“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.”
― William Shakespeare,
“Your loss of memory and difficulty in concentration is from chemotherapy. Chemo brain is a real condition. It’s not likely that the medications prescribed to you for the peripheral neuropathy were to blame,” said the psychiatrist sitting across the desk from me. “And neuropathic pain? That’s among the hardest conditions to treat. So these two things – CIPN and the impact of chemotherapy – are more likely to cause cognitive difficulties than the medications you were using.”
Oh, bullshit, I sighed to myself.
I’d found myself in his office, because my doctor had made a referral to one, in an effort to demonstrate to the insurance company that we were investigating absolutely every treatment option in my efforts to get back to work. Of course, the referral had been made months prior to the declaration of total disability. I’d completely forgotten about this, until the office called to confirm the appointment. And then? I was afraid to decline the offer, in case the insurance company would deem me “non-compliant.”
I was still in flare up mode. My body ached, it hurt to use my hands at all, and it was taking a good deal of energy to recall the events that had brought me to his office. Yet I did my best to explain the route my life had taken. When I got to the part about being declared totally disabled, the tears flowed down my face. It had been 12 weeks since that fateful letter arrived. I wasn’t hysterical or sobbing, mind you – the tears were a silent indication of the grief that gripped my heart.
Noticing my distress, the psychiatrist stopped scribbling. “My God,” he said, “are you always this emotional?”
A moment’s pause, as I digested his discomfort. “No,” I said. “I was a vice principal of a high school. You don’t get to manage that much responsibility if you can’t hold it together in a crisis,” I said. What, I wondered, was the matter with medical professionals who were unable to witness any emotion in a patient without condemning it as weakness or histrionics?
If he had really been paying attention, he would have noted the internal shift that happening in his potential client. His response nudged my grief to a slow burn.
In less than 15 minutes, he had decided I was depressed and in need of medication and a great deal of psychotherapy. Of course, learning that I was on cannabis for pain control only heightened his determination to make me acquiesce.
He waved his hand dismissively at the cannabis. “I neither prescribe, nor do I support, the use of cannabis in any format, whatsoever.”
I waited. He was uncomfortable with the silence, so he filled it. “In my opinion, you are dealing with depression, and we have good medication to treat this condition, which you obviously need.” He leaned back, a tight smug smile on his face.
I summoned my inner vice principal.
“I am not dealing with a chemical imbalance in my brain. Any depression I have is situational, not chemical, and a product of grief. That “good medication” you want to jam down my throat? It helped to land me in the hospital, kept me from feeling anything and certainly did nothing to help me resolve this grief in the three years I was on it.”
I went on to outline for him that I was pursuing other treatment modalities: grief counselling, yoga, yoga therapy, massage, physiotherapy, meditation. And cannabis, because my body said so.
A moment’s pause, and then he tried to push the pills for a fourth time. “But real treatment relies on both counselling and medication – ”
“I am awake and conscious in my life for the first time in years,” I’d raised my voice to the polite bark I reserved for petulant teenage girls. “I need to face these losses, with open eyes and a clear mind. That is the only treatment that I need, actually, ” I said as I stood up. “You can’t medicate this pain away. I won’t let you. Make of that what you will. I think we’re done, here.”
Silence. His eyebrows were still raised in surprise when I left, but he acceded.
I was tired of dealing with medical professionals who were too impatient to listen. The idea of introducing mind altering chemicals into my body at a time when my nervous system was so very fragile was completely unacceptable to me.
He had been right about one thing, though: neuropathic pain is tough.
As I walked to my car, I considered what I was learning about chronic pain, and the need to retrain the central nervous system. Professor Moseley’s words echoed in my head: “Movement is king.” The solutions I needed were not to be found in a prescription pad. Instead, I would trust that physical therapies – yoga, massage, physiotherapy – would calm my nervous system and lead me off the ledge I sat on as I endured this flare up. As for the grief? I was learning to simply give it room, and to carry on as best I could each day.