Mitragyna speciosa, better known as "kratom" is a species of tree that originates from Indonesia and is related to the coffee plant. Its leaves have been used for countless years for its medicinal properties, mostly in conjunction with energy and feelings of wellbeing.
The most common consumption of kratom is as a tea or in a capsule. Its dried, ground and sold as a greenish powder. Kratom generally comes in three strains, based on the vein coloring of the leaf: green, red, and white. The average dosage of kratom is about a teaspoon at a time, but each person needs to find their "sweet spot" dose. Unlike most drugs or supplements, more isn't better with kratom: too much and you're in for a nasty bellyache. Its actually better to be frugal.
Different strains of kratom have different effects on the mind/body, and are often broken down into three categories: slow, medium, and fast. "Slow" strains tend to have a calming effect. "Medium" tends to lower anxiety and increases non-physical productivity, and "fast" tends to improve physical productivity output.
There's a massive controversy about kratom right now; ironically, although not a narcotic, it "tricks" the brain into thinking its receiving a narcotic substance. This has made it a cost-effective, natural way to detox off narcotics for addicts and while this seems like a miracle solution to the opioid crisis, its not being championed. Theories abound about the possibility that much like cannabis, kratom is not something a pharmaceutical company can profit from nor control, and because the average "kick" time using kratom for an addict is about 7 days, recovery treatment centers aren't exactly championing it either. 7 days of kratom costs a user about $32, give or take. Additionally, its not an addictive substance, although if used regularly, one can build up a tolerance to a strain and the effects are slightly diminished. This is often remedied by switching around to different strains in round-robin fashion, or just simply stop using it for a little while.
Some folks use it to help with chronic pain, and that's where I come in. Its not a painkiller; its a supplement to help manage pain. I found that certain slow strains (for me, the white variety) will tamp down the intensity of pain, particularly neuralgia. Kratom comes on slowly; in fact, you kind of don't realize you're feeling the effects at first. Unlike THC in cannabis (which I have tried for pain management and migraine), its psychotropic effects are not mind-altering, and I don't feel sleepy like a narcotic would make you feel. Its very much like coffee or black tea, or a very mild sedative, in its effects. I often feel very upbeat after about 20 minutes of drinking the tea, and for the pain, its still there but doesn't seem to bother me as much. If there was tension or anxiety in my body, kratom helps lower it a bit. Additionally, slow and medium strains of kratom give me a little burst of energy, the type that allows me to complete a task or focus on something for a few hours. Unlike coffee, I don't feel a comedown quite the same way; its slower and more natural to the rhythm of how your body will slow down or tire. I don't experience a "crash".
Because of my Addison's Disease, energy management on a daily level is monitored and often frugal, since I don't have cortisol or aldosterone production and have to fully rely on steroids to get me through the rigors of the day. Kratom doesn't seem to interfere with this, nor does it seem to sap out or stress my system the way that caffeine can. I only drink one or two small cups of kratom tea a day (one in the morning, one in mid afternoon), which is about a teaspoon of the powder in each cup, and that's all I really need. Some people are fine with just one dose a day, or even every other day. I like the little bursts of energy, otherwise I often don't even need it daily, just when my neuralgia is acting up. Honestly, its kind of a chill supplement in comparison to its robust cousin, the coffee bean.
I do have to take narcotics to manage pain, especially if its really bad, and kratom helps reduce the need to take them. I really like that. Kratom is my first go-to for the nerve pain, and often is enough (combined with rest and other things to help get the nerves to calm down).
Like any substance, one needs to educate themselves on it, its effects, how to ingest it, and of course, find reputable places to get them (I really trust the website "Happy Hippo" and their products have been really good). I have noticed doctors freak out about kratom, mostly because they know so little about it, but I do think its important to discuss it with your doctor if you want to use it as a supplement, and I don't know how it affects children under 18. However, for myself, I've been pleasantly surprised with kratom and its relative safety thus far. I don't think its fair to demonize this tree leaf, or to fear it; its really worth learning more about.
The other day I was reading an online post from a friend of mine in which she explained how chronic anxiety boxed her in. I could definitely relate, as did several of her online friends. However, in reading this, I wondered "Do mentally healthy people actually exist?". I noticed that I had a distinct lack of people in my life who claimed to be healthy and happy, or at least healthy.
I looked up "symptoms of mental health" online. It was actually a little difficult to find; I had to wade through a ton of articles on how to ACHIEVE mental health, but none from someone actually claiming to be healthy. I did find a couple of entries defining how a mentally healthy person functions in our society, which was a start. For example, here is a Wikipedia definition: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mental_health.
I think there is a difference between being mentally healthy and having a happy life. You can certainly have both, but a mentally healthy person also deals with the trials and tribulations the rest of us have to deal with. Because they make healthier choices than the rest of us, they probably have better outcomes, but life isn't always fair or kind. So I was curious: how does a mentally healthy person THINK? How is it different than me, and can I train myself to reroute those neurotransmitters to think more like a healthy person?
