It’s been a weird week. And no, I’m not referring to Kanye West throwing his name into the running for the 2016 presidential election. During the VMAs, I was busy clawing my skin until it bled as I nervously paced around the emergency room, convinced I was losing my mind. As much as I’d love to discuss Kanye West’s hijinks and Nick Minaj’s incredible ability to publicly slam her foes without batting an eye, my mind is otherwise occupied. My medical maladies have taken over my mind and inhibited my ability to interpret pop culture with the appropriate level of snark.
I’m slowly regaining my sanity, thanks to some heavy-duty steroids and the rapid flush of Cymbalta from my system. But to fully understand this story, we have to travel back two weeks. (Well, really we have to travel back 25 years and probably head to a genetics lab to see what the fuck is going on with my DNA, but HoboTrashcan doesn’t really have those resources.) So, let my words and your imagination take you away (insert the sparkles and rainbow swipe here) as we travel to my doctor’s office, the beginning of this absolute misery.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my body is kind of a jerk. I’ve had a successful surgery to remove endometriosis lesions and that has greatly reduced some of my chronic pain. But alas, that was only one piece of this incredibly annoying puzzle. Years of investigation have led to some answers – I have complicated migraines (They look like strokes! Fun stuff!), possible-but-not-confirmed-seizures and idiopathic neuropathic pain. For the sake of brevity and help with treatment, my doctor has listed fibromyalgia as a tentative diagnosis, but she leans more towards neuropathy due to another cause. Did you get dizzy and forget half of what you read after you finished? Imagine living it. I also have been in treatment for PTSD, with treatment that has been so successful I no longer qualify for the diagnosis. I have a history of OCD, so if you’re a close friend or family member you can rest assured that I’ve ripped my hair out to try to silence the thoughts of stumbling upon your mangled corpse.
Despite all of this super fun stuff, I have tried to stay away from taking an entire pharmacy’s supply of pills. I’m pro-medicine when medicine is necessary, but I’ve had enough shitty doctors try to throw unnecessary pills at me that I’ve learned when to say when. My migraines are so severe that I have to take an anti-convulsant in order to prevent them. And after years of trying to handle my anxiety-related issues without medication, I decided to give myself a little relief and opt to take Zoloft. It’s not for everyone, but my god, it makes all the difference for me. Outside of that, I try my best to cope. I try to not eat crap foods (and fail often, but I still make the effort). I meditate, do yoga, use a foam roller and hold on to my heating pad like my life depends on it – because honestly, it kind of does.
For most people there is a fair trade off that occurs – you take care of yourself, you get to feel good. I do not get to partake in this deal, apparently. I haven’t smoked a cigarette in 10 months. I practice diligent self care. And yet, I can’t walk for 45 minutes on a treadmill at a moderate pace without being incapacitated by pain and exhaustion for the next two days. It’s kind of a bum deal.
So, two weeks ago, my doctor asked if I wanted to try something new. My chronic pain issues have become so unmanageable that I’m relegated to my couch at least two days a week. Since this is, you know, a completely unacceptable way for anyone to experience life, let alone a 25-year-old, we decided something had to be done. So we made the decision to try a new medication – Cymbalta. It’s used to treat both anxiety AND neuropathic pain and the hope was that we could kill two birds with one stone and I could start exercising and being a fully-functional person again.
Well, the good news is that I didn’t experience any of the excruciating, burning pain during the two weeks I was on Cymbalta. The bad news is that my entire life fell apart. It’s another one of those unfair trade offs.
Within two days my appetite completely shut off. It was as if my stomach just evaporated from my body. My diet evolved from fresh vegetables and six varieties of cheese a day to a struggle to top 500 calories. The last several days have consisted of boost protein shakes for breakfast, chicken noodle soup for dinner and as many almonds as I could eat during the day without vomiting. I lost seven pounds in a week, but apparently that’s a totally desirable side effect, according to the numerous people who commented, “Jeez, I wish I was on a medication that made me lose seven pounds in a week!” Yeah. It was totes awesome.
The lack of food triggered migraines, which coincided nicely with my first week of school. So I spent most of my classes half aware, trying to stay hydrated as I watched the walls breathe and felt my skin crawl up and down my spine. I yelled about Batman’s integrity in an ethics class and I’m pretty sure it made sense. I hope.
By the time the weekend rolled around, I was convinced this medication was not right for me. That’s fine. Everybody’s chemistry is different. I called my doctor’s office and insisted to be seen first thing Monday and thankfully they had an available appointment. I went to work on Saturday feeling relieved that I would soon be feeling like my normal self.
… until I almost puked on one of my clients. Then I just felt like I was going to die. I’m not sure how I could even manage enough material in my stomach to produce vomit considering the fact that I was barely able to swallow air, but somehow I had eaten enough to puke up and subsequently choke back some partially-digested food as I tried to keep my composure during a massage. I believe the saying “Fuck my life” is very much in order right now. I had to back out of an improv performance, as I was sure that I was not capable of keeping my composure or being anything close to funny. I went home, cuddle with my body pillow and slept from one in the afternoon until eight the next morning, when I got up to go to work. I’m a fan of sleep, but I’m not that fanatical.
I returned to work feeling way too rested and not at all like myself. I couldn’t get ahold of my thoughts, my mind was racing and I couldn’t remember how my regular clients preferred their treatments. I kept tripping over my words. My skin burned at the slightest touch. I had tiny red bumps sprouting up my arms. I felt nauseated and anxious. During my third massage, I noticed that my previously flat stomach – thanks to my medication-induced starvation diet – had swollen to twice its normal size. I decided it was probably time to check myself into the emergency room.
The minute I got to the hospital, my mind decided to take a leave of absence, and a crazed, agitated maniac took over. I jumped at the slightest sound – something that happens a lot in an emergency room. I told every single person who would listen that this was not normal, I was not crazy and this was medication induced. I texted my boyfriend, my best friend and my mother to insist that they advocate for me, as I was convinced that I was going to be put in a psych ward due to my behavior. I was terrified. I was clawing at my skin until it bled. Every time somebody in another room groaned in pain, I jumped off the exam table and started scratching my skin.
I wasn’t exactly in the best place.
Thankfully, I had a very compassionate doctor who responded to my crazed concerns by pulling up a list of Cymbalta’s side effects and read them all out loud to me. Agitation, confusion, paranoia – the list went on and on. Turns out I had developed the rashes because of an allergic reaction to the medication. He reassured me that I was not crazy, I could go home and all I needed was some Prednisone to calm down my immune system. Within a few hours, my skin had returned to a normal color and I was no longer trying to escape from my own body.
I took the next day off of work, figuring that I should allow my body a buffer day to adjust to any new medication. I spent the day shuffling between doctors appointments, pharmacies and time with family. My mother was in town from California, so I took the opportunity to grab lunch with her – the Prednisone causes an increased appetite, a welcome side effect after my two weeks in hell. I drove home and listened to Tig Notaro’s “Live” set, one of my comforts as I continue on this journey with a non-compliant body.
My friend Andy had written me about a week ago when all of this was going on, just wanting to check in and see how I was doing. Between the chronic pain and the surgery and all the medication issues, it was really starting to feel like life was just shitting all over me. He very sweetly wrote, “Girl can’t catch a break.”
Nope, she can’t. But she’s still going. And she plans on writing one hell of a memoir one day.
Molly Regan is an improviser and writer in Baltimore. She likes chicken pot pie, Adam Scott’s butt and riot grrl.