Self-care Sunday ~ Stigma against medicine

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Medicine is important for healing our bodies and taking care of ourselves. But when it comes to taking medicine, society holds a stigma against it. We are made to feel weak for relying on assistance outside of ourselves.

Medicine is very powerful: it has the potential to be either healing or damaging. Because of this, there are many factors to consider when making the choice to medicate yourself — but “shame” should never be one of them!

Factors to consider…

  • Can I afford taking time to rest? When we’re feeling sick or unwell, the best thing you can do is rest — hydrate, eat well, and destress. But often life gets in the way and we are forced to keep moving in order to pay the bills, take care of our responsibilities, or take care of others. There are also times when no amount of rest or self-care can help, especially if you’re in dire pain. So if rest is not an option — don’t feel bad, go ahead and take your medication.
  • Do the side effects outweigh the benefits? All medications come with side effects — usually anything from tiredness to anxiousness, it can even block your creativity, or make you feel like you aren’t “yourself.” Often it’s worth it to deal with a few unwanted side effects in order to cure whatever discomfort we are experiencing. But it’s up to you to decide if your medication is actually making you better, or sicker.
  • How long have I been taking this specific medication? Doctors recommend you never stay on one medication for too long, as the effects ware off and the body requires high doses, sometimes to the point where the medication is no longer effective at all. The general recommendation is do not take one substance daily for more than 30 days (of course this varies.) Sometimes we have no choice but to continue the same medication for an extended period of time, but if it’s possible, consider taking a break (even just for one day) or looking into alternatives.
  • How does this medication interact with other medications? If you are on multiple medications, you need to be aware of how those medications interact with each other. Many substances become dangerous when dealing with conflicting substances.
  • How natural is my medication? First off, “natural” does not always mean “better” — natural can still be toxic! The difference is that most natural substances have been consumed for thousands of years, meanwhile recent man-made drugs have only been consumed for a few decades or possibly only a few years! While man-made substances are more heavily researched than unaltered plants, their long-term use is more questionable. Another thing to consider is that man-made drugs are way more profitable, and therefore more likely to be recommended to you by the media. For these reasons I believe we should be a little more weary about man-made medication — however I’m not saying one is better or worse than the other.
  • What does research say about my medication? Always, always research your medication! Ask your doctor(s), ask your friends and family, look through internet boards, find scientific studies, read books, etc. Consider that man-made drugs will have more (short-term) research, but since most of these studies are conducted by companies trying to sell you their product, be extremely objective about the findings. Be aware of the long-lasting effects it may have on your body/brain chemistry.
  • Can I lower my dosage? As mentioned before, the body builds a tolerance and resistance to medication, so it’s good to take breaks. But instead of skipping your medication, consider lowering the dosage slightly. If you know that today is going to be an “easy day” — maybe you’re off work, maybe you’re not dealing with as much stress as usual — consider decreasing the amount. (If this is doctor-prescribed, then talk to your doctor first.)
  • Are there any alternatives? Again with taking a break, do not feel that you have to quit medicine completely. For every medication, there is always another alternative. It’s up to you to determine if the alternatives provide the same relief.
  • How do I genuinely feel without my medication? Before taking your medication, you may wonder, “do I really need this?” On days you skip your medication, pay very close attention to how you feel, write it down so you remember later on. If you feel the urge to skip taking medication, because society makes you feel that your sickness is all on your head, or that your peers can’t feel your inner suffering, go back to your notes from before. For example — in the morning, you may tell yourself that you felt just fine without your medicine yesterday, but looking back at your notes you have proof that you were suffering without it.

When you ask yourself these questions, you can make an honest and healthy decision about how you medicate yourself. One thing you should never ask yourself in regards to medicine is, “what would other people think?” Remember that no one else can see or feel your pain the same way that you do. No one has the right to judge you for taking medication. This is your body and your mind, not anyone else’s.


Other forms of “medicine”

  • “Let food be thy medicine,” said Hippocrates. Although food is not technically considered medicine, it does draw many parallels. Food has just as much of an impact on our bodies as drugs do. Changing your diet can change your entire body chemistry. Even though you literally need food to survive, society still judges us for what we eat and how much we eat.
  • Supplements & vitamins are not considered drugs. Instead of adding something to the body, they reinforce what already exists in the body — giving us the perception that it’s “safer” which is actually not always the case. Supplements can be highly beneficial or completely ineffective — it all depends on your situation.
  • Plant medicine has been used since the dawn of man. Plants can still be considered “drugs.” The healing power of plant medicine is suppressed because it’s not nearly as profitable as manmade drugs. Of course some plants are toxic or come with negative effects, but many are extremely healing. The first pharmaceutical wasn’t created until the late 1800s which is very recent in the grand scheme of things. Think about how long our species thrived, how many accomplishments we made before the arrival of manmade drugs — this certainly has something to do with plant medicine!
  • Exercise comes with countless health benefits, including the release of “endorphins” — chemicals that give you a natural high.
  • Self-care is a form of medicine — each time you make the choice to take care of yourself — anything from brushing your teeth to putting on your seatbelt in the car — you are essentially medicating yourself.
  • And sometimes these options are not enough to treat our ailments without the aid of drugs — and that’s perfectly fine.

