[The illustration features a place mat with an array of breakfast foods and coffee. A pair of arms rests on the mat. One hand is holding a spoon; the other hand is clutching onto a pill bottle.]
I remember the first “crazy pill” that I ever took. I was on vacation in Tennessee, sitting on the edge of one of those generic motel beds with a hideous blanket covered with — what was it? Seashells?
Pill bottle in hand, my mother looked at me with apprehension and said what many folks would say to me for years to come:
“Are you sure about this?”
I nodded, looked her in the eye and without hesitation, I said, “Absolutely.”
In the years that I have been taking psychotropic medications, never for a moment have I regretted my decision. Have I been afraid of what happens in the long term? Sure. Have I contemplated the impact of “big pharma” and my piece in that frightening puzzle? Definitely.
But for me, trying to survive each day trapped within an agonizing depression was not an option. Attempting to end my life again was not an option. Continuing down the path that I was on? Not an option.
When I looked back at my life, I realized I had spent more time struggling than I had spent truly living. And I knew that if something didn’t change, bipolar disorder was going to kill me.
Everyone and their brother has an opinion on my decision to take medication for bipolar and anxiety. But have you tried meditation? What about acupuncture? Have you changed your diet? What about fish oil?
Initially, I entertained them. I explained that I had tried everything that I could, and that medications had been my last resort.
That is, until I realized that I was under no obligation to justify my decision, especially to those who did not understand my struggle.
People who did not know what dissociation was, or what it feels like to be in the midst of a paranoid delusion; people who had never felt anxiety that stripped them of their ability to function in our society; people who had never felt emotional pain that seemed to throb from inside the marrow of their bones.
Complete strangers would badger me, presuming to know what was best for me without actually knowing the relentless, devastating pain that mental illness had put me through. Strangers who thought that they knew better than me, the person who had lived through this for years, what my body needed to heal.
Sometimes, it was well-intentioned. But most of the time, it was coming from a judgmental place.
They may as well have been saying, “I know nothing about mental illness, but I’m going to tell you about this random treatment I read about on the internet because clearly you don’t know what you’re doing.”
And it made me so, so angry.
No, medications were not a “cop out,” they weren’t the “easy way out,” they weren’t a “quick fix” that magically made me happy and high and light. They weren’t easy, they weren’t quick, and they definitely weren’t fun.
Taking medication for my illnesses was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made, and it took incredible courage to make that choice. It was a process that took years — years of side effects, years of false hope, years of judgment, years of doubt — to finally get it right.
But eventually, with the right doctor and with a lot of patience, we did get it right. After four years of being the equivalent of a human guinea pig, my body responded at last and I could begin to do the important work of healing. Combined with therapy, my transition, and self-care, I was able to begin again — this time, completely present and alive, no longer struggling just to keep my head above water.
And you know what? I’m not sorry. I’m not sorry for exercising my bodily autonomy. I’m not sorry for making the choice to take care of myself. I’m not sorry for taking control of my life.
Most of all, I’m not sorry for having the strength to choose life over death. Each day that I swallow these pills, I am reminded of the tenacity it took to keep myself alive, in spite of every fiery and relentless urge to end it all. I did what I needed to do to keep myself alive, and I’ll never apologize for the fact that I’m still here.
To be clear: Meds aren’t right for everyone, and they aren’t accessible for everyone, either. We need to do better not just for folks who take meds, but for those who do not or cannot. We need to protect a person’s right to dictate and choose what’s best for their body, and advocate to make those resources available to them — no matter what they end up deciding.
Ultimately, this is not about medicating every single person with a mental illness. It’s about giving us the power to decide how to heal, be it with medication or otherwise, and defending our right to make that choice without pressure, without shame, and without obstacles that prevent us from exercising those choices.
I am not ashamed of these pills. I am only ashamed to be part of a society that still believes it can dictate what’s right for my body, and what’s right for my community.
Sam Dylan Finch is a queer activist and feminist writer, based in the SF Bay. He is the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, his blog and labor of love. With a passion for impacting change through personal narrative, Sam writes about his struggles and triumphs as genderqueer and bipolar with the hopes of teaching others about his identity and community. When he isn’t writing, he’s probably eating takeout and dancing to Taylor Swift.
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Editor’s Note: The use of the phrase “crazy pills” is not being endorsed as acceptable for mainstream use, but rather, reclaimed in a way that the author finds personally empowering.