Hey friends…this is a pretty personal subject for me. The post is a bit longer than I like, but I just couldn’t tell the story with fewer words. If you have a family member or friend who struggles with depression, anxiety, Bi-polar disorder, ADHD or any other mental health issue or disorder, please read, for their sake. They need your understanding and support…
When I was a little girl, my mom had sinus headaches. Lots. Of. Sinus. Headaches. I remember most days, my younger siblings came home from school asking, “Where’s mom?” The answer was always the same: “She’s lying down. She has a sinus headache.” Well, many years (and Sudafeds) later, she discovered what she actually had was a case of chronic migraines. (Which I inherited…faaabulous).
Anyway, the interesting thing about it is the way she was diagnosed. I’m sure there are many ways to diagnose migraines, but I remember her saying the doctor had her come to his office when she was experiencing a severe headache. He told her he was going to give her a medication and if it stopped the headache, it was a migraine. If it didn’t, it wasn’t a migraine. So, she took the medicine and, lo and behold, the headache stopped.
Pretty simple test, don’t ya think? That always stuck with me for some reason. And the other day, when I was pondering something a family friend had said, it came back to me. We were talking about how his wife has been struggling with health issues. He said she feels like she’s an old woman in her thirties. She has several health issues that are causing her fatigue and pain. Then he said she just can’t seem to feel good enough to do anything about it. He said if he could give her anything for a day, it would be a day without pain. (What a sweet thought!)
Then, as I asked more questions, it sounded to me like she was quite depressed, and had been for some time (takes one to know one and I’ve been one). He agreed that she was depressed, so I asked him if she’d considered talking to her doctor about an anti-depressant. If she felt better, she might exercise…lose weight…be in less pain, etc. He replied, “Yeah, actually, she asked me recently if I thought she should go on medication. I told her she could if she wants…but that it’s really just a band-aid.”
When he said that, I felt something snap inside me like an over-stretched rubber band. I took a deep breath so I wouldn’t snap at him; It wasn’t his fault he’d hit a sore spot.
See, I once felt the same way, that anti-depressants were just a band-aid. I thought, “If you take meds, you’re not really addressing the problem, you’re just masking it.” As a woman of faith, I thought maybe you weren’t relying on God enough, if you needed medication to handle life. I thought all those judgmental, ignorant things…until I went through a clinical depression.
That was fourteen years ago and while I’m happy to share that journey with you, starting back at the beginning will make this long story even longer. So, you can click here to read about “How a Happy-Clappy Girl Ended up in a Clinical Depression.” However, today’s story starts in 2012.
That was a very tough year for me. I went through some personal upheaval at the same time my husband was going through some really stressful things at work and for both of us, the extreme stress lasted many months. And by the spring of 2013, I was in a very bad place.
In 12 months, I had gained almost 30 pounds (food = medication). I was emotionally spent. Physically exhausted. And I felt like a complete failure because I couldn’t seem to make any headway in the areas of my life that I wanted to fix: Healthy eating, weight, exercise, self-discipline of any kind, clearing the clutter, keeping my home clean, training my kids to do the same, etc.
I finally admitted to myself that I was indeed quite depressed and I needed to do something about it. I saw my doctor and explained what was happening and he suggested a medication called Wellbutrin. Well, let me tell you……it was exactly what I needed. Remember the migraine test? If the medication worked, it was a migraine. I’m not kidding, this stuff worked so well for me that within the first two weeks, I lost ten pounds, de-cluttered my entire main floor and felt better than I had in years.
And within four months, I’d lost 35 lbs and felt more in control of my life than I ever had. So, when that family friend said he told his wife that medication was just a band-aid, I politely said, “With all due respect, you’re so wrong. Medication may be exactly what she needs to make the positive choices in her life that will create a lasting change.”
I should clarify that I don’t believe that medication is always the answer, nor do I believe that it is the only answer. BUT, it shouldn’t be ruled out because people have a misconception that depression is something you just need to “get over.” For some, it is just a short season due to stress or trauma. But for many people, it’s actually a brain chemistry issue and it can be helped with medication that addresses that chemistry issue.
