60-year-old Stephen has been suffering from chronic pain for almost 20 years. In 2013 he had no choice but to quit his job as the effects of his pain medication were making it impossible to focus.
If I take it in the morning I just can’t wake up.
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I suffer from fibromyalgia and various types of arthritis, which affects quite a lot of my joints and I also have osteoarthritis in my left leg, left hip and in my spine, along with several disks that are bulging and causing problems. All that started in 2000 when I was working full time as a technology teacher at a secondary school.
I was prescribed medication straight away. I think it was because the arthritis was painful and the fibromyalgia alters your perception of pain considerably so everything is a lot worse. The slightest knock feels as though you have really bashed it – it’s not a gentle knock, there’s no such thing as gentle pain, everything is exaggerated.
I was originally prescribed tramadol but that made me ill. It was great at reducing the pain but after a couple of hours the pain was back and I felt like I had a massive hangover as though I’d been on the beer all night.
Trying to teach in this state was really difficult so I was then put on slow release tramadol, which seemed to work for a while – I didn’t get the massive hangover effects when I took them on time, but that wasn’t always easy. I was on gabapentin first, for two or three years, then they switched me to pregabalin and I’ve been on that for five years now. You’re supposed to take it twice a day but I can’t manage twice a day because it just knocks me out. I’m on 300mg twice a day – if I take it in the morning I just can’t wake up.
Some days I would just like to throw the whole lot in the bin and start again.
In 2013 I developed fibromyalgia that ultimately ended my work cycle. I taught technology so it was quite heavy, you needed a lot of focus. You need eyes in the back of your head when you have 20 kids in a workshop using sharp tools and stuff – you have to be on the ball, you can’t be dosed up on medication. I was trying to work in pain because the medication was stopping me from focusing. I just couldn’t focus in the classroom, I couldn’t do anything.
I was addicted. I couldn’t do without it, if I missed a dose I’d know straight away.
Now I go to the pain management clinic at the hospital. I’ve been taking amitriptyline and they worked at night but then they took me off them because I had a chest problem. It didn’t cure the chest problem, so I tried to go back on them, but they just made me ill – there’s no equal balance.
My GP is very good, he’s quite supportive. I see him every couple of months, he keeps reviewing how things are going, he just doesn’t want to keep repeating everything. I also see the consultant at the pain management clinic every six months. That’s normally for an injection in my spine – it gives us some relief for around three or four weeks.