My medicine cabinet

medicine pills and bottles

My husband was sitting up on the side of the bed letting his back “adjust”. He took a deep breath and wondered out loud, “So, is this just part of being 40? Will we never again wake without aches and pains? Is this how aging feels?” While I didn’t like his conclusion, I figured he was right. There weren’t any days that I could remember that I woke and did not feel stiff and sore. Generally, it took a little time to get up and get moving and to work out the sore and stiff bits, and neither of the discomfort was from consistent exercise.

We were both obese, but we were heading into our mid-forties. While we weren’t active, we did have a house and a yard to maintain and two children with whom to keep pace. In addition to my prescription pain medications and epidural steroid injections, we both kept, and used, over the counter medications that included acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen.

In fact, we bought over the counter pain medicines at the discount warehouse club. Five hundred pills in a club-sized package. In addition to the over the counter medications, our doctors kept us supplied with prescriptions for muscle relaxers and various forms of narcotics to treat pain as needed. We needed those a couple of times each year.

Pain medications were just a normal part of our lifestyle. Before my husband did yard work, he took naproxen. A trip to the mall for me included ibuprofen before and afterwards to help ease the pain associated with all of that walking. If I woke feeling a twinge in my back or any pain or stiffness, I started the day with wondering which medication might be best.

Naproxen seemed to work well for pain associated with yard work or exertion and was longer lasting than ibuprofen, but ibuprofen worked well for back pain and acetaminophen seemed to help my headaches best. I was grateful that I could take them at the same time if needed because they were different medications and often worked well together.

I even kept multiple medication options in my desk drawer at work and never traveled without something for pain just in case my husband or I needed it. Toothbrush, toothpaste, pain medications – it all went into the toiletry case. We had accepted that low energy, painful joints, sore muscles, and back pain were simply normal for us.

The change was so gradual that I’m not sure when the shift happened, but I will not forget the day that I opened my bathroom cabinet and saw the “Economy Size” ibuprofen tablets. The 200 mg pills sat in a package of 500. There were days when I took 3 pills, 600 mg, every 4 to 6 hours as my doctor suggested. Even at a standard dosage, I was using that entire 500 pill package in less than three months’ time. And I was never concerned about it even though I needed those over the counter medications in addition to my prescription medications. That was normal, just like my shopping list: bread, low-fat cheese, apples, bananas, cereal, bagels, and ibuprofen.

The day that I stood in my bathroom and really saw the Economy Size pill bottle for the first time, stands out in my memory. It looked huge. It looked like days when I stayed in bed or avoided walking my elementary children into their schools. It looked like sadness and pain. Thankfully, it looked odd! I checked to see the expiration date and smiled when it read 2013. Not coincidentally, that was the year that I discovered a ketogenic diet.

Transforming health

When I began keto, I was determined to lose weight. I didn’t know that I had it all wrong. Well, maybe not wrong, but I certainly had things backwards. I wanted to resolve the issue of weight. My solitary goal was weight loss. Initially, I was laser focused on the scales and smaller clothes. While I enjoyed significant weight loss, what I discovered along the way was better health.

Mornings began to great me without pain. The Economy Size ibuprofen was mostly forgotten week by week as I used it less frequently. Within four months of changing my diet, I stopped all prescription medications. The only pain medications I’ve had filled since starting keto were for outpatient surgeries, and I cannot remember the last time I took a muscle relaxer.

If I wake feeling a little sore or if my rings feel tight, which is a sign of inflammation for me, then I no longer lie in bed and wonder which medications to take. My thoughts first drift to, “What did I eat yesterday?” Sometimes I can pinpoint that I had too much dairy. I now feel a little inflammation if I have peanut butter or certain sweeteners.

Nearly every single time that I wake with what we used to call “feeling my age”, I can reason that it was something I ate or something I did. I’ve also learned that kayaking makes me sore in the most wonderful way. My arm muscles remind me for at least a day or two of paddling along with someone else while enjoying the beauty of a warm day and cool water.

There are times when I think about my “before and after”. The dramatic changes cannot be captured in a photo. The woman who needed daily pain medications combined with over the counter medications just to shop at the mall, now takes no medication for pain. In my “before” life, I could not fit in a kayak, and I would not have dreamed of trying. In my “after” life, I am keenly aware of food and how it impacts my health.

Food is the first thing I consider modifying if I am not feeling well. The power of good nutrition healing and strengthening the body is normal now, and my new shopping list at the discount warehouse club? I buy coffee, cheese, butter, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, ribs, ground beef, and bacon. Lots of bacon. What a delicious medicine cabinet!

Kristie Sullivan

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