Why is there such a stigma about taking medication? (Especially in faith circles!) If you have diabetes, you take insulin. If you have asthma, you use an inhaler. You don’t say, “I think this insulin is just a band-aid.” Or, “Well, I think I’ll just try and pray through this asthma attack.”
My husband said something very perceptive, when I told him about the band-aid comment. He said, “It’s more like a bandage. And sometimes a bandage can be the difference between life and death, like when you’re bleeding out.” I love it when he’s profound.
He’s right. A bandage stops the flow of blood, preserving life. It then gives the wound time to heal without it getting infected, causing the whole body to fall ill. If medication is that kind of “band-aid,” why would anyone refuse to consider it?
When I’ve told people I’m on medication, many people reply in hushed tones, “Me too!” But I have had other people say things along these lines: “So many more people are on anti-depressants these days. Why is depression diagnosed so much more than it used to be? They can’t all be actual cases of depression. I don’t think medication is the answer.” Some have even suggested, “Maybe you should look into other ways of dealing with your symptoms.”
Well let’s go back to the diabetes example. If your sister was diagnosed with diabetes, would you say, “So many more people are on insulin these days. Why is diabetes diagnosed so much more than it used to be? They can’t all be actual cases of diabetes. I don’t think insulin is the answer. Maybe you should look into other ways of dealing with your symptoms.”
Of course not. Because medical issues are acceptable but mental health issues are still a taboo subject. In mainstream America, it’s a rare thing for someone to be told they should pray more and not take medication for their high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, arthritis, or allergies.
But God forbid (kinda literally) if you should need to medicate your child for ADHD, if your wife needs bi-polar medication or if you need an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication. If you or a family member is diagnosed with any of those, you will likely keep it quiet. Because there is a pervasive feeling that taking medications for those things means that you are failing as a Christian, a mom, a husband, etc. You’re not praying enough or walking in enough faith. Or in some circles, you must be hiding some kind of “secret sin” and that’s why God is not helping you feel better.
Well, I’m sorry, but I just have to say I think that’s a load of crap. This topic gets me a little riled because I’ve seen so many friends and family members needlessly struggle for years under a cloud of depression or the fears of anxiety. I’ve seen children struggle with sitting through six hours of school with ADHD, barely able to contain themselves, always feeling like there’s something wrong with them.
Medication is not the only answer but it can help! And people should feel free to explore all options, rather than excluding the thing that may help most because they don’t want to use a “band-aid.”
I wanted to speak out about this because I think it’s a discussion that needs to happen. I don’t claim to have all the answers or know what is best for each situation. I just want to be someone who removes the shame label for those who take medication for a mental health issue.
You’ve probably heard the story of the young guy who prayed and asked God to save him from a flood. He saw the flood waters rising past the level of his front door and he said, “Please save me, Lord!”
Before long, a woman came by with a paddle boat and yelled for the man to swim over and get in. He told her thanks, but God was gonna save him.
Soon, the water had him taking refuge on his second floor and again, a boat came by. This time an older gentlemen pulled up to a window with a speed boat. “Jump in!” he shouted. But the young man said thanks, but God was gonna save him.
Finally, he had to crawl out onto his roof and soon a helicopter came by and offered rescue. He again said thanks, but no thanks.
Within the hour, the young man was standing before God, on the other side and he said, “God, I believed in you. I asked you to rescue me! Why didn’t you?”
God said, “What are you talking about. I sent three people to get you!”
God’s answers don’t always come in the packages we expect. So yes, I take drugs. The anti-depressant/ADD kind. And I am so thankful to God for providing a rescue for me, so that I can be more myself. A better wife, mom and friend.
And…the comment section is open for discussion. Ready…set…go!
(…and if you haven’t had enough reading yet, you can read the rest of my depression story here.)
photo credits from Creative Commons.
Headache picture: Avenue G
Medication picture: Schjelderup