What’s the alternative?

I’ve lost count of the number of prescription medications that I have tried. At last count, the number was creeping into the upper 50s. Yep. From the time of my first, body-destroying migraine until today, I have tried over fifty separate pharmaceutical drugs. I’m not counting the intravenous or in-hospital abortive meds. Just the pills, patches, tablets, and creams that I’ve put into my body. 

When it comes to prescription medications, once is rarely enough. Often, the formulas are designed to work over time or build up in your system. Most doctors will tell you to try a drug for at least two weeks to give it a fighting chance. There are exceptions to this rule, and some meds are suppose to work immediately, but chances are that you’ll have to try that drug a few times over in order to accurately decide if it is effective. 

Of course, efficacy isn’t the only perimeter for deciding if a medication works for you. There are also the side effects. Ugh… Just thinking about the intense and nasty problems arising from prescription drugs… They can be overwhelming, and life altering. 

It’s important to learn your body’s response “hot spots”. I know that my stomach, heart, and skin are ultra-sensitive. I’m most likely to experience medication side effects, which target those areas. Because of this, I push through lightly aggravating symptoms and wait to see if they disappear or get worse. Then, I ask myself, is the medication working well enough? If so, then sometimes the side effects are worth it. I’ve had severe reactions to medications. Unfortunately, I’ve even developed chronic symptoms from medications I spent too much time on. That balancing game isn’t always easy. But, what happens when you want to dabble in so-called alternative treatments?

Maybe, you are tired of all the pills. Perhaps, you want to try something with a less dramatic impact on your physical and mental health. Alternatives can feel more approachable, less invasive, and more socially acceptable. Some of them even work! Whether it is a placebo effect or an actual physiological shift, therapies outside of “Western” medicine can significantly help chronic pain and disease sufferers.

Money is the umbrella issue when it comes to alternative treatments. Insurance rarely covers fringe treatments and therapies. More commonly accepted procedures like chiropractic work, physical therapy, and acupuncture are occasionally offered by insurance companies. If so, the frequency will usually be insufficient and complementary services/pills/products are not covered. Doctors working in the modern world are typically dubious of alternative therapies. While, this attitude is slowly changing. Very slowly. “Western” medicine still reigns supreme and is the definitive treatment method.

As I’ve discussed before, I have done a lot of experimenting throughout my medical journey. Alternative and “Eastern” medicines have been (and continue to be) a part of that trip. Here are some of my accounts. Keep in mind, these are very personal experiences and are not recommendations nor should they dissuade you from trying alternatives. As always, follow your gut and sound medical advice from a trusted professional.

Acupuncture has not been effective. I appreciate the science and history behind it, but I have not experienced any tangible progress. Positive note – very relaxing.

Massage/acupressure has been effective. The cost of this treatment is prohibitive and finding someone who knows how to work with my medical conditions is difficult. Positive note – acts as preventative therapy when done frequently.

Craniosacral/bodywork has been effective. This falls on the far side of the proven treatment tab and qualified professionals are hard to find, but it works. Positive note – noninvasive and simple to fit into a weekly schedule.

Marijuana has not been effective. Weed, especially high CBD/THC combination products are typically successful and should be a more common treatment modality. In my case, they just don’t provide sufficient pain relief or sleep. It is considered “illegal” in many states and countries. Positive note – extremely safe. There are hundreds of types, forms, and combinations that help people with their symptoms.

Herbal remedies show some effectiveness. Finding high-quality supplements can be difficult and very expensive. You have to try a wide variety and combination of herbs to find the right match, which changes over time. Positive note – lower risk and less dramatic side effects.

Meditation/prayer/breathwork has been effective. The largest caveat to this one, is being able to get into a meditative headspace. It takes time, practice, and self-forgiveness as you try navigating this with chronic pain. Positive note- no cost and doable anywhere.

Physical therapy has been effective. Once again, cost and finding a therapist who knows how to work with your medical issues is difficult. Positive note – fast results and general cultural acceptance.

Art/Talk/Biofeedback therapy has been effective. There are many low-cost options and various types of treatments that, if nothing else, can support mental health. You can also do these therapies in your own home. Positive note – Almost universally effective and available. Strong mental health support is vital to healing physical aliments.   

I’m sure that there are some alternative treatments and therapies that I haven’t listed. There are many that I have yet to try. Just know that your chronic pain and symptom management experiences will probably fall on both sides of traditional verses modern medicine. The two should be used in conjunction with any self-care habits you have developed. Even small affordable moments, such as having a cup of tea in a quiet setting, can bring a sigh of relief to your body and mind. If they work FOR YOU, then keep it up. Your medical choices are just that, yours. 

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