(There isn’t a “brain fog” category here. Consider this your warning.)
We spent Sunday at the in-laws for dadw’s birthday. Spending time with his family is refreshingly easy — shooting the breeze, playing a couple of silly party games (highly recommended!). Still, when everyone settled in front of the tv I grabbed the copy of Consumer Reports on the table to page through.
One of the feature stories detailed the problems Americans have with sleep. We all know that adults in this country are having problems getting enough sleep every night (to say nothing of teenagers). The angle CR chose to take for this article was medication: what sort of meds are out there to help you sleep, and how they totally don’t work. According to CR, one in five Americans takes some sort of medication to get to sleep at night!*
Oh, how awful. People taking medicine.
… wait, what?
Stop. Seriously, just stop. Think about it.
What is so awful about people taking medicine?
It’s not just CR — that’s a mild example. I encounter this sort of foreboding in quite a lot of writing, to begin with. People pull out the Scary Statistics about drug use, for this or that medical condition or this or that group of drugs, using those numbers to make a point about Big Pharma or to insist that the people taking that drug could just do some yoga and be like, totally cured of their debilitating depression!
As a society, we have a complex about this whole drug thing. We have no problem with modifying our brain’s regulation of certain chemicals streaming through our blood with the intent of altering this or that function when the thing doing the modifying is, say, food, or physical activity, or orgasm, or incense, or sun exposure, or, hey, sleep! But when you cut out the middle man people start getting all jumpy.
Really, though, that’s not it. It’s not the drugs that make people nervous. The drug panic is just the superficial manifestation of a much, much more deeply-rooted fear.
The fear of disability.
What is it, really, that people are trying to say, when they express distaste for teh drugzzz? When they insinuate that such-and-such condition is just a bunch of hooey anyway? When they assert confidently that this-or-that condition could be managed — exclusively — with alternative solutions? When they evince clear anxiety about how a certain drug meant to change their disposition might take over their personality?
What is it that people really mean when they refuse to consider medication a legitimate treatment for whichever condition?
They’re scared. They’re scared. They know the idea of disability is rearing its head and they don’t want to look it square in the eyes. So they have to close their eyes tight because to see is to acknowledge and to acknowledge is to accept. And they can’t handle that.
They visualize a patient with whichever condition and they want, desperately want, to believe that this condition cannot, will not affect them. They want to believe that there is no chance they will ever have to deal with it. And failing that, they want desperately to believe that nothing will change even if they end up with it. They are grasping out for the most anemic of threads by which to dangle from the rocky cliff, because they know they are traveling this rocky road and they know that this idea of a smooth ride from point A, birth, to point B, wedon’twanttothinkaboutthat, is a lie. They have been sold a lie, as they stumble over the stones in their path and realize that this path seems to lead over the edge and it’s a rocky ride just to get even there.
They clench tight that idea to their chests, shivering, not wanting to even acknowledge the raw and powerful fear that has a hold on them. No, no, they aren’t worried about it at all. They just know that if they were in that situation, they would find a way to make everything right again, to reconcile all their differences.
They don’t want to face up to the fact that they, like you, like me, are frail, frail creatures traveling a rough and unpredictable road, and they don’t even know where it’s leading.
Lift your head up – breathe – settle back in to your seat, here in reality.
OK, then, you say. We’ve cleared individual patients of moral culpability. But we still haven’t dealt with the problem that is Big Pharma.
And I say: no, we haven’t.
The medical and pharmaceutical fields are incredibly problematic industries. They do some seriously corrupt and scary stuff. They should most certainly be more strongly regulated; they are already founded on the concepts of capitalism and profit, which are hard to reconcile with help and aid to those in need, and then we go and give them a practically unlimited leash on which to roam, which, well, causes problems.
But you know what? All that shit doesn’t mean that the products of their deviance and manipulation don’t actually help actual people, right now.
I know how advertising works. I know that the path to riches in marketing rests upon creating a need and then providing a product or service to fill it. I’m not fucking stupid.
And I’m also not a fucking dupe.
It is possible to simulataneously loathe some of the things a person or group does while not stepping on the toes of millions of people who have actually derived benefit from the services of that person or group.
Because, fucking hell, people, my feet are damn well shattered at this point and you’re working your way up my shin.
So think about it, next time you invoke those millions of people, and those tens of millions of toes, in service to your point about, well, whatever. Our feet are hurting.
*Lindsay brought this up in comments, and I wanted to make it clear, since I really didn’t in the post before this: I’m not criticizing CR’s overall point in the article. I’m not making a point about whether anybody should or shouldn’t use any treatment. What I’m getting at here is a cultural anxiety that I’ve seen in various places; the CR article tried to tap into that anxiety in service of their point, which is why I used it — I struggled with making my point clearly. (See brain fog notice.)
ETA: I wanted to pull this up from comments, because it explains things so beautifully:
Why calling medications “bandages” or “crutches” is considered an insult is pretty bewildering to me. Bandages and crutches are useful, necessary items. I have friends who wouldn’t be able to walk at all without crutches. Bandages can keep you from bleeding to death, or developing an infection while something heals. I was profoundly depressed for better than a decade. Curing that involved a massive change in my thinking habits, which required a good deal of energy and commitment – which logically enough, I couldn’t summon while profoundly depressed. Going on antidepressents was exactly like having a crutch – one that let me walk the marathon I had to cover instead of crawling it with a broken leg.
August 5th, 2008 at 10:29 pm I think that a lot of psychiatric survivors etc. would find all this rather surprising. Traditionally, the concerns surrounding drugs and disabled people have been directed towards the opposite problem: the massive scale on which powerful and dangerous antipsychotics have been administered–often coercively–to the most vulnerable people, and the willingness of doctors, families and society in general to accept this in the pursuit of more easily managed and normal-looking individuals.
Nor has this issue been left behind in some grim 1980s institution. The newer neuroleptics are a staple of care homes, and are currently being prescribed to ever younger children on dubious scientific and ethical grounds, often for utterly frivolous reasons. I agree that there are huge problems with attitudes towards medication and the blurry lines between illness and disability, but it does seem slightly remiss to write about this without mentioning the terrible treatment of children and old, ill, and disabled people who are not in the position to make, let alone defend, informed choices in the first place.
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