Popping Pills

This is my pill case.

There are many like it, but this one is mine.

Just kidding. But really, this are the pills that I have to take, every day to survive. If I don’t take these pills, I will likely have a seizure, or feel very, very badly, and wish I were dead. As you can see, there are little boxes for morning, noon, evening, and bedtime. Phew, because I can’t remember if I took my pills, sometimes (all the time) from one part of the day, till the next. This helps take the question out of it. Or, you know, the death, from taking them two or three extra times.

Bryon fills it up for me, every Sunday night, so, he could kill me if he wanted to, because I don’t even remember what the full dosages are, anymore, for most of them. Well, that’s not true, I do, but I’d get confused trying to fill it up. It’s too much math for me these days! Once all those little doors are all opened up, I’d feel like a third string mathlete who got called to “the show” because everyone else’s pocket-protectors were destroyed in a freak calculator fire.

Anyway, I thought I’d take a minute to explain what it’s like to be on so many drugs, foreveh. All the pills in this case are non-narcotic, and are non-addictive. There is nothing in here that causes anything that, say, means I cannot drive, or am impaired in any way. But, it still means that I have to take a bunch of stuff. They all help, a lot, but they don’t make me better. I’m an open book about my condition, and what I use, and do, to treat it, so why not give you a glimpse into my meds, right?

Topamax

A controversial drug in the Chiari world. Lots of neurologists start headache patients with Topamax, or its newer patented drug, Trokendi, which is just an XR formulation. The generic is called Topiramate (or Topiramate XR, in the case of Trokendi). It’s an anti-seizure medication that has shown to be very effective at reducing migraines, as migraines originate, in many cases, in the same part of the brain, as seizure activity. Lots of people in the Chiari community think that it’s akin to poison because it has a lot of negative side effects, especially during the adjustment period, such as confusion and making your food taste bad. The confusion goes away, but making soda taste bad, not so much. I think we could all live with less soda though.

I know a woman who claims that she failed a fourth grade math test; drove her car off a bridge; and that her red blood cell count was so elevated, her doctor thought she might have cancer, but didn’t. Since a grown woman doesn’t have call to take a fourth grade math test, and (I think??) it’s a white blood cell count that indicates cause for alarm for cancer (which she didn’t have, anyway), and the bridge thing is the questionable icing on a cake made of lies, I feel like she might be exaggerating her response to the med, but who am I to say? Either way, lots of Chiari people call it Topashit, Dopashit, or Dopamax. Really, I just think it boils down to the fact that they don’t want to believe that any of their headaches could be related to anything else, and don’t want to trust a neurologist to treat them, if it’s not to refer them to a surgeon. Chiari patients are inherently mistrustful, and with good reason.

Regardless, I’ve taken Topamax, since I was a teenager, in varying amounts, from 50 mg a day, up to 800 mg a day (an insane amount, prescribed by a terrible doctor), I’m on 300 mg a day now, and that seems to be a good, stable amount. I have my liver and kidney levels checked regularly, and I’ve had no damage, which is another side effect (stones especially). I’ve not failed any math tests, driven off any bridges, or had any fake-cancer scares, yet. But, Collin’s in fourth grade now, so if I have to take one of his tests, I’ll let you know…but wait, he’s in fifth grade math. Shit, I won’t ever know!

Gabapentin (Neurotinin)

Gabapentin is for nerve damage. I didn’t realize how badly my scalp nerves were damaged, until I was prescribed Gabapentin. I just thought that it was normal to not be able to brush my hair anymore, or to feel like I was constantly being stung by thousands of invisible, tiny bees, at all times. That’s, apparently, not normal. Who knew? Gabapentin took several weeks to get used to as well, because it works on the brain, and it took several weeks to work up to an appropriate, stable dose, but I love it.

It makes you ungodly tired, at first. Like, I could barely move my face off of the pillow, for the first few weeks, but I’m perfectly normal now, and I don’t know how I survived without it. Most people claim that it makes you gain weight, usually around 30-60 lbs., but I’ve not had that issue at all. I’ve found that being able to move my head without my hair follicles sending stabbing icepick pain through the rest of my scalp makes it easier to exercise, not more difficult. I was hesitant when I read a lot of people claiming this wait gain, so I read through the literature, and saw that the weight gain incidence was something like 2 out of 336 patients (vs 0 given placebo). So, when I see dozens and dozens, no hundreds of people on groups, posting that they’ve gained 50 lbs., or more, thanks to Gabapentin I think there might be something else going on. All I know, is no more tinglies!

Cymbalta

Did you know that depression is pretty common in the chronically ill and those with severe, chronic pain? If you read this blog, I bet you did. I take Cymbalta for my ongoing depression. I tried several drugs before I got it right with Cymbalta. It’s made from fluffy kitties, clouds and unicorns. It’s amazing. It gives me the energy that I lack when I’m in a low, and it keeps me level when I don’t want to be. It doesn’t cure depression, but it makes it more bearable, and makes it easier to help me to help myself. But, it gives me dry mouth. Why do all anti-depressants give you dry mouth? Seriously? It’s the worst. And not just dry, but like you’ve been licking your living room rug all day, and then sucking on a back of pennies for refreshment.

