I’m (heavily) medicated, but still (a better version of) myself

In a day, I take six prescriptions, totaling 17 pills, and five supplements and vitamins. I am the definition of heavily medicated, carefully timing doses twice a day — once in the morning and once at night — and dutifully seeing three doctors every three to four months, with blood work every second month. Despite this, I am not bound to or from my meds and medical assistance, on the contrary, I am liberated to live more fully than without.

People seem to have very strong opinions about medications and the quality of life of their users. I’ve personally received an array of responses, especially since my medications can be (and have been) sedating, causing weight gain and have a variety of other strong side effects.

 

“I’d never want to be reliant on medication. Doesn’t that bother you?”

“You don’t look that much healthier.”

“Don’t you worry that there are SO many side effects? Are they truly better than the alternative?”

“Don’t these pills make actually dealing with things harder? That sounds like an easier way out.”

“This literally suppresses your immune system. It makes you more susceptible to getting sick. How is this better at all?”

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Shockingly, I’ve actually been asked or told all of these either in person or online. They can come from a benign place or as a low blow, with positive intentions or malice. I choose to accept each question and statement with as much grace as my temper allows and answer them the best that I can.

 

“It used to, but I try not to let it upset me now. It’s better than the alternative.”

“I feel that much healthier.”

“You get used to the side effects and some of them go away. They’re better than the alternative, and if they weren’t, I get a different prescription.”

“I do actually deal with things. So, no, and no.”

“I literally couldn’t move before. I will take the extra few colds and flus a year.”

 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The first month after getting my initial diagnoses and first prescriptions was the hardest. Growing up, I was always told that I could do anything that I put my mind to, and I believed it. Being told that I physically and mentally could not do certain things came as a slap in the face and deeply hurt me. The realization that I was disabled sunk in fast. Sounding out “disabled” in my mind only troubled me: dis + abled. Not being able, being unable. Adjusting to the new medication was even harder: I spent a month-and-a-half sleeping up to 18 hours a day, couldn’t remember anything (even if it was said to me five minutes prior), couldn’t take care of myself (even the simple things such as making food and showering. It was bad) and felt utterly and entirely different. Every scrap of personality I thought I had and everything that made me who I was was blown to bits. I was no longer Kaitlin the brave, the limitless. I was Kaitlin, the very afraid girl who needed someone to stay in her dorm with her because she literally could not function, and Kaitlin, the girl who needed to change her life plans.

 

Yes, at first, it really sucks to be on so many medications, but it eventually gets easier and I can’t imagine a life without my green and orange pill dividers and trips to the pharmacy. Instead of being muted, I’ve found that my personality can come back and grow to places it couldn’t before. Whereas before I was in great pain, I can now make plans in advance and not worry that my body will let me down. I’m not trapped in my mind or in my apartment; I can travel as freely or conservatively as I want. Whatever quirks and traits that were tamped down can grow back, so I may reclaim who I was before I got sick. With these medications, I’m offered more joy than sensations of being caged.

 

Photo by Brandon Earle

 

I can view my situation similarly to others living with disabilities: I can pity wheelchair users and lament that they have difficulty moving without assistance, or I can celebrate the fact that their wheelchairs helps them move around and that they are enabled by them. I can feel sorry for people with intellectual delays, or I can encourage and be encouraged by moving trends towards more inclusive education and better therapies. We aren’t bound by our assistance devices — whether it be medicine, mobility devices, or technology — but in fact, we are given the chance to blossom and thrive, thanks to them. If people truly want to pity me, I ask they feel sorry that I have to walk to the pharmacy as often as I do, or that I have to travel two-and-a-half hours each way whenever I have an appointment.

 

 

2015 versus 2018

Photo by Brandon Earle

 

Naturally, with all the benefits I’ve received, there are costs: I can’t drink grapefruit juice now, but then, I’ve always preferred orange. It’s a small price for being freed, so I think I can live with this.