Addicted to Medicine

If you feel bad and you expect medicine to fix you, it changes the way you relate to medicine. I don’t mean pills; I mean the capital “M” Medicine. The term used to describe the huge swollen mass of accumulated knowledge and practice that educated folks allude to when they say things like “look at all the amazing advances in Medicine over the past fifty years.” The system. There have been some truly amazing discoveries in medicine through the years; so many in fact, that from a distance we can be deceived into believing medicine has all the answers. That’s too broad a statement, I know, but it’s a reasonable starting point. And it’s a dangerous one. Before you get sick; before something goes wrong beyond upset stomachs, headaches, or broken bones, the average person could be forgiven for believing medicine does have all the answers. Doctors are glorified in our culture. They are upheld as the most intelligent and capable among us. Whether they seek it or not we ascribe a kind of nobility to them. Beyond the individuals themselves, medicine itself is glorified. It’s like we feel a need to celebrate the knowledge of our bodies as if we’ve climbed the highest mountain; we are masters of the heights. But, suffer from an ailment like depression and fall into the hands of medicine, and you’ll learn a harsh truth: doctors are all just practicing medicine; that doesn’t mean they get it right.

Unmet expectations are the source of our greatest frustrations. I entered into the medical system believing treatments existed for every ailment. It was just a matter of time and testing to get to diagnosis and on to treatment. Of course I knew that all treatments didn’t work, and some ailments are terminal, but it never entered my mind that medicine would eventually look at me and shrug it’s shoulders. But that’s what happened, and it took a decade to break me if my addiction to medicine.

I had all the classic traits of an addict. I arranged my life around getting access to my substance – the medical system. I spent tons of money on it. I couldn’t think of changing jobs without accounting for a medical plan that would keep me close to my medicine. I let it abuse me. I showed up for office visits on time only to wait and wait for my “fix”: a visit with a doctor with too many patients and too little time to spare on me. I kept going back to it even when it gave me nothing and sometimes made me worse. I thought about it all the time. I lived for the hope that the next hit would be the one that really made me feel better. I spent hours and hours searching the internet for doctors who had a new way or a deeper understanding of my condition. I gradually came to realize my addiction but I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t believe my Medicine; our Medicine was failing. Just one more time. Just one more hit.

What’s rock bottom for the person addicted to Medicine? When do you give up on it and admit you can’t go on pursuing it? You see the issue. Heroin? Yes. Dope? Sure. Even if you’re addicted to work you can give a good explanation for walking away. But medicine? Try to tell people you’re giving up on medicine and you’ll see the look in their eyes. Crazy.

Is it difficult for you to get into this headspace? Imagine living with no health insurance. No doctor to call your own. How does that sound? How does it feel? Now imagine telling your family and friends you aren’t going to pay for health insurance for you or your family any more. What kind of response do you expect to get? Before you get all squirrelly on me, I’m not saying you need dump health insurance or doctors. It’s just a thought experiment to get you to see that we have a relationship with Medicine that needs to be examined. If you can’t see your life without it, you need to ask why and you need to ask what it is you expect of it. You see? It has the potential to abuse you if you blindly give yourself over to it. And just in case you think I’m excluding them, I feel the same way about “alternative medicine” and “homeopathic medicine” too. All of it. It’s all addictive.

Let’s take a step back from the glorification and addiction and give ourselves permission to get healthy with or without all mighty Medicine. Let’s remember that almost 2000 years of medicine was based, to a large part, upon the color of fluids that drained out of bodies. There were years upon years of practices like “bleeding” performed by all members of the medical community; a practice so unquestionably accepted as “orthodox” and “good medicine” that a doctor who wouldn’t bleed a patient would have been suspected of quackery. Every one of us has the potential to fall into the trap of believing we live in the cultural moment of all moments; that in our time we’ve reached the state of the art; and we know more and better than we ever will. Medicine is not unique in having a short memory for embarrassing episodes. Let’s agree that there are probably things we are doing which will look as foolish as the bell bottom jeans I wore in eighth grade (there are no surviving pictures out there…I hope). If we do this we can free ourselves to look elsewhere for healing while at the same time keeping a healthy relationship with medicine. Give yourself permission to live without medicine. Get separation from it and then decide how you want to relate to it. Maybe you’ll find you don’t need it or maybe you’ll decide to come back to it; hopefully not as your master, but as your servant or your friend.

In closing I’ll remind you again that I’m not writing to people who have a good relationship with medicine or medicines. I’m writing to people who are suffering from depression and anxiety that is either treatment resistant or is not helped very much by “state of the art” medicine. People like me. From my years of reading about this, I believe there are many of us out there. I want to help them. Healing is possible, and we don’t have to put all our hope into medical advances. It’s a big deal to give yourself space to walk away from things that don’t work for you and just breathe. The energy you’ve used on medicine can be used elsewhere. Have courage and hope.