The stigma around cannabis is often the biggest roadblock for those who can benefit from it most. Vee Mercier was born and raised in Montréal in what she refers to as a “conservative” household. She was an athletic kid, but at 13 Vee started experiencing back pain, which had a major impact on her overall wellbeing. As the years passed and her symptoms worsened, she focused on her academic studies and creative talent and stayed away from activities that required her to be active. It wasn’t until she was 26 that she was officially diagnosed with a suite of auto-immune diseases including ankylosing spondylitis, fibromyalgia, psoriatic arthritis and psoriasis.
Today, Vee lives on Prince Edward Island with her partner Sean, working full-time as a translator for the government, and part-time as a freelance photographer and cannabis advocate.
I’ve seen over a hundred doctors in my life, but I went undiagnosed for almost 13 years. I have been told time and again that my pain was all in my head, or had it brushed off as “period pain.” Then, about three years ago, it got so bad I lost my ability to walk. I was nearly immobile. Only then did the doctors finally give me names for my illnesses, and a long list of prescriptions to ease the symptoms.
On one hand it was a relief to have my pain validated. But with the diagnosis came a whirlwind of depression and anxiety, knowing that there was no cure, that this was for the rest of my life. Living with a chronic illness means that you have pain all the time, so much so that it sort of becomes a part of your life. But, you can also have intermittent flare-ups and those really affect you, not just physically, but also mentally.
I had never considered cannabis medically, mostly because I was raised, like so many others, to believe the worst of it. One day my boyfriend Sean begged me to try it, he thought cannabis could help my pain. And it did. I went from immobile to dancing in my living room within five minutes. That was a defining moment in my story. In that moment the stigma — whatever negative feelings I had toward cannabis— they vanished. It wasn’t long after that I started to feel truly empowered by this plant. It gave me hope for the future.
I had never considered cannabis medically, mostly because I was raised, like so many others, to believe the worst of it. ”
Nobody talks about how hard it is, to be a person with a disability. I think most days people see me and they don’t see anything wrong because I look strong. I can hide my pain very well. But that’s only because I’ve had practice learning to hide it my whole life. It’s hard to not being able to have a normal sex life, for instance. A lot of people won’t understand why you have to cancel plans last minute. My illness truly impacts every part of my life.
I will often say that cannabis “saved me.” When I was first diagnosed, I was put on so many medications that at one point I was prone to fainting in public because the medications I was taking lowered my blood pressure so much. I lost 60 pounds. I was constipated, because when you’re on opioids sometimes you can’t go to the bathroom for a week. So you have to take another kind of medication to deal with that. It was pill on top of pill. Today cannabis has repaced many of my previous prescriptions. I truly don’t know where I’d be without it.
Photography by Vee Mercier
I have had some pretty intense conversations with my Mom, who didn’t appreciate the fact that I was being open about cannabis use online. I reminded her of everything it has given me. That it gave me mobility back. My life back. “You know, Mom, I’m the same person when I consume cannabis or not. It just helps me with my pain.” The turning point came while I was staying with my parents for the holidays, I had a flare-up. I was crying, in so much debilitating pain–I couldn’t even have dinner. I asked Sean to roll me a joint and soon after, I was laughing at the dinner table with my family again. I realized that they don’t know what my pain is like on a day-to-day basis, but in that moment, my mom was able to see it all, there was no denying the way cannabis helped me.
I have always been very honest with my employers. In my current job, I told my supervisor about my cannabis use 30 minutes after I medicated, so that she could see that I wasn’t impaired. I am the same person whether I am medicated or not, just in less pain. I am lucky that she’s been supportive, but at the same time, this is my prescription medicine and I’m not ashamed of it.
Convenience is important, so I’ll often stick to oils at work. I can be discreet, even while at my desk, and there’s no odour. About four to six times a day I’ll take it sublingually, and swish it around in my mouth for 30 seconds to a minute before I swallow it. It gives me relief in 20 minutes or so which is amazing.
If I want to smoke, dab, or vape, I prefer to be at home. I’m very fortunate I work so close to home (it’s a 3 minute walk!) so I can come home on my lunch break and consume cannabis then. When Sean and I were looking for places to live, proximity to work was a huge factor for this reason. I know that my medication and pain relief is accessible during the day if I really need it, and that’s comforting.