Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pop a Pill Culture: The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

I live in a house that was built in the early 1950's. It's one of the "ticky tacky" houses built in response to men returning from war. The houses on my street have the same architecture, right down to a picture window with a view of the front lawn. It's obvious there were two or three models to choose from on my street: some have garages and some don't, some have a maple tree out front and some don't, and so on.

From time to time I think about what it must have been like in the 1950's. Years of fear, anger, and sadness and their affect on families. Women were expected to stop working and stay at home so that veterans could slip back into employment, giving a sense of meaning and validation for the horrific deaths soldiers saw for years on end.

Houses were expected to be impeccably clean. Food preserved and perfect-looking. Striving for childhood and adolescence to be about play and learning instead of factory work and waiting to die in war not long after turning 18. The comfort of perfection and consistency - when someone wakes up in the morning, the safe routine that was established when the war ended will be maintained.

The '50's was also a time of extensive pharmaceutical research. If you plunk "vintage pharmaceutical ads" into a search engine, scans of advertisements promising improved behavior in women, children, and those with psychiatric diagnoses are prominent. You will also find ads promoting weight loss, ending morning sickness, and improving sleep.

There is a history of these claims, but the '50's actually delivered. Though many drugs were pulled off the market, a significant number are still in use today. Generally at lower doses, and not as indiscriminately, thankfully, as taking amphetamines to control pregnancy weight and almost putting someone into respiratory distress just so a "demented person" would shut up is not remotely okay in any universe.

There is concern that people "just pop a pill" to make their problems go away versus "doing work," like exercising, improving interpersonal relationships, and accepting life has it's problems nowadays. Masking life doesn't make it go away, and I agree.

America has decades of receiving the message, "You don't have to suffer." People are not required to grow their own food, fix their own houses, sew their own clothes, spend all childbearing years pregnant just so a few kids make it to adulthood, personally dig the graves of those they love, and whatever else people needed to do for however many thousand years. That level of suffering isn't the norm. I'm not surprised if people have difficulty tolerating things like work stress, parenting, and grieving. We don't always have the opportunity to practice coping skills because our "first world problems" are considered arbitrary, and we do not teach people how to manage life in order to make up for the teaching moments found in days spent simply keeping oneself alive.

That said, we still have poverty, abuse, war, stigma, and death. It comes in the form of days spent navigating poorly-funded social services to get small amounts of food and medical care, face ridicule for looking or experiencing the world in a different way (Well, that's not new), prolonged deaths with the aid of uncomfortable medical procedures, and unequal pay meant to be kept secret from employees. Those issues are usually minimized and blamed on the person affected. There is no reason to suffer - if you are suffering, you are doing something wrong.

Pills don't make suffering go away. They don't make being discharged from hospitals too early because insurance won't pay out any less harmful. They don't make death less tragic. They don't take away shame from doing work considered of little value to society. They don't take away loneliness, sadness, and anger (Unless we're talking near toxic levels of injected Thorazine, in which case you're probably unable to sit up). They don't take away fighting in marriages or mourning the loss of a child to anencephaly. There is question whether or not psychiatric medication for some of life stressors even has an impact on emotion or thinking. For those who experience a benefit, pills at best are a tool to help focus navigating the problems found in Western life.

Whatever the cause of strife, people's feelings matter. They are important. People do the best they can every day. I can't look at someone and dismiss how they feel just because it's not something I've experienced. Yeah, we all have the responsibility to keep ourselves healthy. But it doesn't mean someone has to witness genocide in order to experience emotions that are valid. If the solution is pills, then so be it - that is where they are at in the moment, and that is where we meet them without moral judgment.

(As an aside, people rarely finish their antibiotic prescriptions. Are those accused of the "pop a pill" even taking what they've been prescribed? I haven't bothered to see if there are studies on that. Another day.)

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