Saturday, July 4, 2009

Michael Jackson, Prescription Medications, and Me

A week since Michael Jackson passed, and I have to admit that I'm way more disturbed by it than I was initially. My immediate reaction upon hearing the news, albeit it makes me sound really cold, was "good riddance." I'm quite familiar how "inappropriate behavior" can influence a lifetime of choices and decisions. I'm also quite aware of how he has influenced Pop music and Pop Culture. He was a force somewhat akin to the Beatles and Elvis... more than just the music that he produced. But to my mind, that does not mitigate using individual power and influence to take advantage of innocents.

In the week of incessant press that followed his death, I've read some of it; watched some of it. Most of it is the news agencies creating their own news by engaging in rumor, speculation, and innuendo to drive their own needs, and few facts have actually come forth. But there was one report in the Huffington Post that caught my eye and has tortured me since reading it. In it, they disclosed that MJ had Lupus.

I know a little bit about Lupus. I know a little bit about Auto Immune diseases in general. They have ruined my life as I had planned it in my youth; I'm unable to sustain enough energy or health to work at a regular job; medically I'm un-insurable without outside help, so I'm not able to pursue more unorthodox methods of bringing in income in any significant way. But what I talk about very little is the pain. And there is a lot of it. Continuous, unremitting pain at various decibels over time. Sometimes at a level that I can work through and even appear perfectly normal, while at other times, I'm incapacitated. Even those who see me a lot (like at Slimmons) don't generally understand the depth of what is happening, and frankly, it's not something that I care to discuss. The only people who really understand the implications of Auto Immune Disease are other afflicted people.

A lot of the speculation as to the cause of his death was drug abuse. There is ongoing discussion of excessive pain medications housed in his home, reports of him being so affected by it at times that he was unable to function, countered by others that he was obsessed by healthy living and choices. I can't help but personalize this topic. If you were to go through my medicine chest (well, actually, all over my home), you'd find a cornucopia of medications that would make your heart beat faster. Pain meds... Darvocet, Percocet, Neurontin, Ultram, Celebrex, Vicodin, and many many others. Sleep meds and mood stablizers... Ambien, Klonipin, Xanax, Valium, Prozac, Zoloft, Lyrica, and many others. Asthma/Restrictive lung Disease meds... Advair, Spriva, Albuterol, Singular, and others... Hormone replacement meds, Steroids, BP medications. Antibiotics of all sorts. Massive quantities of syringes and accompanying injectables in my refrigerator as well as my cabinets. I will give you that all of the prescriptions are written under my name so I am not and have never tried to hide any of this. But does the possession of this quantity and assortment of drugs make me a drug addict?

I can imagine what, if I were famous and the press were following my death, what would be said about me. You'd see officials carrying out medications in big bags, just like they are filmed doing at MJ's Holmby Hills home. "How could she have built up such a supply and assortment of drugs? Who would prescribe all of that to her? She must be an evil drug abuser!"

Nothing could be farther from the truth. I hate the medications that I am forced to keep in my home. I hate that I have to take them. I hate that there is such a build-up, and many of them have not been opened in a year or more, but I'm afraid to throw them out for fear that I will need them and not have immediate access when I do.

The nasty truth about autoimmune disease is that you never know where it is going to strike you next, or how it is going to manifest. Pain Meds that are effective when I am suffering from Fibromyalgia are not when I am having severe Crohns cramps. Lupus and arthritis pains require something else. Sometimes I'm not sure which of my conditions are causing what, so I may have two or three on my nightstand at any given time.

Auto Immune suppressants rotate in my home too. Sometimes one thing is effective for a while, and then it stops working, so I move on to something else. Then something else and something else and something else and eventually usually come back to the old medication again. All under doctor's instructions.

My sleep is effected by my disease process along with my mood. Those closest to me know that I've been complaining for weeks about something "being in my brain." I can't focus, I can't organize, and I'm certainly not getting a lot of sleep. Rest is critical for Auto Immune patients, and my doctors have not only been cooperative, but have encouraged the use of certain sleep agents to allow me the maximum amount possible (maybe 3 to 5 hours a night as of late).