I have zero shame for taking Cymbalta, and if anyone ever wants to talk to me about other drugs I’ve tried and why I didn’t like them, I am happy to discuss. I know someone who claimed to have had a stroke after one pill of Cymbalta. Thankfully, she survived; and, considering her harrowing battle to survive driving off a bridge, failing a fourth grade math test, and a blood test that was nothing, she’s lucky to be alive. In other words, I think she did not have a stroke. I’m pretty sure she’s just anti-all-meds, which is always abundantly clear, as she recommends wrapping your feet in hootchie-mama oil and breathing in the relaxing scent of hippie-sweat, available from your local oil dealer. Or her, of course.

Stool Softeners

Is there much more to say about stool softeners? I take opiates. Poop is hard when you take opiates. Stool softeners make poop softer. Must you know everything?

Synthroid

I have a hypoactive thyroid. So, I take 50 mcg of Synthroid a day. Once, when the prescription ran out, I was too lazy to get it refilled on time, so I thought to myself, “I wonder what would happen, if I just stopped taking it. It’s such a small pill, what can it really do?” Know what happens? You develop a giant goiter! That’s what! They thought I had thyroid cancer, which was a terrifying 36-hours. Thankfully, when I got back on my meds, it shrunk back down to normal, within a few weeks. So, note to others: don’t stop taking your thyroid meds. I only ever really called to refill it, not because of the goiter, which I barely noticed, but because my hair kept falling out in handfuls, and I was really, really tired. The doctor though, spotted the goiter from across the room. Apparently, my family and I are not that observant of large lumps on my neck.

Clonidine

Clonidine is, technically, a heart medication; but, it lowers your blood pressure quite nicely, and knocks you the fuck out. It’s a great drug for combatting withdrawal. You can take quite a bit of it, especially when you are in the throes of it. Since I have to do withdrawal, yet again (ugh, I know), it’s my ever-faithful friend. I take it at night, usually, to make it through the night, because it’s the longest time I go, usually, between doses of Oxy. Me and Clonidine are well acquainted. He lets me call him Clonnie. And he calls me, His Bitch.

Benadryl

I am allergic to everything. For real. I eat a cupcake from the bakery at Von’s and I’m fine. I eat two, and I get a rash. Enter: Benadryl. I get rashes from just about everything these days: candy, cookies, cake, essentially everything delicious. Aside from the allergies, Benadryl can be your best friend when you need extra sleep from withdrawal, and it helps with some of the symptoms, like the post-nasal drip, sneezing, and the red, watery, running eyes.

Drugs That Aren’t in the Daily Box

Oxy

Obviously. I can’t get rid of that damn med. It’s like a bad re-run, always on. But, it’s back in the rotation from the hideous, month-long headache from the rhizotomy. Back in the withdrawal saddle again. But, Dr. W, my pain management doctor, who rocks the house, has a new idea for me, that is super-scary, but sounds amazing too. He wants to do a spinal cord stimulator. More on that later, but eek!

Muscle Relaxers

I am down to taking these, mostly, just at night. I take Robaxin, which is pretty strong, but they work really well. They make you sleepy, sleepy, sleepy. I have a strong dose, obviously, so I’m always careful when I take them, such as not before driving, even though I’ve been on them forever, and could probably handle it. There’s no room for probably with safety, right!

Various Migraine Abortives

I have several Triptan medications, which are the go-to for migraines. I also keep Zofran at home, which is a prescription anti-nausea medication. I am lucky enough to have dissolvable tablets, that you don’t have to swallow with water, so you don’t barf them back up, during a migraine, or Chiari episode. I also have Firocet for pressure headaches. I also take Advil when it’s really, really bad, because the anti-inflammatory helps a lot, but it irritates my precious, and apparently, delicate tummy.

Being sick in a forever way, means you are tied to some forever meds. It’s not a glorious existence, and it means people are forever looking at your pill case like “I’d never do that,” or “I bet if you just rubbed some coconut oil on it, you’d feel better,” you know, because obviously, coconut oil cures and fixes everything. But, until you get really, really sick, you don’t know shit. All you know is that you don’t really know what you’d do. You don’t know what it feels like to live in fear of the headache that will, finally kill you, in a stroke or an aneurism. You don’t know what it means to just hope for maintenance, not better, worse, or death. You don’t know what it means to just want to survive, at status quo. You don’t know what it means to just want to survive, and hope, that one day, that means thrive.

So, for every one person who says, “I’d never…” there should be at least five more that say, “that’s amazing….” But, there aren’t. There should be, but there aren’t. I know this because I keep my pill case in the living room, because that’s where I spend the most time. I’d forget to take my mid-afternoon pills, if I left it in the bedroom. So, it stays in the living room, where I write, read, and draw, and where I watch TV at night, with my husband. It’s tucked away in a corner, where no one really sees it. But, if it’s time for a med, a guest might take note of it. I see the judgement in their eyes, and sense the “ugh” in their faces when they see how many pills I have to take, the “I’d never do that,” in their exchanged glances. You probably would, my friends, you probably would. Don’t think for a moment that each pill hasn’t taken a small piece of my soul, of my dignity, of hope, because it has. But, I have had to learn to reclaim it, and be proud of living through it, and surviving.