Let’s Talk About Mental Health
If you have kept up with my blog posts over the last few weeks, you probably feel I may be slightly bipolar. I am not, I promise. But while we are on the subject, let’s talk about mental health for a bit, shall we?
Specifically, mental health in a conservative religious setting.
Yikes, what a trainwreck that can be!
For those of you who have read my book, or have been following my blog for a while, you probably are already aware of the mental health challenges my son faced early on in his life. Watching my child go through depression and anxiety at such a young age, drastically changed my viewpoints about mental health.
You see, I was raised in a home where you just “prayed through” if you were feeling sad, angry, scared, anxious, lonely or even ill. Whatever the issue was, I was always taught it was a me problem. Something I needed to fix by prayer and inner strength alone. Relying on medication was strictly taboo.
This wasn’t an exclusive idea to my home either. I just recently heard a story of a young lady who was dealing with suicidal thoughts. It was assumed by her church that she was just making up stories about her mental state. Tragically, no one pointed her in the direction of a mental health professional, they just pointed her to the altar to pray more.
When I was diagnosed as being diabetic at the age of fourteen, I felt like I had failed in some way. I felt less than and inferior to those who were healthy because I had to rely on insulin to keep me safe. (Turns out insulin could have killed me, but that is another story for another time). I thought if I could somehow pray hard enough or say the right words, or have enough faith I wouldn’t have to take medication anymore. It wasn’t until not that long ago I overcame those feelings.
So, imagine, if I felt insecure because I had to take medicine for a disease you can see in bloodwork, how I felt at first when my son started taking medication for his anxiety. I felt like an absolute failure as a parent. But it was abundantly clear to me, a child that young suffering those things was not because he didn’t have enough faith, or because of anything he did or didn’t do. He was a child. It was clearly biological.
Now, you would think having gone through that situation personally, I would give myself more grace.
But, the past stigma is strong.
I started taking anxiety medication right before I wrote my book. Working alongside therapy, the right dosage of medication helped me tremendously. I overcame panic attacks, difficultly sleeping, heart palpitations and other physical symptoms I was having.
I graduated therapy and weaned myself off of my medication. It was never meant to be a lifetime fix for me, just something to help me through overcoming my past.
But then this week happened. Without going into details, it has been a week of absolute hell for me. Once again, my body started responding to stress physically, in undeniable ways I cannot ignore.
Which brings me around again to my point, why do I feel so guilty about seeking help?
Because I had one messed up childhood.
Isn’t it amazing things that happened to us years ago, pop up with fresh feelings when the present circumstances are just right? I know so many 30 and 40 somethings that struggle to make sense of and heal from their childhood. Childhood was decades ago, why does it have such a stronghold on us?
For me, my home situation coupled with my church situation created mass craters of trauma that got buried beneath feelings of insecurity, pridefulness and just life in general. I navigate life unaware of their presence until I suddenly have an event that creates a sinkhole. And then I feel buried alive.
But I refuse to let my past hold me back. I refuse to allow the stigma of mental health make me feel ashamed because my body needs medication to help me cope.
No, this does not mean I don’t believe in prayer. This does not mean I don’t think God will come to us in our time of need. But what I do believe is, God has given us the ability to medicate.
The Bible itself tells us God gave us wine to help us cope with stress and ailments.
Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress;
Proverbs 31:6 ESV
(No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.)
1 Timothy 5:23 ESV
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.
Psalm 104:14-15 ESV
Am I saying to become an alcoholic, no. But I feel I have to clarify for those who are looking for an argument.
But here is my point:
None of these verses say, only pray about your struggles. They imply that God gave us a tool that will help us control the neurons in our brains. Just as alcohol, medications can help us safely process our emotions by somewhat altering the chemicals in our brains. It is up to us to take advantage of this God given opportunity. He even gives us permission multiple times in his word.
I suppose I will forever carry reminents of my past with me. Betrayal is a strong force to overcome. But I am okay in saying I will be using the help of a therapist and medication to guide me through the landmines.
I would be foolish not to.
Thank you for sharing your heart Jennifer! You’re so right about the “church” needing to have this conversation. I’m sorry you’re going through a rough patch right now. That was a great point about the mentions of wine on scripture. Using proper tools to cope is a sign of wisdom, not a lack of faith. I appreciate you and will be praying for you as you deal with this.
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Thank you sweet friend. I appreciate you!