Finding Psychological Balance In Using Pain and Sleep Medication

Finding Psychological Balance In Using Pain and Sleep MedicationIn the US, few other events and incidents have shaped how we interact with medication, such as the tragedy with Oxycodone. Ever since the opioid epidemic, there has been a blanket shutdown not only on these medications but also on those that help people sleep or get through pain.

The tightening of control was and continues to be an absolute necessity, as so many people became addicted or died due to a lack of it. This is considered one of the great tragedies with medications that have ever happened in the pharmaceutical world, perhaps the largest in the history of the FDA.  

However, as is often the case when any injustice or major imbalance occurs, there is the tendency to unwittingly overcorrect in the opposite direction. 

In part one, we explored the three different types of individuals when it comes to psychological biases toward taking medication. For a quick refresher —

  1. The addictive: People who have an addictive personality type and may (or already have) misuse(d) medication, alcohol, drugs, etc. 
  2. The phobic: People with an overabundance of caution who might succumb to a poor quality of life to avoid taking medication or resorting to medical intervention. 
  3. The balanced: People who have figured out the balance between the first two extremes and are able to view medicine as a healthy, sometimes necessary, significant addition to their lives that can create the best quality of life.

Through the years, there has been a tremendous backlash and extreme reaction to the tragedy that occurred with Purdue Pharmaceuticals and the FDA claiming that Oxycodone wasn’t addictive. This killed thousands of people, and the subsequent overcorrection has left major restrictions that have resulted in a good part of the country being unable to cope with severe pain and a severe lack of sleep. This has had significant psychological and physical consequences for a large segment of the population in the United States.

In my work over the last 50 years, it has been clear that the United States has been significantly a phobic country through our doctors’ as well as our individual fears of being addicted, with the gross exception of the oxycodone crisis. 

Please don’t misunderstand what you’re reading — addiction is something that needs to be taken very seriously. However, there needs to be discernment on both your side and the part of the medical professional to see which of the three types of personality you are. This is particularly important because it seems evident that a large percentage of the countries’ educated doctors and individuals are phobic.  

This means that you (if you are one of the common people that has this phobia) are probably doomed not to sleep well when you come to the later years of life and also will be unnecessarily extra vulnerable to endure the pain that is quite treatable if done with the proper care. There need to be questionnaires developed or at least guidelines that explore the background of any patient. This should include any prior history of addiction, the absence of this history, the tendency to be frightened of taking medications for life, or the attitude that it is better to endure severe pain and sleep issues rather than be carefully evaluated by a balanced doctor or psycho-pharmacologist.  

A fair amount of doctors might see this article as too extreme  (which I believe will be dominantly phobic doctors who are concerned primarily about the dangers of being censured, being on a watch list, or even losing their license). However, all around the country, there is reduced capacity to treat pain and sleep, and when terminal illness arises, a lack of ability to help the patient have less or no pain when treated in a balanced way. 

How a changed perspective can improve our quality of life

The hospice movement has a more advanced attitude toward lessening pain, but in general, still falls far short of the example set in the UK by Cicely Saunders and the St. Christopher’s Hospice in the early 1970s. The standard treatment by St. Christopher’s hospice is to anticipate the pain of Stage 4 cancer (which the vast majority of patients have) and administer medication before pain arises.  

As I mentioned in the first part of this series, this is a vital point to keep in mind because it almost always eliminates the fear of pain. The fear of pain adds to the need for more medication—do you see how it’s better to anticipate the pain in such situations rather than wait until the last moment to unwittingly create the need for more medication?

When the fear of pain is taken care of by this anticipation, the amount of medication needed overall is demonstrated to be less, and the patient is able to relax and not fear the pain at all. As a result, at least 95% of the end-stage four cancer patients were successful in feeling virtually no pain and still being able to keep their lucidity.

Through these two articles, my goal is to shine a light on the fact that we are all psycho-chemical beings. Our need to be in the right chemical balance is often drastically underestimated. There needs to be tremendous encouragement for you and all of us who have any of the following conditions — long-term depression, chronic anxiety, consistent sleep deprivation, or ongoing/enduring pain — to be persistent in finding the right optimal chemical balance for whatever situation you are in.

Correctly understanding addiction is key to making this change in our mindset and perspective. Most of us believe that if you need to use medication for the rest of your life or several decades, it means you are addicted. This is a tragic misunderstanding.  

Addiction means that you have to keep taking more of the same medication, and it exceeds the maximum amount recommended for any prescription by a competent medical professional. This is a crucial distinction, and I suggest that you deeply contemplate this. If this is you, liberalize your perspective for your own well-being and for those that you love. You may understand this in your head, but still, let your feelings of fear rule you while you suffer from significant symptoms.

I have helped innumerable people go to balanced psycho-pharmacologists or talk to their doctors and reconsider their position based on erring beliefs about addiction. It’s good to want to know the long-term side effects, but again, you have to be careful not to over-interpret them. I highly encourage you to look at the % of each side effect, and you will see the ones acknowledged are usually well under 1- 5%. If you compare that risk to losing the quality of life through pain or sleep for decades, it is often a risk worth taking.  