Rethinking our perception of medicine

Society has a very distorted view of medication. For example, “caffeine” is probably the only socially-acceptable drug. And the majority fails to recognize that caffeine is indeed a drug. You hear people say, “I don’t take any drugs, I just drink coffee” — completely contradicting themselves! People talk about coffee and tea as if it’s just a drink, when in reality, it’s a medication that most people can’t function without.

The people who told you “don’t do drugs” or “just say no to drugs” in school are the same people addicted to coffee, alcohol, over-the-counter painkillers, and maybe even cigarettes too. I agree that children should be taught to obey the law, but these phrases are toxic because they distort our entire perception of drugs. There are many beneficial drugs that used to be illegal, and many legal drugs that had to be pulled off the market and are now illegal.

It’s so easy to avoid medication when you don’t need it, when you’re lucky enough to avoid health issues, and pretend you are “above it.” But when you’re in a situation that requires being medicated, you suddenly realize how important it is. We must put and end to the concept that “needing medicine makes you weak” and understand that it’s so much more complex than that.

Addiction is highly complex and misunderstood, but I do believe a great part of addiction stems from society’s shame against taking medication. Many people turn to hard street drugs because they deeply feel that taking care of yourself is something that should be done in secret, in shame, and illegally. Many people would rather turn to a drug dealer in private rather than publicly speak with a doctor about their problems — because that would require going out in public, sitting in waiting-rooms with others watching them, admitting that their drug-use goes beyond “recreation” and is actually something they need.

As a child, I believed that the only reason people smoked cigarettes was to fit in with the crowd. The truth goes further than that, I learned it has much more to do with anti-anxiety (I had absolutely no idea as a child that nicotine was a stress reliever, or that it gave you any type of “buzz” — remember I’m from New York so the anti-cigarette propaganda was STRONG since Kindergarten!) As I grew up I learned the sad truth — people use cigarettes as a form of medicine, but use the deadly consequences of smoking as an excuse for admitting they are medicating themselves. In other words, smokers are usually people who are seeking self-help but want the world to think they are doing the exact opposite. (Side-note: no judgment against smokers, but do not start this deadly habit!)

The whole “War on Drugs” is rooted from society’s shame against self-help. I believe that if it was socially acceptable for us to take care of ourselves, society would not be dealing with our current crises regarding drug abuse and addiction. The shame against drugs/medication/any form of self-care polarizes into addiction — when we demonize drugs, we also worship drugs. When we seek medication with the mindset that medicine is wrong, we naturally fall into secretive obsession, low self-esteem, shameful attachment. When we are conditioned to believe “all drugs are bad,” we are more likely to have a toxic on-and-off relationship with drugs. This is why many people go cold-turkey sober, just to relapse again, stuck in a vicious cycle — instead of weaning themselves with moderation to create sustainable change. If we could form a healthier relationship with drugs (instead of this all-of-nothing mentality) then we could be a healthier society, a “peace towards drugs.”

No shame against medicine

In conclusion, there is no shame against medicating yourself, buying medicine at the store, or seeking medicine from a doctor. Medicines/drugs are powerful and should be treated with respect. The demonization of drugs leads to the worship/abuse of drugs — we should seek moderation. Consider both benefits and dangers from a grounded, honest, and open perspective. Be mindful about medication — do your research and most of all trust yourself.

You may not be aware of your deep-rooted beliefs that “all drugs are bad” or that “medicating yourself makes you weak” — but these beliefs exist within all of us, on a subconscious level, since youth. So I’m reminding you (and myself!) that taking care of yourself is the most selfless thing you can do. When you make healthy choices, you encourage others to do the same. You can’t do it all alone, and that’s okay. Seeking help makes you a MUCH stronger person than pretending you don’t need to.

5 comments

  1. This is a nicely balanced perspective! There are indeed many questions to ask regarding taking medication and what type is best for the individual, but all those choices should definitely focus on what is the individual needs rather than how the larger society might judge them.

    Liked by 1 person

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