My Magic Pill

This piece was done in collaboration with the What’s Your Story? Project of KQED’s California Report.

By Sabirah Mustafa

I used to wish for a magic pill what would enable me to swallow away my problems so I could successfully navigate my unfulfilled life. But when I found it, it wasn’t in any pharmacy.

For many years I suffered from trauma and abuse, but I saw them as symptoms of a soul struggling to find answers in a question-complicated life. I wasn’t necessarily searching for easy solutions, just a way to cope with it all.

When my doctor became aware of the overwhelming helplessness and sadness I felt, he prescribed medication he thought would help. But the debilitating side-effects were terrible.

My environment appeared apart and distant from me. My mind and body felt out of synch with how I moved and spoke, which made me feel awkward and self-conscious.

Joy, anger, sympathy and other emotions non-medicated people experience routinely were lost on me. I began to doubt not just the meds’ function but also their purpose.

When I complained about the debilitating side-effects, my medication were adjusted, but the adjustments would just transform one problem into another.

Roller coaster treatment finally reached a conclusion one day, when I saw my primary physician for chest pain and difficulty breathing. “Lets talk,” he said.

He performed his routine check of my blood pressure and temperature, but he also listened as I described my personal and workplace challenges. My physical symptoms, he determined, were due to not managing my stress well.

I was feeling overwhelmed at work and wasn’t communicating well with my boss. My doctor suggested some ideas around communicating better, streamlining my workload, even considering a new job. Most of his suggestions I had already tried unsuccessfully. But he didn’t give up. We dug deeper. We spent about an hour going over each obstacle, including my complicated personal life.

His prescription and referral tablet never left his pocket.

Instead he spoke to me as a person who understood human challenges, without judging me.

It was difficult working through my issues without medication as a crutch. I wanted to just let myself off the hook and let my doctor solve all my problems for me, but it didn’t work that way this time, I had to come up with my own plan, tackling each problem until I could choose a solution I felt comfortable committing to.

I had to become the boss of my own life, a responsibility I had given to medication.

Confronting problems is not without uncomfortable side-effects, too, I learned, like fear and worry, and like my medication,  I had to adjust to the uncomfortable side-effects of confronting my problems, but the benefit of being my own boss had surely outweighed the negative.

I now have a personal prescription for my magic pill that I wrote for myself: “Life is a drama. You write the script.”

Special thanks to Shuka Kalantari at KQED-San Francisco for her help with this story.

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