Memoir/Personal Essay, Writing

Writing under the Influence

I have recently been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome and what followed my diagnosis was a lot of trial and error with various medications. I have been on medications that have caused me to swell, gaining twenty pounds in a little over a month; medications that made me feel suicidal and hopeless; medications that gave me severe migraines; and medications that simply did not work. Once I realized that my deep, suicidal depression was being caused by the medications I was taking, I stopped taking them all swearing never to take medication again. What followed? The most horrific pain and fatigue I have experienced in my life. It felt similar to the aftereffects of a car accident where every part of your body hurts combined with what I can only describe as a cellular-level fatigue. My brain would tell my body to move, but my body could not oblige. It was as if my body was weighed down with lead and despite its desperate desire to move, it could not. Within two days I was sitting in my doctor’s office broken.

I have a bad history with medications. Most often they have an opposite reaction. For example, sleeping pills give me an enormous amount of energy. Prescribing medication for me can be a daunting task. My doctor was willing to take on the challenge. This time she prescribed Strattera, an ADHD medication. Though I was diagnosed with ADHD ten years ago, I had not taken medication for it since finding out I was pregnant in 2004. I really enjoyed the chaos of my ADHD mind and had a difficult time with all the focus the medication gave me. It had significantly hindered my ability to multi-task so I did not return to it after giving birth. I had not taken Strattera before, though, and, after a day of deliberation, I decided to take it. Miraculously my bone-deep pain was nearly gone thirty minutes later. The only problem was that it wore off after about eight hours. So my doctor prescribed Neurontin for the evening. It was intended to help me sleep, but it, too, gives me a boost of energy. I am still having great difficulty sleeping, but at least I am pain free most of the night. I still wake up with the cellular-level fatigue accompanied by pain and burning in my legs, but now I know I have something available that brings relief.

What does all this have to do with writing? Well, my writing has suffered since I started taking Strattera and Neurontin. Though there were many times that the pain was too severe for me to focus on writing, there were also many times that writing helped me to escape the pain. In those times, I could visually walk through the scenes I was writing about and feel the experience fully. This amazing ability has been shut down. My writing has become more analytical rather than lyrical. It is more straightforward rather than uniquely expressive. It has become more tell than show. I find myself quite often staring at the blank page creatively mindless. I can no longer conjure the images that allowed me the full sensory experience of what I was writing. Instead, I am seeing the blank page and ONLY the blank page. So, the dilemma before me now is: Do I write under the influence of pain or under the influence of medication?


11 thoughts on “Writing under the Influence”

  1. I understand what you mean with the cellular-level fatigue it feels as though all of the neurotransmitter has been leached from my system. Speaking from my own experience, I do much better working under the uinfluence of the pain than I do under the influence of the pain medication.

    It is a hellish task to choose what works for you both long-and-short -term, perhaps a saunter through some alternative therapies would give you the right balance in your life, along with Western Medicine and approved of by your doctor, of course.

    In the meantime, a wee lavender pillow, and camomile tea certainly can’t hurt.


    1. I have been working a lot with alternative medicine because of my track record with medication. I have not found anything I can do with the extreme pain that can bring relief. However, they do work in combination with the medication to relieve the pain that is not relieved by the medication. Your suggestions sound wonderful. I will have to try them. Thanks!

  2. Hi Sarah,
    Medication and chronic fatigue don’t always work. I don’t take anything now except the occasional Iboprofin or Tylenol for pain. Okay so some days I take them four hourly when I have a migraine or tension headache.
    I take supplements -Coenymze Q10 for cellular health and repair is the thing that works best for me.
    Magnesium is good for muscle aches and pains.

    Finding things to do when you feel bad that take your mind off it all really helps. That’s how I discovered the wonders of Photoshop. Writing is good too – especially writing where you don’t have work it all out from scratch. e.g. following creativity prompts on Soul Foods and Trains of Thought which lead you in a direction you might not have thought of works for me.

    I’ve done heaps of research on chronic fatigue during the past year. email me if you want to talk things over privately.

    – Suzanne

    1. Thank you so much Suzanne! I have heard CoQ10 and Magnesium can help bring relief. I will have to try them. I have been working on adding supplements one at a time so that I can gauge their effectiveness and any side effects. Thanks for the suggestions. I will e-mail you soon. Would love to discuss 🙂

  3. You are truly facing a dilemma of sorts in conjunction with your writing and your meds. It’s a tough choice to make concerning its effects on the quality of your life and activity. I trust this issue will work itself out, and you will be able to recover your senses with your writing.

    Thanks again, Sarah, for sharing your struggles.

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring

    1. Thank you so much Dawn for your comments on this post and my last. I, too, am hoping that I can reconnect to that part of myself. Maybe it will take approaching writing from a different angle. I am trying to work on exposing myself to more inspirational things so that maybe they will carry over into my writing. I really appreciate your support! Thanks again for reading and commenting!

  4. Oh, wow. I’ve had medication issues before so I understand. I’ve also had fatigue issues. But I’ve not had the type of physical pain you’ve described. I’m interested-did you have this ability to walk through scenes and feel them before you had that type of pain? It’s a hard choice it sounds like you have to make–and one I hope won’t be long-term. I don’t know the effects of taking medication part-time (maybe when the pain and fatigue are overwhelming) and not others. I know with the medications I’m on it would mess up my body. But maybe not with these–or lower doses? Of course, if you’re too fatigued and in tremendous pain I suspect there’s not a lot of writing going on at all (the fatigue being the key factor). Then there’s always the other things in life to consider as well (in my case it was kids, school, work…). Sending good energy your way. Keep believing things can and will get better–and that you will be able to write the way you want again.

    1. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I did have that visual ability prior to the onset of the pain and fatigue. It has always been a part of who I am and it is difficult now that I cannot connect with it. I am hoping that maybe with time or approaching writing from a different angle I will be able to reconnect. I am going to build back up a daily writing practice and see if that will help. It may work at least to get writing on my mind daily and get the thoughts that used to drive me crazy all day flowing again. I will gladly except your gift of positive energy. Thank you!

  5. Just wanted to offer my support, let you know that I hear (and read you) and hope that you keep writing.

    Maybe it is more “analytical” now than lyrical …but it is all cyclical and you will get the lyricism back. Or you will become a lyrical analyst.

    Either way, you are a writer. A writer filled with life and juice and so much to share.

    I hope you find some rest. FWIW, my daughter (in her early 20’s) is on both straterra and neurontin and while *I* think it may be too much medicine, she believes it gives her the support she needs.

    So there. 🙂 GOod luck!

  6. Been there, Sarah. It was hell. Eleven years of hell. I felt as though I was constantly fighting through a brain cloud. All that changed when I moved to Maine and changed my eating habits and started taking supplements. Malic Acid is an apple-based supplement with Magnesium. Several people here have mentioned Magnesium, and they are right. It’s important. I too take COQ10, plus fish oil, E, D, Thiamine, and a good multi-mineral and multi-vitamin tablet. I’ve felt great for almost seven years now. The rest of my change has been lifestyle, and I think this is important: plenty of good rest and an organic diet. Good luck. I believe you can beat this.

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