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Cymbalta sucks. People should sue its makers.

Look, yes, Cymbalta probably saved my life. But it also sucks. So, I’m not surprised people are suing Eli Lilly, the makers of the drug.

I can still remember talking to a nurse over the phone at the Mayo Clinic’s pain rehab program when she mentioned Cymbalta. It was the same pain program my insurance company would eventually deny, prompting the Mayo Clinic to ask for $35,000 up-front, and prompting me to laugh in their faces and instead buy a $7 Yoga DVD at Best Buy and hope for the best.

Anyway, yeah, the nurse. She was all, “Oh! Cymbalta is a WONDERFUL drug! So many people love it! And it works so well! That’s a great drug to go on when you go off opioids!”

But all I could think was, “Obviously you have never been on Cymbalta or opioids or had chronic pain, because Cymbalta sucks.”

I always tell people I was tricked into starting the drug.

My doctor, whom I really do love, put me on it about a year and a half ago. He brought it up at my first appointment with him — the same appointment I also decided to confess that I was having suicidal thoughts daily. He told me he was putting me on Cymbalta because it had been shown to help with pain. I’d later find out that was only half the reason.

When I went to a follow-up appointment, the doctor asked if  Cymbalta had helped with my pain at all. And because my pain is stronger than the U.S. military, it hadn’t. But, then came the reveal.

“Well, how’s your mood?” he asked, slowly.

“Actually, better,” I replied, realizing that had been his secret plan all along.

But you know what? I can sincerely tell you that I didn’t want to kill myself anymore. I mean, I still thought about it, but the drug had sort of diluted the thoughts, and made them less of a legitimate option and more of a fleeting idea I had in passing.

And I totally get why my doctor did what he did. Because when someone is suicidal, it just makes sense that staying alive is the one and only goal. So, in the beginning I was fine with whatever worked — and it just so happened that Cymbalta is what worked for me.

Until it didn’t.

Cymbalta was able to keep the suicidal thoughts away, but it also kept a lot of other thoughts away too. Like my creative thoughts, my writing thoughts and, honestly, my sex thoughts. The drug straight up slaughtered my sex drive.

It also made me so tired. Like, sleep-for-16-hours-a-day tired. Yes, it had help from all the other drugs I’m on, but I can clearly tell you that the fatigue is worse than it was before I started taking Cymbalta.

So, a couple months ago I tried to go off it. I chose the only method I knew and cut it out cold turkey. Within just two days, my writing voice came back like the great flood. And I was getting turned on by my boyfriend again. I even got to see and understand 8 a.m. again for the first time in like a year.

All was well with the world. Except when suddenly it wasn’t. Because Oh. My. God. The withdrawal symptoms from Cymbalta were hell.

Less than a week after my last pill, I was getting so dizzy that I seriously thought I had a new disease. Then, there was this thing called the brain zaps, that I didn’t understand until they happened to me. In short, it literally felt like my brain was being, well, zapped by electricity.

There was also nausea and vertigo and just an overall feeling of falling off a skyscraper.

I can honestly tell you that going off Cymbalta was worse than going off any opioid I’ve ever been on. At least with opioids it only takes like 18 hours to get out of your system, and when it’s over, it’s over. Cymbalta lingered. It took it’s time with me. It gradually poured on the withdrawal symptoms in a tortuous piling on.

So, a week after I went off it, I went back on it.

Apparently though, I’m not the only one staring down at a lifetime of daily Cymbalta doses. According to the Internet, (always a reliable source) there’s a possible class action lawsuit being brought against Eli Lilly.

“Studies show that between 50% and 78% of Cymbalta users experience antidepressant withdrawal symptoms after discontinuing the drug. Yet the drug label misleadingly states that Cymbalta withdrawal symptoms occur in only 1% to 2% of cases,” claims attorney Steven D. Gacovino.

You can read more about it here.

Now, I literally have no idea how legit this whole thing is. Can you really fill out a form on a random website and be part of  a class action lawsuit? I have no idea. But I can tell you that I totally submitted the form.

If nothing else, doctors should be telling their patients about this. They should have a conversation that goes something along the lines of, “Hey, this drug might quell your suicidal thoughts, but you’re never going to be able to go off of it. I mean, you will, but it will be hell. You’ll probably get vertigo and brain zaps and you may not be able to stand up without falling over. Also, there’s no telling how long those withdrawal symptoms are going to last.”

