Skip this blog if you are offended or grossed out by discussions of sex or bodily functions. These topics, unfortunately, have been integral to my experience with pain. They are not often discussed as "side effects" of chronic pain, but they certainly are!
Sex. (I find that I'm reluctant to write about this. My apologies in advance to my husband, my mother, my brother, and anyone else who may be uncomfortable with my publicizing this part of my life. I'll try to keep it within social norms.) Regardless of what the S&M crowd says, sex and pain do not make a good mix. Chronic pain, with its attendant depression and fatigue, tends to dimish libido; I'm seldom "in the mood." Although my mind may be very interested in having sex with my husband (and the mind is the most powerful sex organ, right?), my body is hesitant. After all, an orgasm is simply a variant on a muscle spasm... ever thought of that? Well, my lower back spasms enough, and it's not a pleasant experience. I do crave the endorphins that are released afterwards, but I will confess to some fear in creating a spasm on purpose! Fortunately, there are many variations to the "physical expression of love," and some of them don't hurt me at all! My husband has been very understanding (and creative) to help me through this time without losing my sexuality completely. Once I began to feel better, starting in January, my sex drive has increased along with my wellbeing. Whew!
Showering. I had no idea that simply showering could be so exhausting. Once the pain really took hold of me (after about the first year), I could only shower once or twice per week. I would schedule it as my only activity for the day, and I would plan a rest period afterwards. I began showering in our tub, so that I could sit down while running the shower over my head. Washing my hair was especially tiring. There's something about holding my hands above my head that is just difficult to manage with lower back pain. Fortunately, I wasn't engaging in enough activity to cause a sweat or any body odor (at least, I hope not). I don't think that anyone even noticed whether I showered or not; I tried to schedule a shower before I had any "social" functions. Since I've felt better, I still haven't returned to the "shower every morning" schedule I used to have. I shower at the Y after swimming (using soap and washcloth to get an actual shower 3 times per week), and I shower at home and wash my hair twice per week. That seems to be enough. Friends, any objections? (There could be further commentary on the American extreme of showering and washing hair daily. There have been speculations that our kids are having more allergic reactions because we are all so clean all the time. No need to ramble further... you know the arguments...)
Constipation. This is a well-known (but not often discussed) side effect of painkillers. When I first mentioned this problem to my pain management doctor, she gave me a copied sheet of suggestions, with a picture of an unhappy man sitting on a toilet (something like the picture here). It was obviously something that many of her patients dealt with, but this is not an encouraging piece of artwork! I have actually had days that I was so "stopped up" that I couldn't eat anything (nothing could go in until something came out). Besides painkillers, I also take muscle relaxants (to further help with the pain.) Unfortunately, muscle relaxants also relax the intesinal system, and everything in there just stops. Fortunately, my wonderful family physician (with my Gastroenterologist's confirmation) prescribed Miralax for me (now available OTC). It is so mild that it's used on infants and in nursing homes, and I can use it every day without side effects. For the last year or so, I've had to use it every day just to "keep things running." I am really looking forward to getting off the painkillers, not only to stop taking painkillers, but so that my intestines can get back to normal.
Wrinkles. This may sound strange, but I've been curious for a long time to know what my face will look like when I get old. In college, I took a wonderful "fluff" course from Dr. William Purkey who has the most wonderful wrinkles! He discussed them as the "story of my life written on my face." I always thought that was a cool way to think of wrinkles. Also, as my mother has aged, her sweet face is crisscrossed with "smiley" lines. Every one of her lines wrinkle up when she laughs - and it's beautiful! I've noticed, however, that my first wrinkles are frown lines. I've looked in the mirror and watched my face: when I'm hurting, my eyebrows draw down and my mouth shrinks up. I'm now getting lines on my face that look like pain. I don't like this. I hope that I can spend enough extra time laughing to change my wrinkles to "smiley" lines like my Mom's!
I hope I have not offended you. Thank you for continuing to follow my blog!