Author’s Note My Karen is not on social media. I completely respect her privacy and try to be careful about posting items about her. But I cannot tell my story without including her role in my health. So this post tries to balance these realities. Just know that what I have often said is true (and people think I’m joking, and she doesn’t believe it): without Karen I would have long been dead in a gutter somewhere.
Context For three decades I was in full-time pastoral music ministry in two large churches with large staffs. I was involved at some level with pastoral care, including some “light-weight” counseling. In both churches there was diverse opinion about the meaning and treatment of depression. I never held the opinion that depression is first and foremost a spiritual condition and that (therefore) anti-depressants were almost never a valid option for the Christian. At the same time, I recognize that our culture rushes to medicate, seems content to dull difficult emotions, and generally avoids serious self-awareness.
Story In my teaching gig, for three years I have had the freedom to stay home on Thursdays. With no classes, I could work from home during the day. And with no church choir, spend the evening at home with Karen. So it was a natural to have my weekly therapy on Thursday mornings—the day then being truly a “mental health day!” I set things aside, took 90 minutes to drive to, sit in, and return from counseling. At supper Karen would ask me about my session.
Couple of things here. First, when Karen asked questions or helped me connect the dots I usually understood better what was stirred in counseling. Second, as she has never let me take myself too seriously (and, really, this is one of her great gifts to me), we often found something to laugh about. Energy restored, and new perspectives gained. Win-win.
At about three months into my sessions, at dinner Wednesday night, out of the blue I said to Karen, “At least I’m not on medication.” Not that I wouldn’t go there—I was just glad it wasn’t necessary. If I had an ear ache, I’d use medicine to clear it up. If I sprained my wrist, I’d wear a splint. I had an appointment with my physician for something else on Friday, and assumed he would prescribe something for that issue as necessary. So, if the need were there, why not a drug for this thing called depression?
Fifteen minutes into my session the next morning, my therapist said, “I think we need to talk about medication.” I laughed. Not that I didn’t believe him; it was just so typical . . . that door was opened before I was asked to walk through it. Well, OK, so now there’s this conversation.
“I am not averse to considering it. I don’t think of it as defeat. It is no more stigmatizing than the diagnosis of depression. So, yes, I’ll think about it. But first, are there some steps I can take to see if it’s necessary? We’re only three months into counseling, and just getting started on some issues.”
Here is what my counselor wants to see in place before going the medication route:
· Get physically active. (Um, OK. Cycling and walking?)
· Have people in your life. (Like my wife? Our kids? A couple of close friends? Ministry? Students?)
· Be involved with something outside yourself. (See two points above)
· Maintain a spiritual connection to something or Someone greater than yourself. (And yes, we had had quite a few conversations regarding our mutual Christian faith.)
Dang! Trapped. I can’t put off this decision.
“OK, well, you’ve got me there. But I don’t want to take medication that gives me a false sense of ‘wellness’ and not deal with these issues in a real way.”
The medication option we discussed is quite simple and pretty low key. Not a mood-altering drug so much as a reliever of the heaviness—the tiredness—that colors everything I am involved with. The goal is to have the emotional energy and space to address and deal with the issues.
(Later, through the podcast “The Hilarious World ofDepression,” I heard this brilliant statement: The opposite of Depression isn’t Happiness, it’s Energy.)
So, was I willing to talk to Karen and my physician about this?
“Well, as it turns out, I have an appointment to see him tomorrow, about something completely different. So, I guess there’s no time like the present.”
Karen had the same questions and reservations that I did. Ultimately, of course, it was my decision, and in any case I hadn’t seen my doctor yet. He readily understood what was going on, we had a long helpful conversation, and I walked away with a prescription for the smallest dose of one of the mildest anti-depressants. I agreed to stay on it for a year, and was told it would take 4 – 6 weeks to take complete effect. “How will I know?” I asked. He said, in all seriousness, “Karen will let you know.”
So, there it is. It is now over 9 months on this medication. Since summer, my therapy sessions have been reduced to once per month. I have depression. But, as I recorded in my prayer journal early this year:
I do not sleep well, but You are my Rest.
I worry about many things, but You are my Comfort.
I am depressed, but You are my Joy.
Next time, how Karen (and I) know I am in a better place.