05 August 2006

Last century's hangover

Bobbie at emerging sideways posted a link to this collection of old advertisements for various kinds of drugs.

She writes:
this is a collection of vintage ads run in medical journals. some of these are terrifying to think of the lives ruined, the addiction created and the loss of dignity taken by medicine. i know they didn't know then what we know now, but it's still such a clue into how trying to anestitize a generation from their emotions and facing their past has brought us here. fascinating.
I was fascinated by them myself, in the way one would be fascinated by the gun that was used to kill someone you loved... a morbid fascination, full of dread, afraid that if I look too long, the horrible things will reach out and grab my soul, too.

You see, my mother was prescribed medications to slow her fast-beating heart and calm her revved-up mind. Today we would call her condition "bipolar." Then she was just out of control, completely. She would talk a mile a minute ... for hours on end ... brilliantly, wittily, and with a streak of humour that would leave you sore and tired from laughing so hard ... but in the end, only tired, wishing she would just wind down and go to bed. She interpreted all such suggestions as personal slights, and got so extravagantly wounded by them that no one ever dared say anything like that again. Then ... whether from the drugs, or just the natural low point of the cycle ... she would sleep for days, drag herself to sit in front of her dressing table, smoking cigarettes, not eating, and barely able to take care of herself.

Life with her was never dull, I'll say that.

Anyway, all the doctors would do was prescribe phenobarbitol, and she took it lavishly and got so addicted that my father, in blind rage, brought her off of the stuff cold turkey one horrible week when I was very young (5? 6?). He could've killed her, doing that. All I remember was being taken upstairs to her room to see her. She was in her negligée, by the window, looking out, talking to "the chicken man" - the guy who delivered the "Chicken Delight" we sometimes had when she couldn't cook. I wasn't put off by that - my mother had a famous imagination, and told the very best stories - but by the attitude of my grandmother and the clear embarrassment of my father. He was always embarrassed by her. Come to think of it, she was perpetually embarrassed by him. It's really a wonder I'm here at all. ;)

Anyway ... I've been spared that particular horror in my life, though before Imitrex, I was prescribed extremely strong medicine to help me cope with the severe migraine I dealt with almost daily. I depended on the medicine and loved to feel it take hold, numbing the pain, allowing me to get through the day. Fortunately, I wasn't addicted.

But I, too, have my cycles ... a week of feeling great, then a week of illness and migraine... and, sometimes, I wonder ...

Bobbie was right, though: so many were medicated out of dealing with their griefs and sorrows and the natural adjustments of life - growing old, losing friends, etc. It was just another part of what contributed to the mess of the 60s and 70s.

And yet ... I once woke from surgery with the anesthetic completely worn off. I was still mostly paralyzed from the epidural, but I could hear and feel everything. I have never in my life felt such pain, and I hope to God I never do - that no one ever does. I lay in the bed whimpering "help me... help me..." while the nurses scurried around and prepared an injection of morphine. It was a relief beyond words to feel the stuff work its way up from my arm to my brain, so that the pain went away, and I could relax into the dark fog. So I'm not against drugs. But we cannot use them to escape the psychic work of growing and loss and grief and healing.

1 comment:

bobbie said...

oh my. your memories are so vivid i felt like i was there. thank you for sharing them.

i too have benefitted greatly by modern medicine. i was just so taken by the claims these old ads made. they were so sure of themselves. so positive they were 'fixing everything' that was wrong.

i am glad that my own mental health doesn't lie in those kind of hands and wonder if my own mother's was at all affected by any of these.