Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Too many pills.

I was appalled to read this article in the New York Times about an unfortunate but probably not that unusual sequence of events that got out of hand and lead to a young man's death. Everyone was trying their best, I'm sure of it: the doctors and therapists, his parents, and the kid himself. And yet he got hooked on Adderall, went crazy and killed himself.

I can't bear to even type his name; it is such a tragedy.

Right now I could launch into a big thing about attention deficit disorder which is not actually a disorder. I could write at length about the survival instinct, how, for millions of years, our species needed a fractured attention span in order to survive. We had to listen for predators, watch the offspring, tend the fire - all at once. Those who say multitasking is a contemporary problem have romanticized the past.

The way we live in American society, at this moment in history, does not cultivate a steady, reliable attention span. For a few thousand years, "civilization," provided a more stable, safer existence in organized communities. For many thousands of years we used the same tools, the same weapons. Few of us ever moved far away from the land of our birth or our families. What our fathers did, we did, and our children after us. We had a chance to settle down, steady our attention spans. We developed philosophies, religions, we formed world views. Then we taught ourselves to write, made records of the tales that had been told through the ages, passed from generation to generation. Myths are always based on lengthy epics that many people actually memorized. Civilization steadied our attention spans.

Now we're in a tight spot as a species. We have overpopulated and over manipulated our landscapes. Traditionally, on earth, when a species gets as overblown as we have, it means the end is near. Or at least, something big is going to have to change. Evolve or die. I believe we're on the edge of a leap in evolution and that our technology is helping further our ability to make the jump. As with all leaps in evolution, there's a whole lot of chaos attending the shift. I think of Alzheimer's, autism, ADHD and other maladies of the attention as fallout from the evolutionary change at hand. Anyway, I could go on, but that's not what I want to write about today.

I'm thinking about how unfortunate it is that modern medicine is diagnosis-based.

My point today (at last I've gotten to it) is that we pathologize everything. Everything. It's a really big problem. The truth is, we can care for people who have no diagnosis, we can keep an eye on people who are close to the edge in terms of mental, spiritual or physical health, give them a boost before things go wrong. We can see the precursors, but we're so used to thinking every situation must reach the level of pathology before we're willing to pay attention, we can't see impending doom.

The next time you notice you aren't feeling well, instead of diagnosing, try asking yourself how you actually feel. If you're in pain, where is it in your body? What quality of pain is it - sharp, throbbing, or whatever. Are you queasy? Dizzy? Warm or cold?

Be curious about how you are. Find out something you didn't already know. I promise it will help you make much better decisions about how to take care of yourself.

The standard procedure in modern medicine is to completely ignore trouble until it becomes nearly lethal, then treat it as an emergency situation. In the meantime, if patients continue to feel bad, order more pills.

If we were not so quick to pathologize, medicine would be very different. We wouldn't take as many pills, I'm absolutely sure of it.

Be well. Shalom.


tut-tut said...

You have no idea how many parents demand that their kids be diagnosed as ADD so that they get those pills to "focus" and get A's. This is a reality.

Reya Mellicker said...

It freaks me out.

ellen abbott said...

Oh Reya, you see so clearly.

Kerry said...

I read this article too, and was struck by the tragedy of it all. So sad.

People sometimes ignore their bodies' signals until it's too late, too. I know I'm guilty of this; it's not just my doctor. I should be asking myself some of the questions you put forth.

Reya Mellicker said...

Ellen! Thank you.

Kerry I ignore my symptoms too - another survival instinct. But I try to notice. I try.