Over the course of 25+ years, from 1998 to when I started tapering off medications in 2014, I had been prescribed over 50 medications, many to be taken for months or years with increasing doses over time. It actually started even before that, with my first prescribed benzodiazepine being taken in December of 1985 when my third born child died. Other than that one time there were the occasions for a pain pill or muscle relaxer as I was prone to back injuries, but nothing routine.
Then in 1990, finding myself the single mother of three children under the age of 6 with no support and a lot to manage, I had a panic attack and was prescribed Xanax. What a wonder drug that seemed like. I had suffered from some depression and anxiety most of my life. I didn’t know it then but it was all related to Complex PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder). That medication made me feel like I was okay. That I didn’t have to feel so scared all the time. Not so jumpy. Not so on edge. It seemed like a wonder drug. When I would feel my heart beating a bit fast and my stomach tightening up and all jumpy, the medicine took that away in about 15 minutes. I don’t remember how many and hiwnoften I took it but it was only for occasional use. That was the first time any medication had been prescribed for any type of emotional upset.
In 1994, I was suffering from a severe bout of depression. It was linked to the beginnings of my new encounter with compulsive gambling. What wasn’t discussed in treatment or therapy was that I was married to an alcoholic who made life really challenging and was triggering my PTSD responses. Yes, the gambling was a problem too, but the gambling was to try to escape the feelings related to PTSD. I had grown up in an alcoholic home and now I had got myself and my children saddled into another one. This was the beginning of the prescriptions for what was diagnosed as Major Depressive Disorder. I was prescribed Zoloft, Prozac, Wellbutrin, Trazadone, Paxil, and others I can’t even remember now. They (the various treatment providers I was seeing) finally got me locked in with Luvox in 1996 after my first psychiatric hospitalization.
Everything was blamed on the gambling problem, which was actually getting worse. Yet if you take a look at that med list and acknowledge my being on and off and on new meds over the course of 2 years, well that MIGHT have been part of the issue with the increasing depression and insomnia and anxiety. If you look at the side effects these medications can have, you will see.
When I was put on the Luvox, I also was prescribed Ambien. For the insomnia. Up until I started being medicated I never had suffered any issues with sleeping. I was a GREAT sleeper. My insurance wouldn’t pay for daily use (this is NOT supposed to be used daily it is supposed to be for the rare or short lived insomnia) despite the psychiatrist prescribing it to be taken daily, and so he gave me samples for over 4 years to keep me on a daily night time dose.
Spring of 1997 I had a foot injury requiring surgery in October. Then July of 1998 I had a hysterectomy. Then in September I was hospitalized for pneumonia. I had finally been able to get the gambling under control and was doing pretty well. I was separated from my spouse. My eldest child had gone to live with his father and there was some angst there, but I was managing. After the rehabilitation of my foot being in a cast for over 4 months, I believe I may have been somewhat managing just on the Luvox and Ambien. I also had been unable to work during all this and had lost my position at UPS.
I had been all signed up to go to school fall term of 1998 but with the pneumonia I had to wait to heal. Then in the winter I took a couple classes at the local community college. I decided it was time to get back up and get a job. It was winter of 1998 that I started my path into the world of medicine. I was a receptionist and UA specialist ( I did urinary analysis specimen collection) for a lab. After I started working at a sit down job I started gaining weight. This was the first sit down job I’d ever had. That is when the pain issues began in earnest!
I started having severe pain issues and the insomnia was worsening. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I was prescribed Daypro and told to stop the maximum doses of Ibuprofen daily that I had been taking for a couple years. I was still on the Luvox and Ambien. Then Zanaflex got added for the severe muscle spasms and for sleep.
I would miss LOTS of work. I couldn’t sleep and my body hurt so bad I couldn’t get up to go to work. I had severe headaches. I had to take naps to get through the day. I was severely depressed and I had gained 45 pounds in less than a year.
I decided to re-enroll in school. I wanted something different. I went to school and got my CNA certification. I was still taking a slew of medications and life was hard as a single mom, but I was managing.
