The high functioning drug addict might:

* Only get their drugs from somebody in a suit who works in an office.
* Never had any legal problems or be known to law enforcement – they may even be a respected member of the law enforcement community.
* They might frown upon people who break the law.
* They might never have any dealings with criminal underworld.
* They can have a great job.
* They dress well.
* Addicts can have plenty of ambition.
* Their friends who are drug users are also doing outwardly well in life.

Am I a high functioning drug addict? Law enforcement does not know me or my name. I do get my drugs from somebody who usually wears a tie. I have a good job by most societal standards. Most of my clothes come from Dillard’s, Macy’s, or The North Face, not exactly Rodeo Drive but by no means trashy. I spend a lot of time around other people that use drugs on a regular basis in their own life. To pass time during a break I often look and laugh at the local arrest report, especially when I see someone I know. Oh crap, I might be a high functioning drug addict if these stereotypes are true.

Yes stereotypes are bad and kids, you should never give in to them. They are rude, usually wrong, and do nothing but spread stigmatization. Yeah, I barely got through that without laughing my butt off too. The fact is stereotypes are used by all of us as a way to categorize and organize first impressions. Despite what might be in our hearts and souls, there simply aren’t enough hours in a day, week, or month to give every individual that crosses our path the time and attention that a fellow human deserves. Snap judgment’s like “he must be a skier because he has a nice North Face Denali fleece on” or “she must be rich because of the brand new Audi sports car she is driving” is how we process our story eveni though in both these cases the items could have just as easily been stolen without our knowledge.

So I propose a compromise, for the purpose of this post let’s all agree that there are useful and counterproductive stereotypes in this world of ours. We will call useful stereotypes ones that help us organize or understand our story should it be it today, yesterday, last year, etc. There is no ill intent or malaise with these stereotypes; they are just part of the human condition. Counterproductive stereotypes we will rob the great Steven Colbert and call them ones we feel in our gut to be true but are actually prejudice, racists, bigoted, or homophobic statements if the truth were to be actually told. The intent behind these types of stereotypes is to mask some form of hate behind education and big words. Much like this election has shown our country has replaced white sheets with a better vocabulary.

One of this country’s best examples of a character that crosses both the useful and counterproductive stereotypes is the “drug user” or “junkie”. TV, American literature, and radio have created amazing examples of this character being everything from the antithesis of a hero to the loveable underdog that overcomes mountains to regain their life. However, popular TV dramas like NCIS or Criminal Minds have used the junkie as the evil one over and over again. We all hate the junkie. They are usually gross, evil, scammers who have to qualms about hurting someone for their next fix. Since TV only has an X time window, the drugs become the easy and time saving scapegoat that is the common denominator for all these horrible people. After all, creating a captivating back story would require too much time and creativity on the producer’s part. As we all know that, life is hardly ever nice and neat so it can fit into a 60 minute TV drama.

Much like today’s TV dramas, my life is more captivating than a 60 minute time slot can show. My rock climbing fall and 5 car wrecks alone is enough material to fill an entire TV season. That doesn’t even include the disease portion of my arthritis, my mental health, nor treatment experiences like my lose dose chemotherapy shot methotrexate. On the other hand, I do fit the stereotype of a high functioning drug addict pretty well actually, almost scary well. I have a good job, dress well, avoid trouble with the law, have been promoted multiple times, and associate with very successful and awesome chronic pain and arthritis patients who also use opioids on a regular basis. The question is, am I a useful or counterproductive stereotype.

To be perfectly clear, this post isn’t about my own self-esteem issues. I have no issue with being called a high functioning drug addict, I’m still going to sleep the same and eat cookies regardless of your opinion. This post is important because it determines how I should continue to advocate for myself and on a higher level, my fellow chronic patients.

What do you mean Alan? If you follow popular culture and agree that I am a high functioning drug addict then there is almost no point for me to continue to share my patient story online. After all, drug addicts are not good people; the TV has taught us that. My particular story is pretty awesome but even my ego doesn’t think it’s awesome enough to overcome 20 or 30 years of TV programing on your subconscious. In my defense not many patient stories would be that powerful. However, if you categorize me in the useful stereotype column then there is hope that I’m just a chronic pain and arthritis patient who uses medications, along with other alternatives to cope through life. The word “just” being the key; it implies no stigma and simplicity. I’m just a patient which I’m ok with.

I fully understand and can accept my use of opiates is going to be judged by you based on your life’s stereotypes. There isn’t a lot I can do about that, I will do it too you too. Like you, my life’s experience has taught me to take information and process it by putting it into useful and/or counterproductive stereotypes. However, the idea of quality of life is much tougher to categorize into neat categories.

I’m going to end this post by asking for a HUGE FAVOR. My healthcare should not be based on what you feel is right in your gut. My healthcare should not be based on counterproductive stereotypes. Yes, I use opiates for my pain. I use NSAID’s, float therapy, skiing, photography, and reading too. I’ve had multiple surgeries, countless hours of physical therapy, and so so so many epidurals and injections. Every day I work my ass off trying to remain a high functioning patient. So here is the favor, please do not make it even harder for me to be me? Our healthcare system provides me with enough obstacles and access issues that I have to work through before I can even begin treatment, I don’t need your stereotypes I promise!