Just Say Yes* to Drugs

Just say “Yes” to drugs.

*The ones prescribed by a competent psychiatrist. (Emphasis on competent).

Just say “yes” to the psychotropic ones that alter brain chemistry when they have decided to take up surfing or mountain climbing or cave exploration rather than keep their day jobs and be satisfied with instant Maxwell House instead of Starbucks.

Brain chemistry is an emerging science. I’m guessing that most people do not worry about their levels of serotonin, dopamine, or norepinephrine. It is not what they think about when they wake up or kiss their spouse or go to work or get disappointed when another crash has back up I-95 like a parking lot. Some of us do or should. When they get unbalanced, so will you.

Hence the importance of medication.

At least give them a fair shake. Find the right drug, the right dose, monitor in constant dialogue with your psychiatrist and see how your life can be.

When you are done trying to pray away your depression, or ignoring it.

When you finally overcome your “psychotropic drugs are for weak people” hang up.

Or your belief that it is perfectly acceptable to cry every single day and not want to leave the house and obsess about why everyone doesn’t love and appreciate you and see no positive future for your life, ever.

Just say “yes.”

What psychotropic drugs do for people like me and millions of others is to give us our life back. They give us our life back though we may not remember what life was like before. Or if there was a “before.”

They give us a life that is different from the one that is or was, a different life.

A more preferred life.

But not necessarily a more normal life. Psychiatrists hate that word “normal” because what is normal for you might totally suck for me and vise versa. For example, I enjoy folding laundry, butterfly gardening, photography, NPR, 60’s groups like the Grass Roots, loving my wife deeply, and buying books that I may never read. You might enjoy some of these things, but not all of them and probably enjoy other things and consider yourself normal. My normal and your normal do not have to be the same, so the term creates more problems than it is worth.

Of course, there are likely some things that we all can agree upon are either normal or not, but current reality TV suggests there is always a niche for a new normal for someone out there.

Before medication, my body which had always been a bit susceptible to poor reactions to stress, but typically bounced back after some R&R and a few months in counseling had finally, like a piece of metal flexed too many times, weakened and broken. Over the years I had suffered from a stream of health problems related to stress from burning reflux to Irritable Bowel Syndrome-like symptoms to Erectile Disfunction (just typing those last two words is so much fun for me now – try it). But two years ago even I in the midst of my own new normal of tears and darkness and fear and self-loathing and reflexive defensiveness could see that I had a problem that even a purring cat couldn’t solve (Honestly, Luna cat, it wasn’t your fault).

And as I type this now after nearly two years of medication and therapy and a second cat, I am more than ready to declare that life today is not like the life that once was. My serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine play much nicer with one another. Most of the time. Without too many side effects. Anxiety does seem to drop from the sky from time to time. Is it a “normal” amount of anxiety? A “typical and acceptable” amount? Eh. I would prefer none, but as my saintly shrink likes to remind me, I am stuck being a human being. Do I still get depressed? Again, eh. Rinse, wash and repeat what I said about anxiety. Certain things can trigger either of them, my own personal kryptonite. I know them and for the most part I still can’t do much about them short of constant vigilance and avoidance. It gives my psychiatrist and I something to talk about every few months.

There is real joy now. Moments profound and deep and rich with feeling, of being one with God and the universe and time and space and all that. Moments that I no longer fear will not repeat; lost forever, worthy of grief and sorrow and cascades of tears. Maybe now is the true beginning of faith. And honestly, I do not give a sh*t whether the drugs have unblocked them and freed me to experience them or produced them by setting some mad scientist free in my brain. If it is the latter, I owe him/her/it and their ordinary drip coffee-drinking selves, my life.

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Apparently I’m Still (Uneasily) Human

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
 and the light around me become night,”
 even the darkness is not dark to you;
 the night is as bright as the day,
 for darkness is as light to you – Psalm 139:11-12

Apparently I’m still human.

Though I am still not so sure how I feel about it, emotions being such messy things.

Let me explain.

In all things moderation, the saying goes. However, I am by nature not a particularly moderate person. Years ago, when my wife mentioned we might want to start cutting back on beef and pork, I went cold turkey (except for bacon, because, of course, bacon.) When we first moved here sixteen years ago and I decided to garden, I ended up digging up huge swaths of grass around the house and have been futzing with it ever since.  There are 23 pots of African violets within my line of sight as I type this.  My legacy in lack of moderation speaks for itself.

One of the side effects or at least outcomes of two years of medication and therapy has been an impact in my “enthusiasms” as well as my emotions. The internal fire from my hobby of nature photography has not burned out, but remains a time of solace and renewal for me. As for my emotions, when one goes from crying almost daily to once or twice a year and from becoming impatient and angry quite frequently to once or twice a year, any hint of negative emotion can be alarming, almost shocking.  Recently that alarm rang in deafening clangs and whoops and siren screams. I had the experience of that paralyzing unhinging of emotional control; going from master of the moments of my life to a lost child who keeps repeating a single phrase: Did I forget to lock the door?

When one stands of the precipice of the deep dark rabbit hole of depression, frozen in place by anxiety and the ground begins to give way, panic usually ensues and builds upon itself, a tsunami of misplaced energy and debris. Pointing into the hole is a sign: “This way there be monsters” until the sign, itself, becomes victim and food for the abyss.

This time I refused to be consumed, to be nutrient and simultaneously excrement in the ongoing neuro-chemical war in my brain and body. Not. This. Time.

I struck back at the chaos brought on by a person, who had once again wounded me, by this time separating them from their unhealthy behaviors. Behaviors are things that can be placed in the matrix of acceptable and unacceptable. Others can be invited in to offer wisdom and determined a shared and agreed upon way forward. I was no longer alone and involving others became a lifeline pulling me back, keeping my feet firmly planted.DSC_0740

Look, we can seek to love people without affirming poor behavior. Without proper boundaries everything is food for the darkness, which has consumed many people and perhaps especially pastors who often struggle, I suggest, with separating people from their behaviors and inviting others in to take a firm stand on the matter. Congregations can be havens for unhealthy people for there is where a loving and supportive community gathers and there is where the power and presence of Jesus, our wounded healer can be especially present and experienced. Congregations are also where things can be so right and go so wrong when unhealthy behaviors are tolerated, and by that I mean, ignored or even affirmed when grace is confused with pity.

We can’t fix people, but we can seek to respond to their behaviors in appropriate ways. We can continue to work on our own health so that we do not become victims  and in that we make ourselves more open to more truly and deeply loving God and neighbor.