“Antidepressants, Six Months In”

Categories: M. W. Bassford, Meditations

Last summer, as the reality of my terminal diagnosis was dawning on me, I experienced a mental-health crisis.  In response to this crisis, I began taking two antidepressants, Trazodone and Lexapro.  Now that six months have passed, I thought it would be worthwhile to revisit that decision and its consequences.

I’ve never had a problem with other Christians using mental-health meds, but it wasn’t something I had wanted for myself either.  I’ve been prone to depression throughout my adult life; looking back, I count at least seven major depressive episodes.  However, last July was the first time I sought professional help.  Before that, I hadn’t wanted to acknowledge my struggles to anyone, and I’m strong-willed enough that I figured I could muscle through on my own.  That worked OK until last summer, when it clearly wasn’t working anymore.

Once I started my medications, though, my improvement was swift and dramatic.  I don’t think this is typical; I’m probably something of a poster child for chemical intervention.  Nonetheless, the Trazodone quickly suppressed the nocturnal anxiety attacks that were depriving me of sleep.  Because I was better rested, I was able to get a handle on the depression with the Lexapro’s help.

That help proved to be more modest than people often think it is.  I’ve heard brethren say that they don’t want to take antidepressants because they don’t want to be numb inside.  That’s not how I felt.  Instead, the meds felt to me like touching something while wearing thin knit gloves.  I still had the same sensations, but the edges weren’t as sharp.

On the flip side, the antidepressants didn’t do the work for me either.  They gave me a ladder, but they didn’t haul me out of the pit.  I had to redirect my own thoughts down healthier paths. 

Interestingly, one of my most powerful tools in this was prayer, but not prayer for myself.  When I caught myself dwelling on my dreadful future, I started praying my way through the roster of members at Jackson Heights in considerable length and detail.  I found that my prayers benefited me as much as the recipients!

Conversely, if I had sat back and waited for the pills to do their thing, I don’t think I would have improved much if at all.  Antidepressants aren’t magic potions, and when people take them expecting an easy fix, they’re going to be disappointed.

Today, despite my grim prognosis, I find that my mental health is as good as it has ever been.  Looking back, I see that I didn’t realize how much depression was affecting me not just in the midst of emotional crashes, but all the time.  If I had been willing to seek help 25 years ago, I think my life would have been much sunnier.

I’m certainly not going to dictate to anybody else what they should or should not do about their mental health, but I do believe that antidepressants can play a useful role in the emotional life of the child of God.  Yes, Christians 2000 years ago got by without them, but those Christians also got by without eyeglasses, antibiotics, and knee replacements.  When these blessings exist today, why not take advantage of them?  All of us will experience more than enough suffering in this life without adding to it needlessly.