let's talk about medication shaming
I really love personality tests, specifically the Myers-Briggs. Some people think that thing is a bunch of bull, but I went on a date with a psychiatrist once and I asked him about it and he said it’s legit, so there you have it, you guys. Anyway, according to the Myers-Briggs, in grad school I was an INFJ, but I just took it again and I’m an ENFP – which means that I’m now an extrovert instead of an introvert and apparently less judgmental, which I love.
But this extrovert thing makes a lot of sense for me. Don’t get me wrong, I need my alone time, but I love being around people. Any time I’m waiting in line for the bathroom with someone else, I make a new best friend. It happened the other night at Yard House and then again yesterday while I was at a conference in Charlotte to hear Glennon Doyle Melton speak. I was standing beside this lady in a purple blouse and started chatting her up about toilets. One of them wasn’t working and I just felt the need to turn that into a conversation. And then I got back to my table and all the other women were fangirling over the woman in the purple blouse, and apparently she’s this really big deal news anchor in Charlotte. And I was talking to her about toilets. Oops?
Anyway. Hearing Glennon speak was wonderful. I’ve seen her before and it was like sitting around in someone’s living room hearing her stories, mostly because I was right up front. Glennon is a big advocate for mental health and is part of the reason I started speaking out about mine, and I believe she’s helped a lot of other people find that freedom, too. During the Q&A, a woman said into the microphone that she’d been diagnosed with a particular illness ten years ago and struggled with whether or not to take medication for it, and of course this peaked my interest. Glennon said something along the lines of, “Take your freaking medication, sister,” which I applaud, because so many people feel like they can’t or shouldn’t.
So while we were waiting in the meet and greet line after the session, I went up to this woman and made friends with her, as I do, and told her a little bit about my story with depression and bipolar type 2 and how I’d been on medication for 6 years or so. I wish I could have just sat with her for an hour. She said she was worried about the long-term effects of the medication and I told her that I stopped worrying about that a long time ago, because if it was what I needed to do to feel well, I was going to do it. But I made an assumption, and said “but surely you’d do chemotherapy if you had cancer or take insulin if you had diabetes” and she said “actually, I’m not sure that I would” because she was a naturalist, and I’ve heard this from people before and completely respect it. But I want to be an advocate.
I think that whether or not you decide to take medication for something is completely your decision. Yours and your doctor’s and whoever you decide to include in your tribe of people.
She said that God didn’t make the pills -- scientists did. Okay. Maybe metaphysically. But what about the argument that God made the scientists, and gave the scientists those ideas? This is not a “chicken or the egg” conversation, but there are some people who think medication is okay and can prove it and some people who think medication is not okay and can prove it. But that conversation stopped being about medication a long time ago, and now I think it’s about who’s right. You can substitute any argument in there and the same thing comes out. I think. That’s the key here. This is all just what I think and I could be objectively wrong, bit it’s been true for me in my experience and, you guys, I just don’t think I’m the only one. I don’t claim that anything I think is universal.
Medication helped me get my life back. It did not do that all by itself – it has a lot of help. A lot of doctors and life coaches and therapists and time at the gym and people listening to my stories and laying in my bed with me when I couldn’t get out. Here’s my thing. God loved me before I was on medication and He loves me now while I am on medication, and so do other people, I think, because as it turns out, I am a whole lot easier to love when I’m taking it.
We are a very high maintenance duo, my medications and I. I learned from my psychiatrist that the stabilization period for one of them is a week, and I have to take it with food – so when I eat dinner too late or don’t eat enough, it can take a whole week for me to feel back on track. And even when I do follow all those rules, I can still feel off track. Luckily for me, it’s a functional kind of off track. I can still do my job and get things done, but I can’t always be an extrovert. I can’t always get my energy from other people. When I’m up, I’m manicy and have trouble sleeping and talk too much. When I’m down, it’s usually a long week of funk, and I don’t want to hang out with anyone ever and it has nothing to do with them and everything to do with me. But they’re much more subdued ups and downs – because, I believe in part, of my medication.
But there is nothing wrong with choosing to be on medication.
I’ll say it louder for the people in the back.
