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EAT UR DAMN PILLS BITCH!

Ask the Bitches: Ugh, How Do I Build the Habit of Taking Meds?

Hey Bitches, Patreon supporter here! Friday I had my very first physical, which was covered by my insurance. I told my new doctor about starting back up on antidepressants to save me a visit/copay. He gave me a script based on the ones I tried before, plus Zoloft has been around long enough it’s super cheap instead of the couple hundred/month my last one was to start. The doc also agreed gardening would help with the depression. Any produce growing tips or motivation to make sure I actually stick to my meds this time instead of ditching after a few weeks?

Welcome, beautiful and vibrant Patreon donor! Congratulations on wisely using the low- and no-cost preventative healthcare insurance affords you. And thank you for this extremely relatable question!

Before I get too deep into this, I want to remind y’all that I am not a medical professional of any kind. I’m not even a financial professional. No—I am a self-important PowerPoint jockey who came this close to opening this site under a .net address! If you’re torn between listening to yourself, listening to your doctor, and listening to a random bossy Internet nobody, choose the bossy Internet nobody last, okay?

I’ve never personally been on antidepressants. So my direct experience here is somewhat limited. (Any depressive periods I’ve had in the past have been solved by irresponsibly ignoring the problem while feverishly spending all of my spoons trying to convince the people around me that everything is juuuuuust fine until suddenly, one day, it is. Don’t be like me. I’m trying to change.)

HOWEVER! I certainly know the joys of going on and coming off of meds.

O! The joie of hormonal fluctuations!

For various reasons not related to the desire to become pregnant, I’ve been on and off of birth control pills over the past few years. And lord, what a trip that has been.

Birth control is pretty damn weird. It’s a well-established drug. Millions of people take it. It’s not thought of as particularly volatile or significantly mood-altering. Some people feel no side effects at all. And yet… let’s go to the tape.

Kitty’s thoughts restarting birth control:

    • “Thank goodness for the overwhelming feeling that my body is hideous and disgusting—this sudden wave of self hatred is the helpful alarm clock announcing my period is starting soon!”
    • “Gosh, I can’t believe that guy cut me off in traffic! I’m gonna find out where his ancestors are buried, dig them up, and pose them humping each other on his front lawn.”
    • “Whither my dear friend Jawline Acne? O’er the purple moors? Beyond the mountain made of glass?”
    • “Now seems like a fine time to lay on the couch and stare at the ceiling until I muster the strength to attempt the impossible: move the laundry from the washer to the dryer.”
    • “Google, is this amount of period blood a ‘go to the ER’ sitch or…?”

Kitty’s thoughts coming down off of birth control:

    • “If somebody doesn’t bring me the puffy kind of Cheetos within the next nine minutes, the precious life my confused body is convinced I’m nurturing will NEVER GET INTO HARVARD.”
    • “I am actually kind of sure that if I concentrated hard enough, I could just Code Geass people.”
    • “I can’t believe how attractive I am. Oops, lil’ blood on the pillow from that painfully massive zit rupturing in the night. Anyway, regarding my undeniable sexiness, which rages around all of us like a wildfire—”
    • “I should probably sign up for skydiving now. Like, RIGHT now.”
    • “Google, can I get so horny I die?”

Blister packs giving me blisters, hack. (Waht.)

… So, letter writer, I feel you. I know exactly why someone would really want to start, but also really want to stop taking medication.

I’m going to assume that anyone who wants to start or stop a medication has thoroughly weighed their options, considered their best interests, and gotten their doctor’s blessing. I know that the awesome members of Bitch Nation will join me in this assumption! And none of you will leave judgmental, concern-troll-y comments about people’s medical shit.

So here are some strategies for sticking with any kinda meds!

Practical considerations

Make it a habit

Make it part of your routine. Leave your pills by your bedside if you take them when going to bed, or by your toothbrush if you take them in the morning. Leave a few extra in your purse, laptop bag, or car in case you get to work and realize you forgot. (But be cautious if your medication is something people might like to steal or abuse.)

Set an alarm

If you’re really forgetful, set a recurring alarm with an encouraging label. Like:

time to take care of yourself <3

… or, if you are me:

EAT UR DAMN PILLS BITCH

Organize your pills

Don’t get off track wondering if you did or didn’t take one. Blister packs make it easy. If your medication doesn’t come in blister packs, get a pill sorter. Cheap ones are for sale in any pharmacy. There are also shockingly cute handmade ones on Etsy. God, what did we do before Etsy?

Pick them up at an easy location

It’s really dang easy to get off-track with meds when you have to go pick them up frequently. Use a pharmacy that’s very close to your home, work, or regular traveling route.

