There have only been a few things that have helped me cope with the pain recently. But as time goes on, I’m learning more about what works and what doesn’t. Here are some things that I have found helpful so far.
Mainly in the form of a hot shower or heating pad. At home, you can almost always find me curled up with my heating pad. I sleep with it every night and wake up to turn it back on when the auto-off function kicks in. Warm showers have also been a major help. The heat from the water seems to help soothe and loosen up my tight, aching muscles. Showers are somewhat of a frustration, though, as the heat and water dry out my skin and make my eczema worse. Because of this, I only shower 2-3 times a week. I’ve found that showering at night helps my muscles relax a bit and I’m able to sleep better. Tiger Balm has also been super helpful to use at school and in clinical, although the smell is very noticeable. But having the heat and tingling sensation on my trigger points provides a bit of relief until I can get back home and back to my heating pad!
While my medication regimen isn’t perfect yet, there have been a few medications that have helped me tremendously. OTC pain relievers don’t come close to providing relief. I’ve been prescribed Norco 5/325 as a last-ditch-effort when the pain is unbearable. I end up taking one dose two to three times a week on average. It’s not ideal, but sometimes it’s the only thing that works.
I’m also taking duloxetine (Cymbalta) at 40 mg. I haven’t noticed it helping my pain very much, but it has done wonders for my anxiety and depression. I went from being severely depressed and anxious (I was having several panic attacks a week) to feeling very minimal anxiety and few depression symptoms. I’m not at 100% yet, but it’s so wonderful to feel like me again. I honestly don’t think I could handle my current situation without this drug. My psychiatrist is helping me to slowly increase the dose up to 60 mg, as that is the usual dosage for chronic pain. I’m hoping that a higher dose will provide some pain relief as well. But I’m very thankful for how much Cymbalta has improved my mental state!
Another drug that has worked wonders for me is Trazodone. My psychiatrist recently prescribed me the Trazodone to help me fall asleep. My normal sleep pattern for the past two years has started with me lying in bed for at least an hour before falling asleep. With the recent onset of pain, there have been many nights where I’ve only slept an hour or two. Not a great thing to happen when I’m trying to finish nursing school! I’d been relying on Ativan to help knock me out so that I could sleep, but I hated the hangover feeling it gave me. I also didn’t want to be taking a benzodiazepine that frequently. The Trazodone has helped me fall asleep much faster, and I don’t have that hangover feeling in the morning. I also feel like I’m getting a better quality of sleep, which I’m so thankful for!
I’m taking Gabapentin as well (only 100mg), but I haven’t noticed any difference in my symptoms. My PCP put me on an extremely small dose because she was concerned about the side effects. I’m hoping that she will be increasing that dosage soon. I’ve been taking Magnesium, Calcium, and Vitamin D supplements, but I honestly haven’t noticed them helping much.
**A note on medications and doctors: I’ve learned that I absolutely have to advocate for myself. In nursing school, we are taught constantly the importance of advocating for our patients. But it’s been so hard to advocate for myself. Sometimes I think that my doctor’s office has dubbed me the crazy 20-year-old hypochondriac that thinks she knows more than her doctor. My PCP has been extremely supportive and open to trying different treatments, but it has still been difficult to advocate for what I need, even if it’s just something for pain relief.**
3. Staying Busy
This was something I learned from my mom, who also has fibromyalgia. I ask her often, “How the heck do you deal with this every day?” And her answer is always the same: “I just try to stay busy so I don’t think about it.” I hated hearing that when I was exhausted and hurting. All I wanted to do was lie in bed and sleep (or try to sleep anyway!). But I’ve found this to be extremely useful. When I can barely stand to fold my laundry, I turn on a TV show–right now it’s Gilmore Girls! Focusing on the show helps distract me from the pain and I’m able to get my laundry done. If I’m waiting at a doctor’s office, I bring something to study or read that will distract me from the pain. If I’m sitting through a long, boring lecture for school, I bring a coloring book. I’ve come to realize that I’m always going to be in pain–it’s always going to hurt. But I don’t want the pain to stop me from living my life. When I stop doing things, I start focusing on the pain and start getting emotionally frustrated. It just makes everything worse.
Have you discovered anything that has helped you deal with chronic pain?