Am I a drug addict? Or am I responding to an unremitting and unbearable medical situation that there is no cure for? My friends and doctors, knowing me and my attitudes and habits, would strongly endorse the latter. I know the latter to be true. But that doesn't mean that I am not, on occasion, stoned out of my mind in an attempt to get some relief. How would unfamiliars view me? I fear I know.

So now we come back to Michael Jackson. The man had Lupus. I didn't know this until I read the report. What formerly seemed eccentricities all of a sudden make perfect sense. The umbrella and the hats? That's about Lupus. Sunlight makes the flares much worse. The mask? Probably about autoimmune vulnerabilities. The glove? He turned it into a fashion statement. Now that I think about it, though, how much do you want to bet that there was some kind of support going on under it that he had the right to keep private?

The massive amounts of prescription medications in his home? Of all the unfavorable reports we've heard about MJ over the years, drug abuse was one that was not one that was circulated. His inner circle clearly knew that he was imbibing excessive amounts, but they also likely knew the extent of his medical issues and, as things got worse, they understood what he was doing and why.

Certainly I do. Lupus shuts down organs; it burns muscle, it swells veins, it immobilizes joints, and it messes with your mind.

I do not have nor do I have the access to the kind of medications that MJ purportedly held in his home. I don't have the financial wherewithal to get them, nor do I have the influence. On the other hand, I do not have the same kind of commitments that the man had either. He was about to launch a very public come-back. (Stress makes auto immune issues flare so much worse.) He, unlike me, did not have the option of backing down if issues of body became unbearable. He absolutely had to move on no matter how his body was revolting; no matter how much pain that was not visible to the uninitiated-to-lupus-crowd might notice. He certainly needed his meds in a much more immediate way than I, and I understand unbearable pain. I understand trying to keep face when my body is failing me. (I was recently told by somebody close to me to get over the pity party because I was no longer able to put on the show... I suppose that person was not used to me not being able to cope with the ramifications of my illness.)

So where does that leave me regarding MJ? I do personalize the situation. I can't help it. I, to some extent, know the hell of not being able to depend on anything, not even one's own body.

Do I endorse the hospital-quality meds that he was purportedly taking? I'm keeping an open mind. I do not think he was suicidal at all; rather, I think he was trying to get relief from unremitting pain. Pain that nobody recognized or understood. The kind of symptoms that they think you're crazy for having, and nobody will do business with you if they do understand.

Do I forgive him for 'inappropriate behavior' if it was true? And I do believe it.

No. I can never forgive that kind of thing. But I'm starting to think he paid his penance for it. Auto Immune is the kind of hell that nobody, and I mean NOBODY deserves, no matter what they may or may not have done.

And, for the record, there have been times that if I had been able to lay my hands on the kind of meds that MJ purportedly took, I'd grab them up in a minute. I am not a drug addict. I get no pleasure from any of my prescription medications. But I do understand what it is to hurt.


Anonymous said...

Laura, what a thoughtful and though provoking post. Thank you for helping us take a minute to relate to the humanity of MJ and everyone who suffers from chronic disease. Having been there myself, I am much better since losing 50 lbs in 2007/2008. I am completely prescription free except for thyroid replacement hormones. Sometimes I forget to be thankful for this--you have just reminded me. Blessings--Bonnie

Summer said...

I had no idea that you were suffering so much Laura. My heart goes out to you. I am so glad that we can look forward to a day when "No resident will say: 'I am sick'" (Isaiah 33:24)

maryjane2744 said...

For my terrible arthritis pain I take a natural supplement called OPC-3. Order from It's anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory. Works great, no pain!

Mrs. G. said...

The bottom line is we don't know what the man was dealing with...and we as a society (me included occasionally) are so quick to judge. I think he was an ill man who was robbed of his childhood.

Vennie said...

I had no idea Michael Jackson suffered from lupus. If so, it does indeed explain a lot. Chronic pain is difficult under the easiest of circumstances. For someone in the spotlight, it must have been a torture.


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