Get them delivered

Ask your doctor if you can get them prescribed in large quantities, or delivered directly to you on a regular schedule. Some insurance companies will actually give you a discount for doing this!

Get reminders

A surprising number (20-30%) of filled prescriptions never get picked up. Most big chain pharmacies offer opt-in automatic reminders. I get a text whenever my pills are ready—and nudges when I forget. If you use a small local pharmacy (good for you), ask them to call you if you fail to pick up. This is how they remind you:

Make them easy to swallow

Some meds are tiny, but others would choke a horse. Who likes swallowing pills when they actively cause discomfort? A full 40% of American adults struggle to do it!

You have a few options here. Try swallowing them a different way. Ask your pharmacist if it’s cool to cut the pills, or crush them up, or dissolve them into water. (Any of these could change its efficacy, so definitely ask.) Mostly, practice makes perfect. The hurdle is more often psychological than physical, as we’re so used to chewing hard things and swallowing soft things.

Reward yourself

I knew someone who kept her pills next to a glass bowl of little individually wrapped dark chocolates. Never missed a dose a day in her life since she started that rewarding ritual!

Emotional considerations

Write down why you want to restart your meds

Specificity and honesty are your friends. “Eh, because I guess I should” isn’t going to keep you motivated when side effects crop up and life gets in the way.

What feelings are you feeling? Why do you want to change those feelings? What are the symptoms you most urgently want to address? Which ones could you compromise on? Write it all down, and put it somewhere you can see it. Let those goals light your way.

Research why people stop taking meds

There are many reasons people stop taking medications. People stop because…

    • Their symptoms abate and they feel better.
    • The meds are too expensive to keep using, or they lose health insurance.
    • Depression, learning disorders, and other conditions make it hard to follow through on things.
    • The new medication interferes with an old one.
    • They don’t totally trust their doctor’s opinion.
    • Complex feelings about dependency make them reluctant to continue.
    • Unacceptable side effects crop up.
    • They forget or lose steam.

There are just a few. You can probably glance down this list and see which ones might be a problem for you. You’ll be more prepared if you’ve considered the most likely possibilities before you start.

Determine what will make you stop taking your meds

I was once on a birth control pill that gave me powerful flashes of anger. They’d roar up, completely out of the blue. I punched my steering wheel in a rage over normal traffic inconveniences. I threw a pencil cup across my apartment in front of my roommates. It was completely out of character, and absolutely unacceptable to me. I tossed them. If I’d stuck with the pills, it’s pretty likely that eventually my hormonal swings would’ve leveled off—but I was not willing to be violently angry, without warning, for no reason.

You can decide now which side effects are deal breakers. “If these pills make me think about hurting myself, I will stop taking them (and call my doctor immediately).” “If I develop insomnia to the point I can’t drive safely, I will stop taking them (and call my doctor immediately).” Good reasons! Embrace them.

It will also put crappy reasons into perspective. “If I have a weird benign rash on one elbow, that is not enough for me to stop. If it’s raining and I’m tired and I don’t wanna go to the pharmacy, that is not enough for me to stop.”

Side effects may vary.

Track your symptoms

Because of how our little primate brains are constructed, we don’t always notice slow and steady positive changes. We also construct patterns based on way too few data points. That’s why keeping a journal can really help.

My husband has fibromyalgia—specifically, the kind of fibromyalgia diagnosis that means, “We believe you, but this big team of specialists can’t figure out why you’re in pain, so shrug, fibromyalgia?” For a while, he kept a symptom diary to help track everything. I think it gave him a lot of clarity over which techniques helped, and which weren’t worth the effort.

You may look back and notice your bad days were the same days you also drank alcohol, or ate too little, or had interrupted sleep. That’s crucial information for getting more betterer wellness overall.

Find an accountability buddy

Taking meds can be like any other goal. If you have a partner, friend, or family member who’s also trying to make any kind of positive life change, ask them to team up with you. Check in with each other and encourage each other to keep going.

If you want the anonymity of a crowd, there are lots of social media groups that are focused on wellness. If you’d prefer total privacy, there are lots of apps that let you plug in continuation goals.

Give it time

Meds take time. This ain’t Tylenol—you can’t necessarily pop one and feel better within half an hour. If can take weeks or months for your body to fully adjust.

If you stop two weeks into an eight week adjustment period, you’ll experience the full force of crappy side effects with absolutely none of the benefits.

It’s really tempting to stop when you don’t get instant satisfaction. If you know you’ll be tempted to quit, work with your doctor to set a deadline. “I’ll try this for six months. If I look over my journals and really inventory my feelings and I don’t feel marked improvement, we will reconvene and try something else.”

