Pain, pills, understanding and compassion

"Be without it," by Alan Levine, via (Creative Commons License) "Be without it," by Alan Levine, via (Creative Commons License)

I recently attended an all-day seminar on the opiate addiction epidemic. It turns out a major contributor to the origins of this epidemic was big Pharma. You see, they manufactured the drug that worked beautifully with acute pain. And then there were the addiction side effects they failed to mention when they marketed this drug to doctors who prescribed it freely.

Nevertheless, it still works well, very well, with pain. The problem is when acute pain becomes chronic and there the drug becomes much more dangerous. Given the fact that many, if not most live with chronic pain. So how can we handle it? While the options are many and the prognosis is fair. So we can either we medicate it, use acupuncture, medical marijuana, meditation or psychotherapy. But none of it cures chronic pain, although they may very well help.

But it’s not just physical pain. I several years ago a patient with chronic severe depression and she’s had it since she was an adolescent. She once told me the only thing that worked was 1/2 tablet of an opiate she was once prescribed for back pain. And when she takes it, the depression temporarily lifts and she feels good again.

It turns out all forms of pain behave the same way-physical pain, emotional pain and even the social pain of loneliness or alienation Of course the first plan of action is to try to repair whatever is causing the pain. For mental or emotional pain, we treat the anxiety or depression with psychotherapy and medication. Or we try to heal relationships that could be causing pain. Same with physical pain-we do what we can medically.

In addition to biochemistry that all pain has in common, pain has one other thing in common. When we are in pain we suffer. And when we suffer, we feel alone and isolated.

So what do we humans need when we suffer like that?

We need understanding and compassion from someone-anyone who loves us enough to be with us during our dark days. And to be with someone who loves us enough to ask us to help them during their dark days.

You see, good relationships change everything. They change our worldview, our feelings about our lives and they change our physiology.

Especially these days. Especially today. Please remember to nurture the relationships in your life. And please love who you love, but love more deeply tomorrow.

Happy Thanksgiving


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