In 2007, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I was momma to three young kids aged 9, 7, and 5 years, and I really didn’t have time to let MS take over my life. I was an active, probably overly involved “super mom” who never wanted to let anyone down and never wanted to show weakness or vulnerability.
MS swept in and shook that all up.
Initially, it struck where it hurt me most: my mobility. It went to crap overnight. In less than a year, I went from running 6 to 8 miles six days a week to needing to use a cane or my Segway to go anywhere outside of my house. It was a nasty blow, but one that I rolled with, finding the new ways to get things done, allowing myself to embrace the “new me” who seemed to be constantly in flux.
MS can redefine your life in an instant and then decide to mess with you and redefine it again tomorrow. I fought my way through the flares, fatigue, and fog, a warrior on a mission wielding my pink cane as a sword.
During this phase of my MS life, pain hadn’t arrived as a full-fledged member of the team I played against each day. It would pop its head out during my workouts, though. I would arrive at the gym feeling fine, only to discover burning pain, spasticity, and spasms within minutes. It hurt a lot, but knowing that it would subside shortly after finishing up made it bearable.
The rollercoaster that is MS pain
After four years, I was fortunate enough to begin to experience improvements in my mobility and balance. (There’s something to be said about divorce and a reduction in stress.) I put my cane away and began focusing on living without it. It was wonderful, this newfound freedom, and there were even days when “I have MS” wasn’t the first thought to go through my head when I woke up in the morning. When I was out, I stopped worrying I would fall or be unable to make it back to the car after a trip to the grocery store.
Then MS decided it wanted to play once again and opened the door to the pain. It slowly built over time, first popping up every once in a while. It was annoying but tolerable. But the occasional visit became a regular thing, taking over more and more of my life. Over the years, as the pain became constant and all-consuming, I talked to my doctors about it. I went from always rating my pain at 2 or 3 during my appointments to constantly writing “10++++” on the form (along with a few expletives, just to make my point).
I tried what my doctor prescribed. Sometimes, it would help a bit, at least at the beginning. But any improvements were short lived, and I would find myself right back in the midst of the pain, spending each and every day just hoping simply to make it through the day. I tried baclofen, tizanidine, gabapentin, methadone (Dolophine), clonazepam, LDN, amitriptyline, and nortriptyline. I self-medicated with alcohol. But none of it worked. The pain remained, and I sunk deeper and deeper into the world it created for me.
Why I was apprehensive about medical marijuana
I had discussed medical marijuana with my doctor a few times over the years, and I had even been given my medical prescription (MMJ card) about four years ago. The doctor didn’t know much about it, but suggested I research it. Recreational cannabis was legalized here in Washington, and cannabis shops began popping up all over the place. But I didn’t explore it as an option.
If you have chronic pain and want to try cannabis but live in a place where it’s not legal, you might think I was nuts for not trying it. But I had my reasons. I needed to come to terms with each of the issues and questions that I had before I could make the leap and give medical marijuana a shot. Those were:
1. What message would it send to my three teenagers?
I worried about remaining a positive role model for them.
2. Would other people judge me?
What if other people, including my friends and family, thought I was using the “medical” part of it as an excuse to blur the pain?
3. Would people at dispensaries make fun of me?
I felt intimidated about going into a dispensary not knowing anything. I was sure that the employees would snicker at my cluelessness of all things pertaining to cannabis. I assumed that they would think I was crazy to say I didn’t want to get high — I just wanted relief from the pain. Isn’t that why people go to a pot shop, to get high?
4. What if it didn’t work?
I worried that I would get my hopes up once again, only to find the inescapable pain return with nothing left to try.
What I’ve learned since starting medical marijuana
I’ve now been on what I call my MMJ adventure for almost 6 months, and here is what I have learned.
1. Those three teenagers have my back
My kids just want me to feel better. If that means trying cannabis, then so be it. It is simply another medication that I am trying. They will most definitely make fun of me and there will be many jokes. There always are. That’s what we do. But they will also support and defend me should the need arise.
2. My family and friends are the ones that matter, not anyone else
The people that have stuck around and know me are the ones that count. They understand that I am trying to find a better quality of life than the pain was allowing, and they fully support me on this adventure.
3. People at dispensaries want to help
Those “pot shop” people that I worried about have ended up being one of my best resources. I have found amazing people that truly want to help. They are always ready to listen and offer up suggestions. Rather than worrying about feeling awkward, nervous, or uncomfortable, I now look forward to visits. I realize that those worries stemmed from allowing a stereotype to cloud my opinion of what these businesses and their employees would be like.
4. So far, so good
Medical marijuana is helping, and that is what matters. I am extremely optimistic that I will continue to find relief. There are so many different strains out there, and each has its own unique profile in terms of how it makes you feel and how your mind thinks or views things. So perhaps this particular one that is working really well for me won’t last. Maybe it won’t always help with the pain, or maybe it will begin to make my mind feel funny or fuzzy. But if that happens, there are plenty of other options out there.
Unlike many of the prescribed medicines I have tried in the past, I haven’t run across any side effects. I’ve experienced dizziness, diarrhea, constipation, cramping, dry eyes, dry mouth, drowsiness, restlessness, insomnia, anxiety, and even decreased sex drive as I searched for relief. But with the cannabis, the only side effects I’ve noticed are smiling and laughing more than ever (oh, and the return of my sex drive, too!).