The other day I was discussing one of my newer symptoms with my “healthy” friend, and mentioned that I had to start taking a new medication to help manage this symptom. She commented, “You must be on a lot of medications by now.” She was right. At that point, it was probably the eighth drug I was taking, aside from the five or six different supplements and vitamins I was also consuming on a regular basis.
I wasn’t ashamed of taking these medications, as I knew I needed them to help me to function the best I could. I agreed with my friend. Eight medications is a lot, and it can be quite tricky to manage all of them because of the specifications of each one. I take some of them two to three times a day, some with or without food, and some at very specific hours so they don’t react with any of the other drugs or supplements.
I mentioned to my friend that despite the challenges with managing my meds, I was glad I was finally finding some relief from my symptoms. My new medication was supposed to help with my fatigue, which had gradually been getting worse. However, her reaction to all of this was an expression I interpreted to be somewhat critical or judgmental. Thus, I was not particularly surprised when she then said, “My grandfather was also on too many drugs, so the hospital recently took him off all of his medications and he didn’t get any worse. All of the drugs weren’t helping him. They were probably just messing with him.”
Her comments seemed to imply that I am on “too many” drugs, and that I should try going off all of them because they probably aren’t helping me. But the truth is, I have paid close attention to how I feel when I start new medications. And with many, I have experimented with weaning off of them for several weeks or months at a time to ensure they are in fact helping me. And through doing so, I have found that each of my current drugs very clearly benefits me in some way, and stopping the medications only worsened my symptoms. I explained this to her, and she just looked away and said “Oh.”
This is similar to when people have suggested that perhaps changing my diet, or taking a supplement instead of a medication would really make a difference. Or that drinking celery juice or doing yoga might be the cure I’m looking for. All in all, society has a strong tendency to pill-shame. Somehow, many people have gotten it into their minds that taking pills indicates some sort of weakness, or that it should warrant shame. In the Instagram and podcast world, I hear a lot of “influencers” who say they don’t “need” pills, or that they base their wellness and healing journey in plant medicine. Sometimes these individuals will (possibly unintentionally) put down drugs or medication, and hint that it is “better” to use methods of “natural” (plant-based) healing. They brag about stopping medication and healing through natural living.
These views can often come from a privileged mindset, as these individuals may not have ever absolutely needed medications. I won’t say this is true for all people who prefer plant medicine, but I can say that for some of us, plant medicine will not manage or cure our symptoms and physical or emotional symptoms. And as a side note, I have tried yoga, but was not very successful due to my shakiness and dizziness. And I have tried drinking fresh celery juice every morning, but I was unable to drink it daily because of my need for food immediately when I wake up. This is not to say yoga is not therapeutic. For many people, it is. But this also doesn’t mean we can all do yoga instead of taking medications.
The truth is, I am all in support of Western medicine, as it has truly saved my life and my quality of life. But this doesn’t negate the fact that no one actually wants to be on eight different drugs. No one wants to manage their medications and feel like they are only able to function because of the little yellow and white pills they take throughout the day. No one wants to be dependent on drugs to get by. But it’s not really a choice if we want to live the best we can with our illnesses.
Sometimes people don’t realize that not taking medications is a privilege. They don’t receive texts every few days or every week from CVS telling them their medication is ready for pickup. They don’t have to spend time every week sorting their pills into a pill container that has 28 little sections (four a day, seven days a week). They don’t feel like they are starting to crash if they don’t take their medication at the exact necessary time. They don’t have to pack bottles of pills and supplements when they go on vacation, or when they even just go somewhere for one night. They don’t have to manage the side effects, like bloating, nausea, or weight gain or loss. They don’t have to worry about feeling self conscious for taking a whole handful of pills in front of their friends.
I am absolutely not trying to put down other people, as they may not have the experience that would lead to them understanding chronic illness. Medication shaming is unfortunately just a very real and far too prevalent thing.
But despite the shaming or the judgmental expressions or comments we may face, we never need to feel insecure about taking medications. Instead, we can educate others. We certainly do not need to defend taking medications, but if and when we are comfortable, we can explain why we need them, if we so choose. We can have the courage to take a handful of pills in public without feeling ashamed.
We can thank people for their suggestions to try keto or pilates while also telling them we are doing the best we can, as we know our bodies the best. We know what works for us and what doesn’t work for us. Maybe yoga has helped us, or maybe a certain diet has given us more energy. This doesn’t negate the fact that we may also need medications to get by.
Modern medicine exists for a reason: to help us all reach our full capacity in life. Some of us are lucky and do not need medications, or just need one or two drugs. But some of us truly do need to take medications, and there is absolutely no shame in it. Taking medication is never a weakness, and we never need to feel insecure or ashamed of it. When we find meds that help us, we should be excited and relieved!
Medications can be life changing, and I just hope the people who are closest to us can practice compassion and try their best to understand why we do in fact often need our pills.