2 Questions from 22 Words

sorry for the absence. since i posted last i changed jobs, and have been dealing with some stressful stuff. the new job is much more physical and i just haven’t felt like spending much time on the computer. sorry about that!

abraham piper over at twentytwowords.com posted 2 questions about depression and antidepressants yesterday. they are great questions, and there are some great responses. go and check it out!

i posted some thoughts over there, but thought i should share them here, too. here are abraham’s questions:

1. If antidepressants help with a physical malfunction in the brain, how come so many people treat them as a last resort? We don’t attempt to talk away problems in other parts of our body–athlete’s foot, stomach flu, throat cancer, etc.–before we use medication.

2. On the other hand, if depression is a physical malady, why is it diagnosed with conversations in an office rather than tests in a lab?

I’m not trying to make any kind of point with these questions. I’m genuinely curious (and ignorant).

and my answers:

1. stigma, stigma, stigma. and probably pride, too, in some cases. our country stigmatizes those with mental illness to such an extent that you have to fear for your job if your mental illness comes out, or worry that people will be afraid of you, or marginalize you. and that’s if they believe your sick! many people think mental illness is a crutch, an excuse, a cop out, something that only happens to the weak, etc. who wants to be slapped with those labels?

then there is the stigma for Christians: “you aren’t trusting God; you don’t have enough faith; you are in sin. if you just read your Bible more and prayed more, you’d be fine. mental illness is a hoax, etc.” yes, mental illness symptoms and sin look alike some times. yes, you can feel depressed as a result of conviction. but, those things are totally different from the real physical problem of mental illness. it’s a big risk for a Christian to “come out” as mentally ill. and depending on the home/church they grew up in, and/or the church they currently attend, it can be even harder. they may not be able to admit illness because they are convinced that it’s a spiritual weakness and not a physical ailment.

i love this question, because this question is THE question we should be getting out there. look at the effects of sin in the world around us and in our bodies! why on earth would we think that our brains would be exempt from those effects and not capable of illness? we would not condemn a Christian diabetic that takes insulin as spiritually deficient; why do we do that to Christians with mental illness???

2. the brain is likely the most complicated part of our anatomy and one that we understand the least, especially it’s chemical processes, and those are the ones responsible for mental illness. because of this, there is currently no physical test (blood, etc.) to diagnose mental illness. we know that two different people can function well with two completely different levels of serotonin (main neurotransmitter related to depression) and we don’t know if there is a minimum floor level of serotonin needed to avoid depression. however, my doctors tell me that there is research going on to attempt to develop a test like you described.

more importantly, we need to remember that all these fancy diagnostic tests that we have now were almost nonexistent 30+ years ago, and doctors were still treating patients. how did they do this? by talking to them in their offices about their symptoms. by observing them and examining them. the same holds for mental illness. psychiatrists talk to patients about their symptoms, ask questions about how they are functioning in their lives, observe their physicality (speed of speech, fidgeting, posture, etc.) all looking for clues to what is going on in their brains.

because we’ve never lived without these fancy tests, it can be easy for us to dismiss any diagnosis that can’t be measured by a blood test, but the era of this kind of testing is a blip on the history of medicine. they are wonderful tools, but they are not everything.

i also added a few thoughts in other replies. on my shame about my illness:

i was ashamed that i couldn’t get my spiritual life together enough so that i wouldn’t want to kill myself anymore. i was ashamed that i couldn’t work hard enough to fix it, that i was such a failure.

i was drowning in those thoughts for years before i pulled into my friend’s drive way and “heard” God say to me as clear as i have ever “heard” Him: “let me love you. LET ME LOVE YOU. let me love you with these medications that I have helped humans develop. RECEIVE MY LOVE, whatever form it takes.”

i couldn’t really argue with that. 🙂

on the treatment of mental illness:

i have bipolar type II and my major feature tends to be depression. about 6 years ago, the worst depressive epidsode of my life began. it was like falling off a cliff. it is only in the last year that i have begun feeling better in an kind of consistent way. all this to say, i know the misery.

what i have learned though is that mental illness for most people cannot be treated like other illnesses. in the same way that you don’t treat a cold like cancer. each illness, each person, needs to be treated in they way they best respond to.

i used to think that because mental illness is a physical illness, that if i just got on the right combination of medications, i would be 100% well and back to normal. now i realize that medication is only part of the treatment. i need medication and counseling from professionals. i also need to work on combating my negative thought patterns. i need to talk to my friends and family about how i’m feeling. i need to talk to God about how i’m feeling. i need to read my Bible and pray. i need to remember all that i have to be thankful for.

i’m not sick because i didn’t do any of those things. i’m sick because my body is broken in a fallen world. i’m sick because of genetics and chemistry. and i aggravated the problems already caused by my genetics with the drugs i took before i was saved.

i do all of these things because they are each weapons in my arsenal against this illness. they are tools to help me increase my coping skills so that i can better cope with my illness, because it can’t be cured by science. unless God chooses to heal me, i have to endure. and i need all the help i can get to do it.

what are your thoughts?


4 thoughts on “2 Questions from 22 Words

  1. Hey Rachel, I clicked over from 22 Words. But hey, when I clicked your name over there, you had notesfromthewell.blogspot.com as your website. I googled your title and it brought me to your wordpress site. Just wanted to give you a heads up. I’m sure plenty of people would love to click over and read more about your story, so I’d hate for them to not be able to get here!

    I agree with all of your comments over there. My favorite line, is when you said that unless God heals you, you have to learn to endure. That’s where I am. There are some days I think maybe He has, but then I’ll slip here or there and feel like I’ve retreated back a few years. But He is faithful to stay by my side, even when times are so dark it feels like He only has me by one, tiny thread.

    • thank you so much for the heads up, crystal! and for the visit.

      *sigh* endure. when God dropped that word on me a few months ago, it felt like a boulder. i stuggled with suicidal thoughts for many years, because i was so tired of the suffering, so tired of the struggle, so tired of how hard it seemed like everything was.

      when he nailed me with “endure”, i finally submitted myself to God in a way that made suicide totally unthinkable. he finally got through to me that the only option i had was to endure. i couldn’t heal myself, i couldn’t end the struggle, so i had to endure it. no other choice.

      at first it sounded awful (and to be honest it still does sometimes), but if God is asking me to endure, then he is going to make that possible by giving me the strength and by hanging on to me. that part sounds pretty good!

      it’s weird because i’m SO much better than i was, but i still have so far to go. i enjoy some things, but a lot of the time i don’t really see any point in still being here. my only hope is that one day i’ll die or be raptured and go to heaven. i’m not suicidal, but i don’t see anything good here for me in this life.

      so even though i’m so radically better and so thankful for it, i’m still enduring every day. but, there’s joy in that, and some other good things too. i’ve been mulling that thought over and hope to make a related post soon.

      hope you stay and read more and to see you comment often! i’d love to hear your story. 🙂

      John 6:39 (ESV) And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.

      when i read this verse, i picture us in his hand and that he will never let go or let me fall. now that’s security. 🙂

  2. Rachel, You’re a special woman. Any time you write I find myself being a bit envious as you have a gift of expression. That you have done this in the midst of some dark times shows me God is choosing to work through a weak vessel.

    You manage to offer hope to others as you seek it for yourself. That is God.

    It’s good to see you have written. It seems there’s a lot going on in your life right now. Please don’t feel pressured to put out X amount of articles per week, month, etc. You’ll right when it’s appropriate. We aren’t going anywhere. God bless and keep you Rachel.

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