Somewhere along the line I started letting go of some of the medications. I just weaned myself off them. I don’t remember much about it but I know by 2002 when I graduated with my LPN license I wasn’t taking any medications that I remember.
I don’t remember much of my year in nursing school. I had my 2 kids at home, I was working 2 and 3 jobs and in nursing school. I had a kid in juvenile detention that I went to visit once a month. I was a single mom with no support financially or from family. I was carrying it all.
In 2004 I was in a bad motor vehicle accident. I was rear ended at a stop sign by someone going 55 mph. I had prescriptions for pain medicine and muscle relaxers and something for sleep. I also was struggling with the gambling again. I also was in yet another marriage with a man who was not what he had portrayed all our time dating. He was abusive. I was started on antidepressants again. Then came Ambien. I also had been prescribed Ativan while my son was in Iraq after I’d been found in a linen closet at work crying hysterically.
No counseling was ever prescribed. I hadn’t seen a psychiatrist since 2001. The medications I was being prescribed were from a Nurse Practitioner.
I left the marriage in 2006. I was in a daily gambling crisis. I was severely depressed. Yet I was working as a LPN and went back to school.
I graduated with my RN in 2008 and was free of all meds I think at that time. I was still struggling with gambling but managing to get bills paid and function. Barely.
I started a new job in 2009 after moving and got a new doctor. She said I needed to treat my pain and that would help with the sleep issues. So pain medications and muscle relaxers became the norm. Then in 2010 I ended up in gambling treatment. They prescribed Effexor. So I was on that, Ativan, and Oxycodone while in a treatment facility and no one was addressing my Complex PTSD or why I really had all this pain. Everyone was happy with the fibromyalgia diagnosis. That was what was making me hurt so bad and not sleep and be depressed. So that had to be treated. According to them.
I had yet another back injury while on the job shortly after getting out of treatment. That was the beginning of the downhill journey to losing me.
I was loaded up with pain medications and muscle relaxers and they wanted me to do “light duty”. Then they tried putting me on Oxycontin (I was already on oxycodone) and I said to them, “If you want me to work, someone has to drive me and I need something in writing saying I can work, because I can barely walk or talk”. After 4 days of taking it, I wrote a letter to my physician and told him what was going on. Of course, being on the medications it wasn’t my best writing. He fired me as a patient saying I was non-compliant because I wouldn’t take the pain medicine and go do light duty.
My PCP finally said “I am taking you off work for the duration. I believe you are disabled”. I did all I needed to trying to get back to work, but the pain was becoming worse rather than better. I became homeless within 3 months. I had finally been doing so well, paying off my gambling debts, feeling good about myself, working towards my goals….and now I am stuck in a body that isn’t working right and there is NO help.
Then I moved to S. Oregon and found a new PCP. She at first was not wanting to give medications, or so her notes say. Yet within 12 months she had increased all my medications and had me try Savella and Neurontin.
I also was taking as recommended daily Ibuprofen in the max amounts. I also was prescribed muscle relaxers. Sometimes Flexeril and sometimes Robaxin. Also recommended to take Bendaryl for sleep nightly as well as for chronic itching. And also to take Immodium for chronic diarrhea.
It was about this time in 2014 I started using cannabis to get off the opiates. That was my only goal at that time. Just to stop the pain pills. I knew it was a downward spiral as my tolerance increased.
My stomach issues which had been problematic since being a teenager worsened. I had been diagnosed at age 17 with Spastic Colon. As the years progressed they called it Irritable Bowel Syndrome. My gut hurt ALL the time. I had trialed many medications over the years with no improvements noted. I finally decided to just fast for a few days and see what happened. This was in 2015. I found the most clarity and lessened pain and overall well being that I have had in years. I believed I had food allergies.
I literally had to argue with my PCP to have allergy testings. She handed me her completely unused herbal book and said “Here take this home and research. You have been doing a great job healing your body holistically so find what works for IBS”. I grabbed her book and looked her in the eye and said, “Ill take you book and do YOUR job of finding something to help me, but you have to order the Western 40 allergy test!”. I had worked in a lab. I knew the tests. I knew I needed to be tested for basic foods and environmental allergens in my area.