If nothing else, patients deserve to know the truth. I deserved to know the truth.

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What it’s like to be a woman in pain

Being in pain every day, all day, is hard. But when you’re a woman, there’s a whole extra layer to the situation that makes everything that much harder.

It’s not just the expected stuff, like being told by a doctor that your bra is too tight and that’s probably what’s causing the excruciating pain in your right ribs that’s so awful that you literally want to jab a knife into your side and rip the bones out.

Or, after you change your bra, being told by the same doctor to just “calm down” because you’re probably just stressing yourself out, and that’s what’s causing pain so severe that you have to stop mid-conversation multiple times a day and lay flat down on the floor because you just can’t bear the agony of standing up.

No, it’s the other stuff too. It’s the things you don’t expect.

Like being accused of being a sexual assault victim, because that’s the only thing the doctor can think of to explain why it hurts like the end of the world when someone touches your ribs.

Or having a male doctor get uncomfortable examining your ribs because GASP! your boobs are right above them. Didn’t he go to medical school? Has he never seen a cadaver? Would he be so shy if it was a male patient with chest pain?

And then there’s stuff that you can’t even be sure of.

Like did that male doctor just give me Aleve for my level-10 pain because he really thinks that’s going to help? Or did he just think that, as a woman, I was probably exaggerating?

And, did that other male doctor accuse me of being an amazing actress just trying to score pain meds because he does that to every patient he sees on opioids? Or did he do that because I was a wee woman?

There’s also the stuff that bothers you, because you’re a Type A woman.

Like how you suddenly have to ask for help for everything. How you have to literally ask people to drive you to work, and do your laundry and even go over to the dining room table and grab your medication because you’re in too much pain to do any of it yourself.

And how asking for help means giving up control. So suddenly your towels aren’t folded the right way, and you have no idea where your favorite yoga pants are, and you have no say in what flavor yogurt you eat because you’re way too sick to go to the grocery store yourself. And it makes you crazy, but you have no other choice but to let it all go.

Except when you don’t let it go, and you try to do it all anyway. And so you work until you drop, and then you go home and do all the housework, and then you go on a date with your boyfriend and you end up screaming in pain in the ER because you really can’t do it all any more. You can’t even do some of it.

Then, there’s the stuff you hate.

Like when your boyfriend pretends like he understands how much pain you’re in, but then has a totally different reaction when one of his male friends tells him he endured the same thing and it was excruciating. And suddenly your boyfriend is way more sympathetic.

Or when you get genuinely upset about an emotionally abusive situation at work, and your boss tells you that it’s probably just because you’re so moody from all those pain meds you’re on.

There’s also the stuff you hate to admit.

Like how, as a woman, it’s especially hard to endure the most common side effect of medication — weight gain. And how, you hate that so much of your own self-worth is wrapped up in how you look, even when you’re in so much pain that you literally want to kill yourself to make it stop. And how you keep taking the meds and gaining the weight because you have no choice, but you also, simultaneously, fill up with shame knowing that you no longer come anywhere close to society’s definition of beauty.

Or how you can no longer stand up long enough to shower and blow dry your hair every day, and so suddenly you find yourself going a full seven days without a shower. And you know people are totally judging you for it. And they are judging you all the more harshly because you are a woman, and women are supposed to put an effort into their appearance at all times.

Or worse, how you finally decide one day to endure the shower, and hold the blow dryer, and sit on the toilet seat cover so you can do your makeup, and you take 30 minute breaks between each step so that you don’t wear yourself out. And then you put on a nice outfit and you go out to Steak & Shake and you run into someone you know and they say, “Wow! Well, you certainly LOOK great!” implying somehow that you can’t really be that sick if you’re wearing pink lipstick.

And there’s also the stuff you don’t even want to think about.

Like how you’re only 30 years old, but you’re in chronic pain every single day, which doesn’t exactly make you a great catch. So will you ever really be able to have children? And can you even think about having a kid when you can’t even take care of yourself most days? And anyway how would you even carry a baby when you need seven different medications just to survive?