After all, the side effects of long-term use were more than that. The FDA, when it works diligently (which is most of the time), will let you know the risks down to the percentage level.

The introduction of a new medicine on the TV or in a series almost always makes me chuckle. The ad frequently says, “This medication can cause memory loss, death due to kidney failure, and higher risk of cancer…” 

Each time, the list of cataclysmic potentials is different, but the first time I saw it on television, I truly thought it was a comedy. One medication could kill me or injure me in over ten ways. It’s a great example of faulty communication because the % of each side-effect or consequence isn’t presented in the warning. This is a type of phobic message transmitting phobia to the country. It is an essential message to the addicted part of our population but a terrible disservice to the overwhelming majority.

The difference between ‘feeling’ and accurately identifying a need

In the first article, I talked about my personal experience embracing medicine through the ‘chemical balance’ perspective. Please read that, if you haven’t yet, to get a clearer sense of what it means to slowly move from a phobic to a balanced perspective about medication.

As I have conveyed to hundreds of friends, loved ones, and clients, it is vital that we not identify so much with what we feel when it is tied to our chemistry, especially when it is long-term. The understanding that what we feel is frequently (especially when it is chronic) a chemical imbalance that requires intelligent trial and error until we find what will bring us into balance. 

Of course, again, this needs to be under the supervision of a trained professional in this area. I convey to anyone suffering from depression or anxiety that it is very harmful to say “I feel ____” when it comes down to pain, sleep, depression, or anxiety as it becomes the belief that this is who we are and that we are causing it. Instead, it might be helpful to say, “I feel my chemistry needs ______.”

By making the statement more precise and acknowledging the effects of chemistry, it helps to identify the source and not feel responsible that we’ve done something wrong to cause it. In my experience, the overwhelming majority of us suffer from either a chemical imbalance or a need for chemical help when it is chronic. Therefore, it is profoundly helpful to say and understand the accurate way to express how you feel is by saying, “My chemistry is imbalanced.” 

There needs to be an awareness of the feeling vs. reality of the sleep issues, pain, and emotional state, and then a disidentification of it being caused by you. That is not to say that some maladies aren’t caused by our attitudes, actions, and thoughts, but it’s not nearly as much as is believed. You are the one who is responding hopefully to how you feel, especially when it is chronic or severe, and you are doing this to take care of the issue that you are facing.

I am not disputing that there was a time and still can be when some people push antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication rather than work through certain issues in life. This absolutely does occur, and the best effort is necessary on all our parts to do central psychological work when needed. But in my decades of practice, when this happens in the long term, it is more common that it is chemical rather than emotional. So it is much more realistic in this most common of cases to say again and again:

“My chemistry is challenged, and I am going to keep experimenting until I can get the kind of support that will regulate my body.” 

Take a look at your greatest challenge, whether it is ongoing pain, sleep, anxiety, or depression, and look honestly at how much the common ways it is understood in our society have affected your gut-level view of how much you don’t want to take medication. I am presuming as I say this that it is clear by now I am not talking to addictive personalities, and I am presuming that you have registered the “new” definition of addiction. I am also strongly suggesting that you see the importance of seeing the percentages and not just hearing warnings without discrimination. 

This needs to be a new evolution of how we see the chemical/emotional/body connection. Most of us have heard and read a lot about the mind-body connection but have yet to reverse it to see the equal importance of the chemical/psychological interconnection. 

I truly believe that ingestion of new chemistries will be seen as akin to balancing ourselves with vitamins and supplements in the next couple of decades. My wish is that you’ll be ahead of the curve, and if you find yourself in the standard definition as indicated as “phobic” and believe inaccurately that you are balanced, you’ll welcome this new information.

Once again, understanding the chemical/psychological component is important because it is tough to teach ourselves new realities when the common community, including a good portion of medical professionals, also believes it.

The following statements are a sign of balanced thinking and increase the chance for you to live your optimal quality of life. (Isn’t that why we are here and to share it with others?) Therefore, it’s worth practicing them in your mind so you can advocate better for yourself — both to yourself and to your chosen medical professional:

“I am more and more the responder to how I feel, sleep, respond to pain. So I can clearly see that I must thoroughly explore my options to be chemically balanced.”  

 “I am not as defined by my feelings and conditions, but more so by how I respond to them.”  

“I am not doing this to myself on purpose, and this is very likely, if not definitely, caused by my chemistry.”

“I am going to have the courage and perseverance to find my best physiological balance to increase my quality of life.” 

“I am done with blaming myself for this condition I’m facing, and I’m going to experiment with the best medications that might help. It is natural to be discouraged when something doesn’t work, but I’m going to keep trying as everyone is different, and there are a lot of options.

Sleeping, pain, and end-of-life issues are complicated, so it is worth devoting your attention to a new way of thinking and acting. For most of us, the quality of our lives will depend on this open attitude more than once. 

After all, what else could be more important for us and those around us, as our well-being or suffering affects us all?

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