Don't Take Pill Shaming Into 2021
As I look back on the devastating year that was 2020, I can only ponder our accumulated experiences and hope that 2021 does not present as many challenges. The amount of curve balls a mere 12 months hurled at humanity as a whole was daunting to many, especially those facing the battle against their own mental health.
I am one of those warriors staring down my list of diagnoses, that grew multiple times, hoping that nothing else would rise from the ashes this year left in its wake. I was not wrong to be hopeful for this year and I have learned so much about myself and others that I will use as fuel to grow even more next year. There is finally a foundation for my wings, and it took 14 visits to my medical professional to begin to understand.
Sixty-five bottles, 2,667 and 16 different prescriptions. Those are the numbers that came together from the last year of learning to cohabitate with my own mental health. It was a struggle that I was barely ready to face, but the pain was so tiring that it forced my hand. I sought help to stare down the monster I had stuffed away for much of my adult life. It was far too much to grasp on my own. My traumas were quite the obstacle, but I have finally started to understand the horrific events that shaped who I am today. To truly see my own lowest points in the last 365 days was formidable to say the least. I did not pick the best year to do it, but I did what I thought I must.
In January of 2020 I placed a delicate pink gift bag in my closet and began collecting my pill bottles, I wanted to see how much would change in a years’ time. I needed to be able to hold the sheer number in my hands and welcome myself in to 2021 with a different mindset. It was my own effort to remind myself that despite the adversities I faced, I had made it out a new person. I know full well that I have fought a good fight over the last 12 months. I came in with the best intentions and am leaving a more whole person as a result of this pile of empty bottles.
At first, I was ashamed to be collecting this many prescriptions. Every visit I felt like more were tossed at my feet in an effort to quiet the sirens constantly blaring in my mind, it left me feeling defeated. If it was not new medications it was a new diagnosis. I was my harshest critic for the first few months of the process. The judgment from others was the last thing I expected as I worked on myself, however. Whispers turned to taunting, and as someone trying their hardest I fell short of understanding the shame they tried to force on me.
A study published online in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings showed that 20% of Americans are prescribed five or more medications to take daily. While I was taking above the average for those 20%, I was still one of many who was waking up each day and facing my challenges with chemical assistance. The thought that I was being judged by those who had no idea of my deep-rooted traumas and terrifying experiences was difficult. It sank into my psyche and made the thoughts of weakness linger. Those people giving a sideways glance as I took my morning medication were clueless as to my reasons, and I honestly do not think many would have felt any more sympathetic if I provided the gory details.
In society we who struggle are looked down on by many. Whether it be for our medication or our coping mechanisms, someone always has something cruel to whisper in our ears or in the worst instances, yell in our faces. Talks of mental health are still almost taboo to the masses, they have not the empathy for those of us who struggle to just get out of bed in the morning. We are outside of normal and to some, that is hard to even imagine. There is such a stigma against speaking about it, much less acknowledging that there are people who require those few pills throughout the day just to continue living. Our world is so incredibly cruel to those they do not understand, and it makes it that much harder to have an open conversation about the need for prescription medication.
So, for much of 2020 I have heard their voices telling me it was too much. It always comes off dismissive and feels as if for them, I am also too much in the same breath. The pills I take and the therapy I attend are deeply personal but because I have to take my morning medication at work, others have felt the need to voice their distaste for it. They echo the same hollow words that I can do better, that I do not need that much medicine, that I am too chemically dependent, that I could not possibly be “that bad off.” The empty empathy is just too much to carry and their sentiments are hurtful
If it takes a handful of medication to make it through the day, then so be it. The burden of carrying the stigma alongside the diagnoses is just too much for some. I am included in that at times. Not once did I ask for more of what deteriorated my mental health, and neither did anyone else I have met with similar demons. People do not wake up one day and hope their doctor has conjured up another diagnosis and thus more prescriptions. We take what we must to survive. If we take our medicine, we are weak and if we “lose” the fight, we are also weak. There is extraordinarily little middle ground and that needs to end.
To those who do not have to navigate the intricacies of a shattered mental health, I beg of you to take a step back and see the human who is at the mercy of their own mind and body. We must stop ignoring the elephant in the room, that one that some of us need a little chemical assistance to make it out. Would you not protect yourself if harm came your way? I hope you would. I also hope that you can see that no matter how many pills a person must ingest each day it does not diminish their value. Together we can end the pill shaming, we can hold hands and see the human who standing right there.
If you have to take medication or you are able to traverse this life with therapy alone, please feel no shame in what it takes to keep your mind from breaking. The experiences that got you to where you are now are real, as are the feelings that came from those events. With or without prescription medication you matter, your life matters. Wake up each day and feel no guilt in the bottles on your bedside, in your go-bag or behind your bathroom mirror. You are fighting your battle, not theirs.
I have left a note on my pill planner to remind myself I am worth every single milligram it takes to keep me walking this path. You are worth just as much as well. Add a note to your own bottles. Write on your mirror. Take a moment each and every single day to remember why you are still here. If someone offers their unwanted opinions, take it with a grain of salt. Offer yourself the love they will not, because you deserve nothing but love. You are trying and that is all anyone should be able to ask. Do not allow the whispers to cloud your vision for the future. Take your medicine and spoil yourself when you do. You have seen another day or night through; you are making it out one step at a time.
Looking in the mirror in this last week of the year, I am full of hope for what the next months will bring. The amount of medication I have taken to hold me together in the last year is no one’s to judge. I made it this far with the aid of my prescriptions and the sheer will power to see this life thing through. Despite the nudges from others that I am “too far gone” I will not give in and neither should you. A person’s inner turmoil is not something that can be judged by outside parties. I am no longer allowing pill shaming in my life. If I must cut the cord, then so be it. My choices are my own and I refuse to spend the next year cowering in fear of the opinion of anyone.
So, here is to 2021 and any challenges it may bring. The people doing the shaming can take several steps back or exit, it is up to them how they react from here onward. We are still here to see this new year, and I am so proud of us. Do not let any single person rob you of that accomplishment, no matter what means you used to reach this end. You are worthy of love, and this year, we do not need to sit idle while others offer nothing but uninformed opinions. We must choose ourselves this time around because we are worth it.