1 in 5 Australians suffer from chronic pain, but a survey recently found that only 10% of those have access to adequate treatment.
Chronic pain costs the economy an estimate $34.3 billion every year, and yet a proven safe, proven effective treatment is still illegal, because of nothing more than stigma surrounding the plant it comes from.
Every morning I get up, make myself breakfast and coffee. I sit down, eat, drink and watch some t.v. while I wake up for the day.
Then I take my drugs.
I have been told I don’t need them, that I’m weak for relying on them and that if I just tried I wouldn’t have to take them.
Honestly, I’d rather not take them. But without them, my life would be severely different.
When I turned 13 I started suffering from debilitating migraines, ones that would have me out of school, vomiting and crying for two days a month. When I was 14, I failed a science test because I had missed a week of school when they covered the topic.
Teachers assumed I was skipping school and told my mother I was a party animal, and I would fail if I didn’t “get it together”. In fact, the reality was that I was brought up in a very strict household.
I was prescribed a hormonal contraceptive to help my migraines, and almost immediately they stopped. I could attend school regularly, and in fact, do very well. I still take this medication nearly 15 years later because, without it, my migraines return and it makes it impossible to perform at my job.
In 2012 I suffered a workplace injury to my lower back that was initially diagnosed as a pulled muscle, and case closed. I was in bed for a week with extreme back pain, so bad it made me feel nauseous. It would get better and then flare up, rendering me bed bound for a day or two. It was too painful to run or lift weights, so I stopped going to the gym, stopped all my hobbies, because of the pain. Because I stopped exercising, I gained 20kg in 2 years. Doctor after doctor told me it was a “woman thing” or a “weight issue” or that I was “exaggerating”. It was so uncomfortable that I could not sleep through the night without having to wake up and stretch.
I started to feel angry and frustrated that I was struggling to make it through a day of work. I was always tired from not sleeping enough, I needed to sit down frequently to ease the pain in my back, and I just didn’t have the energy I used to. I was also hopelessly sad; is this my lot in life? Push through pain day after day, only to be too exhausted to do anything for me?
My boss at the time took me aside and told me that my performance was sub-standard and that I needed to improve or I would be let go.
That’s when I was diagnosed with GAD or general anxiety disorder, and depression. Medicating for this helped me be more upbeat and focused on my work, and my performance improved. I was still in pain and unable to sleep properly, but I was doing my best to treat this with over the counter painkillers, as my doctor at the time had recommended.
Last year, I started noticing when my back hurt a lot, one of both of my legs would tingle, have a shooting pain, or go numb entirely. I had two episodes where my lower back seised up entirely, and my entire body was in jolts of pain, I was nauseous and dizzy, unable to stand or even put together a cohesive sentence.
It took 7 doctors before one sent me for a Medicare-covered CT scan, where she discovered I have a bulging disc, made worse by 5 years of wear and tear, the pain of which was dulled by daily painkiller use, which causes my sciatica. Of course, it is aggravated by my job (being on my feet for 10 hours a day) and my lack of sleep (caused by the pain). I now have to take both a skeletal muscle relaxant and over the counter painkillers daily to be able to get through a 10 hour shift.
After discovering my pain was real and not imagined or exaggerated, the doctor also believed me when I complained of not being able to sleep. To help I need to take melanin, because I don’t get enough sunlight, so my circadian rhythm is messed up, and a heavy-duty sleeping tablet, but on rotation so I don’t become reliant on the sleeping tablets. I also take a daily multivitamin, because processing 15 tablets every day takes a toll on my liver and kidneys.
It costs me $170 a month to function enough to get out of bed, feed my cats, and hold down a job. And, as fun side effects, I also get to experience weight gain, mood fluctuations and constant dry mouth. Not to mention the recent studies which have been released linking some of my medications to cancer, suicidal tendencies, and long term kidney damage.
As a bonus, most of the medications I take are addictive and for me to stop would mean going through withdrawal symptoms, which include severe depression, suicidal thoughts, and nausea. Realistically, if I were to attempt that for all or even one of my medications, it would have a severe impact on my ability to work, and even take care of myself, at least for that time.
Medicinal cannabis could replace all of my medications. And, if I base how much I would use on my husband’s nicotine vape consumption, I could get a month’s worth for about $20. I might still suffer from dry mouth, but otherwise, medicinal cannabis has been proven to be relatively side-effect free. And with 20% of the Australian population suffering from chronic pain, it’s puzzling as to why it’s still illegal.