There is this social notion that self-help is sucking up your emotions and just putting them aside to get what you need done. While this may help some people get through a day, in my experience, it has not the best tool for the long run.
I cannot count the number of people I have found on the internet who claim to have medication-free cures, who got better by just eating right, exercising, talking to their pastor. You name it, someone has written a way to get around mental illness without having to do the dreaded taboo—take a pill.
I am not here to claim that none of those things work. I am also not here to argue that pharmaceutical companies (and even some bad doctors) aren’t trying to push people to take pills they don’t need, just to continue making a profit. Taking a non-medicinal approach definitely works for some people. In fact, I had a whole episode dedicated to this. What scares me more, is when those who need to take medication to lead fulfilling lives, avoid it out of fear of crossing social norms.
Whatever the definition of fulfilling is to you, I am sure we can all agree that it does not involve making decisions based on what someone else thinks you should do.
That fear of that judgment is the reason I don’t take ibuprofen until a headache is making my eyes water. Only when it’s so bad that I can no longer keep my eyes open in bright light will, I give myself permission to take medicine. It's as though I need to suffer a certain amount before I am allowed relief. It’s the good ol’ belief, that if "it's not obvious or visible, it must not be that bad." Something that I have felt from other people, and internalized. It's a mentality, that has never worked in any scenario (See Global Warming). Imagine how much more pleasant I could be, and how many ruined days I can avoid if I just took the Tylenol?
I have spent so much of my life avoiding medication that I have prolonged enjoying a better quality of life. Ironic, considering the whole idea of avoiding medications is that it's bad to give into needing them.
I hope one day there will be more than two categories to put people who take medication in. Not just “pill-popper” or “whoops someone didn’t take their meds this morning”. It should not be that needing or not needing something to function equates to living healthier. Or that being mentally ill makes you an a*hole unless you’re medicated.
When did I internalize this?
I was diagnosed with asthma my junior year of high school. My parents were there with me at the doctor’s office when I received my prescription, yet when I would administer my inhaler at home, they couldn't help but tell me: “you should really try and see if you can breathe without that thing.” I can only imagine what they would have said had they known that the real culprit was anxiety. And yes, to clarify, I could not “breathe without that thing,” because the anxiety-induced-asthma is also still very real.
We Can Internalize Better Lessons
There are a few celebrities who talk about taking medication, bringing awareness and normalizing it to help remove the stigma. Kirsten Bell admitted to taking medication for anxiety. Amanda Seyfried has said that Lexapro has kept her panic attacks more manageable for over ten years. I don’t believe I should first have Kristen Bell levels of global validation before I permit myself to accept my own needs. All three of us need medication. Not because we want to feel special or are seeking attention or whatever else you’ve heard people say about mental illness, but because chemicals can run amok in our minds without consulting with you about your social standing first.
I have tried, but without medication, those chemicals get to control me. I have come off of prescriptions more times than I am willing to admit, just because I wanted to believe that my depression had gone away. To distance myself from the guilt of needing something in order to function properly. Every time, after a few months, the suicidal thoughts would return. Battling those without proper armor did not make me stronger, it made me stupid, preoccupied and vulnerable to dying prematurely.
This happened again and again, over the course of eight years. Eventually, I could no longer claim that the antidepressants I took must have only worked due to the placebo effect. Each time I would restart medication, and after a month or so, the same people who told me to avoid pills would be first in line to tell me how happy they were to see me act like my old self again. I wanted to scream back “well they’re part of what makes this package, too bad!” But that would do no good, because the only person who truly ever needed to be convinced, was me. And yep, it’s undoubtedly F***ing real.
Next time a doctor you trust advises that it might be time to try medication, maybe listen to yourself and not the judgment that is out there. Social acceptance might be a bit behind, but it’s time to take letting things get to their absolute worst before we do something out, as a self-care option. Maybe try a different sentiment, a smarter one hopefully, no matter how self-indulgent validating your own needs seems to others.
What do you think? Are people too likely to abuse medication for this to become acceptable? Are you worried about the stigma when you have to take your morning dose? Let me know in the comments below and on social media.