A key to happiness: over-the-counter medication. Don’t take it for granted.

One of my Secrets of Adulthood (see bottom left-hand column) is “Over-the-counter medicines are very effective.”

Why is this so hard for me to remember?

Last night, I couldn’t sleep because I was so uncomfortable. I had a scrape on the back of my thigh that was in the itchy stage of healing, and a rash on my other leg was also intensely itchy.

I lay there, in the heat and humidity (no air conditioning in our vacation spot), trying and failing to resist itching one leg and then the other.

Then I remembered: “Wait, maybe I can put some MEDICINE on my legs!”

I’d packed a tube of Lanacane for the trip. And you know what, although it surprises me every time, over-the-counter medication really DOES work. The itchiness stopped almost entirely.

Somehow, although I’m a firm believer in medicine, I always assume that the anti-itch creme, the cough suppressant, and the allergy medicine won’t really make much difference to my condition. But they DO. They really do work.

One habit I’ve developed as part of my happiness project has been to try to do a better job managing discomfort. Not letting myself get too hungry, too sleepy, too cold, or too itchy, makes it easier for me to stay patient and light-hearted.

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  • catwesterg

    Love your blog. Today’s post reminded me of four basic Life Rules that I wrote for myself awhile back:
    1. Sleep when you’re tired.
    2. Eat when you’re hungry.
    3. Scratch where it itches.
    4. Pay attention.

  • catwesterg

    Love your blog. Today’s post reminded me of four basic Life Rules that I wrote for myself awhile back:
    1. Sleep when you’re tired.
    2. Eat when you’re hungry.
    3. Scratch where it itches.
    4. Pay attention.

  • This is a very endearing post. I’m totally with you. Like when I have a headache and won’t take anything as if to do so would be to admit to lack of character. TAKE THE ADVIL ALREADY, JEEZ. My boyfriend’s the same way, stoic but for no real reason. I wonder why we make ourselves suffer.
    That said, I thought I read something a couple seasons back about how cough suppressants don’t actually do anything. I read that about echinacea, too, but I think that’s now back in good graces.
    I guess the only thing I’d advocate for is attempting to fix the underlying problem, when that’s an option, rather than just treating the symptom. For instance, I’m given to understand most headaches are caused by dehydration. So if I could fix one by drinking a couple of glasses of water or taking a nap, I’d rather do that. But sometimes you can’t immediately fix the underlying problem and still need to move forward. That’s when symptom management makes sense.
    Allergies, man. They were killer this year, weren’t they?

  • Quite profound 🙂 Most times the simplest route to take is right in front of you all the time.

  • I agree with you – When we look for something, it´s usually right in front of us, though that is often the last place we look.
    Regarding medicine though, it´s also a lot about the Placebo effect. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Placebo). If you believe strongly in the effect, it is much more likely to occur, and similarily, if you don´t believe that it will work (as in, completely convinced), it most likely won´t. Humans are weird creatures.

  • This is so true. I don’t know why it takes so long for me to reach for that Advil/Tums/allergy pill. It’s like I forget each time that I can actually DO something about the pain.
    Great post.

  • This week my back has been in bad shape because I overdid housecleaning one day. My sons and my mother said, “Take some medicine.” But I know my back (I have scoliosis). This felt like a problem I could stretch out. It took most of a day, but I did it. When I can fix my body without using medication, I prefer to do that. In my opinion, stoicism is a fine approach to chronic pain.

  • You are so right! I felt grumpy most of the day yesterday but didn’t stop to wonder why until the evening, at which point I realised that it was probably because the t-shirt I was wearing was scratchy and uncomfortable.
    I enjoy reading your blog!

  • One of the benefits of living in this time and place is the ‘magic bullet’. If there’s a pill for what’s ailing me, I want it.

  • Daniel

    That is the typical “solution” I would expect from an American.
    Being stupid, not listening to your body, not taking the necessary steps (taking a bow, healthy nutrition – aspartame anyone?), taking shortcuts when your body is giving you a warning signal, fighting symptons, not problems.
    And worst of all, blogging about such stupid and wrong stuff to a large audience.
    The human organism is the most fascinating thing there is. No human is ever capable of understanding how it works. Therefore, no medicine is ever going to do you only good. I know that there are many areas when the benefits of medicine clearly outweigh the bad things. I am thankful for that. But holding the standpoint “whenever my little finger prickles, take two of these and five of those”, is stupid.
    And therefore you should stop giving such ridiculous advice on your blog.

  • @Daniel – I’m trying to picture a situation where “If something is wrong with you, take something you know will make you better” can be seen as bad advice? I think you may have got the wrong end of the stick somewhere.
    Since I started pay much closer attention to how I feel, I have noticed that I feel a lot better when I use the combination of prescription and over the counter medication I have for my skin. Sometimes your body really appreciates the help it can give. It still amazes me I forget how much better I can feel if I just pay a little attention to how my body is working.

  • I am all about eating, especially chocolate, my over-the-counter medication, when needed. I could do way better with the sleeping…I should be in bed now. This is my first visit…Fun site…I’ll be signing up for your feed. Great book idea.

  • I’m heartened to discover that so many people have the same quirk about not taking the obvious steps to address minor discomforts. The scratchy t-shirt is a perfect example — only when it comes off do I realize that it’s been annoying me, every so slightly, all day long. Paying attention and curing these minor discomforts really helps.
    Daniel — I was intrigued by your point of view. I respect your respect for the human body. For my own bodily comfort’s sake, however, I’m glad that I don’t view the use of Lanacane quite so seriously!
    This exchange has made me think that this subject bears closer analysis…how we think about medicine, pain, intervention…there’s more here than I realized…

  • Susan

    I’ve just had a similar revelation about making the place I’m living in more comfortable. I’ve been making do with a bed and a table and (hard) dining chairs for months. Yesterday I ordered a sofa and I realised I was SO excited about it. It arrived today and it’s bliss. Not only can I lounge about in comfort, but the mass of the sofa has stopped the room echoing and I can actually hear the television properly. I can’t believe how much it has cheered me up, but it’s affected my whole attitude to life here in Algeria.

  • Stella

    Many people don’t realise, or don’t know, that painkillers such as aspirin, Acetaminophen and such do MORE than merely deaden pain– they reduce the inflammation that causes your nerve endings to sing out in agony. Reducing the inflammation reduces the potential damage to those particular tissues.
    (note to “face natural”; what a way to win friends and influence neighbours, eh? *grin*)

  • Hi there – this post inspired my article “7 steps to improving day-to-day comfort”.
    Thank you for being an inspiration Gretchen.