Today I am going to discuss a topic that I think EVERY Chronic person has dealt with in some way, shape, or form. It is the judgment we get from people in our lives in regards to the medication we take.
I wonderful reader posed a question to me. She asked :
How do you make your friends, family and Significant Other understand that just because you have to take meds to feel better that your not a drug addict? … taking a T-3 or Flexeril helps with spasms and pain and necessary to get through your day…
Haven’t we all dealt with this? Although generally speaking friends and family mean well, and USUALLY have our best interest at heart, sometimes when they do NOT have a good grasp on our illness as well as our treatment options. It is very easy for them to judge how we get through our days. If not addressed, these issues can cause divorce, loss of friendship, painful judgment, and ultimately it can cause us more pain – both physically and emotionally.
First, let me say that I have been horribly judged in this way. I understand the frustration when someone looks at you side-ways and says “Didn’t you just take a pill not long ago?” or “Have you ever seen that show Intervention? There are people on that show that have ruined their lives taking that drug you are on!”. I have had people in my life talk behind my back about the medication I take, but not have the courage to talk to ME personally. I have lost friends and loved ones through my illness for many reasons, but lack of understanding has been the biggest one. So I really understand what that feels like! I don’t know ALL of the answers, but I can share my experiences in hopes that it might help.
YOU CAN TEACH OTHERS HOW TO TREAT YOU
What do I mean by this? By our actions, our REACTIONS, and our behavior, people learn what our personal boundaries are. One of my favorite quotes of all time is:
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Before I became ill, I had a completely different set of personal boundaries than I do now… Come to think of it I really didn’t have ANY boundaries, and I allowed people to treat me poorly in more than a few situations. I think I had a different level of respect for myself, and when you don’t ultimately show yourself respect, others won’t either. Becoming ill changed EVERYTHING for me, and most of it was very positive…. At the time it didn’t feel that way, and it has been a HARD journey, but I am so much happier with who I am now.
This is what I have learned:
1) If you REACT defensively to others, people will REACT to you…. There is a BIG difference between ACTION and REACTION. When someone says to you “Why are you taking that pill?”, if you REACT defensively than people ASSUME that you are doing something that you shouldn’t. When I ask my 8-year old son “Honey, what was that crashing noise coming from your room?” he automatically gets on the defensive and REACTS… It could be as innocent as the cat knocking over his lamp, but if he is reactionary, I am going to assume there is guilt involved.
2) If YOU do not give yourself permission first, you won’t get permission from others…. Not that you need anyone’s permission to take medication as part of your treatment plan for a chronic illness, but as humans we tend to want to have validation that what we are doing is okay. Do YOU feel guilty about taking your medication? I SURE DID! And I STILL struggle with that sometimes. It isn’t easy resigning yourself to the fact that you need narcotics or strong meds to get through your day. We want to be STRONGER than that, we don’t want to rely on anything other than our fortitude to deal with our pain…. but that isn’t possible for us. If you feel guilty about taking pharmaceuticals than I would speak to your Doctor about this, as well as start a journal and write all your feelings down. It really helps to purge them!
STICK TO THE FACTS
I have said before in a earlier post that it would be crazy for a diabetic to feel ashamed of taking insulin, and people would not judge a cancer patient for receiving chemotherapy as part of their treatment, so why is it that we have mixed feelings about the drugs we are on? We have legitimate illnesses that require medical intervention. At times it is easy to mix emotion with fact when you deal with pain everyday, and you feel as if that pain is impacting the people in your life. Our pain is a very emotional thing for us…. it is emotional for the people in our lives that care about us as well…. but sometimes when people get swept up in emotion, they don’t give enough credence to the FACTS!
1) If your medical team thought you had dependency issues, they would NOT be prescribing certain medications to you! The last time I checked people didn’t get addicted to Chemotherapy, Insulin, or blood pressure medication. I understand that some of the medications we take have certain risks to them, but when you are dealing with severe pain doctors always balance risk vs. reward. This means that your physician thinks about things such as tolerance and weighs out whether or not that it is acceptable medically or not because of the pain you are in.
