I don’t like taking medications. It’s not that I’m an anti-vaxxer. I believe in science and medicine. I’m up to date on all my vaccines. I get the flu shot. And, I got my COVID vaccine as soon as I was eligible. I always have Advil and Excedrin Migraine on hand, but I rarely take other medication. I will take it, but only if I really need it. Even after my C-section, I was reluctant to take pain medication. In the hospital, the nurse asked me about taking Percocet. I told her I didn’t need it, that I was fine as long as I didn’t move. She said, if you can’t move without it, you need to take it.
When I learned I may have MS, I wanted to start treatment right away. In fact, I started a disease modifying therapy with daily injections before my official diagnosis. Take something to fight MS? To prevent future disability? I’m all about that. But, when it comes to meds that are just to make me feel better, I really struggle.
Every time I meet with my neurologist, she asks about my symptoms. I happily rattle them off, with as much detail as possible. I’m a lawyer. I collect evidence and present it to her, not to complain or seek relief, but to build a case. At first, to figure out what was wrong with me, to get a diagnosis. Then, to analyze any progression, what testing needed to be done, and to evaluate the efficacy of my treatment. Every time, she would suggest a medication. Fatigued? I can prescribe you something for that. Muscle spasms? I can prescribe you something for that. Every time, I would say, no, I’m fine, it’s not that bad.
Yes, I was tired. A lot. But, I could function. I went to work every day. I got things done. I mean, I would be tired and lay down after work. I wouldn’t do the dishes or laundry. Sometimes on the weekend I was too tired to go out or run errands. But, I was fine. I could rest and watch TV.
I had muscle spasms and spasticity. My legs were stiff when I walked. Sometimes, when it was bad or I sat for a long time, I had a slight limp. But, I could walk. I could do what I needed to do. I mean, I might not go for a long walk or hike like before, but it wasn’t a big deal. Later, I had muscle spasms in my back and ribs. It didn’t hurt. I mean, sometimes it was sore and my back ached. But, I wasn’t in pain. So, why would I take medication?
Plus, I was on MS forums. I read other people’s stories. Some people literally can’t walk. Some people are in a lot of pain. Some people cannot work. Those people needed medication. I was fine.
I did this for months. Trying diet, exercise, vitamins, and, mostly, avoiding things. Avoiding long walks, chores, activities. Then, at one of my many appointments with my neurologist, talking about my symptoms, she again asked if I wanted a muscle relaxer. My first instinct was to decline. It’s not that bad. But, then I thought, maybe I should just try it?? I asked some questions. Can I drive? Will it make me sleepy? Do I have to take it every day? I decided to give it a try.
You know what? It freaking helped. At first, it made me a little sleepy. But, I got used to it. It wasn’t a dramatic change, but it just took away this constant, annoying distraction. Less back aches, less trouble walking. All of which made it easier to focus and get things done.
Even after I started taking muscle relaxers, and knew that it helped, I still felt guilty. Like, I should only take them when it was a really bad day. When my back was really sore, my ribs were being squeezed extra tight, or my legs were too stiff to walk normally. Not every day.
I eventually decided to try medication for fatigue as well. Same experience. One night I was exhausted and didn’t think I could get off the couch until bed, which is not an unusual experience with MS. I hadn’t cooked and there were dishes and laundry to do, but I physically just couldn’t do it. That’s okay, I told myself. I’ll eat whatever. I won’t do the dishes or laundry. I’ll just lay here and let my son watch TV. Or, maybe, I should try one of those pills? So, I did. And, then I cooked, loaded the dishwasher, and did a load of laundry. It didn’t feel like a surge of energy or a caffeine rush, it just lifted the weighted blanket of exhaustion covering me so that I could do life.
I’ve become more comfortable taking medication, but I still struggle with it. The muscle relaxer I’m prescribed says to take 2-3 pills a day, as needed. I take one most days, sometimes none, sometimes two, rarely three. The pills for fatigue say to take 2 daily. I rarely take them. Just last night, after work and writing the first draft of this blog, I was tired and ready to lay on the couch and call it a night. I had some muscle spasms that had been slightly annoying all day. I hadn’t taken any medication all day. And, after writing this, I thought, why am I not taking these pills? I took one of each, tackled a few things off my to-do list, and then watched TV with my son before bed.
I don’t know where this deep-seated need to suffer in silence and avoid medication comes from. Capitalism? Is it the same thing that makes us feel like we should never use a sick day unless we are puking or in the hospital? Is it just me? I don’t think so. I know part of it is not wanting to put stuff in my body that could be harmful if not necessary. But, I think there is also a part of me that feels it is weak. I am strong. I don’t need help. I can get by on my own. And, there is a part that is comparative suffering. My symptoms aren’t that bad. I should be grateful. Medication is for people suffering more than I am.
Yes, I can get through the day without medication. I can work and mom and live with fatigue and muscle spasms. I can. But, why? Why be tired and sore? Why avoid activities? Why deprive my son when I can take a pill that makes it a little bit easier?
And, the fact that I’m even wrestling with this conundrum is a reminder of the privilege that I have.