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4 Kinds of Pill Shamers You Meet in Life With Chronic Illness

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Back when my husband was still dealing with the daily side effects of a brain injury, it was the time new psychological medications were emerging. You could not go 10 feet without some smart ass making a remark about “taking your Prozac.” We would like to think that things have moved forward since then, shedding the stigma of mental illness, but some of the reactions we get from people for the treatment of chronic pain, anxiety, and PTSD would show otherwise. The pill shaming that is still happening to people with chronic illnesses and mental health concerns is not OK.

There are several types of pill shamers, each with their own arguments. I will discuss a few of them here.

The Traditionalist

The traditionalist pill shamer believes there was no reason they had to take medication and there is no reason you need to either. These are usually your older family and friends who are part of a generation who believed you “walked it off” or “sucked it up” before you took anything. These people do not understand the extent of your chronic pain and they are often not empathic to you. Were there things that were done better in the past? Yes, but there are thousands of things we do better now, and medicine is one of them. Wanting things to stay the same is all very well and good but it’s not like we do not use cars because we did not in the past. This false traditionalism smacks of a macho need to act like everything is OK all the time. It is not.

The Conspiracy Theorist

The conspiracy theorist has a problem with medications because of who is prescribing them, who is making them, or who is getting paid. That’s right, Big Pharma. The conspiracy theorist thinks we are all being conned and selling out to “the man.” And yes, when you purchase prescriptions you are supporting our capitalist economic system, but you are not selling out any more than when you buy from any other business or industry. Everyone is selling something, even the company shilling coconut oil. I am pretty sure that the conspiracy theorist won’t have much of a problem with having Big Pharma save their lives at the hospital. These types of blanket assumptions about doctors and the pharmaceutical industry are not helpful when you are shaming someone in need.

The Naturalist

The naturalist pill shamer believes you should not be taking prescriptions because whatever you have can be solved naturally. They think diet, exercise, supplements and other natural remedies are enough to handle whatever is ailing you physically and mentally. Are natural remedies effective, yes, they can be in some cases, and I believe they are well worth sharing and supplementing in your medical routine. But they do not replace everyone’s prescriptions, and you never know who has already tried them.

The Been-There-Done-That Patient

The last pill shamer is the been-there-done-that patient. This person has tried all sorts of medications and therapies and they want to tell everyone why they will not work for anyone else. It is helpful to vent and to share experiences, but it is not helpful to shame someone because they want to try what their doctor has recommended. Just because it did not work for them does not mean it cannot work for anyone. The attitude of the been-there-done-that shamer is not helpful either.

In the end, pill shaming has no place in relationships of support. If someone is with you on this journey towards wellness, they should keep their opinions of what medications you take to themselves. It is OK to ask questions and learn alongside your patient as a caregiver and friend, but judgment about their medical decisions is not appropriate. There used to be a time when fat shaming was OK, but we have thankfully come to a place where most people know to keep their mouths shut. Hopefully we will soon come to the time when shaming a person for using medication to help their mental health or their physical health is unacceptable. Because the medications people take is really none of your business.

Getty image by Fahroni.

Originally published: August 21, 2019
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