Bursting the Bubble of Medication
So I will be honest with you. For many years I thought having to take medication for mental health issues was just an excuse to not have to step up and face your issues.
I think that is because I had met many people who said they suffer with mental health issues and treated their medication as the only thing that kept them on track, when at the same time they were unwilling to face any of the issues in their life, have any professional support and often used their illness as a way of avoiding doing anything they didn't want to do.
Let's be honest; there are of course people who use any type of illness as an excuse not to do things or blame others for life, but lets not allow that to skew the picture for the majority who face overwhelming emotions, thoughts and feelings everyday that severely impact their ability to cope and function as they would like.
I was also influenced - sad to say - by many in church circles who believed and still do that you 'just need to have faith' or 'pray more' or 'just believe' whilst ignoring the clear medical facts behind many mental health issues. The horrific addition of spiritual manipulation (however well intended) on top of struggling with overwhelming mind battles is dangerous and wholly detrimental to someone's journey in faith.
I also thought that medication was only for those with 'serious' mental health conditions which were keeping them safe from themselves and in society. Not little old me with my anxiety issues and a little depression right?
I carried these opinions of medication throughout most of my journey in Ibiza, even when it was becoming painfully clear that I was struggling with anxiety and depression, and that things were getting worse and not better. The addition of experiencing others with severe mental health issues on the mission field further firmed my opinion that I didn't want to become one of 'those' people who take the medication and don't cope very well with life.
It was 2 things that changed my opinion about medication. Firstly when Matthew Warren, son of Rick Warren - who is a huge influence on the worldwide church - committed suicide. It sent shockwaves across the church - how can the son of such a man of faith experience mental health, even to the extent of taking his own life? Well instead of saying his son had lack of faith, he burst the bubble on medication, talking bluntly that if you have to take medication for things like diabetes why not medication for the physical impact of the mind? If someone told you to stop taking your heart medication, or insulin because you 'need to have faith,' would you? No you wouldn't - and this was his argument and opening up of the conversation of how the evangelical world deals with mental health.
The second is when Abby had arranged for me to be hijacked in my flat by one of our team members who explained their journey with mental health and how her experience of Sertraline - one of the most common anti-depressants - helped her to feel like she had head space to then face her issues. Instead of depression feeling like it was 'on her face,' the medication felt like it removed it slightly from her. This enabled her to engage in counselling and take note of the messages and emotions that lurked within without the debilitating external noise.
Meeting someone who was full of faith, respected, balanced and who described using medication as any other - a way of helping your body to cope and heal whilst you also help to deal with any root issues that make it worse - was a breath of fresh air.
Why would I not want something that would give me a little bit of help to create space to process what is going on inside and begin to proactively deal with things? This is what I needed and what I could reconcile.
So I did. As soon as I came back to the UK, I went to the doctors, explained how I was feeling and my willingness to try medication alongside the counselling sessions I had signed up to.
Well I have been on Sertraline for 3 1/2 years now, and it has enabled me to face, process and deal with many of my internal issues which caused a number of coping mechanisms and control patterns over the years. It has enabled me to function as a husband and father without the quick and damaging reactions. It has enabled me to have quiet and still times without a million thoughts going through my mind and it has helped me to see that healing, especially with mental health, is multi faceted and can include the physical, mental and even spiritual. I have had to do a lot of hard work. I have had to choose to be proactive, I have had to choose to really live - the medication won't do any of those for you - but they have enabled me to make the choices that otherwise seemed out of reach.
I am not sure if and when I will come off Sertraline. There will always be a come down as things rebalance and it will certainly need to be a spacious time of a couple of months in order to do this. But even if there is a process to come, or even if the medication is long term, it has certainly helped me to change direction in life and live a much fuller version that I previously experienced.