One pill makes you larger…

Of all the things I’ve gone through this year, the one thing that always freaked me out most was medicine.

I went through a bilateral carpal tunnel surgery in October, leaving me with limited mobility and a great deal of pain. The surgeon prescribed me these pain pills that were enough to turn me into a drooling idiot. Regardless of how much pain I was in, I really tried my best to just gut it out and not take the pills.

“The doctor gave them to you for a reason,” my lovely wife would say in her best exasperated nurse voice. “Take the damned pills.”

I did when I felt I had no other choice, but for the most part, I tried like hell to avoid them.

Near Christmas, the overwhelming pressure of the life chaos I described in “Heroes Often Fail” was persisting to the point of physical and mental maladies. I waited as long as I could before I went to see the doc. She asked a bunch of questions about my mental state, pretty much coming to the conclusion I needed some level of sedation.

I protested vehemently. “I don’t want to be a zombie,” I pleaded.

She assured me that despite what I had heard about these kinds of pills, I’d be OK and I could take them whenever I felt I wanted them to smooth out the stress.

That was my problem. I was worried that I would want to and that I couldn’t stop.

Addiction is a fear of mine for reasons both simple and complex. When you grow up Catholic, the nuns basically train you that everything is a slippery slope that leads directly to hell.

That time you shook your dick twice after peeing? It’s leading to masturbation, illicit sex, prostitution, AIDS and death, in case you were wondering… That time you lied? It’s leading to you violating family trust, hocking the family silver and having to scar your fingerprints with battery acid before you go on the lam, just so’s you know…

The other reason was that addition runs in my family. My great uncle was a pharmacist, on a path to a great life, only to find out he liked prescribing himself stuff more than selling it to other people. He died basically broke and alone. My grandmother fought alcoholism her whole life, holding off the beast at the bridge for her final 25 years, even as she battled cancer to the end. Still, her life was rough until she finally became a friend of Bill W. Others in my family also have similar issues. It’s not an unreasonable thought that something might get a grip on me when I’m not paying attention.

And then there was Saturday…

I’m heading to the store to pick up a prescription for my mother-in-law when I get a text from a former student. The kid is going on 30 now and it’s been years since I had him in a classroom. He dropped out to run a bar, a nice joint I stop in at from time to time, only to leave him hints and tips that, hey, you can always come back and I’ll help you. He worked at the student paper when I was there as well, making him a great colleague as well as a nice kid.

He tells me he’s sorry he’s been out of touch and that he didn’t respond to some help I asked for and that he’s sorry if it’s shitty that he asks for a favor after that, but he’s going to ask anyway… See, his brother just died of a heroin overdose and this kid wants to know how to write an obituary for him because he doesn’t trust anyone else to do it and he is afraid he’s going to screw it up…

I felt like I got throat punched. All I could do was text back stuff like “Are you OK?” and “I’ll send you my notes when I get home.” My mind is reeling about how this guy is dealing with his sibling just dropping dead. The guy apparently was clean for three years, got mixed up in the wrong situation and took a hit.

He died. Game over. That fast.

What messed me up more was that this is the second one of my former students to lose a family member to heroin in the past year or so. A kid I absolutely adored from Mizzou had her brother die after battling the beast for a few years. It was another situation of something getting its hooks into a kid and never really letting go.

Grandma used to tell me that she never could look more than one day ahead when it came to addiction. It wasn’t something you ever “cured” or “reformed” yourself from, to use the parlance of a long-ago, ill-conceived term for addicts on the comeback. As a “make a list, cross shit off” kind of guy, that’s scary as hell. As a control freak, it’s paralyzing.

There is such a pull and tug between how we see medical issues and how we are supposedly supposed to see them. For the longest time, addiction and mental illness were viewed as simply being weak. The reason you couldn’t get off the bottle? You were a pussy who needed man up and dry out and learn how to hold your liquor. The reason you were depressed? You just needed to snap out of it and get your shit together. Look for the positives, man!

These answers are wrong and will always be wrong, as both are linked to actual scientific, chemical concerns. To help the illness, we need to use medicine.

However, it also seems like EVERYTHING has a pill for it. Watching the Super Bowl, we found out that there’s apparently a pill for people who can’t shit because they are on opioids and there’s also a pill for people who shit too much. Apparently, the market for people who can’t form proper turds is blossoming.

Low T, restless leg, toenail fungus, limp dicks, lack of female desire… You got something or don’t got something? We got a pill for that.

And that’s where they tell us that some of these addictions to shit like heroin start. Watch the Real Sports piece on heroin use among athletes and it all comes back to painkillers. It hurt, so we gave them a pill to fix it. Then, the pills didn’t work well enough or were too expensive or ran out so they needed something and then, bam, heroin.

And then they die and we wonder why.

