The bottle is familiar to everyone. The white cap and orange, see-through body. The name of the drug listed on the label so anyone can deduce, with a quick Google search, what is wrong with who. Complicated names for complicated compounds. I clutch four fingers around the slender body.
I uncap the bottle, crack one tiny white pill in half along a groove, and drop one and a half pills onto my tongue. One gulp of water and they are shooting down my esophagus, ready to be disintegrated into chemicals that do something to my brain I don’t understand. And that’s it for the day. One more thing off my checklist. I shove the bottle back into my drawer and arrange a couple loose papers over its label, just in case.
It’s so easy to down the pill and forget. Sigh with relief and feel as though the act of the taking the pill itself makes me feel better. The placebo effect. I need my pill, I tell myself when I feel anxious. I know it doesn’t take effect that quickly, but at times I can still convince myself. This routine becomes invisible, something as basic as brushing my teeth.
I find solace in the medication being “preventative.” It seems less hasty, less like a drug addict fulfilling a need. Somehow, it seems less a marker of my sickness. I’m not covering anything up, I tell myself. I’m just being smart. Taking a mind-altering medication is something I feel the need to justify, although some people do it for fun.
If the bottles must leave the drawer, I make sure they are shoved deep in my bag, nestled between pants and shirts. I try to reduce the clanging of the pills, but it is bound to happen. When I hear the sound, I feel like everyone knows. Tiny white warning bells. She is on medication, they seem to whisper.
In thirty days I go to the pharmacy for more. Slide the cashier my credit card in exchange for mental stability. Pay the $20 a month for the generic. That is the price of my mental health. Support the faceless pharmaceutical corporation because without the pills, I cannot function normally. Besides, they’re less than the cost of psychotherapy.
My secret is between me and the pharmacist, and whoever else I’ve chosen to tell. I constantly feel as though everyone who knows is judging me, looking at me as though what I have is not a real sickness. My guilt is palpable.
Sometimes I convince myself I am “strong enough” to go off the medication. I begin to believe I don’t have a problem, that maybe by sheer willpower, I can regain power over my emotions. It’s the medication talking. It’s doing more than you realize, a psychiatrist once told me. And strength isn’t the problem. Mental illness isn’t simply a lack of strength. It isn’t a person waking up one day and deciding, hey, today I’m going to be weak and have a mental breakdown.
In the end, I take the medication because I’ve chosen to make something of my life, rather than continue to sit and stare out the window, too tired to move. It’s exhausting to fight your thoughts constantly. It leaves little time for anything else. Inside that orange bottle is a sense of stability, of calm. I don’t know how it works, but I know it does. And I’m trying not to be ashamed of this.