By Lene Andersen
Do you resist taking medication for a chronic condition, even though you know it’s essential, maybe even life-saving? That’s not uncommon. Here, I share how I have made peace with the fact that I’ll probably always be on medication, and offer tips on how you can do the same.
Getting diagnosed with a chronic condition often means getting one or more prescriptions for medication. Whereas the diagnosis may have given you a sense of relief to have some answers, most of us reflexively balk at the thought of taking medication for the rest of our lives. We still want to see ourselves as healthy, and taking medication doesn’t seem like something “healthy” people do.
How I learned to (almost) love my meds
I’ve had severe juvenile idiopathic arthritis since I was four years old. I grew up at a time when there were no treatments for this condition. It’s why I started using a power wheelchair as a teenager. You’d think this would automatically make me pro-medication, but that wasn’t the case. I’ve done my share of resisting, delaying and twisting myself into pretzel shapes to avoid the drugs. Then things got very, very bad 12 years ago and I surrendered, accepting some pretty powerful medication. And it saved my life, both literally and figuratively. These days, I am completely at peace with these meds. Coming to terms with taking medication for your chronic illness involves an honest debate with yourself. Here are four questions to consider.
- What is the real alternative?
Sometimes, making sense of your reluctance
requires digging a bit deeper. You might argue that taking medication that’s made of “chemicals” won’t make you any healthier. But if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll realize that at the cellular level, everything your body does is based in chemistry. Your body doesn’t always work the way it should—medication can make it work better. When you’re considering a particular medication, you need to weigh the pros and cons. This includes taking a close look at the possible consequences of not taking it. For many conditions, the alternatives to taking medication can be quite serious.
- Is it caution or wishful thinking?
When people resist medication it’s often out of a wish to be healthy. Could it be that this isn’t just about being healthy with a chronic illness, but wanting to be cured? The “chronic” part means that this condition is going to be with you for the rest of your life, and that’s a hard pill to swallow (if you’ll excuse the pun). So maybe we resist taking the medication because somehow we hope we can find another way out. We want to be the kind of healthy that doesn’t involve a chronic condition. Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt—it’s a very real stage of adapting to a chronic diagnosis.
- Does medication improve your quality of life?
I’d be lying if I told you that I enjoy taking medication on a daily basis. I don’t. But I do enjoy feeling better and all the things I can do because I take it. I have less pain, more strength, less nausea and more appetite (as is evident from my waistline). I have the energy to write articles and have adventures exploring my city and, most importantly, the energy and ability to be with my family. Without the drugs, none of that would happen. For me, that’s a really big help in making peace with the fact that I take medication every day.
- Does it increase your lifespan?
In some cases, medication might not make you feel better in the short term but will prevent you from feeling worse or extend your life. It can be harder to make peace with your prescription when it doesn’t offer an immediate benefit that you can feel, so remind yourself often of the many reasons you want to live as long as possible—your loved ones, your work, a favourite cause. Recognize that your medication offers you more healthy years with the people and things you love.
Your journey to accepting—even embracing—the meds may look different. Talking to your doctor will give you the medical facts, but I recommend you also do some online research using reputable sources and talk to others in the chronic illness community. This will give you a fuller sense of what life looks like with and without medication. Talk to people in your support circle who you trust and, most importantly, debate with yourself. By all means wish that things were better, but when you make decisions, I recommend facts and honesty. Hope based on truth is far more likely to get you back to living your life.
Lene Andersen writes books about living well with chronic illness, including Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain.
You can follow Lene on her award-winning blog The Seated View. Reprinted with permission from Mango Health.
Five questions to ask about your medications when you see your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist
Have any medications been added, stopped or changed, and why?
What medications do I need to keep taking, and why?
3. Proper Use?
How do I take my medications, and for how long?
Is my medication working, and what side effects do I watch for?
Do I need any tests and when do I book my next visit?
Keep your record up-to-date and remember to include: drug allergies, vitamins, minerals, herbal and natural products you are taking, and all medications including non-prescription products.
Visit safemedicationuse.ca for more information.