Every day starts with three and a half pills. Well, there’s more than that, because I take vitamins and a few supplements. But on the days when I skip the optional ones, I start the day with three and a half pills. The half pill is smaller than the head of a cotton swab, but it’s part of my dosage so, diligently, I snap one every other morning and save the rest for tomorrow.
My day has started with these meds every day for about seven years. It’s not ideal — more on that later — but it’s better than the alternative, which is untreated anxiety, ADHD and bipolar disorder. It’s better than being up at 1 a.m. vacuuming or fantasizing about walking in front of a bus on the way to work.
Being eternally chained to pharmaceuticals is a challenge. I can’t travel or move or plan without thinking about it. I’ve sometimes had a hard time getting my meds. At least one of my prescriptions needs to be re-written and approved by a doctor every single month, and like, who has a regular doctor anymore? I’ve had to call old providers, go in for blood tests and even undergo physical and mental exams to stay on my meds — to stay on a regimen that works, that doesn’t need to be changed, that just needs to be continued.
When my meds come late in the mail — because a doctor forgot to call me and ask me to come in, again, to give blood for testing — it’s not so bad, but I can tell. I don’t get sick, but I do get spacey and uncoordinated and short-tempered, and it’s just not great. But I think a lot about people who take daily medications that they really can’t skip.
I think about this, too, when people talk about “mental health” and about people who live outside. How whenever someone who is clearly going through something is in public, someone says, “Oh, he must be off his meds.”
I want to make it clear: It’s not hard to go off your meds. Going off your meds is the path of least resistance. It can be impossible to stay on them, even when the alternative is destruction. Even when the alternative is death.
We know that medications can be hugely valuable, but we don’t have the infrastructure to access them. I mean, if I, an employed, housed person, have to fight to get my prescriptions filled, I can’t imagine the difficulty of staying medicated on the streets.
Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer living in Portland.
Read more of the Feb. 1-7, 2023 issue.