2) If your spouse, parent, or loved one is having a hard time accepting or understanding this, AGAIN you should speak to your Doctor. Maybe inviting your ‘support’ person to take part in your medical appointments would be beneficial for the BOTH of you. Maybe supplying medical FACTS on your illness, your treatment, and your medication would help. Try to take the emotion OUT and replace it with FACT. Encourage your loved ones to educate themselves. I have found that a lot of judgment we receive from others is based on FEAR (a disabling emotion). Since knowledge can often dispel fear, and in turn it can eradicate judgment, it is worth taking the time to educate others about your illness. Include the people who really mean a lot to you in your treatment plan.
ULTIMATELY YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOURSELF
I just spoke with my honey in regards to this topic, as he knows better than anyone what it is like to be a spouse of a chronic pain patient. I am very lucky to have someone in my life that truly understands…. but I wasn’t always in this place. I was married for 10 years, and subsequently divorced. It was insanely painful to feel like I had to explain and then defend myself every day. I encouraged my ex-husband to seek counselling and speak to his Doctor about the situation we found ourselves in… We had a very small child at home at the time, and I was so ill I couldn’t get out of bed for over a year. It was all so overwhelming to me that I couldn’t help someone else through it – I was BARELY getting through it myself!! Can you believe that I was on over 40 medications before I got a diagnosis? I was in and out of the hospital…. I had 2 surgical procedures….. I was so horribly depressed that I thought about ending my life. I felt like I was a burden to everyone in my life. My Dad ended up retiring early JUST so he could take me to all of my medical appointments because I wasn’t mobile (THANKS DAD! You are my hero!!). My Mom was taking time off work regularly, and held my hand for 14 hours at a time in emergency rooms all over this city (MOM YOU HAVE BEEN MY ROCK!)… I had nothing left to give anyone else, I didn’t have enough to even give myself. The old adage that you don’t have anything if you don’t have your health rang so true for me…. I lost my health, and then I started to lose everything else in my life.
1) PLEASE understand that your biggest responsibility is TO and FOR YOURSELF! You have a responsibility TO yourself to live as comfortable and as well as you possibly can. If that means modifying your life, taking medication, or cutting out toxic people in your life then that is what you have to do. It isn’t easy, and I won’t for a minute suggest it is! But the pain that others can cause in your life if they are toxic only compounds the pain we already live with. Ultimately you cannot CHANGE anyone other than yourself. You cannot MAKE someone GET IT… You cannot force someone to support you.
2) If you find that there is someone in your life who truly just doesn’t GET IT, you need to see the situation as it is, and not persecute YOURSELF for that. It isn’t YOUR fault. You are NOT the perpetrator, you are a victim of your illness. You do NOT need to make apologies for yourself.
3) Love them anyway…. This is truly hard in some situations. You are ALLOWED to let go of people who shouldn’t be in your life. The people who SHOULD be in your life that treat you with love and respect BUT struggle to understand your illness EVEN after many attempts to make them understand need to be accepted for their differences as much as you would like to be accepted for yours. This is what I call “letting go with love”. There are people in your life that you just can’t dump! If it’s your Mom for example, she doesn’t just STOP being your mother just because she doesn’t understand your pain. She loves you and probably HATES to see you suffer! Her comments and the way she postures towards you, is probably her way of protecting herself from your pain. Love her anyway…. it doesn’t mean you have to have an unhealthy relationship with her! You can lovingly tell her that her comments about the medication you take hurts your feelings and you would rather not talk about it… You can ask her to respect you enough to NOT say things that cause hurt feelings, and leave it at that. NOT EVERYONE will be your GO TO friend… NOT EVERYONE will UNDERSTAND….. NOT EVERYONE will give you the support you want…. and although it can be hurtful, it is OKAY. Ultimately we need to do what is best for us, and we don’t have to prove that to anyone.
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH LIKE-MINDED PEOPLE
This has helped me more than just about anything, and if you are reading this post, and you are in chronic pain and taking medications to treat it, you have already FOUND a like-minded person! 😉
Seek out support in the chronic pain community, and UTILIZE IT!! Lean on people who deal with the same things you do…. Make new friends in this tight-knit community…. Talk to others about how you feel misunderstood… There is nothing more validating than to hear “I totally understand!”. It might not change your frustrations, your fears, or your hurt feelings – BUT it absolutely confirms that you are not alone, and you do NOT have to walk this road alone!
WE ARE ALL HERE TO SUPPORT YOU!!!!
Here are some links that you might find useful on this topic:
Link to The Spoon theory (great analogy of living with chronic pain, which might be useful to help others understand!)