There are many things I hate about Crazytown. I don’t like the stigma that comes with living here. The cost of living is insane. (Can you say thousands in copays alone each year?) And I hate that people I love have to live here, too, by default.
But can I tell you what I hate the very most about being a resident of Crazytown?
Like, the very most?
I hate taking meds.
My plan is to keep it super-ultrareal in this column—to an extent. I’m not going to sit here and write out all the meds I take and what dosage, et cetera.
But I’m about to get you damn close.
In the a.m. I have to take five different meds: two to fight depression, one to keep my moods balanced, one for something that I don’t even remember, but when I tried to wean off it, bad things happened. So I’m just taking it for now. And then one that is an overall med to make sure all my meds play nicely together. (I’ll explain that later.)
In the p.m. it’s mostly the same thing, except add on an antidepressant that also makes sure I get the right amount of sleep (for all of us in Crazytown, there are some things that are NONNEGOTIABLE, OH, HELL NO, YOU MUST; for me, it’s 10 hours of sleep every single night).
I actually should not say I hate taking meds. I’m grateful that they exist. If it weren’t for these magical capsules, I’d be dead.
That’s not an exaggeration. There’s no acceptable unmedicated version of myself. Take away the meds and within a year … I don’t even want to think about it. But I know what it looks like. And it’s devastating.
So shoutout to the lithium reserves in Bolivia. ’Nuff respect to the European Big Pharma companies running sketchy trials on folks. Props to Rite Aid and CVS for keeping me laced up.
I know my meds are necessary. But because of the way some folks talk about medication, sometimes it makes me feel like I’m flawed. Like I’m a loser because I have to depend on these meds I barely understand in order to pass for normal.
Example: My New Bae (also known as NB) has accepted my regimen from day one. He’s super supportive and I love him for it. But he drives me crazy because he doesn’t “believe” in medication for himself.
He doesn’t do over the counter or prescription meds. If he has a toothache and I offer him some ibuprofen, he waves me off, holding his jaw and talking about how he doesn’t need it. If he has a migraine and I offer something like acetaminophen, he says the headache will just go away on its own. Which is usually true. But why suffer?
When I press him for reasons, he says we don’t know what’s really in most medications and how the government makes sure we always need them. I get the sense that he also pats himself on the back for being able to power through pain. Or maybe that’s my own insecurities because I can’t power through Crazytown without meds.
I wonder—if he broke his leg, would he just hobble around on it? If he were diagnosed with cancer, would he have chemo or just take his chances?
I call it the broken-leg theory. When someone tells me they wouldn’t take meds for mental health, I ask them what they would do with a broken leg. If you would go seek treatment for your leg, why is your mental health any different? I do believe that all treatment options should be considered for everything: prayer, meditation, yoga, organic coconut oil—all of it. But I don’t see anyone rubbing coconut oil on broken legs. So don’t expect me to rub it on my brain.
I believe the FDA (mostly) does what it’s supposed to do. If Aleve is on the shelves in my Walgreens, I’ll take my chances and use it before I sit around with a raging toothache.
This is not to say I don’t know how cruel the American government can be as it pertains to medication and health care—especially for people of color. I get that. I do. But I also know that I don’t have a choice but to hope for the best if a dentist is going to rip a tooth out of my head.
I’ve talked to people who think they may need to move to Crazytown, and sometimes they balk when I talk about meds. I have no patience for these folks. It’s not my place to tell you that you need meds. But I do need you to go that way if you’re fully anti-meds. I’m not the holistic chick who can tell you which brand of tea is used for depression.
It’s green tea and chamomile tea, by the way. But if tea gets you out of a crippling depression, God bless you, and leave me the hell alone because you don’t live in my neighborhood of Crazytown.
If I could drink some damn tea? I would.
Because … let’s talk about side effects.
One of my meds completely knocks me out 20 minutes after I take it. And I have to get a minimum of eight hours of sleep or I will be a zombie the next day (it used to be a full 12 hours of sleep until I got used to it). It also makes me severely nauseated.
Then there’s the med that randomly gives me hand tremors and sometimes blurry or double vision. It also makes me nauseated!
Another med is designed to keep depression away. Great! Well, yeah. But if the dosage is off, it can send me to the other side. Did you know you could be too happy? Yeah. And it’s just as dangerous as being too sad. Also, guess what? This med makes me nauseated, too.
One med has helped me pack on 20 extra pounds that are hard as hell to get off. And it makes me crave sugary drinks—especially soda. I’m not kidding. I know I can fight it and I can’t blame it (all) on the med. But it makes you super thirsty. And guess what all the sugary drinks cause: adult acne! I have more acne now than I did in 1988. Oh. This med also makes me nauseated.
It took me and my doctor a full YEAR to get the cocktail right—balanced moods that make sense and side effects I can live with (somewhat).
So I gotta carry this bag o’ goodies with me everywhere I go. And of course I sometimes forget. I’ve missed events because I forgot my meds and had to go back home. Sometimes I have to take them as soon as I leave a concert or a movie and haul ass to get to my bed. I have this huge senior-citizen-size pillbox that takes 30 minutes to arrange every Sunday. I have an OH SHIT, I FORGOT MY MEDS container in my car and my wallet and one in NB’s apartment.
So why? Why take this crap? Why not try a holistic approach? Why give into this crap I don’t even understand?
I’ll tell you why.
Because one time last year, I lay on my back in my apartment staring at the ceiling. In the center of my belly I could feel an emptiness. I kept my hand on my stomach as if that was going to help. But it didn’t. I knew the emptiness wasn’t really in my belly. It was in my mind, in my heart, in my brain. It felt like something was weighing me down. It felt like nothing could get me out of that bed. If you turned the bed upside down, I’d still be stuck to the mattress.
I stared at that ceiling and I thought about my life: my responsibilities, my work, my babies, my health, my apartment, my ex, my parents, my siblings, the weather outside, 10 years from now, 50 years from now, my dog, coffee, brownie sundaes, the beach … I tried to close my eyes and visualize all those things I loved.
I opened my eyes and looked at the ceiling again. I live in a tiny studio apartment, a converted factory with 17-foot-high ceilings.
There are huge exposed pipes running across those ceilings. I tried so very hard to think about the babies and the brownies and the beach and the future.
But all I could think about was where to get something long enough to swing up 17 feet in the air and somehow loop around that pipe.
I cried because I knew better. I cried because I knew that wasn’t the answer. I cried because I knew there was a better way. And I cried because I wasn’t sure I was strong enough to stop seeing the solution in my ceiling.
After many years of tinkering (about 10 in all), I have a cocktail that works. Yep, with hand tremors and weight gain and too much Mountain Dew and acne and early bedtimes and more. It sucks.
But now when I look up at my ceiling, I only cry because I’m so grateful that all I see is the ceiling of the apartment that I love so much, filled with kids and an ex and a dog and New Bae and brownie sundaes and stuff for the beach and my family and my 50 years from now and my work and my health.
It’s worth the tremors and the extra sleep and the weight gain and the blurry vision, too. I’ll even take the nausea.