Why we don’t take our pills and why we’re still human

This post is in response to the fact that the world is terrible.

Well. This blog is in response to that. But this specific post regards a specific terribility. Namely, how the instant that a mentally ill person stops taking their medication, they become evil, irresponsible, terrible, sub-human non-people.  Even in secular, pro-social-justice spaces, Not Being Medicated is regarded as pretty much a crime. Because HOW COULD YOU, mental illness is clearly so heinous that you are but one missed dose away from eating a basket of kittens alive or something like that. As such, mentally ill people are obligated to take their pills. They don’t get choices. Nope.

Now, see here, that is fucked up something awful. Aside from the basic notion of bodily autonomy that is “you get to decide what goes into your body,” which of course doesn’t apply to mentally ill people because we’re not people with things like bodily autonomy, there are a lot of damn good reasons why we can say we don’t take our pills.

Some reasons can be summed up under the broad topic of “not fucking worth it.” Psychoactive drugs are not magic. Mental health care is not magic. Because these things are Not Magic, there are flaws. Some are minor, some are big and blinking with neon signage and their own zip code. For instance,  there’s money. My pills all together, after insurance, cost me $60 a month (on top of the co-pay at the doctor). If I was on a tighter budget, that’d be a choice between pills, or… cutting my eating for the month in half. Or not buying gas. And what good are pills to make you happy if you’re starving with a dead car? NOT MUCH GOOD. And that’s with insurance. Being mentally ill people, we sometimes have trouble with the whole “keeping down a steady job” thing. Which messes up the whole “having insurance” thing. Which leads to the fun little catch-22 of not being able to buy pills, because you don’t have a job with insurance,  because you can’t afford pills. Yay!

Then there’s the whole deal of side effects. psychoactive drugs have a lot. There’s nausea, dizziness, drowziness… I once took pills that made me drowsy and tired. Not like “Oh gee I sure could use a nap!” tired. Like, my-mom-found-me-passed-out-on-the-bathroom-floor tired. Same pills, for depression I will add, also made me suicidal. LOL. Now, yes, that’s a matter of them being the wrong pill, and you can always change pills. Unless… you go on to the pills I am now, which thankfully work because if they didn’t, I would be completely screwed. In short, miss a dose? You get a magical thing called brain shocks. They’re about as fun as they sound, I promise. And they can last a loooong time after you go off of that pill. (My doctor didn’t feel the need to warn me about this. If she had, I would have nope’d her to the moon.)

But wait, I could just fix my brain zap problem if I just stuck to my pills!

Except no. Because for me, sticking to my pills is not a choice. I try. I try really hard to. But with autism comes problems with executive function, and with depression comes lack of motivation, so all at once I have difficulty doing tasks like “take pills daily at same time every day” and on the other I have “Oh god, I need to take my pills… but I can’t even move. Lol guess that’s not happening.” This results in a bajillion missed doses, and even more doses when the same issues mean I don’t get my prescriptions refilled in time and just straight up don’t have pills. Of course, I could commit myself to an institution or live with my parents and have people who constantly remind me to take my pills, but that would honestly trigger so many issues in my brain that it would counteract any benefit the medication would give me.

Which leads to the third part of why it’s okay to hate pills, which is… the mental health system. I’ve written about the fun adventure I’ve had with it before. If you haven’t read those posts, the short story is “holy shit fuck the mental health system.” It’s an abusive, ableist structure filled with a whole lot of power-abusing authority and not enough people who are decent. I’ve seen abuse and neglect, I’ve seen terrified patients, I’ve seen threats and fearmongering, I’ve seen some shit go down in the name of helping people (helping them, my ass- it’s more an industry of fucking with them until they’re normal or killing them off) and it overall gives you a bad taste in your mouth for the idea of mental health in general. So when you’re surrounded by people  buying in to the hate perpetuated by abusive doctors, insisting that you’re not human until you take the magic pills, insisting that you relinquish all of your rights the moment you stop medicating yourself, insisting that if you don’t take your pills of your own free will you’ll end up being forced… the natural human reaction, the natural human rebellion, is to say no.