So yeah, being in pain is awful. And being a woman in pain is also awful — but for a whole bunch of extra reasons.

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Looking for God on the operating table

There I was, stomach down on the operating table, in only a hospital gown and my underwear, and I found myself doing the one thing I hadn’t sincerely done in months.

I was praying.

With my whole heart, my whole being, and my whole soul, I was saying the most earnest prayer I could remember saying in a long, long time.

“Dear God. Please, please, PLEASE be with me right now. Please, whatever happens, please do not let them hit a nerve. Please God. I could not handle it if that happened. Please God. You are the only one I can ask for help right now. I need you. I need this. Please help me.”

It was my second trip to the Mayo Clinic and I was in the midst of what was supposed to be a 10-minute epidural that had passed the hour mark. The original doctor had been unable to get the needle through my spine in my middle back, and another doctor had to be called in to consult.

Eventually, they decided to go through my lower back, but to get the medication in the right place, they had to thread a catheter tube up my spine — no easy task. They kept threading it to the left when it needed to go right, and so they had to keep pulling it back down my spine and out of my body and redoing it.

In case you’re wondering, it really hurts when they do that, and you can totally feel it.

Before the procedure, everyone I talked to, from the nurse who checked my blood pressure to the actual doctor slated to give me the epidural, had assured me seven ways from Sunday that this was going to be a quick and easy procedure.

They told me there was no reason to give me any of the sedative I had been given when I had undergone a similar procedure awhile back, because this one was just going to be so dog gone easy.

I should have known then that it wouldn’t be. But I nervously took them at their word.

Eventually though, as I heard the doctor tell his resident, “I’ve just never seen anything like this before,” I started to worry that this whole thing was going to be full of worst-case scenarios. One of which was that they could hit one of my nerves during the procedure, which could send a shooting pain down my leg, that, from what I could gather, would hurt like hell.

So, as more and more things went wrong, I lost more and more faith in the doctors poking me in the spine. And eventually, I turned to the only one you can turn to when there’s nobody else left to ask for help — God.

“I’m so sorry that we haven’t talked much in the last few months. I am so sorry that I haven’t been going to church. I swear, I am,” I prayed silently. “I just really need your help right now. Because I am going to freak the eff out if they hit my nerve. I’m telling you, I could not take that.”

Eventually, about 90 minutes after I first lay down on the table, they were done. The doctors had managed to get the medication into the right spot without hitting any of my nerves.

I could barely walk out of the room to where my clothes were, and it felt like someone had just stuck a bunch of needles into various parts of my back — mostly because they had.

All I could think about was that prayer though. I hadn’t prayed like that in such a long time.

So many people write how having a chronic illness strengthens their faith, how it brings them closer to God than they’ve ever been. But I have no idea how that happens. For me, it’s made me a little bit more of an atheist every day.

When I first got sick, before I was on any medications that helped at all, before I had any idea what might be happening to me, I would lay in bed at night, unable to fall asleep because of the pain, and I would literally cry out to God.

And in those moments, when the pain only got worse, He seemed so silent.

Then, when it became clear that I would have to resign my role as the youth leader at the church I was attending, I started to question whether this whole thing was somehow God’s way of telling me I wasn’t doing a good job leading the youth.

I know, I know, that’s probably not true. But when something like that happens to you, it’s impossible not to have those thoughts.

From there, I started to wonder how any God could ever let one of his children suffer the way I have.

And then, one night a few months ago, I was up all night in such severe pain that the next day the doctor gave me a shot of Dilaudid. Unfortunately, instead of relieving my pain, it promptly made me start vomiting uncontrollably. I literally threw up all night long, with barely enough time to catch my breath between each time.

It was the worst 48 hours of my entire life. And it was then that the questions of where God could possibly be during all of this really started to take root.

I really do believe that life with obscene chronic pain is the worst life imaginable, and I don’t understand how it could possibly lead anyone to have a closer relationship with God. For me, it has only made Him more and more distant.

Maybe I am angry or just confused. And maybe one day everything will become clear. But for now, I am in too much pain to make sense of the fact that a supposedly loving creator would let one of his creations endure such a thing.

And yet, there I was, on the operating table, praying with such a sincere heart that I barely recognized myself.

So I guess when it comes right down to it, I still want really want to believe. I need to.

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