Let me begin by saying that this is a huge topic unto itself, and will probably need more than one post, and ultimately, more than one perspective on it. I want to talk about it, because it’s important and difficult, and can cause emotional strains as well as financial ones. No one likes to talk about money, and no one really likes to spend their hard earned cash unless necessary. This topic is large because everyone has different jobs, ability to work given their chronic pain, health benefit coverage, and support from family, friends, and partners. So how can everyone prioritize and afford what they need? A lot of it will come down to individual decisions, but making your health your top priority will only help you in the long run. At least, that’s what I’ve learned. Where I was 8 months ago when my health was not my top priority (my relationship and career goals were) to now (where my health is number one, and everything else is second) has made me realize how important it is to stay on top of everything health-related in order to live an amazing life and succeed in all other areas.
Image from: http://imagelovequote.blogspot.ca/2012/12/amazing-life-quotes.html
Part One: An Incomplete List of Health Care Options Available and Prioritizing Them
Rheumatologists & GPS: When you suffer from chronic pain, there are so many options for health care treatments. For most, a specialist like a Rheumatologist, as well as your GP, as the starting point. They tend to offer diagnosis (or direction toward one) and will prescribe any pharmaceuticals that will help ease pain and any other symptoms. They are important. In my opinion, only part of the team, not the whole team. The pills I’ve been prescribed personally (for lupus, fibromyalgia, and pain) help, but only to an extent. I can function, but not the way I want to.
Physiotherapy and Chiropractor: There are other health care providers that can be sought out to help with chronic pain. Working on strength, movement, and having adjustments, laser therapies, heat therapies, acupuncture, etc., are often the focus from these types of specialists. There has been a lot of research suggesting that exercise can have a great effect on chronic pain.
Image from: http://wilsonhealth.ca/blog/333-physiotherapy-vs-chiropractic-which-do-i-need
Naturopaths: NDs tend to give suggestions in terms of switching up diet (hard to do, but helpful), exercise, acupuncture, and natural supplements that can decrease inflammation, pain, and relax muscles. They also focus on the body as a whole. What are the other causes of pain? How are you emotionally? etc. The integrative approach is refreshing, and NDs can have a way of making you feel like more than just a patient.
Pain Specialists: Another type of specialist that deals specifically with chronic pain. They can also offer alternative prescriptions for things like medical marijuana, which is a good solution for some people.
Massage Therapy: Most people think of massage as a relaxing luxury as opposed to a health care practice. It’s true, massages do relax the body, and work out tough knots caused by stress, but they can also provide some relief (albeit temporary to chronic pain in certain parts of the body.
Image from: http://www.durhamcollege.ca/programs/massage-therapy
Psychotherapy: Ah, the mind, an important player in chronic pain, even though most of us don’t want to admit it. In fact, a lot of people (chronic pain warriors or not) could benefit from some talk therapy. Often therapists will also have suggestions and new ideas for how to reduce pain from a mind perspective as well.
Life Coaches, Personal Trainers, Nutritionists, and So Forth: There are lots of other people you can include in your health care team depending on your goals and needs. As stated at the start of this section, this in a short, incomplete list of some of the most common providers, but it’s important to remember that there are others out there as well.
Every person will prioritize the above health care needs on their own. And those priorities may change over time. I prioritize based upon what is currently working the best for me. If I’m getting more out of a therapy/treatment, I’ll probably do it more often. That, of course, and then money, which leads us into…
PART TWO: Affording These Needs
If you have health benefits, especially good ones, it makes this a lot easier. I’m Canadian, so my Rheumatologist and GP are covered by our government provided health care. If you’re in other parts of the world, that may not be the case. Setting appointments to keep you in check, and refill prescriptions if necessary, are always a good idea. The nice thing is, these visits can be spread apart. At this point I only need to see my rheumatologist every six months. Even if it wasn’t covered, it makes it a lot more affordable than every three months. Find out what the longest you can reasonably set your appointments apart, and go from there.
Image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictures-of-money/17123251389
Again, a lot of the additional health care practices may depend partially on whether or not you have some additional coverage. Even if you do, your coverage may only get you “X” amount of appointments in a year (usually set by a dollar amount). This is the case for me. And because I didn’t pace everything out, I ran out of some coverage. This is when prioritizing can be extra important. If you only have enough coverage for 6 naturopath appointments in a year, for example, try to spread them out over every two months (even if your ND wants to see you every month). Often health care providers like to see patients more initially, and then less often once improvement is shown. There is an opportunity to spread it out at that point. If you have no benefits, letting your health care professionals know up front what you can and cannot afford will be helpful in them setting up an appointment schedule and routine for you. (This also works for additional things they might suggest. For example, my chiropractor wants me to go to the gym, but knows I can’t afford to join, so he has given me body weight exercises that I can do at home with just a yoga mat).
Psychotherapy is a specific one that I want to quickly touch on. I know a lot of people (most dealing with issues other than chronic pain) that say they want to go to therapy but can’t afford it. The great thing about therapy is that you don’t have to see a registered psychotherapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist if you’re not covered, or don’t have much coverage. I’ve been to therapy at two different points in my life – years ago for marriage counselling, and currently for myself. The first time I went down to the local university and it (like most other universities) offered therapy for free if you see a student. The biggest challenge for this is the wait lists are often long. Currently, my wellness centre has two student therapists who charge a greatly reduced rate ($40/hour), which is very affordable, especially if you’re okay with spreading out sessions. $40 every two or three weeks just means one less meal out in that time period.
Image from: http://www.medhalt.com/blog/reasons-monopoly-health-insurance-us
Like I said at the beginning of this very long post (sorry about that), this is really too large a topic to do just one post on, but I like to think of this as a starting point to open up the conversation and get some perspectives. If you have questions, comments, concerns, or suggestions on this topic, please feel free to comment on the post, or email me. I’d love to hear from you.