Well, surprise surprise, I am allergic to wheat, corn, sesame, cashews and peanuts. As well, I am allergic to most all the trees, grasses and weeds in the Pacific Northwest. Additionally I have a condition called Protein Specific Cross Pollination, which basically means even foods I am not allergic to can be influenced by the environmental allergens. So allergy season hits me hard, both with sinus and breathing issues as well as gut issues.
So then came Zyrtec, and not just one a day, but 3 a day!!! Also was to use an inhaler and a nasal steroid. I did it for maybe 6 months and noticed little improvement. The best improvement was by not eating the allergens I knew were messing me up.
From 2010 to 2018 I was prescribed 19 routine medications. In 2014 was taking 60-90mg oxyodone, Robaxin 1000mg two time a day, Ibuprofen 800mg four times a day, Xanax 1mg 3-5 times a day, Lomotil 2 or 3 times a day, Zyrtec 3 tabs daily, Nasal steroid, inhaler, and Benadryl 50mg nightly. I was mostly in bed, severely depressed, in more pain than I could tolerate, and just miserable. I had NO life. I was so sad and hurting so bad and felt my life was destined to constant suffering.
Then came my introduction to cannabis as a medicine. By using a concentrate called FECO (full extract cannabis oil) I was able to taper down on the oxycodone. I began by eliminating one half of one dose of oxycodone daily. Then I stopped taking the ibuprofen. Then I stopped the muscle relaxers. Then all the allergy meds. I learned how to manage symptoms using cannabis in various forms and various strains for the various conditions I was hurting from.
Over time I became more able bodied again. I wasn’t in bed ALL day EVERY day. I still went slow, but I had hope. I was going to do this. I was going to keep getting rid of the pain pills and the anxiety medications and the anti-depressants.
In spring of 2016 after my final dose of oxycodone I had a bunch of worse symptoms for quite some time. Then I abruptly stopped my taper of Xanax and jumped off at 1mg daily. It was not pleasant. I ended up hospitalized on two occasions and that brought MORE medications. That is all they know how to do in the hospital. I had the Effexor increased and was added on Seroquel and Remeron and Clonidine. Yet….I was off everything else!!! I had eliminated all those medications.
At that time I felt worse than I have ever!!! I was out of control in many ways. But there was that little window of hope that I could find the real me under all the medications. So I was hellbent on completing what I’d begun!
I continued to taper despite homelessness, being estranged and rejected from my family and most of my friends. I really went through much but I’ve wrote and shared about that all before.
So from August 2016 when I was first hospitalized and had got off everything except Effexor, it took until January 1, 2018 to eliminate the last of those 4 medications. I have never endured such pain and rage and frustration and illness and inability to live normally as I did during the years between 2015 and 2019. I am not fully healed but I am more ME than I have been in 2 and a 1/2 decades!!! My hope is now becoming reality. The constant allowing the medical professionals to band-aid wounds they hadn’t really evaluated is over.
I no longer seek the medical professionals to fix every discomfort. I’ve learned many modalities to use to manage pain, anxiety and depression. I work with a therapist (and did through most all of this) finding the best results in treating the true problem, which was Complex PTSD from childhood and life trauma. I accept that my body has things that are not in good order. My back and neck are in bad shape from injuries. I have arthritis all over. The fibromyalgia is still there but well managed with cannabis. I have nerve damage. Maybe from the two occasions of taking Cipro while being on benzos. Maybe from all the other medications. The main limiting issues now are cognitive deficits from the medications. I can’t do word finding well. I struggle reading and writing. I am easily irritated. I have vision issues. I have anxiety with being in traffic (who doesn’t though…but mine keeps me from driving). I am not fully healed but I’m better than I’ve been in a decade and I’m okay with this for today.
I am so happy I don’t take ALL those medications and I feel SOOOOOO much better and I am grateful my glimmer of hope and the love of my dog and my true love of life overrode everything that told me I wouldn’t survive it all. I am so grateful. I am free from Big Pharma!!!