The first thirty years of my life were characterized by an extreme lack of anger. As a child growing up in a Catholic family, I was fascinated by stories of saints—young women with pretty names who could be burned and maimed in a thousand different ways without ever uttering a harsh word. In highschool, my best friend remarked with awe on my apparently true claim that I didn’t feel anger. Up until very recently, I still believed I had no anger—that I was just so sweet and gentle I couldn’t hold anything against anybody. I never wanted to hurt anyone, and so refrained from expressing any emotion or idea that could make people upset.
But I am thirty today, and have realized I’m angry about all sorts of things. And so, as a birthday present to myself, I want to talk briefly about something I am angry about.
I wrote a few days ago about my death battle with insomnia, a life event that provided the terminal bookend to almost ten years of sleeping pills. I am angry at the doctor who prescribed those pills to me when I was barely out of my teens, the subsequent doctors who didn’t bat an eye when they saw it on my charts, and the systems that collude to ensure that it is never questioned, in our society, whether it is good and proper to treat a condition like sleeplessness with heavy and apparently lifelong pharmaceutical medications.
This morning I gathered the bottles of leftover pills to bring to a drug take-back site, wanting to dispose of them responsibly. As I dropped the bottles into a bag, a thought floated into my mind, so quietly I almost didn’t hear it: You won’t flush this stuff down the toilet, said a skeptical voice, but you put it into your body every night without a second thought.
It was funny. I laughed, sort of. Later, while Googling drug disposal sites in Portland, I came across this gem:
“Don't flush your unused medications down the toilet. This allows them to get into the water stream which can impact fish, wildlife, or even you.”
So when a doctor tells me to take them, they’re safe and beneficial, even though they become an “impact” dangerous to the health of ecosystems, wildlife, and, by gosh, even me! the moment they hit the water stream?
The grasses and plants that appear in a vacant lot say a lot about the soil they grow in—what nutrients it has in abundance, what it desperately lacks. I believe insomnia is the same. But when it comes to conditions like insomnia, the Western medical system doesn’t listen for the message. It only sees the weeds and sprays them—letting all that valuable information about the soil go to waste. It saw the weeds in my mind and sprayed them with pharmaceuticals, and it has taken me until now to slowly begin to decode the message that it ought to have been the role of the healers and adults in my society to help me identify ten years ago.
I am angry about the unstated message, which I absorbed deeply, that the body-mind’s distress signals are something to suppress (that the earth’s distress signals are something to suppress, that the body-mind-earth should bow to the supposedly greater wisdom of chemicals, specialists, people in white coats…) and that this attitude continues to be reinforced, unquestioned, in our literature and media.
I could write about this at length, and probably will in days to come, but at the moment I am eager to get off the computer and go enjoy the day. It is rainy here, and the plants have all set their buds for spring. Thirty years in, I am only beginning to notice these things.