Last night, Robin Williams apparently killed himself, and my boyfriend was shocked.
I mean, sure, the world was shocked, but Ashke didn't think that Mr. Williams was the type: he didn't seem depressed.
I explained to him that there were some signs that he had some sort of depression, from the manic style of his jokes, to his own words: Robin Williams was the first comedian I ever heard acknowledge that most comedians have a darkness inside them.
But the thing that makes depression so hard to deal with was best expressed here: hyperboleandahalf.blogsp
. It's the absence of feeling that even harder to deal with than constant "feeling down" or crying jags. And – I mean, really – who actually seems depressed in real life?
And that lead to how chronic diseases are like, and not, fever.
When you have a fever, everyone suggests the same thing: ibuprofen or acetaminophen (paracetamol, for the Brits). You take a pill, and the fever goes down. But what if you have a fever and severe salmonella? Then you have to take an antibiotic (a bit more controversial) and an anti-inflammatory. That's when the trouble starts.
"Oh, good lord, I've been p**ping and puking all day. What if I take the antibiotic and then I puke it up immediately? Then I could be increasing the likelihood of the bacteria getting stronger, and the antibiotic makes me p**p and puke more, and then, if I take an anti-inflammatory, will I accidentally overdose if I take more? What if it doesn't bring my fever down and I'm chattering for hours because I'm too scared to take more, or -- heaven forbid -- I took my last tylenol and then puked it up! If all I've got left is advil, then I'll p**p or puke some more... maybe the meds will make this all worse!"
This is the roundabout thought process I've seen in friends with severe food poinsoning, and in their case, there's no cultural mentality that taking the pills is a bad idea: it's just scary that they might not work. The fear that the meds will not help, or, make it worse, is very common. More so, in the cases of people living with chronic disease, because every medication is an opportunity for something to go wrong, and the pop culture says that BIG PHARMA is out to get us. TAKING PILLS EVERY DAY is proof that you have failed as a human being. Movies come out at least once a year saying GET OFF YOUR MEDS! THEY'RE WHAT ARE MAKING YOU CRAZY.
Let's get one thing straight: there are plenty of people who are taking medications that they don't need. However, the majority of people who are successfully treating mental illnesses with anti-psychotics and anti-depressants are much better off on those medications than off. The same with those taking pain-management drugs for fibromyalgia and other chronic-pain syndromes. The same goes for diabetics and sufferers of crohn's. Yes, diet and exercise can help ameliorate the symptoms of many of these diseases, and should be one of the first things people try, but...
IF YOUR BODY NEEDS MEDICATIONS TO OPERATE OPTIMALLY ON A DAILY BASIS, YOU ARE NOT WEAK. YOU HAVE NOT FAILED.
I have been touched by all of these diseases:
* My cousin is manic-depressive. If you knew her as a friend, you might not know. You might only see the hyperactive, energetic, beautiful woman. You’d never know that she spends as little as an hour and as much as a week at a time locked in her room – where she still lives with her parents in her 30s – trying to deal with the downs that inevitably follow the high points.
* My Mom has been taking medications since long before I was born to treat depression. She tried to eliminated it – or even reduce the dose – a few times, because she’d been on it for so long, but each time she found that the stability of her moods, her patience, relationships, and her health took a nosedive each time she tried.
* My friend has been trying for years to find a drug that will help even out the symptoms of her fibromyalgia – sleep deprivation and constant pain – and she has been on hundreds of drugs trying to do so. If she finds something that works, no amount of peer pressure will keep her from it.
* Another friend has had crohn’s colitis since she was 4 (yes, I know that it usually kicks in at 30). She is now on what is referred to as the “drug of last resort” – Remicade – so thought of because it has many unfortunate side effects. It is also the only thing “working”. And by “working,” I mean she is able to eat and not spend all of her time in the bathroom. And she is now allergic to a protein in her skin. It’s a trade-off: being able to eat with only minor pain and fewer accidents but after every treatment, areas where her skin meets (elbows, ears, nose) develop sores.
* My Dad (and most of my extended family) have diabetes. Yes, diabetes can be treated with diet and exercise up to a point, but anyone advocating just stopping medication cold turkey doesn’t understand the disease, and is advocating something dangerous.
And that is the point I’m trying to make: why is it culturally acceptable to judge or mock people for taking a drug daily that helps them function normally? Why is it ok to take a paracetemol for a headache or muscle ache, but taking a drug daily to prevent them is the last resort?
And why am I taking this all so very personally?
Maybe it’s because, back in February-March, I was dangerously close to the line when it came to depression. I was sleep-deprived (woo, early work hours, being a night person, and new puppy!), going through one of the worst years for seasonally affected disorder yet (no sun for weeks, long, grey winter), and I had been banned from most exercise thanks to a slippery winter and two knee injuries. My mood was affected, my headaches ramped up, and I was getting sick ridiculously often. I changed my work schedule and ramped up my recovery, and those two things help stop me from taking a sick day every two weeks. If those two things hadn’t helped, I would be one of the thousands of Canadians working with my doctor to treat depression.
Maybe it’s because I too have chronic pain. And I have been affected by the popular culture of “drugs bad.” I have a confession to make: the last time I had a day without pain was August 2005. And that’s very, very upsetting. I put that date together last night, and I’ve realized that I’ve done most of the things people say you should:
Since August 2005 I have:
Lost 30 lbs (healthily)
I spent 8 months aspartame-free
I increased my physical fitness through cardio and strength training
I tried vegetarianism
I improved my diet drastically with more than half of it being fresh vegetables and fruits and cutting down on processed foods
I saw a physio twice a week for a year
I saw a massage therapist twice a week for a year
I tried one recommended (by my doctor) pill with very frightening results (5mgs left me jet-lagged for 3 days)
It is time for me to get my butt in gear and realise that all of these things I’m saying apply to me too: there is no shame in taking a pill daily if it means I won’t be in pain. And if I have to take that pill daily for the rest of my life, then I will, if it means I can feel a normal that doesn’t involve a headache. I will not let a fear of something not working – or worse, working and then stopping – keep me from living a normal life. I. AM. DONE.