There is NOTHING WRONG WITH CHOOSING TO BE ON MEDICATION.
There are people who need to hear that. That it is okay to be on your medication and you should keep taking it if it’s making you feel better, and that also there will be some people who don’t understand because they haven’t been where you are standing and we have to love them anyway and try to help them understand. Trying to help people understand is the key to everything, really.
And there are so many critics out there, you guys. So many of them have been part of my various faith communities. One of the most common side effects of some antidepressant medications is an increase in suicidal thoughts. I get why people are wary of going down that road. It is not an easy road, and it is one that you should be accompanied on by a medical professional or two in case it gets rocky. It should not be a casual stroll. It took me six years of medication trials to find a combination that worked well with everything else I was doing, and it could still change again. It’s a hard road, but it is navigable, and I hope you have a tribe that can walk alongside you.
A lot of those critics tried to tell me that my illness was my fault. Or that I only have to take the pills because I'm not strong enough, or because my faith isn't strong enough. Don't do that. Don’t tell me that it would go away if I prayed hard enough, or that I only need the pills because I don’t believe in the healing power of God enough or whatever. I believed that lie for a long time. My illness is my biggest strength and greatest superpower, thank you very much. If I had cancer you wouldn’t shame me for it, or say I got it because my faith is deficient, and you certainly wouldn’t give me grief if I decided to take a medically proven route to treat it. Or maybe some people would. Some people decide not to intervene, not to do chemo or the clinical trials. The thing is, we get to decide. But for the record, I am not insane, and they are not called “crazy pills” – let’s just stop with all that rhetoric. I am taking care of myself and they are physician-prescribed medications, just like your Z-Pak and your high blood pressure medication.
I’m not saying do or don’t go on meds. That is a you thing. I tried white-knuckling it and it didn’t work. I couldn’t make my life work without the medication. But my life doesn’t work now just because of the medication – the medication is one of about 20 things I have to do for myself. Maybe I’ll be on it forever and maybe I won’t, but I believe that I am worthy of love and respect whether I have to take pills every day or not. If the fact that I’m on medication makes you uncomfortable, I am truly sorry, and also thank you for sharing. But my wellness plan isn’t up to you. It is between me and my doctor and my therapist and a select few other people who are in my tribe because I trust them and know they know what living with a mental illness is like. It’s not even between me and my family. It is not up for intake of public opinion, though I do welcome dialogue about it. Let me help you understand it, but do not attack me for giving a medical diagnosis the treatment I trust and feel like it warrants in order to give me the healthiest life for myself and the people around me. That is not a you thing. That is a me thing.
It is open for criticism, however, but I get to reserve the right to disagree with certain opinions just like you have the right to disagree with mine. Everything I think is just that – what I think. And I could be wrong, so I try to stay humble. I actually want to know what people think about this so we can talk about it, bring it into the light, encourage people to get help in the ways that are best for them. It’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong, it’s just about how to get help if you feel like you need some help.
Because taking medication is asking for help. There is nothing wrong with asking for help, y’all, and there are lots of ways to do it.
So do I think that medicine is a cure-all? No. I think a comprehensive wellness plan is necessary, and medication is part of mine, and I don't see anything to be embarrassed about. See also: Yard House’s chicken tortilla soup every single Tuesday night.
Do I think that medication is over-prescribed? Absolutely. Why do I have that opinion? Because that happened to me. The first doctor who put me on some did so after a very shallow assessment with zero contact about follow-up and zero conversation about other ways to get support, which I think was bad form. I think we can do better than that.
I think we can do SO MUCH BETTER than that. I think we can love each other so well here, you guys. I just don't think the world gets this all the way. I’m not selfish because I’m on medication, and I’m not stupid, and I’m not faithless or a coward. I’m not hiding, I’m not numbing myself; I’m being really brave, actually. And you are too, for dealing with your hard thing, however you choose to deal with it.
The world just makes me so sad sometimes, with all the misunderstanding. I don’t think I can fix it, but I do think I can change it. I can do anything that anybody else can do, and maybe even some things that other people can't do, and if I have to take pills in order to do all of my things, I have no shame there.
I'll just take my orange leather snakeskin pillbox and keep on hustlin'.