Thursday, 31 December 2015

Cold Turkey and all the trimmings

As a college Principal I invariably at some point early on in my students' training programme attempt to encourage them to get to know themselves.  When we first hit college most of us (or maybe it was just me) are consumed with knowledge and self belief, usually taught to us by our responsible parents, wanting their children to grow up to be lovely adults no doubt. However there are some things I think that we should truly discover for ourselves (not just learn as a hand me down or inherit like some family heirloom).  I would put politics and religion in this bracket for example.  It's so easy to go along with your parent's political beliefs...but what are yours...do you even have any? The amount of times a student has told me who they 'support', yet when I ask them what that party actually stands for, they actually don't know a single thing.  So finding ourselves and discovering who and indeed what we are, is, in my opinion, an essential part of an all round college education.

I worked out quite quickly at college that I had a bit of an addictive personality. Freedom to just 'be' made me realise that my 'off' button didn't really work like some other people.  At first I put it down to regular student high jinks, I mean it's a rite of passage to get so inebriated that you're not permitted on a coach (full of really inebriated passengers) right?  If there was a drink that I didn't like..I would persevere until I really liked it. I mean I was dedicated to the cause.

Fortunately other than a few missed lectures, and infamously falling asleep in a rather important rehearsal, I sort of got away with it....after all it was the 80's, I went to a Poly (look it up), so all was good with the world. Never radical...I had my tiny moments, whilst looking enviously on at the 'cool group' that were trying everything!

I was sort of desperate to experiment with drugs....but somehow I just knew that I would get addicted. I was the only person that I knew at the time, that watched Trainspotting and walked away thinking that heroine seemed like a really good idea?  For whatever reason, common sense (or was it just that I was boring?) prevailed and I never actually did any Class A drugs.  I swore that by my 40th birthday I would do a line of coke...indeed I even looked forward to it. It was going to be my very well publicised treat on the big day. Yet come the big moment...I just knew that I'd enjoy it too much and would get addicted so opted out of the 'gift'. Even more awkward was the fact that I had named this 'gift' to nearly everyone at the time, so every card seemed to have a drug reference in it. I remember my dad reading them and me feeling more and more uncomfortable, as I couldn't even begin to explain why practically all my friends and students were referring to the infamous 'line' (not as bad as the cards that I received on my 30th when I'd been convinced that I would be dead...but that's another story).

Anyway...all of the above can be skipped...and summed up as I've always remained dull and on the whole sober (with a few very notable exceptions which have convinced me that my decisions have been correct).  So why then do I currently find myself in the middle of quite a serious drug withdrawal programme?  You see the cold turkey in the title, isn't quite what you think...in fact ...if only!

Since I hit 17/18 years of age  I've suffered from migraines. Work colleagues (especially DSM's covering for me and band members who have watched me play night after night in agony with the anecdotal bucket at my side) and close friends know that the migraines have got really bad....to the point that for over 30 years I can't remember waking up without a migraine.  The first thing that I do when I wake up, is take a cocktail of drugs that will hopefully make that particular migraine manageable for that day. Sometimes I manage it...sometimes the migraine wins.  I'm so proud of the fact that I've never missed a show because of one (although quite a few second halves have gone up late as I've composed myself ready to start again). However as we all know Dr Theatre is the ultimate healer. It's been so bad that I've had cars literally outside stage door waiting for me to run into between the matinee and the evening show, so that I could just sleep and 'be quiet' for just an hour or two, so that my cast (especially if they were my students), didn't realise quite how bad things were.

I have medics in my family....hell, I'm even married to one. After many discussion(AKA nagging) I'm very familiar with the concept of the rebound headache.  After years of self medicating thanks to the local pharmacists, off I reluctantly trotted to the Drs to discuss the possibility that I've made the problem worse- I leave the Drs with new wonder drug from the family of triptans which has no rebound properties (and incidentally cures the migraine instantly). Of course sometimes there's a break through pain of the migraine, but now I have prescribed codeine to help me to manage that. The world is looking brighter...I am functioning better. I can legitimately keep popping the triptans, and take a bit of codeine to take the edge off the pain, and I can survive again.Then comes the report that you can have rebound headaches from triptans!!  I cannot believe my bad luck...somehow, with a Dr looking after me, and with me being completely honest about my own practice, I am now on 2 types of medication that create rebound headaches, plus I'm getting migraines like they're going out of fashion. Typical story of I'd taken so many drugs (all prescribed)..none of the bloody things worked.

The migraines got so bad (even sadder that we put it down to age and 'that time'), I was put onto a controlled drug, but  eventually I had to stamp my feet loud enough to get a referral to a  pain clinic, as I was trying to run the college, do the writing/arrangements etc . with the constant daily background of chronic pain.   For the first time I began to feel like I couldn't even do a show (I mean, of course I did.....but it was really bloody painful. You try leading a band with a migraine..every nod is like a hammer blow, and every sound is like a knife...or maybe I'm just hiring the wrong musos).

Referral made...fast forward a few months and I meet with my specialist, who of course tells me everything I know (& before you ask it's not red wine or chocolate...these are 100% created by stress) ie half of my symptoms are rebound symptoms, but she took time to explain which ones were which. The only way out of this vicious cycle was.................. to go cold turkey (or taper off.  Basically my body is completely addicted to codeine and to the triptans.  For those that know me well, tapering off was never an option especially as I never wanted to be the addict in the first place...I mean what was the point of all that will power at the various parties as I'd still ended up an addict).  I Still have the triptan detox to go (but the word on the virtual street AKA Google  is that the withdrawal from the triptan is nothing compared to the codeine).

The specialist strongly suggested not trying any withdrawal until I had a 'space of time' in which to try it, she prepped me as much as she could, even injecting my head with a nerve block to help me through the process, and prescribed yet another prophylactic drug, which again, could help my detox. So I waited until the end of term..then went cold turkey, rather aptly in time for Christmas, as our term finished late..and I was working up until 19th Dec.   Except that this cold turkey lasts considerably longer than the more traditional type. You can't serve it up with a relish....as pain is pain whichever way you look at it!   I've been off codeine now for 10 days as I write this blog..which I know is nothing in the scheme of things, (plus I also know that I have another detox to go after this one). The plus side is that I had my first 'adult' Christmas minus a migraine - a huge plus indeed with a toddler.  However next time you watch a documentary about people coming off opiates, remember that they're a very close knit family. Heroine and codeine are derived from the same source - and you can just buy codeine over the counter.  Of course there is no comparison to the grown up 'cold turkey' that we read about in books, or see on the TV....but if this minor one is anything to go by I salute everyone that has come off heroine....whilst at the same time question why you would ever go through this again.

So to sum up...I left home and practised what I preached...I attempted to know myself...and felt like I did it enough to keep myself safe (whilst never too dull...I hope).  However the world of medicine became my nemesis as the Drs didn't have time to listen to the full picture.  I should quickly add that I blame no-one but myself for my current predicament as I should have shouted louder sooner...but of course with a migraine, that's actually quite difficult.

As I leave you now to continue the excessive sweating. shivers,  and the stomach cramps etc...it would transpire that I was with the 'cool' set after all. I just joined them 30 years too late.

I have a difficult few months ahead of me (obviously I'm thrilled about it)...however, living without a daily migraine has put the other pain into perspective.  Much to the amusement of my family the strangest (but recognised) side effect is the most bizarre sneeze. Words could not do it justice, but I would say book to see my next show in case it makes an  appearance as it's definitely worth it. ;-)

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