How Shame (and pride) Kept Me Sick

There were definitely times in my life when I should have seen a doctor. One of those times happened a little around 14 years ago.

I was in the midst of a depressive episode, the second of what would become many. I was drowning in a dullness that I found myself unable to escape, and it was consistently painful, painful to the extent that I didn’t want to live. So one evening, I took what remained of a bottle of muscle relaxers, drank as much alcohol as I possibly could, and went to sleep. When I woke up, I found that I had vomited.

I should have seen a doctor then. Instead, I rinsed myself off, and went to work. Six weeks later I met Trish.

In my relationship with Trish I received a hope and stability I had been lacking. She helped me through the season she found me in, and would become the person I leaned on throughout the next decade and a half of highs and lows. Though we would come to tell each other most of our darkest secrets, I didn’t talk to her about that day until this last year.

Trish, this incomparably patient angel, has endured the roller coaster of being married to me with a grace that I will never understand or feel worthy of. Even after it became apparent that the shifts in my mood were less than normal, she would only occasionally suggest that I see a doctor. Though she did so with a gentle kindness, I resisted, made feign attempts to schedule an appointment, and attempted to muster myself out of whatever dark place I had found myself in.

For the last year, I’ve thought a good amount about what kept me from seeking professional help, and I find one part of the answer to be incredibly disappointing: I would have rather died than felt that I had failed to get through life unaided by meds.

And that’s how I saw medication. As failure. I couldn’t bring myself to consider for even a moment that I could live knowing I had relied on something I saw as akin to a crutch.

So I tried to push my struggles as deep under the surface as I could. I found myself pursuing challenges I should have avoided, determined to prove I wasn’t somehow less than others. That I had the potential to be as whole as I perceived them to be.

The more I denied myself the help I needed, the more I came to resent those who felt free to pursue relief through medical means. Even as my wife was experiencing her own mental-health struggles, I would encourage her to muscle her way into a better place. When others would recommend she talk to a doctor about maybe trying an anti-depressant, I would discourage her from considering the option.

What’s even worse is how incredibly counter my opposition to this type of help was to the gospel I had been preaching over the course of my adult life. I talked about God’s love for the broken, for the lowly of spirit, for those who mourn. I espoused the goodness of presenting a contrite heart at the altar of a truly benevolent savior, while inwardly despising the thought of achieving salvation through extra-biblical means. I sought heaven by force of will.

And in doing so, denied a whole gospel. One that sees God’s means of grace in nearly every facet of life, including psychiatric medication. It would take being broken beyond my ability to function before I could accept that.

Today, there are medical miracles at work in my blood. A regiment of little white pills that I still occasionally cringe at the sight of, ones that help me sleep at night rather than walk around in anxious circles, ones that keep me from hearing demons clawing on the roof, ones that allow me to believe that my friends are truly my friends and not my secret enemies.

Collectively, ones that allow me to have a more consistent belief in God, albeit, in slow recovery from delusions that once found me believe I was His special prophet.

All to say, His power is made perfect in weakness, even the type of weakness that needs a pill to help it on its way. It doesn’t deny the reality of my ultimate dependence on God, only reinforces the insufficiency He proclaims I embody throughout every page of His word. If it took a surrender to my physical need for medication to understand that, it will be worth every single co-pay.

2 Comments on “How Shame (and pride) Kept Me Sick

  1. Thank you so much for putting this out there. So very well said. I’ve been dealing with some mental health stuff as well and also had major hangups with taking the meds. Being a Christian heavily involved in a church with mental illness is one of the toughest positions I’ve ever found myself in. Thank you again for being willing to speak up and speak out. I pray that it helps to enlighten people.

    • Thanks for sharing, Traci. That’s definitely a hard place to find yourself in. I’m sure your presence is a huge blessing to the church, though it may not feel that way. Thanks for your prayers!

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