I remember the first “crazy pill” I ever took. I was on vacation in Tennessee, sitting on the edge of one of those generic motel beds with a hideous blanket covered with — what was it? Seashells?
Pill bottle in hand, my mother looked at me with apprehension and said what many folks would say to me for years to come:
“Are you sure about this?”
I nodded, looked her in the eye and without hesitation, and said, “Absolutely.”
In the years I’ve been taking psychotropic medications, never for a moment have I regretted my decision. Have I been afraid of what happens in the long term? Sure. Have I contemplated the impact of “big pharma” and my piece in that frightening puzzle? Definitely.
But for me, trying to survive each day trapped within agonizing depression was not an option. Attempting to end my life again was not an option. Continuing down the path that I was on? Not an option.
When I looked back at my life, I realized I had spent more time struggling than I had spent truly living. And I knew that if something didn’t change, bipolar disorder was going to kill me.
Everyone and their brother has an opinion on my decision to take medication for bipolar and anxiety. But have you tried meditation? What about acupuncture? Have you changed your diet? What about fish oil?
Initially, I entertained them. I explained that I had tried everything that I could, and that medications had been my last resort.
But, I realized I was under no obligation to justify my decision, especially to those who did not understand my struggle.
People who did not know what dissociation was, or what it feels like to be in the midst of a paranoid delusion; people who had never felt anxiety that stripped them of their ability to function in our society; people who had never felt emotional pain that seemed to throb from inside the marrow of their bones.
Complete strangers would badger me, presuming to know what was best for me without actually knowing the relentless, devastating pain mental illness had put me through. Strangers who thought they knew better than me, the person who had lived through this for years, what my body needed to heal.
Sometimes, it was well-intentioned. But most of the time, it was coming from a judgmental place.
They may as well have been saying, “I know nothing about mental illness, but I’m going to tell you about this random treatment I read about on the Internet because clearly you don’t know what you’re doing.”
And it made me so, so angry.
No, medications are not a “cop out.” They aren’t the “easy way out.” They aren’t a “quick fix” that magically make me happy and high and light. They aren’t easy. They aren’t quick and they definitely aren’t fun.
Taking medication for my illnesses was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made, and it took incredible courage to make that choice. It was a process that took years — years of side effects, years of false hope, years of judgment, years of doubt — to finally get it right.
But eventually, with the right doctor and with a lot of patience, we did get it right. After four years of being the equivalent of a human guinea pig, my body responded at last and I could begin to do the important work of healing. Combined with therapy and self-care, I was able to begin again — this time, completely present and alive, no longer struggling just to keep my head above water.
And you know what? I’m not sorry. I’m not sorry for exercising my bodily autonomy. I’m not sorry for making the choice to take care of myself. I’m not sorry for taking control of my life.
Most of all, I’m not sorry for having the strength to choose life over death. Each day I swallow these pills, I’m reminded of the tenacity it took to keep myself alive, in spite of every fiery and relentless urge to end it all. I did what I needed to do to keep myself alive, and I’ll never apologize for the fact that I’m still here.
To be clear: Medicine isn’t right for everyone and it isn’t accessible for everyone, either. We need to do better not just for folks who take meds, but for those who do not or cannot. We need to protect a person’s right to dictate and choose what’s best for their body and advocate to make those resources available to them — no matter what they end up deciding.
Ultimately, this is not about medicating every single person with a mental illness. It’s about giving us the power to decide how to heal, be it with medication or otherwise, and defending our right to make that choice without pressure, without shame and without obstacles that prevent us from exercising those choices.
I am not ashamed of these pills. I am only ashamed to be part of a society that still believes it can dictate what’s right for my body and for my community.
Follow this journey on Let’s Queer Things Up.
If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.