If you have read some of my writings, you may have come across me sharing one of my earliest memories: it was from a Silvercross pram that my mum used to push me in when going to the local shops. Above me, outside one of the shops, I could see a golden pot. I recall wondering why somebody had put a pot of sweets out of my reach! Of course this was a golden mortar and pestle sign outside the chemist shop. In my later years I have been collecting images of these old Pharmacy signs before they disappear altogether.
Earlier this week I was buying a present in a garden centre and over-the-counter I noticed a colourful box full of Parma Violet sweets. These sweets returned my memory to my dear Granny who loved Parma Violets and used to be given them by her friends. I always disliked the taste of Parma Violets and used to joke with my Granny by calling them ‘Parma Violents’. I have since shared this memory with my wife Sian who, like my Granny, also loves these sweets.
If you change one letter in Parma Violets you could have “Pharma Violets”. I am going to suggest that this small step might be helpful in considering what Professor Sir Simon Wessely has called “Pillshaming“.
For more than twenty years I have been taking a drug [an SSRI antidepressant] that I was prescribed for anxiety. It is a drug that I am now dependent on and which if I try to stop, however slowly, results in severe and most unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Disliking these effects as much as I did the taste of the sweets of my childhood, I have come to regard this prescribed drug as my “Pharma Violets”.
I have widely shared my experience of this prescribed drug to find that I, like many others who wish to reduce the potential for harm, have been labelled as “pillshamers”. My Granny loved, and my wife still does, Parma Violets; I did not. Some people have positive outcomes of prescribed medications, some people do not. If we are to clarify the wider effects of people’s experience of prescribed drugs, particularly in the longer term, we should value all experience. The dismissal of inconvenient experience in a simple hashtag is unscientific and un-enlightening.