I know I hurt your feelings when I changed my Facebook status to “it’s complicated.” But you know it is; our affair has never been anything but complicated.
Painkillers, our relationship started out rocky. I was working 60-hour weeks and had no time for my brand new headaches, so I would take handfuls of Tylenol, Advil, Aleve. For awhile, it helped enough that I could keep going, keep up those hours. I was a cub reporter with an opportunity of a lifetime. A headache couldn’t derail my life.
But handfuls of those over-the-counter pills every day ate at my stomach and stopped helping my head. I went to see my primary care physician. He was busy, busy, busy. He told me I was having migraines and wrote a quick prescription for Vicodin.
The pain grew worse, more frequent, and came with nausea. My senses were hammered with lights, sounds, smells. My mood plummeted. But every time I called, the Vicodin was refilled.
I was so young. I was so innocent. I’ve never smoked a cigarette, never taken an illegal drug. I waited until I was 21 to drink alcohol.
I had no idea that the Vicodin were addictive, were dangerous, could do more damage than good. I had no idea they could cause rebound headaches, that preventative medicines might have halted the downward decline before it was permanent. I had no idea that my primary care physician was the worst possible person to trust with this problem.
The things wrong in my brain multiplied, invisibly. I left that job I loved so much knowing I couldn’t manage the migraines and the tough schedule plus a new boss. But it was all downhill. The pain grew, my ability to cope slipped, problems with depression and panic escalated, and I was fired from my next job.
And the next job. I was laid off from the next job, and finally quit the job after that to save my own life and soul. I tried again before applying for disability. I was fired then, too.
But painkillers have been a part of my life for all that time. There’s never been a stretch of time when I wasn’t taking some form of them. They’ve been my saving grace, keeping the pain at bay when its claws are sharpest. They’ve been a straw that broke the camel’s back; the numbing effect on my sex drive helped demolish my marriage. Some days, they free me from that polite social filter we all have; on other days, they make me a slurring, unpleasant drunk.
Painkillers have eaten holes in the fabric of my memory. Remember when we did that? No. When she said that funny, funny thing? No.
For all of that, I would not be able to function in this world without my painkillers. Today, the pain is bad — a 7 — and I’m slowly taking pills every 20 minutes to see what will chip away at the migraine’s defenses. They have built an impenetrable fortress in my brain, but I lob painkillers at the walls, knowing if I throw enough of them in the right combination, the pain will recede.
Until then, I remain