No doubt, you were saddened to read of the passing of Prince at such a young age. For many of us, certain songs of his have served as a pivotal anchor in our own lives. I know that I grew up with a lot of Prince’s music and when I first heard about his death I didn’t believe it. I mean, how could he be dead as he was only 57?
Much has been written about the circumstance surrounding Prince’s death in the month since he passed. People have debated about whether Prince died from a range of different causes including Aids as well as the possibility of a drug overdose.
But let’s paint a picture of the real reason that Prince died and one will see that this picture is the reality for many people. Certainly, it used to be my reality. Prince suffered with chronic, acute pain and as result of that, he relied heavily on opiate medication to provide him with some relief from the pain. It has been well documented that Prince used Percocet to manage his pain. Prince’s pain medication use came about from years of injuries suffered in his high-energy performances. Being the master of entertainment that he was, Prince did not modify his shows to get around the chronic pain that he lived with. In fact, he continued to jump onto the stage in platform heels, jarring his hips. His incredible performance routines led him to undertake hip surgery but that brought little relief. In order to function, Prince took large amounts of pain medications and as everyone knows, the body gets used to these medications, and therefore, higher and higher doses are constantly needed to get the same benefit. Percocet is highly addictive and it is no surprise that Prince became so adept at masking his addiction.
It is interesting to note, that in many ways, Prince led a very healthy lifestyle. He was a long-term vegan and did not use illegal drugs and alcohol, something which seems at odds with the musician lifestyle. He was also a practicing Jehovah Witness and his faith and clean living were very important to Prince and probably contributed to his feelings of shame in relation to his pain medication dependence.
Prince did NOT die because of a drug overdose, but rather because his chronic pain had been mismanaged. But let’s throw Prince into the same category with incredible artists such as Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston because this type of sensationalist reporting sells more stories than telling the truth that Prince died as result of complications from living with chronic pain. As anyone knows who suffers with chronic pain, living with it is a difficult reality and one that is so poorly managed by main-stream medical care and one that unless you have suffered with chronic pain, few people understand how difficult and debilitating it is.
Living with chronic pain IS a medical condition but one that gets so little recognition and understanding in society and so I do empathise with the choices that Prince made in trying to manage his pain himself. Being such a superstar, he would have felt inadequate if he sought help for more holistic ways of managing his pain and so it is no surprise that he became masterful at getting prescriptions for the pain medication he needed. Certainly, when you couple his superstardom with the fact that he was also a man, he would have felt the stigma of acting like a “crybaby” if he complained.
Try to imagine your body and every nerve ending screaming out in pain, 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. For most of you, this would be impossible to imagine. Think about those occasions where you get a headache and how miserable you feel. A person living with chronic pain, lives like this constantly but in their case, there is no relief and they can’t look forward to a tomorrow where the “headache” will be gone. And it is not just a headache, but more often than not, these people are dealing with pain in all parts of their body. Their reality is startlingly different, where all they can do is take medication to “lessen” the pain so that they can function. The pain never goes away. It is there with you no matter what you are doing. It accompanies you everywhere. Can you imagine what it is like, to try to rest your body and get a good night’s sleep when your body’s nerve endings scream out in pain?
There is a horrible stigma attached to living with chronic pain and one learns very early, to suffer in silence and say nothing because most people simply don’t understand. People judge you if you complain about the pain and then judge you all over again, if you take pain killers to “manage” it. There is often an inference that the pain is all “in your head” and that the person suffering from it, must be exaggerating. For the person living with debilitating pain, he/she lives with the disapproval of friends, family and colleagues who assume that they must be shirking their responsibilities when they take time off work, or have more rests than the average person. There is no cure for chronic pain, but rather if one is lucky, they may get an understanding therapist who will help them manage the pain holistically and may be referred to a Pain Clinic where they can be taught mechanisms for coping with the pain.
I am not Prince and yet I know that I lived with acute pain for over 25 years. I saw specialist after specialist trying to get answers to my problems. I was finally diagnosed with fibromyalgia which coupled with osteoarthritis and the effects of injuries sustained in 5 motor vehicle accidents, meant that my body endured constant pain. Crippling headaches were normal for me. In fact, during all of those 25 plus years, I didn’t know what it was like, to not have a debilitating headache. That’s right, I lived with severe headaches every single day for more than 25 years! Every nerve in my body screamed with pain constantly and this pain was more obvious when I tried to rest or sleep. Treatment ranged from using painkillers to taking medication that was meant to interfere with the chemical response in the brain so that the neuro-transmitters that signals pain are changed. Medications such as Endep are anti-neuropathic medicines which help to calm the nerve activity and reduce pain sensitivity that are associated with conditions such as sciatica, migraines and fibromyalgia.
My own experiences with these drugs were poor. In order to get some benefit, I had to take very high doses which then caused very unpleasant side effects ranging from not feeling like myself to periods of complete memory loss. Needless to say, I stopped taking the medication as it really didn’t help me. The only medications that provided any relief, were strong doses of prescription pain medication but like so many of these medications, I had to constantly increase the dosages to get the relief. These medications never completely took the pain away, but they helped me to function and work. Like Prince, I became quite adept at getting scripts for the pain medications and made sure that I didn’t go to the same pharmacist to get the scripts filled. I felt a lot of shame but I couldn't see any other way. I remember that I was taking whole packets of pain medication each day so that I could function and earn a living. It was not uncommon for me to take 30 prescription-pain tablets per day just so that I could work. No-one knew what I was doing and though I realised I was playing Russian Roulette with my body, I couldn’t stop because I had to work. I dreaded night time because that was when the pain was most acute. It was as if once I actually gave myself permission to rest, my body would just throb with pain and I would be lucky to get 3-4 hours interrupted, poor quality sleep.
I gave up on the belief that I could ever get better and really believed that my condition would simply get worse. Fortunately, for me, after living like this for more than 25 years, things did change but only because I chose to take a different path where I undertook a lot of spiritual cleansing with incredible healers and teachers such as Dr Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Dr Bruce Lipton and so many more. Wayne Dyer, whose passing last year deeply affected me, was pivotal in the changes that I made to my life where one day I decided to truly listen to my body and I designed a strict detox that I did over a number of weeks, and slowly but surely, my body started to heal. I had an “ah hah” moment where I realised that certain foods were contributing to my illness and so I went on to study nutrition as I wanted to know more about how food affected the body.
Today, I am largely pain-free. I do have some pain in my neck that is a result of five car accidents, but I manage that through chiropractic sessions, massage and meditation. I am not saying that all pain can be treated through food and lifestyle changes but there are many that can and certainly, that has been my experience with both my arthritis and fibromyalgia. Today, I teach people how to heal their bodies using food as medicine. You can find out more about what I do here:
Chronic pain kills. Whilst an autopsy has been carried out on Prince, no official cause of death has been given but I believe that it was chronic pain that killed Prince. I suspect that it also killed Michael Jackson. We all need to be more empathetic with people living with chronic pain, rather than judge. Really, just think for a moment, there for the Grace of God, go I. And finally, mainstream medicine needs to adopt other approaches to helping with people living with this debilitating condition, rather than prescribing pain medication which simply treats the symptoms and does not address the cause and ultimately, creates a whole other more serious problem, when these same people then become addicted to the medication and needs higher doses to get relief from the pain. Let's learn something from the sad passing of this great musician
Certified Integrative Nutrition and Wellness Coach