Today I was witness to a depressing attitude I’ve encountered before. A person was in pain, and asked the collective for advil. I had aspirin and obliged. She took the dose and instead of immediately leaving for water, held it in her hands for a bit – to wait until she “really” needed it. For her, being in pain isn’t a legitimate reason to take pain medication. It’s crucial to wait until you are in enough pain. Though aspirin is safe, effective, and even all-natural (salicylic acid is derived from willow bark), she stated that she does not like taking drugs.
This viewpoint, though common, and even generally viewed as the morally superior position, is actually harmful. If there is something wrong with taking drugs before you “really need them” (according to what standard?), what conclusion can be drawn about people who take medication of any sort on a regular basis? The idea taken to its logical conclusion would mean a diabetic should deliberately hold off on taking insulin until they’re halfway comatose. The thing about drugs is, if you wait until you “really need them” according to some other person’s metric, you risk damaging yourself. And you pretty much guarantee yourself some unnecessary suffering.
Part of it is that to “just take a pill” is to acknowledge your inescapable biochemical reality. Everything about your existence is structured by – you guessed it – drugs. You ARE drugs. The question is, which drugs will help the pile of drugs that is you function as a more effective pile of drugs. Sometimes it’s a cheeseburger. Sometimes it’s a beta blocker. Always it is vitamin C (blame evolution for the fact that we can’t make our own vitamin C and must resort to the unseemly practice of “just taking a pill” to get our fix. And the worst part is, no one waits until their teeth start falling out so they “really need it.”). In this case, it was aspirin – to make her inescapable biochemical reality less painful to be, for a little while.
The anti-medicine mindset is embraced by the body of non-medical placebo practitioners and practices known colloquially as “alternative medicine.” This worldview rejects the evidence-based approach of figuring out why certain chemicals interact with the pile of chemicals called you, and instead wants to sell you elaborate, expensive, but ultimately inert (at best!) medical theatre. Compared to that silliness, that you can very often take a pill to actually treat illness and pain, above and beyond the placebo effect, is a triumph of the evidence-based approach. Sure I could throw money at a reiki therapist 3 times a week for several years, for no discernible reason and with no measurable improvement in my condition.
Or I could “just take a pill.”