Since again, I have a lack of mentally-ill-free people in my life (at least, according to their therapists), I don't have a whole lot of role models to work with. However, I'm imaginative and observant, so at the very least I can speculate how a healthy person traverses through daily activities. Thus, my new self project began: Think Like a Healthy Person.
For the last week, I've been stopping myself throughout the day to ask myself: how would a healthy person handle this? The answer is often: not how I handle it, that's for sure. However, the solutions I come up with aren't too difficult to employ. Here's an example: I'll get a bill, and my gut drops (it always drops when I get a bill). I'll ask myself: Okay, how would a healthy person address this bill? Because my normal response is to throw it in a pile to forget about it, but I'll still have it stew in my brain, building up anxiety. I would imagine a healthy person would do one of two things: check the due date and if they can't pay it right away, schedule it with a reminder, then move on. If they can pay it right away, they pay it, then move on. In other words: Address the issue, then move on. So the last few bills, I both paid and/or scheduled. The result? Clearly less anxiety. Oddly, I was surprised at how hard it was to take care of the bills right away, at least mentally. I fought it with the resistance of a two year old. Damn, I mused, I am really stubborn.
I've been using this to address more complex issues as well, mostly involving interactions with difficult people. I am finding that people are difficult in part because I allow them to be, in my life. I recently had to deal with a guy that I employed to do some work for me, and he's been utterly disappointing. He makes constant excuses that, as a client, I don't really need to hear or WANT to hear. I just want to know when something can be completed, not his sob story. The bottom line: he's just not fulfilling the expectations we initially set up for this job. What would a healthy person do? Let him go. What have I done? Gone in circles with him, arguing over his botched timelines, and given him umpteen chances to fix his mistakes and increasingly grow frustrated with him, and then complain to everyone around me, which initially blows off steam but does nothing to fix the situation.
Honestly, I saw red flags early on but ignored them, essentially overriding my judgement of the situation as to how it could affect me down the line. I made the situation difficult by not addressing the 900 pound gorilla in the room the moment it entered. Yes, it would have been uncomfortable to say, "hey, I don't think this is the right fit, sorry", but the discomfort would have been minuscule compared to the months of haggling we've currently gone through. And I STILL had to let him go.
A lot of the difficult situations I've had the last few years could have been addressed very early on and many of them avoided, but alas, I don't think like a healthy person just yet. But I have noticed, since I've started this personal project, that when I do make changes, I'm relatively satisfied with the results. The loose threads aren't there, tangling up in my brain. I ended the week feeling less drained than normal, less defeated. I complained a little less. I got a lot more tasks completed than I expected to, but with less mental energy charging them up.
So yeah, mentally healthy people may be like mythical unicorns - they may not exist in pure form. I like to believe they're out there, and maybe I'll actually meet one. In the meantime, asking myself what a mentally healthy person would do in a variety of situations really just allows me to stop and examine how I think, and if that thinking is not adding any value to life, try something new. I don't need to be a slave of habit or mental disorders, as long as I have the skill of observation at hand.
The gammaCore is a vagal nerve stimulator: it has two electrodes that you hold against your vagal nerve on your neck. You turn it on and for a couple of minutes it puts out an electrical pulse. The goal is to eliminate and/or reduce cluster or migraine headaches.
The FDA has not approved the device yet, so you have to sign up to participate in a program to use it. Additionally, because its not approved, its not covered by insurance. Its got a built-in battery that only lasts about 30 days from the time of usage, so you have to buy a unit every 30 days. The unit is $500. Kinda pricey.
My neurologist wants me off all the drugs she put me on to manage my chronic pain, and wants to have me use nonevasive items like the gammaCore to manage things like headaches. I'm all for getting off drugs, I just got off Cymbalta for pain management and I want to get off gabapentin if at all possible. I'm taking all the supplements she wants me to take and they seem to be helping. The Quell device (which is like a tenS device on steroids) has helped with my nerve damage, so even though gammaCore is pricey, if it does its thing and resets my nervous system, great. I'll give it a whirl.
Today I gave it a whirl.
I started getting a migraine this morning. It often starts from other stimuli, such as neck spasms, allergies, extreme temp changes or a nose bleed. Today it was neck spasms - my neuralgia is acting up. I unpacked the gammaCore from its gift-like box, put the conductor gel on the electrodes, stuck it to my neck and turned it on.
My neck made a noise I've never heard it make before, a kind of high pitched crack. A wave of pain shot through my head and down both sides of my neck. This can't be good!
The box comes with a booklet, which I did read, but nested in the booklet is a Warning page. I read through it while rubbing my neck... ahhhh! Right after the part where it says not to use it if you have heart problems, it states not to use if you have plates or screws in your neck. I do have both, from my double spine fusion 8 years ago.
Well dang. I guess my doctor didn't bother to read this thing either, since they are well aware of my damaged spine at the clinic.
So, guess this is off the table for me. I took some Maxalt and a handful of vicodin, and sprayed my neck with magnesium oil. I still have the option to try neuro-acupuncture, although I've got a healthy amount of skepticism towards it.