Not too long ago, I was diagnosed with a certain type of depression. I will come back to that . . .
Until two years ago, I felt as if I was a slight bit taller than others. I could not explain it, but sadness and depression were always those things that other people had. I was quite immune. Probably because they were not as strong as me. Probably because they were not as focused. Maybe even because they did not trust the Lord like me. Whatever the case, I did not “get” depression. Imagine me as a pastoral counselor. I would stoically look at people wondering why they weren’t just following what the sermon said. “What about Chuck’s sermon, did you not understand?” I would think to myself (knowing this was not a good pattern of thought). As well, at this time, I had made it through my sister’s death and my mother’s stroke as I attempted to hold the rest of the family up. I was a rock.
However, two years ago things changed. One week, I just fell apart. I cannot tell you why, but there was a definite change in my psyche and personality. I just was not the same man (or so it seemed to me). It was not about being happy or having a smile on my face, it was about being me. “I” was gone and I did not know how to find myself. I cannot tell you how frustrating (and how enlightening) this was. The “cloud” that drove Angie (my sister) to her death had now settled over my head. I finally understood her language. No matter how much I tried, I could not talk or think myself out of it. This affected all of my relationships. Even with my kids, I just did not care about how school was, what their grades were or whether I was being a good dad. The outlook was grim as depression—real depression—had hit me for the first time.
Back to my diagnosis.
I never went to a doctor for this. Taking medication was not even on my table. Why? When my sister went in for a routine check-up when she was going through her divorce, the doctor gave her Zoloft to help her “get through the rough time.” She did not ask for it, but it was prescribed nonetheless. Four days later, after never having experienced depression, she took a bottle of sleeping pills to end her life. She said she “snapped.” While it did not work that time, she was then placed on anti-depressant after anti-depressant until, due to the exhaustion of finding no answers, she successfully ended her life. Therefore, I have steered clear of any consideration of anti-depressants for myself.
This is not to say that I don’t think that there are times when they are the only and best alternative. I do—very rarely as a last resort.
However, having never been to a doctor about this, I did have a comment once from a Christian psychologist who visited my blog. He said I was suffering from some sort of depressive disorder and feared that it was borderline serious, suggesting that I needed professional help.
While I appreciated the care that this individual had for me and, I am sure, all those who suffer, at the time when this was written I was not depressed (at least in an out of the ordinary way). I can see how he would have thought that I was, but I found it quite disturbing that such a diagnosis would be made from reading a blog (especially when I am writing one a night on subjects across the spectrum).
The point of my last post was not a real argument for the tongue-in-cheek Luther illustration, but about the ease with which doctors are prescribing mind altering drugs these days. I argued that real consideration needs to be made that depression, sadness, and mental disorders are indicators of something other than the need to be made “better” by mind altering drugs. There are many reasons for depression that simply must be explored before we take something to get us through the “hard times.” Hard times are hard for a reason. Depression can often be the tool of God to shape us into dependent beings. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Sometimes we are unwilling to consider the blessing that the “dark night of the soul” may provide. Many times depression is an indicator of our need to eat right, exercise, deal with sin, or forgiveness. It may also provide, for some, the ability to come to others in need in a sympathetic way. For some it is just their personality—their normal personality—and a vehicle for their giftedness and contribution to the world.
My point was not to say that there is not such a thing as chemical imbalance or severe depression that necessitates more extreme and dangerous measures. This is coming from one who took his sister to have ECT (electric shock therapy) seventeen times (fifteen was supposed to be the max). I simply believe that we have become too dependent on fast fixes, wanting to find the easiest way out.
After Angie’s first attempt, I went with her to the doctor. I took her to a Christian psychiatrist whom I trusted. He was my professor in Christian counseling for a time at seminary. He is very renown in the area of psychiatry. You would probably know him if I told you his name. He taught me about treating a hurt brain as one would a hurt heart. We studied MRI’s of the depressed brain compared to a healthy brain. He taught me that medicine was a gift of God and we, as ministers, should not be against it. Just as we treat a broken leg for injury or an infection with penicillin, so we must treat an injured brain. The co-teacher of the course took a little different slant to provide some balance. He would often speak about the absolute necessity of cognitive therapy and the limited usage that psychotic drugs should have. The tag team teaching provided some good balance to the course and helped us consider all the nuances of respected opinions. To be sure, I left there convinced from both men that there are times when medical intervention was necessary. I am still of that opinion.
However, I was very disheartened with the performance of this doctor with Angie’s condition. It seemed from the very first consult that it was a forgone conclusion that she simply needed other drugs. We discussed what drugs she was going to take in what measures. Then we made an appointment to come back for a follow-up. He did stress that she needed to get into cognitive therapy, but this was nothing more than an after thought that was not to be revisited again.
Again, I am not against drugs. I am against the direction that some in the medical world seems to have taken with regard to prescribing these drugs.
My wife, father, and other sister were all prescribed this type of medication by someone other than a psychiatrist or, even, the recommendation of a psychologist. Another close family member was put on Paxil by her family doctor and simply had her prescription filled each month for twelve years without any further consult. She finally detoxed herself from them.
I believe that there needs to be more accountability in this area. I don’t know about you. I do know how sensitive this subject is and I don’t want to sound as if I am speaking down to all those good people who truly don’t have any other recourse. For you, I am sorry for the lot God has given to you and I am so comforted that these drugs are helping, if that be the case. I just think there needs to be more fear of these meds. And it is not because I think that a high percentage of people are going to kill themselves because of an adverse reaction. While this is a possibility, it is rare. I simply think that the liberality of the diagnosing of people with some “disorder” that must be treated by drugs is dangerous. It, I believe, can be counter-productive to the necessity and blessing of suffering. The “necessity and blessing of suffering.” The shock that you may feel that such a statement can be made is understandable, but evidences, I believe, our good intentioned wayward direction.
Think of taking mind altering drugs like neck surgery. You simply don’t want to have to have neck surgery. Sure, it may work. As well, the ability to perform such a procedure is a gift of God. But, as any doctor will tell you, this is a last resort. Do everything you can to prevent this surgery. Physical therapy, exercise, stretching, and time are all paths that must be pursued first. There is too much risk in neck surgery for it to be on the table too quickly. Only after you have tried everything else, consider the surgery.
Here is the pattern I idealistically wish were the case with regard to our present issue, particularly for Christians who are experiencing depression or some other form of psychotic issue:
Step 1: Go to your pastor (make sure it is not a pastor who is not set against drugs). Work through whatever spiritual or sin issue that could be the cause of the problem. And yes, you need to consider demonic oppression (although, to be honest, I don’t know really what that looks like). If this proves ineffective, go to step 2.
Step 2: Hopefully, upon the encouragement of your pastor, seek out a Christian psychologist who can work with you in cognitive development more long term. If this proves ineffective and your psychologist suggests, then go to step three.
Step 3: Go to a psychiatrist who can prescribe meds. Make sure that this psychiatrist is not committed to meds, but committed to all three steps. Make sure that you are monitored closely and that there is a plan to get you off the meds if possible. All the while, during step three, you would never stop pursuing either of the first two steps.
In the end, let us not be so quick to be so evasive with our brain. A blog reading diagnosis, while kind and considerate, needs to vanish. It should take a lot more to tell someone they have a “disorder” of any kind. Anti-depressants should not be the norm the way they are today.