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13 (Wrong) Things People Somehow Believe About Medication and Chronic Illness

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Most healthy people’s experience with medication consists of over-the-counter treatments like pain relievers and flu remedies. What can be harder for healthy people to wrap their heads around is the concept of requiring medication for an illness — that still doesn’t go away, even with medication. The idea of needing to take medication regularly, and not being “cured,” may seem unbelievable, and many people with chronic illnesses have faced skepticism, questions, judgment and unhelpful medical advice from people who just don’t seem to understand how medication works when you have a chronic condition.

We wanted to bust some of the most common myths people somehow believe about medications and chronic illness, because these myths only serve to perpetuate incorrect information and and make chronically ill people feel judged for just doing the best they can to manage their health. Below, check out what our Mighty community agreed were the most common misconceptions they hear, and the truth behind them. Taking medication is nothing to be ashamed of, and anyone questioning your treatment should start by educating themselves on what chronic illness is really like.

1. Myth: Medication “cures” chronic illness.

Reality: Chronic illnesses are just that — chronic. They don’t have a cure so they are with you for life. Medication can help control symptoms, flare-ups or maybe the progression of the disease, but just because you’re taking medications doesn’t mean you’re now “all better.”

“[People think] my medication makes all my symptoms go away and stay away. It’s just a way to control the severity,” Jessie Lynn Stokes said.

2. Myth: Medications are “poison” and Big Pharma is making you worse.

Reality: Some people find the pharmaceutical industry “suspicious” and don’t believe the medications manufactured by drug companies are actually helpful, but the fact remains that drugs do in fact help many people with chronic illnesses, with results that are obvious via blood tests, MRI scans or even just how the patient feels. Whether you “believe” Big Pharma or not, that doesn’t change the fact that medications can give people with chronic illnesses a higher quality of life, and that while alternative medicine works for some people, it is not appropriate to suggest everyone with health challenges is “better off” with holistic treatments.

“[People say] it’s poison and I’d be better off with alternative medicine or meditation or something. If I stop taking it I get worse,” Kelli Kneeland said.

“I don’t need it and ‘big pharma’ is making me worse, that I don’t help myself with holistic and ‘natural cures.’ Same people that go running to their doctors with a mild cold,” Amanda Jane said.

3. Myth: If you’ve been taking medication for a while, you must be addicted.

Reality: While some medications have addiction potential, the vast majority of people taking medication regularly do so because their body requires it to survive — not because they have a psychological addiction to it. Daily use does not equal addiction.

“I *hate* it when people think that I am ‘addicted’ to my preventative medication because I take it daily. Don’t get it twisted for one second… I’m following doctor’s orders,” Ami Ceresi said.

4. Myth: If you’re having a bad health day, you must not be taking your meds.

Reality: Chronic illnesses can be unpredictable, and you can experience a flare-up even if you’re taking medication. The fact that you’re having a difficult day should not be taken as an indication that you must have stopped taking your medication.

“Whenever you have a really bad day [they think] you are no longer taking them so they ask, ‘Are you still taking your meds?’” Amber M. Miller said. “It irritates me every time.”

5. Myth: If you just stopped taking so many medications, your illness would go away.

Reality: In a similar vein as the myth that all drugs are “poison,” some people think it’s the drugs themselves that are making you sick, and you’ll feel better once your system is “clean.” But the truth is quite literally the opposite. If a person with chronic illness stopped taking their medications (against doctor’s orders), they could end up in far worse health than they are with the medications.

“People think the medications I take, or some negative interaction between them, are the cause of my chronic pain/illnesses. In reality, they treat my chronic illnesses and without them I’d be worse off than I am now,” Molly Rodgers said.

“A few relatives thought I’d feel well if I went off all my medicines, because they thought that’s what was making me feel so awful. However, I was sick before taking the medicines, that’s why I was put on the meds,” Sheila Wall said. “Meds do have side effects, but my condition is much worse without the meds I take.”

6. Myth: Side effects are rare.

Reality: People who have never had to take medication for a chronic condition may not realize that these medications do more than (hopefully) reduce the symptoms of your disease. It’s not unusual for medications to give you side effects that are sometimes just as difficult to deal with as the illness itself. Chronic warriors must weigh the pros and cons of any medication before taking it.

