Discover more from Not Your Helpmeet
Mental health is not a spiritual issue
Let’s talk about mental health.
As a kid, my days were measured by network TV shows–The Price is Right in the morning; I Love Lucy right after; Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy in the evenings. My brain is mostly medicine commercials. I can still sing the Knoxville Wholesale Furniture jingle. (The furniture you want!) During one period in the early 2000s a very common commercial was one for Cymbalta, a depression medication. Time has erased all the nuances of the commercial except for the tagline: depression hurts.
Thanks for reading Not Your Helpmeet! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
This phrase was a mystery to me, which is perhaps why it has stuck in my brain for the last 20 years. Depression does not exist in Evangelical cultures. If you’re depressed, then you’re not finding your joy in Jesus. You’re not praying enough. You’re not reading your Bible enough. You, most likely, have unconfessed sin or pride or rebellion. But let’s be real, Christians can’t be depressed, they say. If someone finds out that you’re depressed, they tell you to be happy. They send you Bible verses about how “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” They tell you to stop being sad.
I’d heard rumors of sad people. They weren’t strong Christians though. They were relegated to the fringes of the community and never got positions of leadership. The leaders were the people who had a “joyful countenance”, who said, “blessed” or “better than I deserve” in response to “How are you?”. Those who didn’t radiate the joy of following Jesus need not apply. Those who were not exuberant for the Lord were exhorted to examine themselves and see if they were really saved.
Poor mental health is rampant in my family thanks to a toxic cocktail of genes, poverty, and mid-century America. I’ve heard rumors of relatives who had to spend time in institutions and relatives who would disappear for days on end. We never talked about it. Which is why I found myself in my mid-20s googling “what is anxiety” and “how do I know I’m depressed.” As I scrolled through the symptoms and causes and cures, I was relieved to have a name for this unseen thing I’d been carrying around.
I don’t really know when I first realized I was depressed. When you’re raised in a culture that doesn’t allow for a full range of emotions, it’s very difficult to pinpoint your exact emotional progression. I just knew that there would be days where I would want to sleep. Days where I wouldn’t want to talk. Days when I felt like driving my car into a ditch. Christians couldn’t be depressed, however, and I was ostensibly a Christian. It must be something else.
Years later, at my first therapist appointment, she asked me if I’d ever been on medication. I said no. She asked if I was open to it. I said I think so. I’d been reading about it online and maybe listened to a podcast about medication for mental health and I wanted it. This was only ten years ago and I was still leery of using medication for these types of things. I’d heard horror stories from various religious leaders about how depression medication would ruin you, how it would make you dependent on drugs, an addict. But I was pretty desperate. The full-body anxiety and panic attacks were getting to be too much to handle. So, I had a conversation with myself that went something like this: your brain is not producing enough serotonin. Taking medicine like this is no different than taking a multivitamin. It’s replacing a deficiency.
I got the prescription. It changed my life.
About a month ago, I woke up feeling depressed. I didn’t realize it until a few hours after I got up, but then once I became aware of it that stupid tagline from that commercial popped into my head. Depression hurts. I get why the marketers chose that line. They were trying to say that this isn’t something that’s just in your head, but rather something that’s as real as a broken arm. It’s not entirely true though. My depression feels like driving through a thick patch of fog. You can see it, but it’s not really there.
I took walks. I watched Bravo. I ate cookie dough for lunch. I took my medication. Still, it took several weeks before I felt like texting people again or organizing dinner dates again. What I didn’t do? Beat myself up for feeling “sad”. Guilt myself into meditating or force myself to be happy. I was talking to a friend this week about sabbaths. She was talking about how sabbaths are not just about rest, but about activity; being outside, doing something that’s restorative physically as well as mentally. I don’t consider myself religious anymore, but I do think there is something to what she said. We need time to rest. We need time to take a leisurely walk or just turn off our brains for a minute. Performative happiness is just that–a performance.
One of the biggest lessons I’m learning in my post-fundamentalist life is how to trust myself. My brain and my body knows what it needs. I saw this latest bout of depression as my body trying to tell myself that I needed to power down for a few days. I’ve had a very emotionally-charged start to the year and my nervous system called a time-out. Does that mean that all my depressive bouts are like that? IDK. Who knows why the brain does what it does. I’m learning not to fight it.
Thanks for reading Not Your Helpmeet - subscribe for free below.