dude on the 16th and plead with him again to please just do the damn bronchoscopy. Please? The coughing thing is kind of a pain in the ass.

So, Xunnie and her brain tumor are mostly stable. A little chopped up, kinda whiny sometimes, still coughing, but…..stable.

And I have had this song in my head since the Women’s March.

(But I kinda love it!)

One Year Later

One year ago today my sister (in law) Bren passed away. I miss her all the time.

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Her memorial, provided to me by her Aunt Lisa. 

We were so much alike sometimes, and so different in other ways. I loved her so much …

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…but I was the one to kick her ass sometimes too. We went back and forth. Fighting and walking away, but as close as sisters. When her kids were smaller, she wanted me to be the one to have guardianship of them should something happen to her. But, her kids were 20, 21, and 22 when we lost her so they’re all grown up. And I’m not in their lives the way I used to be, the way I should be, the way I wish I could be sometimes. I miss the days of her kids and my kids running through the house.

Distance and time changes things. And people. But through all the miles and years, we found our way back when we drifted apart, even if it was just a text or a message when one or both of us was on the move.

The last thing I ever said to her was “I love you” and I hold on to that when missing her brings me to my knees. I’m glad that was the last thing she heard from me. And I’m grateful that was the last thing I got to say. Too often we lose people without having said the good stuff the way we really should have.

I got the phone call the next morning, about 16 hours after she died. I still have the voicemail on my phone…..for a couple of reasons. But mostly because I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to forget losing her, finding out she was gone, and how I felt.

I spent the first few days just kind of wandering around the house, just trying to realize she was really gone. It was like a punch to the chest.

Two weeks later I spent the whole week trying to figure out if I should/could go up to Michigan for a memorial. Part of me still thinks I should have gone. But instead, I participated from here…12645242_10206529635652186_5489238237786323043_n

I sent a white balloon up, telling her to be happy and free. I sent hope and love up through the clouds. A few months later I got a tattoo of a hummingbird on my left calf, inspired by the losses of her, my Dad, and a few other people.  I also have “ana’laigh” tattooed on my left forearm, Gaelic for “breathe”. Inspired by Brenda, and part of my own story as well.

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It’s taken me most of the last year to wrap my head around the question “HOW is she gone and I’m still here?” (ridiculous, I know, childlike….but stay with me….). But what I know now is that even if my loved ones ticks stop tocking, it’s not my time piece that’s affected. Her loss taught me more about going on after the death of someone I love.

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She’s still with me, but I imagine her finally happy, and free, and feeling loved the way she always wanted (and needed) to be. I talk to her a lot. I miss her. She’s dancing on the clouds, and because I knew her….I am changed for good.

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(Wicked)

 

 

The Opioid War; My Story

It’s not hard to find an article about the “Great American War on Pain (Meds)”, whether it’s a personal account or news about what our lawmakers are(n’t) doing for us….I mean protecting us from. Screw that brain tumor and spinal degeneration, chick, we WILL SAVE YOU FROM DAH DRUGS!!!!! ( whether you need it or not).

I never asked to be in this club, and I’m pretty sure there’s gotta be others out there that feel the same way, but I can only speak for myself, so other than the linked articles, these words are mine. This has been MY experience. The good, the bad, the really bad, the ugly, and the humiliating.

My personal journey with chronic pain started back in the 90’s with a misdiagnosed congenital leg length discrepancy. (I have congenital hip dysplasia….by itself not surprisingly unusual. But my case….the defect was missed my entire childhood, and then only begun to be discovered via a really ridiculous diagnonsense of “my left leg being 1.5 cm shorter than my right leg. Specifically, my left femur.”)

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Fast forward about 15 years,  throw a correct diagnosis of Congenital Hip Dysplasia in there (which by now has begun to affect my spine), a total hip replacement surgery, 4 months of rehab and PT, and a good dose of double pneumonia. (Side note: I also had nerve damage in my left arm) and you have somebody rolling into 2008-2009, discovering she has some serious pain.

So once I rolled all the O2 tanks out of my house because they were no longer needed, and tried to get on with my life, I found that I still hurt. A lot. All over.

I got told I was crazy, I got told I needed to see a therapist, I even had “potential drug seeking behavior, potential addiction? Anxiety disorder, h/x of eating disorder. Counseling suggested.” put in my chart.

“You just need some gentle exercise.”

“You just need to find a hobby.”

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I have put myself through:
physical therapy
talking therapy
Reiki
Accu-puncture
Accu-pressure
TriggerPoint Injections (still do. Sometimes they actually do help)
Nerve conduction studies in both arms, twice
massages twice a month (GOD I miss Susan, my massage therapist)
Yoga classes
Deep Breathing exercises
Biofeedback
Cervical Steroid Injections
& Radio-frequency Ablation for C6-C7 (twice)

All before they would consider any kind of drug therapy.

Then I had to run the gamete on all the different SSRI’s, SSNRI’s, and SNRI’s . I failed every 2 week trial. Sick as hell and exhausted, I would crawl back into my doctor’s office and plead with him to change my medication. Every time I had symptoms of Serotonin Syndrome. But I didn’t know it then. (I DO NOT do well on any kind of SSNRanything.)

Then it was Lyrica (pregabalin). Not bad, it worked (sorta), but I gained 30 pounds and my cholesterol shot up to 260 total. So I tapered off that and we tried Neurontin (Gabapentin). Which wasn’t bad, but the higher the dose went, the closer I had to be to my toilet until I finally cried “uncle!!” and told my doc I was afraid to leave the damn house!

This brings us up to 2010, when I moved to Merryland. I landed in the clinic of my new primary care with all of these records and she:
1) Immediately put me in for EFM (Exceptional Family Member status for the families of active duty.) (side note: I got EFM5, if you know what that means you get it. But Chief is retired now, so it doesn’t really matter anymore.)
2) Filled out all my paperwork to get me a disabled placard. She was incensed that no-one else had handled that based on my hip replacement alone.
3) Filled out the paperwork that would allow me to ask for my student loans to be discharged since I now was “officially disabled” and could not work.
4) Referred me to an actual pain management clinic for the first time.

In 2011, I was under some form of anesthesia 13 times for procedures. One for a cystoscopy, the other 12 for various shots into my C-spine. So, anyone can see that I was willing to put myself through just about anything to try to feel better.

Late 2010, early 2011 is when I was finally allowed to have long term pain medication prescribed to me.

Now, I have 6 monthly prescriptions from my pain clinic and neurologist. Three of those I physically have to go pick up the prescription and take it to the pharmacy. Everything is tracked and followed. My doctors and my pharmacists work with me and everybody reports everything to everyone else AND the insurance company.I follow all their rules, jump through all their hoops, never miss or reschedule an appointment with my pain clinic, and I submit to urine tests when mandated.

I follow all their embarrassing, humiliating, difficult rules and jump through the hoops because the pain meds I get allow me to function most of the time. They allow me to run my house and homeschool my child.

That’s all I want to do is live my life, so I play their games.

THIS is the face of a chronic pain patient:

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Trigeminal Meningioma, left side diagnosed 06/2014 ; Congenital Hip Dysplasia corrected with a Birmingham total hip replacement 11/2007 ; Migraines, Trigeminal Neuropathy, Fibromyalgia, and nerve damage present in both arms.

I am not an addict. I am not a junkie. I’m a mother, a sister, a wife, a best friend, a daughter. And I just want to try to live the life I have left. And I need my meds to try to do that.