“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” ~Seneca
Palm open in the photo, the person showed several different pills, many different colors. It was the words beneath the photo that caught my attention. The individual wrote how much she didn’t want to take those pills, but how taking the pills allowed her to feel normal. She wrote of how proud she was to finally be able to share so publicly that she couldn’t function on her own. She ended with a hashtag — ‘#myfavoritemeds’. For many people, Seneca’s words written centuries earlier couldn’t be any truer in describing their daily lives — simply living is an act of courage some days.
After several difficult life experiences when I was a young woman, I sought professional counseling because I felt so sad and anxious. Admitting that I couldn’t do life perfectly on my own was not easy, but a few years later when a doctor suggested that I might feel better if I were on medication, I shook my head. Medicine was not necessary. I was strong enough to handle life just fine, thank you.
That worked until I found the demands of being a wife, a mother, a friend, a volunteer, and a community member to be so stressful that I ended most days in tears after smiling all day. Going to my pharmacist and friend, I hung my head as I accepted the bottle of pills. I knew I must really be a failure.
His response was life-changing to me: You don’t need to feel ashamed. It’s this way for lots of people — the way the neurons aren’t quite connecting as they’re supposed to. The medication will get everything in your brain to talk to each other the way they should.
For the first time in many years, I felt as if I were more normal than not, and for close to 17 years, I took a pill each day to be able to function in this world. I knew exactly what the lady who had posted that photo was feeling.
The problem is that society has created a stigma so that any mental health issues or more serious illnesses somehow put people in a negative category. 1 in 6 adults is taking some kind of medication for mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. Think about that reality.
Labels are the problem. When you aren’t the one dealing with an issue, it’s easy to put labels on other people. It’s easy to say, Gosh, they need to lighten up, but the truth is that no one chooses to have depression, bipolar, anxiety, or any other number of issues that impact mental health and daily life.
Change the label and maybe this will be easier for you to understand.
Lots of people need medications to live each day, and in many of those cases (certainly not all), the individuals might make dietary and/or lifestyle changes so the medications aren’t needed — but they don’t. And no one says much about it. So, why is it so easy to make people who want to be more pleasant, less anxiety-ridden, not feeling depressed and to feel ‘normal’ out to be weak people?
Not only is it unkind of you to put negative labels on people who need to be on medication, it puts them in danger if they aren’t strong enough to do what’s right for themselves in the face of being shamed. The person you put down for needing to be on medication is often the very person who is avoiding taking medication so people won’t put them in ‘that’ category.
If you are on Instagram, you might search for the hashtag #myfavoritemeds. It was the creation of Jen Gotch and her My Favorite Murder co-host Georgia Hardstark. They decided it was time to end the stigma attached with taking care of ourselves, and now over 3,000 photos are on social media with stories of real people with real lives and real struggles taking their medications without shame, and living joyfully because of it. The posts are full of photos of hands open with medications like Lexapro, Celexa, Buspar, CBD, Cipramil, Zoloft, and the list goes on. Am I pushing drugs? No. Am I encouraging you to stop judging, stop shaming, and help people who need the help to start living? Yes, I am.
When I eventually changed my course of action, it was with the understanding that I might need to come back to accepting a pill as my helper. I chose to make changes in my lifestyle — eating differently because sugar and bread made me feel pretty awful and practicing meditation to better handle stressful situations. I couldn’t have acquired tools if I hadn’t allowed myself the meds. I might need more help again, and if I do it’s ok.
It’s up to me to take care of myself. You also have that responsibility to take care of yourself. Maybe you don’t need an anti-depressant or an anti-anxiety medication, and maybe you do. Maybe you need to eat healthier foods or get some fresh air as part of your self-care plan. I can’t decide what is right for anyone but myself, but I do know this truth: If you need help, accept it, embrace it, and be proud of yourself for doing what is the very best thing for you today. Sometimes, just making it through the day is an act of courage. Be courageous.