mental health medication + faith

being a christian who struggles with mental health, I have always felt as though there was a certain stigma surrounding the idea of a person of faith in an all-powerful, healing God taking a medication for anxiety + panic attacks.

as awful as it sounds, sometimes the people I’m most nervous to tell about my anxiety medication are those that I go to church with – not because they judge me, but more because I was judging myself. what if I just didn’t have enough faith? why isn’t God healing me? obviously I just need to pray more, right? and then when it comes to those who maybe don’t believe in God, I feared that I couldn’t be a testimony of healing.

my religious background comes from a church that strongly believes that God can heal even the most insane of physical + mental ailments, and I, too, believe that down to my core. I’ve seen it happen right in front of my eyes, it’s hard for me not to believe it… which is probably why I fought starting a daily medication for so long. I believed my divine healing was coming. obviously I just wasn’t having enough faith… right?

I always end up coming back to talk about this past summer (2017) when my anxiety hit a new low – I felt so dragged down that my anxiety started leading to depression, which led to weekends plastered to my bed with every ounce of my being desperately wanting to get up and do something, but somehow not being able to muster up the strength.

during those days I found myself taking my as-needed panic medication to numb my thoughts, but that made me feel like myself even less. I always said that on that particular medication, you could give me a presentation on how much you don’t like me and I probably wouldn’t care – that’s how emotionally dead it made me.

I ate well. I exercised regularly, especially in the face of an upcoming panic attack. I would also turn my worship playlist on repeat – pray, sing, just find peace in God’s presence. and it did help immensely. but could I spend 24/7 curled up in bed? just listening to the same playlist over, and over, and over…? not really. I had work, I had a life, and I couldn’t spend my days feeling burdened and overwhelmed by thoughts that would spin more and more out of control.

because as easy as it is to try and tell someone “just get over it,” it’s incredibly hard and nearly impossible to simply stop your brain from dwelling, especially when there are existing chemical imbalances in combination with challenging circumstances. so, I finally talked to a doctor to get a prescription – one that doesn’t change my personality. in fact, I feel more like myself now than I have during the last 1-2 years.

I’m not here to argue why there is divine healing for some and not for others, because I definitely don’t claim to know all, if any, of the answers. but a sweet friend of mine lent me a book by Max Lucado called Anxious for Nothing, and there was a statement in what I’ve read so far that really stood out to me:

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“… For some of you God’s healing will include the help of therapy and/or medication. If that is the case, do not for a moment think that you are a second-class citizen of heaven… This much is sure: it is not God’s will that you lead a life of perpetual anxiety” (Lucado, p.11)

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to a lot of people, it seems like a no brainer that people with mental health problems, religious or not, should be able to take medication. but out of curiosity, I ran a poll on Twitter to see how “frowned upon” the idea of taking mental health medications as a Christian was. out of 112 votes, only 4% voted that they considered it wrong.

I didn’t receive any explanations from those who responded “yes” and why they perceived it to be wrong, but I did some from those who replied “no.”

“as much as friends/mentors can tell me to pray about it, I’m aware that prayer does not always have immediate effects and sometimes immediate effects are necessary when it comes to mental health. that doesn’t mean I don’t pray about it and solely rely on my medication to fix everything. I was literally destroying relationships before I started taking medication and no matter how much I could ever pray about it, those relationships would have continued to be be destroyed + suffered if I hadn’t gotten medication.”

another response said:

“it’s not wrong but I do believe God wants us to live free and not dependent on other things.”

the truth is, there is a delicate science to our brains, Christian or not, because we’re all humans that are susceptible to such occurrences. and God has created mankind to have the knowledge and intelligence to be able to find ways to fix those imbalances. it seems like the real misunderstanding can be when others perceive the use of medication as a non-dependence on God (which, the line can seem easy to blur). but God does want us to live free… but that can mean living free from poor mental health, too.

although I was turning to God during those times, I was losing sight of my ability to pursue Him with my whole heart + His calling for my life because I was so stuck in a selfish way of thinking and focusing on pulling myself out of a rut each and every day.

to my friends + readers that struggle with feeling like they shouldn’t need to take a medication:  don’t do anything you don’t want to do, but also know that by making the decision to start a medicine, it does not belittle you as a Christian. God knows your heart – you know your heart. and sometimes God provides healing through the solutions that are right under our nose. let doctors know about your concerns, whether you’re scared it will alter your personality or cause any other kind of undesirable side effect that you might be concerned about.

you see, it came down to realizing that my faith is not determined by the medications I (do or don’t) take. my faith has not been negatively altered by my decision to take an anti-anxiety medication. my faith is determined by my ability to have a relationship with God in which I can identify that He is my savior. my calling is fulfilled when I can act upon what God is telling me to do… which I felt incapable of doing when anxiety consumed my mind.

ultimately, the decision is between you + God – He knows what you need and whether you feel like you’ve exhausted other methods of alleviating your mental health. and if you’re anything like I was, fearing that you have less of a testimony because you took what might feel like “an easy way out,” you’ll come to find that you might be the voice someone else needs to be able to find theirs.

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