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Please Don't Judge My Medicine Cabinet

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I have a secret and it gnaws at my thoughts every day. There’s a reason my medicine cabinet is locked up. Inside, it’s lined with little orange pharmacy bottles. Now, it wasn’t always this way so before you judge, let me preface this all by saying that I have tried every treatment and medication from Eastern to Western medicine. I even had major surgery. Yes, it did greatly decrease my pain, but it didn’t totally eliminate it. It made me functional again and for that I’m grateful. And yes, I tried all the ancient remedies that worked on your mother-in-laws, uncle’s, ex-wife’s “headaches.” Well guess what? I don’t have a “headache.” And I’ve already tried it. All of it.

I sat in tears in the exam room of my pain management doctor one appointment, slobberly explaining how I don’t want to have to take these medications day after day. He looked at me and said through empathetic eyes, “If you need these pills to live life, then so be it. Don’t feel bad about it.” Ding, ding, ding. A bell went off in my head. Admittedly, I had harshly been judging myself. But why do I feel bad for taking something I need?

It’s because society makes me feel shamed and guilty. I see the judgmental eyes of the new pharmacist when I drop off that prescription. “Do you see my scars?” I long to scream at her. “Do you see that large one running up the back of my head? Or the two on the sides of my neck?” Instead, I just slide over the slip of paper and smile politely, trying to conceal any emotions for her to further judge. Please, don’t make me feel shame when I’m doing nothing wrong by surviving. My pain is no “headache” and it takes more than two Advil to control it.

Strict regulations are being placed on pain medications, making them increasingly difficult to get. Yes, I am fully aware that people who don’t need them are getting addicted. I’m fully aware that lives are being destroyed and people are dying. I feel deeply for those affected. But what about me? What about a mom who legitimately needs them to have any quality of life, to be a mom to her kids, to be a good wife? What am I supposed to do if they’re limited or taken away from me? I follow protocol. I go to the same doctor every month to get my medications. I don’t use multiple doctors for prescriptions. I only refill once a month and don’t ask for more than the good doctor thinks I’ll need. In fact, my goal is to not have to unlock my medicine cabinet and touch that white capped orange bottle at all. I’ve had over 100 needles stuck in my head and neck, all to try to avoid opening that shuttered hole in the bathroom wall.

I take the minimal amount needed to take the edge off the merciless nerve pain that runs up my skull and electrocutes my face and eyeballs. Where you can take two Tylenol and get rid of your pain, I can open my medicine cabinet and take my pain from a level eight to a level six. That’s just enough to keep me functional and going like a “normal” person. I have school lunches to pack, kid’s soccer practices to attend, finances to keep on track, and hugs and cuddles that need to be given. I’ve learned how to fully smile with an amount of pain most people couldn’t get out of bed with. And yes, my medicine cabinet is full of various pain meds.

I have two young kids and if I want to enjoy them, celebrate milestones, take them on adventures, or have any patience for parenting, I will occasionally need these pills. No, I’m not popping pills like candy to feel the effects of them. I am in no way an addict. The simple truth is that I live in chronic pain. I have occipital neuralgia.

Initially, I was hard on myself for buying those pretty little pill cases so I could easily carry them in my purse and car for those “pain” emergencies. The stigma of using these medications is unfair to those of us that truly need them to live a full existence. Sure, I could not take them when my pain hits level seven. But ultimately the pain would run away to a level 10. I’d be curled up in a fetal position, grasping at my head, locked in a dark room, telling my kids to be quiet, and oh yeah, sorry Mommy can’t play with you because just the sound of your voices will make me vomit in agony. So, before you judge me for nonchalantly reaching for that pill case while we’re at coffee, imagine having a tooth pulled without anesthesia and being told to just deal with it. The difference is, your pain would eventually fade and mine does not.

So, go ahead and judge me if you choose. Just do it after watching me coordinate school schedules, play dates, home finances, and dentist appointments. Just please, don’t do it after peeking in to my medicine cabinet.

Originally published: August 17, 2016
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