Are Meds Part Of Who You Are Or Just “Better Living Through Chemistry”?
In my last post I blogged about the decision whether or not to disclose to a significant other that you are taking medication. For this post, I said I would write about when both members of a couple are taking meds – but when one is an old hand and one is a relative newbie.
To my knowledge, there are no studies explicitly looking at this topic, but I think it would certainly make for an interesting line of research to look at the differing effects on identity. If I were a researcher, the central question I’d ask would be: Do people who begin taking meds at younger age feel that the drugs are more integral to their sense of self than those who begin them when their identities are already fully formed?
If I had to guess, I would say beginning medications at a younger age generally does weave them into one’s identity more tightly – but with one important caveat. People’s experiences and relationships with medication matter.
That is, somebody who begins taking, say, Ritalin for ADHD at age 8 and continues to take it almost daily through his 30s, considering it helpful and useful for focusing and getting work done, is going to be a very different case from someone who is forced to take antipsychotics for bipolar disorder from the same age, who is skeptical that she even has the disorder at all and who repeatedly quits the medication without telling her doctor or her parents.
The first person may well consider medication an important part of his identity because he credits the drugs with helping him achieve success. The second person may not, because she feels ambivalent or even hostile toward medication.
With that said, I do think that medication becomes increasingly ingrained in your identity over time, and that people come of age while taking medication may well consider it a part of them in a way that others don’t. Consider the case of Claire and her husband Erik, who I wrote about in my upcoming book.
Claire, now approaching her 32nd birthday, has been taking antidepressants for depression since she was 11. When I asked her if she considered them integral to her identity she said she didn’t recognize herself without them. She loathed the person she was when she didn’t take them – she was “bitchy,” irritable, volatile, prone to meltdowns and outbursts.
She reverted, in effect, to a hormone-riddled preteen, the person she had been more than 20 years earlier, before she began the drugs. After all these years, taking medication almost didn’t feel like a choice anymore. Of course, it wasn’t really a choice when she began them as an 11-year-old, her husband pointed out. But for many, many years, she had been the one deciding to take the drugs. She had simply become habituated to them.
Her husband had begun taking antidepressants in his mid-20s, after experiencing a depression in graduate school. But after he recovered from that one depressive episode, he continued taking the medication and was still taking it 15 years later. To him, it was a matter of “better living through chemistry.” He, too, disliked the sullen, moody person that he was without medication, but he felt less disconnected from this non-medicated self than his wife did. He recognized the other person as “him,” in other words, and taking antidepressants was something he did so that he would be a more agreeable to be around for the people that he cared about.
When I interviewed Claire and Erik about this subject, they both said this was the first time they could recall discussing it with each other, even though they both agreed it made for an interesting dinner table conversation.
So obviously this is more philosophical stuff than the simple issue of whether or not to disclose taking medication. Still, I’m curious for reader feedback: Do you think taking meds from a younger age makes a person somehow more psychologically attached to the drugs than someone who begins them later on? At what point do meds become a security blanket?
Bell Barnett, K. (2012). Are Meds Part Of Who You Are Or Just “Better Living Through Chemistry”?. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 18, 2017, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/my-meds/2012/03/are-meds-part-of-who-you-are-or-just-better-living-through-chemistry/