Follow your doctor’s instructions

Just to reiterate: Stopping and starting medications have very serious physical and mental ramifications. Sudden changes can be dangerous. Always, always, always consult with your doctor about medication changes. Did I mention “always”? ALWAYS!

Ugh. Doctors.

Half of all people fail to take their medication as prescribed. If you have friends who talk about splitting pills successfully, or how some other medication combination or ratio worked for them… good for them! Don’t rely on personal anecdotes to guide you. That birth control pill that gave me tremendous flashes of anger is probably somebody else’s perfect, side-effect free contraceptive solution. Every human body is unique, and you deserve professional guidance.

Quick and dirty gardening tips

Oh, did you think we were gonna stop with meds? Heck no. You are a Patreon donor. We would crown ourselves with shame for not answering both aspects of your question.

Gardening is so freaking awesome for anxiety and depression. Both Bitches do it. And you don’t know real friendship until you’re feverishly texting blurry graph paper drawings of garden plot plans, discussing trellis strategies.

We’re thrilled you’re giving it a try. These are my very best tips for beginners:

    • Start with easy stuff. Put a dang scallion in the ground, it’s a scallion again. A cherry tomato plant is pretty hard to fuck up. A rosebush is nowhere near as finicky as you’d expect; those fuckers don’t quit.
    • Try a mix of growing from seeds and getting starter plants. Growing from seeds is way harder, and they will probably die, but you will learn a lot.
    • Where you plant the plant determines about half of your odds of success. Willpower doesn’t make a shady spot sunny, or a dry spot moist. Believe me, I’ve tested it extensively.
    • Kill your darlings. This is great advice for gardeners as well as writers. If you plant a row of carrots and they sprout, you’ll pull 95% of the sprouts right back out of the ground to give adequate space to the others. If you plant a lilac bush, you’ll cut half the branches off when you prune it. It feels counterproductive, and vaguely mean. But that’s life.
    • Sing to your plants. Piggy swears it works. She also swears the tomatoes prefer the blues while the root vegetables like Beyoncé. She also just swears a lot… but not around her garden.
    • You are the garden. This is the ultimate secret of gardening, and I am telling it to you too soon, but I can’t stop myself. Every plant in your garden is ephemeral. It’s the knowledge and skills and satisfaction and inner peace that endures. If the plants die, they die; if they thrive, they thrive. Either way, it doesn’t matter. You tended yourself.

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7 thoughts to “Ask the Bitches: Ugh, How Do I Build the Habit of Taking Meds?”

  1. Wow, that Nickelback video took me back to 2001 instantly… who knew I knew all the words to that song? Anyway, great post. I’m in as a Patreon donor! Thank you, bitches, for the always entertaining posts.

  2. RE: Med-taking, if you like apps, auto reminders, and getting rewards for taking your meds, check out Mango Health! It’s a free app that lets you input all the meds you take (super helpful if you take multiple) and set reminder times for each of them. It will send you a notification on your phone when your meds are due, and a reminder 10 minutes later if you still haven’t marked them as taken. Taking your meds on time earns you points that give you entries into drawings to get gift cards! (Also great for people like me who find earning points and leveling up very rewarding.) It doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s free so I recommend giving it a shot.

  3. While not strictly “meds” per se, I started taking vitamins again and confronted the “how do I make sure I’m taking them regularly” question. For me the habit is triggered by another already ingrained habit. So, every night after I brush my teeth, I take my vitamins. I always brush my teeth at night — so that is an easy trigger (even when traveling). I also added a version of the “reward yourself” technique described above in that they are in a special container already put together by dose — and right by my toothbrush in its whale holder. (….Whale, hello there!) Geeky, goofy — but working.

  4. Ummm… use BoosterBuddy please. It’s an app that is specifically for mental health problems, it’s free, and it reminds you to take your meds in a friendly way and complete tiny daily challenges to earn “coins” to dress up a tiny furry friend. It sounds weird and childish, but it works so well, and is really uplifting and helpful. Also I’m trying to start a garden, and I’m trying to learn more about that kinda stuff, and so far I think that I need to compost and use better containers… but I’m learning, so there’s that. Hopefully my herb garden will grow to its full beauty. Also like Kitty said, try and regrow old food as plants, it really does work. And it’s easy!! That is all.

  5. Just going to throw this out there – my friend was on meds for rheumatoid arthritis, but also suffers from Crohns. After a year of being on the RA meds, he decided to go off them, because “I’m still in a lot of pain and suffering” – but after going off them – all his RA symptoms came back. He realized that even though he still felt crappy (pun intended) – the meds he was on WERE actually working for the thing they were prescribed for – it’s easy to assume that they aren’t working if you are still experiencing other pain/problems!

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