More information has come out about Chris Cornell’s death, which is now officially a suicide. His wife revealed that in her conversation with him after the concert, he was slurring his words. She said he admitted to having taken too many Ativan, an anti-anxiety medication. Concerned, she asked his bodyguard to check in on him, but the hotel wouldn’t let the bodyguard into Cornell’s room. So, he kicked the door down and found Cornell unresponsive with a belt around his neck.
It’s a tragedy for so many reasons, but I want to focus on a comment I saw on Facebook after this news was revealed. The comment was, “This is why I don’t trust Big Pharma.” It was written by a friend of a FB friend, so I didn’t respond, but it made my hackles raise. There are many reasons not to trust Big Pharma, but this isn’t one of them. The side effects of Ativan are well-known, and it’s pretty basic knowledge not to exceed the recommended dosage without input from your doctor. I want to make it clear I am not saying Cornell deserved what happened because I fully understand wanting desperately to feel normal and grabbing at anything that will do that for you. Our society has become anxiety-producing on its own, and it’s swimming upstream to remain calm in chaotic surroundings. In addition, creative types usually are extra-sensitive to external stimuli, which is one reason they’re so susceptible to self-medicating.
My point is, there is only so much a doctor or anyone can do if the person is determined not to follow the instructions. Drugs can work for people, but there are so many ways they can be misused. If someone is determined to take twice the dose, there’s nothing anyone can do about it. It’s the same with, say, seat belts. You can put them in the car, but you can’t force people to wear them.
My bigger point is that there is a swath of people who believe in being natural at all costs. They think society is too medicated, and they eschew any kind of pill to help what ails them. Now, there is more than a grain of truth to the idea that pills are not a whole solution, but only part of it, but they think any medication is of the devil. The same people eschew GMOs and many of them are part of the anti-vaxxer crowd. It’s an anathema to me because the same people are using cellphones and driving cars and are on the internet with impunity. I realize there’s a difference between technology you use and things you ingest, but it’s still the same science behind all of it. It’s weird to me to want to roll back time on certain things, but not others.
Back to meds. As someone who’s dealt with chronic and crippling depression all my life, it’s frustrating to hear people disparage antidepressants and saying anyone who uses them is weak. My other favorite, “It’s dealing with the symptoms and not the cause,” in a snobby, smug voice. I think part of the problem is that if you’ve never experienced deep depression, you cannot understand how pervasive it is. If something can alleviate it, just a little bit, you’ll sell your soul for it. It’s the same with anxiety which can be more immediately worse. In the middle of a panic attack, you will do anything to stop it. Yes, you’ll want to deal with the root of the problem, but that can take years if not decades. A temporary stop-gap while in the middle of the pain is a godsend. In addition, there are chemical reasons for depression and/or anxiety, and ain’t no shame in correcting that malfunction with better science. Here is a well-worn comparison, but if you broke your leg, you probably would go to the doctor to get a cast for it. You wouldn’t think, “Oh, it’ll just mend by itself if I drink enough hemp milk and eat enough quinoa.” No, you’d get a cast on that damn thing pretty damn quick. So why when you hear that someone’s brain chemistry is broken do you disparage them using something that will heal that break?