This title is not mine, but rather I’m sharing the title from Ann Voskamp’s blog. She wrote a post called What Christians Need To Know About Mental Health. It came on the coattails of the terrible news that Matthew Warren, youngest son to mega-church pastor Rick Warren, committed suicide on Friday night after a lifelong struggle with depression. [story here]
The news, of course, seems to be stirring many, Christians especially, to delve more into the topic of mental health. There is quite an array of opinions about the subject, so here, I’m choosing to share mine.
When I finally decided to get on anti-depressants my first son was six months old and my mother said, “I can’t believe you’ve made it this long without them. I thought you should have gotten on them years ago.”
Her comment was not offensive to me. It was true. I probably should have gotten on them years ago.
Instead, I’d denied medication because I thought it was more noble just to pray. I thought I needed to prove something. Prove my faith. I thought something might be wrong with me and my Christianity if my Jesus didn’t simply take the depression away. It’s been this way for as long as I can remember.
So I hid. I closed the door and the windows and I only gave one person the key to my dark place. My husband bore the burden. No one else was to know this dark space existed. So on difficult days, I stayed home. I didn’t answer my phone. I didn’t make plans with friends. I didn’t do much of anything. I just texted my husband about how miserable I was and how I felt like the room might swallow me up and I’d never come back. Sometimes I wished that were the case.
Often times the very next day I would wake up feeling cheerful and light and jump back into normal life. I just never knew when a dark day was going to hit.
Many Christians simplify depression, even people in my own church, including my own husband. I’m not a psychiatrist, but I understand deep down in my soul that my depression is a complicated thing. It’s not something I ever chose to have and while there are things I can do to help myself, it is not something that I can simply will away with positive thinking or by force.
The simplified version of depression is that if we muster up enough faith and ask Jesus, he will heal us from it. Depression is a demon so just tell it to go away. So I did. And because my depression dug it’s heels in and decided to stay, I felt trapped. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. It set in. I felt like it was okay for a new Christian to be struggling with this darkness, but not for me. Not for over-churched, Bible-reading me. So all this left me feeling confused. How could someone like me, who believes in the everlasting truth in the Word of God, still struggle, intensely at times, with depression?
When my son was about six months old my depression took on a new form. It took on more of an anxiety quality. I don’t know why, seeing as I felt more happy and fulfilled than I ever had before in my life. Of course things were difficult at times. The learning curve with having a newborn is extreme. But I was happy. Yet happy Erin still struggled with depression that was now turning into moments of extreme anxiety and panic.
After a few incidents where I freaked out and lost it, I told my husband, “I don’t care any more. I need to get on meds, like tomorrow.” He said okay, and we quietly spent the next few hours putting back all the clothes and shoes that I had just ripped out of our closet in a fury of panic.
The medication helped almost instantly. The first thing I noticed was that I rarely ever cried anymore. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been someone who cried at least every other day, usually more. I’d always been an ultra-sensitive person where things that might seem minor to someone else, felt huge and extreme and way too big for me to handle. Actually, a lot of the time my relationship with God just seemed to be me trying to get over bad feelings. Sometimes I felt so tired of that. I just wanted to feel okay so that I could think about other things for once.
Even though I struggle with it, I don’t fully understand depression. In some ways the medical explanations don’t help and neither do the spiritual. Both types of explanations make sense, yet both leave you not really knowing how to move forward or improve. What happens if I take the medications and the medications don’t help? What happens if I pray for healing and the healing doesn’t come?
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the Word of God and I believe that Jesus can and does heal. I just know from my own real life experience and many of my friend’s, that standing before God with hands held high, worship music blaring, with your fist pumped, declaring that you’re healed, isn’t always gonna make it happen right then and there. God has his reasons, and if you read a book like Job you’ll realize that sometimes when you’re the character in the middle of your story, there is no way in the world that you are ever going to figure out the WHY of what God is doing. I believe in his goodness and his loving nature towards me, but I don’t think I always know what God is up to.
I also think that healings along with signs and wonders are not the point of a relationship with God. When I first became a Christian I worshiped God and loved God because of who he is, and that was all. In the beginning, the gift of salvation was more than enough of a reason to love him back. So why then, as time progresses do we start to obsess over getting healed? Why do we think that if we have a back problem or depression that we must be doing something wrong with God? Sometimes healing doesn’t happen in an instant. Sometimes works of redemption take time. Sometimes they take a long time.
I think that people who deny medication are doing the best they can. I think they really want God and they believe in miracles-so we shouldn’t judge them.
I think that people who take medication are doing the best they can. I think they make the decision because they want to enjoy life and be a better version of themselves and feel happy – so we shouldn’t judge them either.
I think that’s my whole point. There can be so much judgement when it comes to mental health, no matter how you individually choose to approach it.
I’m not an advocate for meds, in fact sometimes meds don’t help and sometimes they even make a condition worse. Matthew Warren had been on meds and even seen some of the best mental health doctors in the country, yet he still struggled. But sometimes they can help someone get through the meantime. Sometimes meds can pull someone struggling with depression out of the fog and out from under the heavy load so they can get on with their life. And sometimes they are needed for a lifetime…and that’s okay too. If I had cancer or arthritis or whatever, I would probably take medicine as long as it was necessary as well.
So for me, the medicine has been helping. I cry less and the things that used to make a huge splash in my day oftentimes seem now like little pebbles dropping into the lake. For the most part now I feel like I am more in control of my feelings; like I finally have a say in some of it. Before, my feelings ruled over me and I didn’t have a fighting chance. Now, I’m more even keel and I don’t live on the roller coaster every day. But once in a while I still have my days. However, now my dark days are more like three times a month instead of three times a week or more. And they’re not as dark as they used to be. My darkness has lightened by a few shades.
I truly hope I won’t need to stay on this medicine the rest of my life. I still plan to pray for healing – instantaneous healing and slow progressive healing because I’d be happy with either one. I was healed from an eating disorder a few years ago so I know for a fact that God’s miracle healing is real. But that didn’t come from just declaring healing over my life. It came through honestly desiring the healing followed by a slow, painful and messy process. One where God took my hand and led me through the mess and out onto the other side. One where God started the process of healing, not me. You can’t force that kind of thing to happen and it doesn’t do any good to pretend that it is happening if it isn’t. If it’s not real, the only result will be guilt.
But I can tell you one thing, I don’t feel guilty before God. When I talk to him I don’t feel like he’s shutting me out because I’m taking medicine. Right now I’m a better mom and person in general because I’m on antidepressants. Right now, I’m experiencing more joy because my mind isn’t so weighed down with bricks of sadness. Right now I don’t think about suicide because I don’t get swallowed up by the dark feelings that like to grab onto my clothes and pin me down. Right now I’m living in God’s grace. And if God whispers to me that he wants me to flush my pills down the toilet because I’m healed then I will do it and I’ll dance and shout his praise before men. But right now, I’m going to praise him as I am.
If we’re honest, aren’t we all a lot more broken than we’d like to be?