This article is Ancient (archive 2011)

Medicated Chic? or Pain, Relief, and Recreation in Modern Medicine

One of our talented young readers submitted this article.

Mental Problems: A Joke

The media often makes jokes about disorders, in particular Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, teasing and taunting people with OCD for being too clean or performing a ritual. The elder brother in Everbody Loves Raymond always touches his food to his chin. Raymond tries to tease him about it, to get him to stop, but he can’t or won’t and ends up embarrassed and angry about the taunting.

Many people with OCD have food-related rituals about utensils or placement. I watched a video about a month ago about a young woman who has to tap her teeth with a glass until it feels “just right”; it can take hundreds of taps sometimes. She has chipped and broken her front teeth on nine occasions, but she can’t stop despite all her willpower, medications, and other treatment. It’s not a joke that she tries to use Styrofoam glasses (Can you imagine how that would work? How would you feel going into peoples’ houses and places you didn’t know or didn’t feel comfortable in?). In fact, despite all of her navigation of avoidance, alternative options, and willpower, she still has to pull a glass out and tap her teeth.

Destigmatize or Glamorize?

So why do people think this photo makes them awesome? What’s happening with this picture, posted by a teenage girl with no reason, no words, and no description? Why would she do that if not because she likes it, thinks it’s funny, or thinks it’s cool? She’s seen taking pills represented as an inconsequential personality quirk. Some use the excuse that they’re trying to destigmatize rather than glamorize: that they’re trying to make taking pills accessible and break taboos, but that’s obviously not what’s happening here.

Perhaps to people without experience with pills, these cups represent little more than a water cooler. To me they are horrific, sad, and scary. To people in hospitals, mental or otherwise, these cups are help combined with pain such that the mind can barely grapple with it. Cups of rainbow pellets come in the morning, noon, and night and trigger terrible mental battles, sagas without resolve.

Help and Pain: the Conflict of Modern Medicine

Imagine the struggle of knowing that these medicines are good for you while knowing they will make you throw up until you’re gagging on spit, or bloat up your face into a hideous balloon that people will make fun of, or stimulate excessive hair growth so that you look like a werewolf. When doctors tweak psych medications, they can make you see and hear things, kidnap you to imagined places, sedate you so strongly that you’re practically paralyzed but hear and see, and make your brain feel like it’s vibrating or zapping or freezing or squished.

Once, five hours after starting a new drug, my entire body seized up and every muscle went rigid. This was the single most terrifying experience of my life. My legs and arms were stiff, I tried wiggling around confusedly, and I could feel everything become tighter. I was already sedated and disoriented from other medications, which only exacerbated my distress. I cried for the nurse to help when my tongue started flopping and became unmovable. It felt like my eyeballs and brain became stiff. The doctors’ goal was winning in my internal warzone, without any consideration to the casualties. I still have to scrunch my eyeballs sometimes when they feel stiff.

A good friend from Samoa was sponsored by her government because she had a very rare type of lupus resistant or unresponsive to any of the normal treatments. The doctors at Stanford didn’t believe that a Samoan hospital could have administered all of them right, so they made her take some of the normal courses again with all the negative side-effects but no progress. When we would go to the cafeteria together for lunch break, she would just pour packets of salt in her mouth compulsively. She wasn’t allowed salt because of one medicine, but another made her crave it.

What Makes this Cool?

I don’t mean to judge teenagers who go with the trend; they’re children too. But for those forced to take pills that other people desperately try to get for a good trip, fuck, it’s really painful and really sad. Nobody talks about it except on health forums where only people who are prescribed those drugs look. It seems to be cool and edgy or alternative right now to be diagnosed with depression and on pills. You share it with your friends because you aren’t hiding it or “whateva lolstfu lifesux”. After almost five years of six pills a day, I still can’t face them sometimes, even though they the side effects are low. I worry about my liver and kidneys failing because of medicines I need to stay alive. When you have the severe bodily or mental illnesses that require these pills, it’s one of the most terrible things in the world.

I remember young children in our hospital school room crying, screaming, and desperately wriggling away from IV bags and liquid medicine bottles because they could only view them as torture. They could not intellectualize the long term benefits. Nobody can understand the mental scars of intense long term sickness, so I hope people who read this can be sweeter to those with swelled faces and cloth masks and to those who look normal but act, feel, and respond differently.

By Saachi Dhingra