Say, “Fuck you, I am a human being no matter what I choose to ingest or what I choose not to, and I’m not going to do what you want.”

It might hurt to do it. It hurts to be off your pills, after all. Whether it’s withdrawal or the feeling of the pain of mental illness creeping back into your brain, it just hurts. But it doesn’t always hurt as bad as the memory of the “therapist” from the mental hospital you’d been abused in telling you that if you don’t admit yourself to their hospital you’ll just try to kill yourself. It doesn’t always hurt as bad as the scorn you feel cast upon you when you admit you’ve forgotten to take your pills. It doesn’t always hurt as bad as the inherent judgement embedded within the phrase “did you remember your pills?” And sometimes, saying no, saying that you will be a human being who can make their own choices no matter what pills you do or don’t take, feels sweeter than all of the pain in the world. Sometimes it’s just plain liberating.

So if someone confides in you that they didn’t take their medication for whatever reason, the answer is not to scold them. It’s not to call the cops on them. It’s not to threaten them, or declare them a threat.

Offer them support. They’re probably hurting in some form, from withdrawal or from hatred, and the one medication that mentally ill people can use more than anything- yet are so often denied- is unconditional care, support, and understanding. Give them that.

3 responses to “Why we don’t take our pills and why we’re still human

  1. Pingback: Cleverly Named Bunch o’ Links 12/13/13 | Gravity's Wings

  2. synapticsymphony January 1, 2014 at 8:47 pm

    Don’t have much to say except that this right here is brilliant, and while, for now, we remain medicated we can absolutely relate to all of it. The whole process is exhausting, even with a med that is (currently, at least) a good fit for us.

  3. Flick February 18, 2014 at 10:26 pm

    As someone who suffers from mental illness, has family members who suffer from mental illness and also works in a closely related field I actually disagree with the above.
    If you have found something that works for you (pills, therapy, whatever else) I think it’s important for you to keep at it. I currently take medication and have previously also had therapy and I have gone off my meds in the past, but when I have the whole world has come crashing down around me and I’ve lost jobs, relationships and been financially irresponsible. I have now learnt that no matter how difficult it is sometimes to organise doctor appointments and remember to take my medication everyday I just have to make myself. I keep my medication in the top drawer next to my bed so I remember to take it every night when I go to bed. I keep any repeat prescriptions on file with my pharmasist so I can just call up when I’m running low and they can make one up for me and I can just pick it up. I need to be organised and do these things otherwise I make life miserable and more difficult for myself and my friends/family/workmates.

    My sister has a similar illness to my own and she is constantly stopping her medication and when she does everything falls to shit. I love her and I care about her so of course I jump in and help her get things together again. She is 24 and currently lives at home with my father, and owes him over $10,000 and is working two jobs who give her minimal shifts because of her unreliability.
    We have had many conversations about our shared illnesses and she has told me openly and honestly when she takes medication she feels better, is more able and doesn’t experience bad side effects. She is going to have to get to a point in her life where she needs to take some responsibility for herself. I live nearby and don’t have any children I need to care for so I am able to drop everything to help her when she gets in a mess, but that won’t be the case forever. My father is not young and has retired. He lives comfortably on his superannuation, but he can’t bail her out with money as he did in the past when he was working. He also suffers from a chronic illness that will eventually make it harder for him to look after himself, let alone others.
    I worry about what is going to happen to my sister. She is very intelligent and has held down well-paying proffesional jobs in the past, but only when she has been taking medication or getting other assistance.

    I understand that not all meds are made equally, that some don’t work as well as other, or may have bad side effects. But if you have found something that works to help you function better, and you can afford it, it is imperative that you stay on it. Why would you want to make life harder for yourself? It would be like a diabetic not taking their insulin or someone with high blood pressure not taking their beta blockers. Why would you do it to yourself?

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