“[People think] your medications suddenly mean you are cured and not hindered by the side effects,” Justine Nagy said. “In reality, the treatments are not really effective or may combat a couple symptoms while causing a lot of frustrating side effects to also deal with.”

7. Myth: If you’ve been taking the same medication for a while, it must not be working so you should try something new.

Reality: Medications for chronic illness aren’t like over-the-counter pills you keep taking until your headache or stomachache goes away. In some cases, it can actually be considered a sign of success if you’re still taking a particular medication for a long period of time, because that means it’s working well for you. In any case, since chronic illnesses don’t “go away,” people should expect that you’ll be taking certain medications for a long time and that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t working.

“‘You’ve been taking that a long time. Hasn’t it cured you yet?’ and ‘You’ve been taking that a long time; maybe it is time to cut back or find a new medicine.’ Sometimes I just want to scream in response, ‘Leave me alone! It took this long to find something that works!’” Nancy Baker said.

8. Myth: Losing weight means you can stop taking so many medications.

Reality: People often confuse weight and health, assuming all health challenges can be blamed on someone’s weight. However, when it comes to chronic illnesses, it’s often the opposite. Chronic diseases can cause weight gain and/or make it difficult to exercise, so losing weight doesn’t mean your illness will suddenly get better and you can stop taking medications.

“If I just lose weight I wouldn’t have to be on so many. I take over 20 prescription drugs. You know how many are possibly related to my weight? Two… and that’s a big ‘possibly.’ Multiple sclerosis, genetic malformations, and nerve conditions are not caused by weight, it’s the other way around,” Katrina Cox Orr said.

9. Myth: All medications “work” and do what they claim to do.

Reality: Even if people understand that medicine won’t necessarily cure your illness, a lot still believe that it will still do something to help you. But there’s a huge trial-and-error process with medications and chronic illnesses. Some medicines just don’t work for your body and might even make you feel worse, even if it was designed to manage a certain symptom you’re experiencing.

“[People think] it works instantly and always fixes you. Medicines can take a while to start working, and even then they might only help a little if they even help at all. I’ve gone through so many medicines that didn’t help at all, or even made symptoms worse,” Rebecca Juhl said.

10. Myth: You can decide whether you want to take a certain medication.

Reality: Depending on the severity of your illness and number of other treatment options that exist, you might not really be in a position to say you don’t want to take a particular medication. This medication may be the only or best option for treating your illness. It’s not fair to suggest someone can simply “choose” a different treatment.

“Healthy people tend to believe we actually have a choice as to whether or not we should take medication,” Tamara Luhman said. “When part of our body stops working correctly there really is no choice if we want to continue to live.”

11. Myth: Pain medication eliminates all your pain.

Reality: If you have a chronic pain condition, pain medication (even opioids) usually doesn’t take away the pain entirely. It might just bring you down from, for example, a 10 to a 6. Many people unfamiliar with chronic pain would be surprised to learn that people who take opioids for chronic pain are still dealing with pain every day.

“A lot of healthy people think just because you take high strength painkillers  that your pain should completely disappear. It only takes the edge of unfortunately,” Claire Helen Swain said.

12. Myth: Medications are easy to take and affordable or covered by insurance.

Reality: Taking medications is often more than just chugging it down with a sip of water. Some medications need to be taken on a specific schedule, sometimes with or without food, and need to be carried with you in a portable pill organizer at all times. Medications aren’t always fully covered by insurance either.

“[A myth is] it’s affordable and I don’t have to plan days in advance when I can take some of them,” Vicky Trei said.

“[People think] the meds will deliver consistent results. They also don’t realize that the timing of my meds (morning, noon, afternoon) drives my schedule for the day because I get side effects one to two hours after taking medication,” Elizabeth Hubbard said.

13. Myth: Medication is inherently “bad” and you should be ashamed that you need it.

Reality: Needing to take medication is nothing to be ashamed of. You’re simply using a tool to manage your health as best you can, and you’re not “weak” if it helps you get through the day and keeps your symptoms in check. If someone else with your condition doesn’t need medication, that doesn’t make them “stronger” than you.

“[A myth is] that taking medication is a negative thing in general. Do I like it? Not necessarily. But it quite literally helps me leave the house and function as a normal human being,” Alexandria Brooke Anderson said.

Originally published: September 29, 2018
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