The hard part here is trying to figure out where that normal resting pulse actually sits for me. Is it normal to be depressed? Sometimes, maybe, but if it gets too bad, and I’m creating a problem for other people and can’t snap out of it, shouldn’t I try to get that fixed? OK, so what happens when I can’t function without that pill? Or it stops working and I need more of it? How much is too much? How will I know? At least with booze, the vomiting for me is a pretty good red flag that shit went wrong. Same thing with pain. How much is acceptable and how much can I take of whatever it is until I’m actually doing more harm than good?

The state of Wisconsin started an anti-heroin campaign called “The Fly Effect” that talked about how you take the one shot and you’re pretty much screwed. (I’d link to the site, but for reasons past my understanding, it doesn’t exist anymore as it once did. Maybe another budget cut…) So, understanding that a) taking something might be a one-way ticket to addiction, b) things that doctors gave us we once thought were safe can lead you on the nature trail to hell and c) I generally have constant anxiety about losing everything, it’s a pretty bad idea for me to trust that a chemical can solve a problem for me without creating another problem.

How the hell do you deal with the anxiety you’re facing over your anti-anxiety medication?

Maybe there’s a pill for that. Hopefully, it’s non-habit-forming.

6 thoughts on “One pill makes you larger…

  1. I take Norco for my osteoarthritic knees.
    I limit my use to two pills, on Saturday and Sunday mornings. I get a five-hour vacation from pain, two days a week, with five days between. (apparently as a street drug, people take four to six at one time)
    I’ve been on the same self-imposed restriction for almost two decades. If I miss a day, I just walk funny. No big deal.
    Sure, it would feel great to not hurt ALL of the time, and not just for two mornings each week.
    But I know better. I know that at some point, you quit taking the pill and the pill starts taking YOU.
    Just my personal experience.

  2. Last summer I had a minor accident pruning a tree that resulted in stitches, and a prescription for Vicodin. I’ll admit: damn, they were good. Didn’t knock me for a loop or anything like that, but made me feel about 20 years younger. To be honest, they did more for the nagging aches and pains of middle age than any pain associated with the stitches.

    Would I take them again? Hmmm…yeah, probably. But I’m hopefully a little too old to gobble them down like candy. The last few in the bottle were strictly taken on weekend days when I was dealing with physical labor/chores…particularly the pruning/removal of the tree that started it all in the first place.

    1. “To be honest, they did more for the nagging aches and pains of middle age than any pain associated with the stitches. ”

      This (substitute cranky old age).

  3. I always tell people when they jaw on about not needing anti-depressants to make them “happy” that anti-depressants don’t make you happy. They make you sane. And I sincerely hope for their sakes that they never learn the difference.

    Mental illness is an ASSHOLE. It lies to you. It says things to you like, “You just won this award and you will probably never win another one because you’re such a loser.” It says, “All your friends who just came to your birthday party only did so because they felt obligated.” It says, “You don’t need to eat or sleep because those things are for people who accomplish more than you, you lazy berk.”

    It says, at 3 a.m., as you rock your perfect newborn daughter in your arms, that you should put her down in her crib and get your things and leave her, leave her and your loving husband, right now, before you make a mess of this because that’s all you ever do.

    And if you somehow manage, with the incredible support of everyone around you, to stand up and tell it to SHUT THE FUCK UP and you wrestle it back into its stupid little box with medication and therapy and a hundred other things, a year and a half later it will slither out again and open up its yap.

    It will tell you that your phenomenally successful husband doesn’t really want you anymore because he deserves somebody richer and smarter and thinner and prettier and much, much nicer to him.

    It will tell you that your beautiful, brave, funny daughter is starting to notice that you aren’t quite right in the head, that she cries or throws tantrums because she’s unhappy being around you, that she would rather be with her nanny or her dad or her grandparents or anyone but you.

    It will tell you you shouldn’t sleep, or eat. It will tell you you should stop taking those pills that saved your life 13 years ago, because they’re not doing you any good anymore.

    You’re gonna get pretty close to the edge this time, and it will tell you lie after lie after lie about how easy it would be to just cross the center line on the freeway one night.

    And one more goddamn time, you are going to have to stomp and kick and punch it until it is small enough to fit back in the box again. One more time you are going to have to take your damn pills, and call your damn therapist, and go back to the gym, and you are going to bungee that box shut and shove it in the darkest corner of the darkest closet you have and yell THIS TIME FUCKING STAY THERE.

    But it will whisper to you, still. It’s always lying, but sometimes you still listen.


  4. i too try an avoid better living thru chemistry. i got a monster sliver from a old wood floor & fuzzy pink socks. too big to pull out by hand. needed the ER. i got a vicodin script just after favre had his issue in the news. foot WITH splinter excruciating. my foot hurt only a little once it was out. my bare footing must of helped. no stitches. i don’t even think i needed a tylenol.

Comments are closed.