For most of my life, I lived in poverty. Growing up, it was just the reality of working class America. But it was a comfortable, happy poverty. We had everything we needed, and I mostly had a good childhood. Sure, the lining of the roof of the car was slowly coming off, but mom still used it to take me to Girl Scouts. I didn’t have many toys (and most were from richer relatives) but I had acres of wilderness to explore. We couldn’t afford the cool Lunchables I desperately wanted despite the fact that my packed lunches were better anyways, but my dad always made sure I had the tools to pursue art, writing, and music.
Once I was out on my own, that changed. I can largely attribute my personal poverty of 2008–2010 on staying in a toxic relationship where I supported someone who threw everything I gave them back in my face. It was different to the poverty I was used to. It wasn’t like when I was growing up and still had room to grow (physically and mentally). It wasn’t like my semester abroad in Europe, where I could barely afford to eat, but made some great friends and had amazing experiences. This was being told I couldn’t afford a $10 soccer ball, while he spent $15 a week on Magic: the Gathering drafts.
It was during that two year period where my depression first started to bloom. It’s also when I danced pretty close to becoming another statistic of the opioid epidemic.
Pills for profits
It’s getting a lot of attention recently, but opioid addiction has always been a problem. I’d argue that the recent spotlight is due to the fact that it’s crawled up out of poor neighbourhoods to infect the ‘burbs and now that it affects the affluent, it’s worth fixing.
In any case, if you’re unaware of what’s going on, what usually happens is someone gets injured, or otherwise requires pain management. Instant gratification culture, pharmaceutical direct-to-consumer advertising, and internal pressures converge to create an environment where doctors are incentivised to prescribe opioids. The patient leaves with a prescription, which they can fill for under $20 (a steal by US standards). Following the dosing instructions, they develop a dependency.
But then the prescription runs out. If they can’t get it refilled, they may start looking elsewhere to stave off the withdrawal. Tolerance also builds, which helps justify the leap from prescription pills to heroin, cough syrups, and other alternatives. And to make a bad story worse, the pharmaceutical companies that started this process in the pursuit of profits are now getting into the rehab industry. Talk about a customer journey, huh?
My drug dealer was a doctor
Another thing that I lost alongside my rosy view of living in poverty was my access to dental care. Eventually I developed toothaches, and after sleepless nights due to the pain, I begrudgingly went to a dentist, armed with my newly acquired workplace dental insurance. I needed a root canal. But even with insurance that was so far out of my budget, the conversation quickly turned to extraction. My insurance would bring the procedure from $200 to $90, and the agony would be over.
After a brief procedure, made faster and easier by analgesic, I was given aftercare instructions and a prescription for a 30-day supply of Darvocet. I dropped off my prescription at Walmart, did some shopping, and picked up my pills on the way out. It would be the first of several extractions, and each one came with more pills. Way more than I needed. Once the tooth was removed each time, the pain was largely gone. And it was always healed long before I made it through the 30-day supply.
But I liked how I felt when I took them. I upped my dose, started taking them with alcohol to get more mileage from fewer pills, and it became a great way to pass the time. When you have no money for going out, no TV access, and no car (my partner used it for going out partying), there’s precious little else to do.
End of the line
One day, I ran out. No more Darvocet, no more Tramadol, nothing. While it wasn’t the surreal nightmare some withdrawal episodes were, I did struggle for the first few days. It crossed my mind to try and get another tooth extracted, or figure out another way to get another prescription. My mind drifted to my partner at the time, who had access to drugs, I knew. But he’d failed to bring me anything before, and I had no reason to think he’d provide now.
But there was so much effort involved. I wouldn’t even know where to go, who to talk to. And what would it cost me? How would I pay? When would I have time, between going to school full-time, working full-time, and keeping house? My energy levels were low, my apathy high, and it all felt impossible. By the time I’d run through all my possible options, spent days overthinking and underacting, the withdrawal was wearing off. It was tolerable, and I was used to slogging through life by then. So I gave up on the idea, though I missed my favourite pastime.
A bullet dodged
These days, I’m very comfortable, and exceptionally lucky to be comfortable. I live in a nice neighbourhood full of friendly cats, with a partner that loves me dearly. I have a boring but dependable car, a fun job with a good salary, and friends I can go see. There are opportunities once more for me to pursue my art and writing. I even have a large allotment plot for growing produce and flowers and enjoy a small reconnection with nature.
And yet, this outcome was so nearly out of the question for me, or at least much harder to achieve. I was put on the addiction pipeline, like so many others, but was fortunate enough to falter before making the switch from prescription to street drugs. My depression has wrecked havoc on other areas of my life, but it’s a part of who I am, and I’m eternally grateful for the role it played in saving me from a more difficult path.
If you enjoyed reading this, you might like some similar content I’ve written: