13 thoughts on mental health.
I didn’t want to work out this morning but I pushed myself out into the sunlight anyway.
I’m confused by the weather as I walk the streets of my neighborhood. November in Atlanta is like a puberty-stricken teenager square in the middle of an identity crisis. Some days she is hot. Some days she is cold. She dresses up like winter on a Monday and then slips back into the nylon of spring by Wednesday. I wish November would make up its mind.
I pull out my phone and set the time for 45 minutes. I only need to walk and get my blood pumping for 45 minutes today. That’s all it will take.
I thought I would write about depression sometime in the month of October. It was National Mental Awareness Month. I thought I should have something to say but I watched the 31 days come and go.
I think there are times to write about what has happened to us and then I think there are times to allow what’s happening to us to just happen. No writing it down. No trying to make it eloquent. No forcibly documenting it for the world to comment on. October was a shaping month for me in regards to my journey to become healthy and whole. October was reflective and sacred in so many ways.
I look at the calendar and I know that the anniversary of November 18 is coming up. Two years ago, my life was flipped in an instant. Doctors looked at me with concerned eyes. People nearly forgot how to pray. It was the darkest and thickest time of my life.
When we were in crisis mode last winter, I booked an appointment with any doctor I could see within the hour. I didn’t care who it was. I didn’t care what they gave me. I simply wanted to know I would be okay, I would could out of the woods.
The doctor I saw prescribed me for a dosage of Prozac. She gave me sleeping pills. She basically had a pill for every ailment I could name. I sat in that office feeling uninformed and afraid. For the whole time I’ve seen this doctor, I’ve never felt like a priority to her. I’ve never felt like she cared much about the prescriptions she was writing me.
I know this is not the experience of every person. It is mine though. I felt that every word that came out of my mouth was met with a common answer from her, “There is a drug for that.”
I took my health into my hands this year. I started asking questions. I started needing answers. I decided to find a new doctor. I wanted to be off medication. I wanted to be healed. I wanted a natural diet and a good regiment of working out to be enough for me.
Lane is calm. He tells me people say all the time that God doesn’t do the same miracles now that He used to do in the bible. He says people aren’t looking close enough. People are discounting what a “miracle” looks and sounds like. He believes it is a modern-day miracle that doctors can create medication that balances the chemicals in the brain.
He tells me I am witnessing a miracle firsthand, if only I would open my hands and receive it. It is a miracle that I can be prescribed to something that lifts my fog of depression and allows me to seek God doggedly and serve Him persistently. Modern medicine— prescribed well and watched carefully— is a miracle to me. It allows me to feel the depth of my relationships, take in the love of my fiancé, and renew my mind without a million detour signs running in my brain.
It has made me feel seen by God.
I sat on a waiting list for 5 and a half weeks before being able to see the new doctor. She is a Christian psychiatrist. In the time I waited for the appointment, I prayed. I prayed she would understand me. I prayed she would see me. Like, really see me. I prayed she would have answers. I wanted to know the pathways where God and medication pass one another and overlap.
“Working out will be medicinal for you,” the new doctor tells me when I am finally sitting in her office. “People who go through depressive episodes are twice as likely to come out of them when they workout 5 days a week for 45-minutes as opposed to 4 days a week for 30-minutes.”
She answers all my questions. She lets me start by telling my whole story from start to finish. She doesn’t look at me like I am crazy. She is patient and kind. We go over on time and she doesn’t flinch or push me out the door.
I feel heard.
“Have you read the book of Job?” my new doctor asks me.
“I have in pieces,” I tell her. “It was my favorite for a while but people told me to lay off it while I was going through the depression because it was a little too intense.”
I’m an intense person. I like intense things. I have a tattoo on the back of my neck about the book of Job. That’s how intense I am
“And how did it end for Job?” she asks me.
“Well, I know he had a lot of awful things happen to him. But it was restored in the end.”
“Yes,” she says. “But it would never go back to what it was. And for Job, it was never about whether his life would be restored or not. He learned how much God loved him.”
We always talk about the restoration of Job’s life, how the blessings came back to him.
“I bet Job still cried at night though,” I say to her. “I bet Job still felt the pain of loss. I bet people said to Job all the time, ‘Well look, God restored it in the end.’”
If I were Job, I would probably look at them and say, “Yes, but you don’t know how much I value the taste of air. The taste of breathing after a long time of drowning.”
When you’ve been through hell and back, you never take the taste of air for granted again. It’s with you everyday. You suck it in and you exhale.
