Where I live, I get access to free health care. I can go see a doctor or go to the hospital whenever I feel something is not right. While acknowledging that this in itself is a privilege, this is a short story about my health anxiety and my journey so far with chronic pain management.
In the summer of 2019, I moved to San Francisco for 4 months. When I found out I was leaving I put my local phone plan on pause to ensure that I wasn’t racking up any expensive roaming charges. Right before I left, I started feeling some pain in my lower right abdominal area. I went to a walk-in clinic close to my house and saw a doctor, who sent me for some lab work and an ultrasound. I never heard back from the clinic and continued on with my planned move to San Francisco, assuming that my results had come back normal.
Two months into my stay, my partner was visiting for my birthday and their visit was unfortunately interrupted by some severe abdominal pain on my right side. I was feeling feverish, and extremely panicked. I was close friends with a physician, and when I explained my symptoms he told me to go to the ER. I went to the ER and the entire time I was there I was panicking about the bills I would be racking up as an international person visiting the US. To cut a long story short, they couldn’t find out what was wrong but the pain lingered.
While I was in San Francisco, I turned to CBD in the form of micro-dosing to manage this undiagnosed pain. It helped a lot, by making me feel calmer and relaxing my body. I soon flew home and was welcomed by my family and friends. When I got home, I found a mailed letter addressed to me, and inside was an urgent message from the walk-in clinic I had gone to before I left. It read, “Please call us back. We have been trying to get hold of you since June.” I was reading this in September. I called them, and they told me that prior to leaving the doctor had diagnosed my pain as a UTI and wanted to prescribe me antibiotics.
To this day, I have no idea what caused the pain in San Francisco, whether it was some symptoms from the untreated UTI or something else that the doctors couldn’t find. The experience made me extremely skeptical of doctors in general. From September until March, I had recurring symptoms of chest pain, abdominal pain, and back pain that went undiagnosed. No one could figure out what was going on. This culminated with multiple trips to the ER and self-diagnosing myself with health anxiety, or as many people may know it — hypochondria. My pain was real, but what happened in California had thrown off my fear response so even though I had been checked out multiple times by multiple professionals, I thought that I was in danger every time I felt those symptoms in my body.
Then COVID-19 hit, and you can imagine the constant fear of feeling like I had a deadly infectious disease in my lungs got worse. But, fortunately, I finally hit a wall and started reading and connecting with other people who have struggled with health anxiety. I educated myself on the behaviors that people with health anxiety would engage in and practiced cognitive behavior therapy to train my fear response to be healthy again.
My doctor prescribed lorazepam as a quick “happy pill” for if I was spiraling and was trying to convince myself to go to the ER, but I was scared to take it because I feared getting addicted. I eventually decided that I was going to try CBD. I ordered an oil that sits under your tongue with a THC concentration of 0.5 mg/mL and a CBD concentration of 11 mg/mL. When I tried it for the first time, I remember feeling a bit buzzed immediately after, but by 45 minutes – 1 hour after I wasn’t feeling any pain and I was very relaxed. This felt great for me. With only 1 mL of this tasteless oil, I could calm myself down and have the non-life threatening pain subside for the rest of the night. I had read about alternative medications but most of the side effects said they would make you feel foggy and zombie-like. CBD has been amazing for me and I hope that more people will try this form of natural plant medicine for managing pain.
CBD is only one part of my healing, I also carry around affirmation cards, exercise regularly, eat as healthy as possible, and practice meditation daily. But, knowing that I have the oil in my back pocket if ever I start to spiral gives me a lot of peace of mind.