Janet Honour, from Bishop Auckland in County Durham, was a 40-year-old PA to a headteacher at her local secondary school. Married with two teenage kids (at the time), she had a successful career, where she was a valued member of staff and enjoyed a happy social life.
“Following a salsa class after work one night, I’d really hurt my back. I still wasn’t right after a couple of days, so I visited my GP who prescribed ibuprofen and paracetamol.”
The pain continued to get worse, and over the next 6-8 months it was so excruciating I was left unable to walk. I had an MRI and physiotherapy during those early months and discovered the fluid had disappeared between some of the discs in my back.
There was only one option: pain medication.
Over the ensuing years, I found my body simply ‘got used’ to the medication I was taking.
The dosage and strength of the medication increased. Tramadol. Gabapentin. Pregabalin. Amitriptyline. And then… Morphine.
I would hallucinate and have such vivid nightmares that I would wake up screaming. It was so severe my husband thought there must have been a burglar in our room.
I would sleep for 14 hours, and not get up until midday. I couldn’t ‘get going’ I just felt exhausted and couldn’t keep my eyes open. I was utterly sluggish.
I was completely devastated, but not surprised when I eventually lost my job. I had simply taken too much sick leave and when I was there, I wasn’t even functioning to 50% of my capability. I was in a mental fog, wading through treacle. In a PA role it’s essential you’re completely on the ball and capable of spinning lots of plates simultaneously. I simply couldn’t cope.
The amount of pain medication I was taking meant drinking alcohol was a no-no. I found in social situations lots of people pressuring me to have a drink, and again it just got too much. So, I stopped going out. It was easier to stay in.
At this point many of my friends fell by the wayside. I found myself spiralling into depression and would become increasingly anxious at the thought of leaving the house, needing someone with me much of the time.
I didn’t recognise this person anymore. I was sad and I was lonely.
Still trying to ‘fix’ the problem in my back, I had facet joint injections, radio frequency lesioning to kill the nerves around the affected area and eventually I was asked to consider a hysterectomy, to prevent unnecessary fluid retention causing additional pain. I did that. But the pain remained!
Then in 2016, my husband underwent life saving heart surgery. It planted the seed of change. I just realised that this was no life, I couldn’t carry on like this!
I’d booked my husband on a meditation course to help his recovery and went along to offer moral support. I was really surprised to find it helped me. My pain reduced. I made the decision to drop the Morphine and try to control my pain without it.
Working with my GP, I then gradually reduced my dose of Pregabalin by half a dose a week. The drugs I was taking were really strong, so it was essential I weaned myself from them slowly. I knew it was a long road, but bit by bit I could feel myself getting back to ‘normal’.
I now take no pain medication on a regular basis. A little bit of pain is better than being flat out on a cocktail of drugs.
Drug free and managing my own pain, it feels great to be back in control.
I meditate, do yoga and use a pacing technique I learnt on a pain management course eight years ago to manage my physical activity, so I don’t overdo it. I feel like a different person. I’m back!”
In January 2019 I went back to work part time as an exam invigilator and now work as teaching assistant.