Waking up— after a long while of depression robbing sleep from me— is like poetry now. It never gets old. It never gets tired. I am most thankful for the days when I wake up and realize, “I am okay now.”
My doctor tells me 1/3 of people go on medication, come off it, and never have to go back on it again. Another third go on medication, come off of it, and have to go back on it when symptoms return. The last third are on it for their entire lives and that’s okay too.
I’ve never had a doctor tell me “that’s okay too” in regards to mental health and medication. Words like “that’s okay too” are like water to me in the dry of a desert that has never seen rain.
I’ve struggled with feeling right or wrong about medication. The church rarely talks about it. I’ve stumbled through conversations with people who have told me that God could heal me in an instant if I would just let Him. They talk as if I am holding doubt by the neck, refusing to let it go.
I believe God is a big-time healer. I believe His breath is the first and last one. However, I also know my faith is mighty. My faith is not small. And so, while I believe that God can heal me, the fact that I have not been healed is not a sign that my faith is weak or my expectations are low. It means we are partnered. It means God thinks I am strong enough to keep walking this road and asking my questions.
“Taking medicine is a wise act of faith, not unfaith,” Zack Eswine writes. “It would not be wise to live by a supposed faith, and cast off the physician and his medicines, any more than to discharge the butcher, and the tailor, and expect to be fed and clothed by faith,” Charles Spurgeon said.
I don’t know where God stands on medication some of the time. But I listen to wise counsel. And I pray often. And I try my best to still the voices in my head that are chaotic and loud. When I can still them, this quieter voice comes through. It is polite and it is sweet. It is honest but it is graceful. It tells me often that I am okay, to relax, to breathe, be okay with the “not knowing.”
My new doctor lets us close with a prayer. It's not short and rushed. It's long and winding. She cares about the words. I've never had prayer in a doctor's office before.
My favorite element of God is the not knowing. I love that about my relationship with God. I love that there is grey area. I love that I cannot possibly be wise enough to understand all this life has given me. There are a dozen things that happen on the news, or happen in my personal life, that leave me raising my hands, shrugging my shoulders, and saying, “I’m not really sure.” I don’t get it. It is not always mine “to get.”
Learning the elements of God is like learning the traits of someone you’re in love with. Lane gets a fire in his eyes when he comes home from work, makes a meal for himself, and sits down with a blanket to drink a big glass of chocolate milk. It’s like he is seven. I fall in love with him all over again as he dances around the room in giddy delight. I think, “I didn’t know this about you before. This is another element of you. I love trying to understand you. I could make a lifetime out of getting to know you better.”
I feel that way about God too. I think my heart would be broken in two if ever there was a day where the learning stopped and I suddenly knew everything there was to know. That’s the beauty of God: you can spend your whole life “coming to know Him” and still never touch the tip of what He is.
I am still on medication. I can talk openly about it.
I take medication but it is not the only way I take care of my health. I see a therapist. I talk things out. We open the wounds, we don’t hide them.
I love bringing it up. You might think it is strange but my conversations with readers and people who come to see my talks are a thousand times richer and deeper when I say the word “Prozac” from a stage. People have questions. People have been in need of answers just like me. People want to know they are not alone. So I like to stand on a stage and tell people the truth, “No, you are not alone. Ask all your questions. Don’t stop.”
I am stronger now, thanks to modern medicine and big faith. Now I have eyes that see in the dark. This is, by far, the most beautiful part of my diagnosis. Some days are still hard. Some mornings are still slow and threatening. The threats are empty though because I know the way home now. I have eyes that see in the dark. I know the dark cannot have me.
Two November 18s ago, there was a sermon series happening at my church in Connecticut on the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are the part in the bible where Jesus gets up on the mountain and basically throws the game off as He declares that blessed will be the opposite of the ones we think should be “blessed.”
This is when people start to say, “This Jesus man— He is something different.”
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
I clung to that one. I prayed in the darkness that I would be pure in heart. That God would know I wasn’t doing anything but trying to make it out of this time alive. I begged for the pure heart. I begged to see God.
Two years ago, I would have thought it was proud to say I have a pure heart. Today, I know I am not proud. I know I have a pure heart— scraped and chiseled— because I see God every single day. I see God in the way you see the man at Kroger shuffling the stray carts through the automatic doors at the front. He’s living in my inbox. He’s sitting at my speaking engagements. He’s everywhere.
Now I have eyes to see God. Now I have eyes that see in the dark.