My therapist tells me that she believes it probably won’t be long until there is a test, a blood test or something, that will tell what is chemically happening in your brain. To ascertain that something isn’t right, some chemical or hormone isn’t being released correctly or in the right amount (forgive me – I am no scientist).
This would distinguish between mental illnesses that requires chemical intervention and those mental illnesses that can be alleviated by environmental changes and talking therapies, without the need for the pills.
And although we shouldn’t have to prove it, we shouldn’t need that validation, it would make life a lot simpler.
It would answer the critics who think that those of us who suffer just need to pull ourselves together.
When I was first prescribed anti-depressants nearly seven years ago, I went through (what I now know as) a fairly normal emotional cycle. Relief, to have a potential solution. Fear they wouldn’t work. Shame, I needed to take the drugs in the first place.
Relief. Fear. Shame.
Relief. Fear. Shame.
These three ideas, on a loop.
And when I stopped taking the anti-depressants a year and a half later I was nervous, but quietly confident. I knew I had come a long way, learnt a great deal, and was, to a large degree, healed.
There was a certain pride in having stopped taking them. I had battled and done the hard work (changed my lifestyle, done many hours of therapy, and learnt new techniques for relaxation). I felt it was a new day, an opportunity for a new start.
(Although you have to wonder if there is a pride in not taking them anymore then maybe the shame that comes with being prescribed them in the first place isn’t that unexpected, I digress…)
I truly thought I was one of those people who had one slump, one period of depression which needed medication. I believed I was one of those people who would have the story of the illness, followed by learning, then recovery, then health. I thought the illness would be a thing that had happened, that could be boxed away separately, not a part of who I was.
I knew I wasn’t perfect, and I had a lot to learn, but from a chemical point of view… well, I thought that bit was done.
This year, in January, in conversation with my therapist we decided that I needed chemical support again. I have written extensively about this decision, it was a hard one, but ultimately one I am very glad I made. You can read about it here.
I am sure that most people who read this blog are lovely and non-judgemental about those of us who take the drugs, but I have a feeling this is not a universal response.
In fact, I know it isn’t.
In Christian circles we seem to have a problem with antidepressants, maybe more so than outside of the church. We don’t talk about it much. And when we do, we like to talk about it in a ‘they used to but thank God they don’t need them any more’ capacity. It is easier, cleaner, less messy. It chimes in with the version of the gospel we like to tell, of healing and health and resurrection.
But, you see, I love Jesus and I am sure he is fine with my drugs.
In the morning, almost as a joke, as I take my pill (citalopram*, as you asked) I say ‘thank you Jesus for the drugs’. I look at my husband and we laugh.
We laugh because of the distance we have travelled.
I used to find it hard to reconcile my anti-depressants with what I knew of scripture. I would remember what it said in the Bible about having a ‘mind like Christ’, and about how we were being ‘transformed by the renewing of our minds’. There was a lot of talk about taking every thought captive, and the power of positive declaration.
And there is good in all these ideas. But when your mind is a constant stream of anxious thoughts, so much so that you cease to function, it is impossible to take every thought captive. Even with all my energy, the best will in the world and a strong wind behind me, I couldn’t do it.
And there were times, in the last few years, where I felt so angry with myself. So frustrated that I was not able to just get past this. So cross that I wasn’t able to reconcile the truth I knew in my soul with the 100mph anxiety train in my brain.
It was easy to feel like a failure, because surely Jesus should have been enough for me? If he was transforming my mind, then why did I need the drugs?
But there is a difference between knowing the truth in your heart and soul, and being able to translate those truths to the working of your brain.
I can’t categorically say why I have ended up in this position, where I am daily medicating because of a mental illness (because let us be honest, that is what I am doing).
I think it probably has a lot to do with many, many years of abuse.
I am not talking about substance abuse, or alcoholism,
…but being addicted to proving I was worthy.
This was the emotional abuse I put myself through.
My self-worth was based on how other people saw me. I wanted my work colleagues to think I was hard working, creative and intelligent, my parents and peers to think I was a good person, Godly Mum and a loyal friend, my husband to think I was fun, committed and sexy, and my kids to find me available, emotionally intuitive, and energetic.
I was desperate to be seen as a woman who had it together.
And I pushed myself harder and harder to try and prove it.
Until I pushed too far, and something short-circuited in my brain. Something snapped.
I wonder if the surplus adrenalin and cortisol I produce is my brains way of trying to enable me to work at the pace I had set. A pace that was and is totally unsustainable. A pace that had me on my knees, barely leaving the house, tied up with guilt and feeling like a failure.
I’m no medical professional but this is my best guess.
All I know is my brain isn’t working like it should and I can’t fix it on my own.
The antidepressants help. They give me the volition to live well.
Since taking them my adrenalin and cortisol surge in the morning has calmed and I am far, far less anxious. When I suggest going out for dinner, or taking a trip somewhere my husband frequently asks, “Who are you?” because it has been so many years since I have behaved like this. For me, the drugs are part of my solution to being able to live well and I am grateful for them.
I often wonder how much easier it would be for those around me in church if I could stand up and give a testimony of healing. If I could point to a certain scripture and reveal that declaring it over my mind consistently, or finally understanding the truth changed everything.
I wonder if some people would find it easier if I could stop writing about mental illness as though it is part of my identity.
But it is.
This is my brokenness.
And I’m (mostly**) okay with that. Because I firmly believe it is my brokenness that makes me beautiful. Vulnerable, messy, complicated and imperfect, for sure. But beautiful.
I am a recovering people-pleaser and responsibility addict. I am a recovering restless soul, who didn’t know how or when to stop.
And part of my recovery is daily understanding what grace means.
And part of my recovery is true connection and vulnerability with people who love me.
And part of my recovery is taking the pills.
I need all three.
I need Jesus and my people and my drugs.
* Other antidepressants are available! But seriously, it can be a complicated process to discover which antidepressant is the right one for you, it is most definitely not a ‘one size fits all’ situation. If you are in the process of trying to figure this out – good luck. X
**Mostly… well, hey, I’m human, who doesn’t have days when they wish everything was perfect and they were completely well.
The photo of me above is by no means perfect, it is a little blurry which frustrates me. I can’t remember which one of the kids took it, but I like it. It shows me as I feel a lot of the time now: windswept, in my rain coat with no make-up, vulnerable but present, and pretty good.