When I was little, I took pills when I was sick, and then there would be an end to the pills, just as there was an end to the infection, the flu, the pink eye. The prescriptions didn’t refill. This is many people’s first experience with medication. It follows, then, that we’d associate taking pills with not being healthy, and being healthy with not needing pills. At least I did.
Two years ago, I went from taking no pills to taking four pills a day in a short period of time. While I logically understood I needed the meds—for depression, for HIV prevention, to keep my hair—they still posed an existential threat every morning. My groggy head would see my handful of pills and think, Damn, how sick am I?
When I was prescribed the fourth pill, I sought out a pill organizer with S, M, T, W, T, F, S printed large across the compartments and placed it gingerly aside my sunscreen. Inexplicably, this cheered me. For two weeks, I filled the seven compartments on Sunday evenings like a wise self-care fairy, a little thrilled by my ability to buy something to ease my transition, like fresh pencils in September. So simple!
Soon, though, the novelty wore off. I started forgetting to fill my case, or letting my prescriptions run out. For a while I had all four running out at different times, bringing me to the pharmacy once a week. All of it was exhausting.
Waking up on the Wrong Side of Your Head
It wasn’t the pills’ fault, really. My mornings are chaotic because my sleep cycle is chaotic. There is no typical morning for a depressed person. I have alarms blaring, I’m melatonin-hungover, I need energy drinks. I get sucked into Twitter or a phone game or fall asleep again. I spend too much time getting dressed. I sink into a self-hate whirlpool then slowly ease myself out. I have new, blue mascara to apply. These steps sound trivial because they are, but they’re also genuine grasps at the notion of “Feeling Good,” which I have covered in proverbial claw marks but never quite held onto. Of course my pills became a burden. I couldn’t be trusted with routine. Or so I thought.
Then I put jelly beans in my pill case.
It began as dramatic acting out—I was cranky and pissed and convinced myself that no person had ever taken more pills than me (even though many of my friends had been for years with, I assumed, endless grace). I swallowed my four, chased them with an energy drink, then downed a handful of nearby peanut m&ms and a tic tac. I took a single ibuprofen that I didn’t even need—just really unbridled shit, ya know?
Looking for more pill-shaped props, I found some jelly beans and began adding them to each compartment of my organizer like a harried pill monger. There! Now I had even more oblong depression beans to eat in the morning. That would show… me? I closed the pill container and began schlepping my infinite burden out and downhill to work.
When I got home that evening and saw my converted pill case x candy dish, I laughed at my sidelong protest. I believe my words were, “Wow, bitch.” And then the colors caught my eye.
Before, my #PillPalette had been nice and desert-y (“The Sedona,” I called it). But it was still decidedly medical-looking. Serious-looking. The jelly beans added lemon lime, safety orange, Easter tie-dye, and other obviously synthetic and joyful colors. They looked absurd. Silly. And I really needed some silly.
The next morning, I was a tornado again. It was Wednesday, but when I hovered over the “W” compartment of my pill case, it was empty. Had I taken my pills already and forgotten? Or had I fucked up my dosing? I spiraled for minutes, wondering if I should risk double-dosing, certain this was more evidence I was a fuck-up. Then I tasted key lime pie on my tongue—key-lime pie!—and realized I’d already had my meds that morning, along with the jelly beans in their compartment. Realizing that I was not a fuck-up but, instead, very on top of things, was alarming. But I handled it with aplomb.
“Self-care” has been co-opted by Big Beauty to make us think getting wine-drunk and exfoliating every other night will make us terrifyingly beautiful magazine execs. But that only works, like, once a month. Two lines from Daniel Mallory Ortberg’s all-caps listicle “WHY ARE YOU LONELY: A TEXT GAME” often run through my head:
“-WATCHED NETFLIX FOR SEVEN HOURS INSTEAD OF SLEEPING BECAUSE YOU HAVE ONCE AGAIN MISTAKEN INERTIA FOR REST”
“-CONFUSED ‘SELF-CARE’ WITH ‘SELF-INDULGENCE’ AGAIN; YOU ARE INCAPABLE OF EXPERIENCING GENUINE REFRESHMENT OR RESTORATION BUT YOU DO SPEND A LOT OF MONEY AT NAIL SALONS”
I’m learning that real self-care, for me, is about coloring outside the lines to create a routine that sustains my health and wellbeing. One that feels flexible enough to work for me, clear enough to be held firm, and weird enough to make me laugh. Implementing my own system of rules, rewards, and silliness has made my forms of self-care feel as empowering as I know they are.
Months later, I’m still adding weird shit to my pill box: a starburst, a sticker or two, uncountable jelly beans. I used to be afraid of my pills because their prescriptions didn’t end. I don’t know if the depression will wane or my sex life will become more predictable. I will likely be taking pills every day for the rest of my life. It’s taken a while for that to sink in, but I know now that I can’t be afraid of medication. I can’t deprive my current self of what I need simply because my past selves didn’t need it. And I won’t, even if I have to be unconventional to get there.
If you are grappling with depression, you aren’t alone, even if your brain tells you that you are. There are a lot of resources to help you out. My favorite is the therapist search engine on PsychologyToday.com. You can filter by your insurance type and specialty. You can also call 1-866-306-8458, a free and anonymous depression hotline, and talk to stranger whom you never, ever have to speak to again. I would also personally recommend reading young adult novels, selecting one stupid phone game to fall in love with (I hear Two Dots is very good), and taking some kind of weekly yoga or dance class that’s close to your house and makes you move a little. But those are just things that help me and a few of my friends along—we are all different. Take care of yourself. We need you.
Graphics by Coco Lashar.