Y’all. Today is World Mental Health Day, so let’s talk about mental health. Specifically, mental health medication. At this point, I want to put a clear trigger warning that mental illnesses will be discussed throughout this post. Proceed with caution. I also want to point out that any decisions you make about your mental health should be made with your doctor and/or therapist, and that I am not an expert and my experience is in no way a general guidebook of how to handle mental health.
I grew up with mental illnesses during a time when I don’t remember people talking about them. Looking back, I can realize that I had symptoms for a long time before I was able to put a name to them. I just didn’t know what was happening because I didn’t know what mental illness was. I didn’t know that your brain could get sick too. Growing up in the church, I had an experience a lot of people who grow up with mental illness in the church have. I thought I was broken. I thought I was sinning and that God was mad at me. I heard people talking about choosing joy and I couldn’t figure out how to do that. Those were the bad years – filled with inner turmoil and hidden shame.
Thankfully, the church has gotten better about this. Words like “depression” and “anxiety” aren’t taboo anymore. I often rejoice in the fact that my children will grow up hearing these words spoken from the pulpit.
However, we still have a long way to go, friends. Both in the church and as a society. We talk about mental illness more, but we rarely talk about how to help. We don’t talk about therapy or medication. We don’t talk about the realities of healing from a mental illness. I still get funny looks every time I mention being busy due to having counseling. I still feel the inner shame of discussing medication for my illnesses. We’re getting there, but we’re not there yet.
We talk about and pray for healing in the church a lot. We pray that God would come and touch our minds. That’s awesome. We don’t talk about how God can do that through therapy and medication. That’s not awesome. I’ve personally had well-meaning people within the church tell me that God doesn’t want me to take medication for depression because He is going to heal me. My former college roommate had someone tell her to literally throw her medication away. I’ve heard a lot of prayers for people with physical illnesses talk about God working through the hands of the doctor. I’ve never heard someone ask God to work through the words of a therapist or the chemical effects of an anti-depression medication. Do I believe God can heal and does heal people with mental illness? Yes. Do I think He heals every single person? No. I’ve learned that “healing” can be a journey that consists of a lot of things, such as friends, family members, therapy, medication, etc.
The way we talk about these things matters, people. Stigma exists because we tip-toe around conversations that are hard. I get it. Talking about wanting to die is awkward and uncomfortable. Talking about taking medication to make your brain work can be embarrassing and un-fun. But when we continually ignore questions and conversations like these, we continue to perpetuate the stigma around them. We continue to send the message that mental illness is something to be ashamed about.
I take medications for my mental illness. The last five days, I’ve forgotten to take them because life gets busy and hard. The last two days, I’ve barely eaten anything. I’ve slept a total of seven hours. I can’t quit shaking and my stomach hurts constantly. My thoughts are racing so much that I can’t focus on conversations at work. I’m not looking for pity. I’m getting back on the medication and I will be okay again. I’m trying to convey how important medication can be for people that need it. I spent my whole life wanting to die and once I finally found the right medication for me, I started waking up wanting to live. That’s huge, friends. It’s a big deal. This is a big deal. The words we use, the way we talk about these things – it’s a big deal.
If you’re on medication for mental illness, please know that I see you. I care for you. I am so, so proud of you for the choice you make every single day to keep fighting for your health. I know the journey to getting here wasn’t easy. I know the journey may still not be easy. I know the hard days still come, but I hope they start coming less often. You are on a journey to healing and that is so brave of you. Please, know there is no shame in taking the medication that keeps you healthy. It doesn’t mean that you have less faith or that you are broken or that you don’t believe God can heal you. It means that you are strong. It means that you are amazing. It means that you can make it. I believe in you, friend. You’re doing great.