I have struggled with depression for my entire adult life. In a recent blog, I defined spiritual fitness based on a definition of physical fitness. Mental fitness is similar: a mentally fit person has the intellectual and emotional energy to handle the ups-and-downs of daily life, and as well as the larger difficulties that occasionally arise. Before I received treatment for depression, I couldn’t handle every day life. I lived on an emotional rollercoaster, lacking the ability to cope rationally with the smallest difficulties. I made bad decisions based on emotional responses which were not commensurate with the situations I was in. When actual difficulties came along, I had no ability to cope whatsoever.
Some Christians believe that depression is always a purely spiritual issue, and that medication only masks symptoms of a problem for which God is the only solution. Others leave God out of the equation entirely and think that each person should pursue whatever remedy he or she feels will work for depression.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
I first received treatment for depression at the age of twenty-two. I needed, and still need, antidepressants. It took time to determine which medication would work for me. The medication does not make me feel happy, but it allows me to think rationally even when my emotions are irrational. I still struggle with feelings of depression, but my mind is conscious of the fact that my emotions, and the thoughts they inspire, aren’t necessarily founded in reality. My intellectual side can “talk to” my emotions and keep them from taking over and driving my actions. The medication enables me to function normally in spite of my emotions; it does not alter my emotions.
As Christians, it is important for us to realize that physical health, spiritual health, and mental health are inextricably tied together. Everyone needs Jesus, that is foundational. Christians generally accept medical treatment for physical ailments, but some draw the line at depression. Yet, if antidepressants are wrong, what about medications for other mental illnesses? Some forms of depression can be tied to thyroid or pituitary gland problems; is it okay to treat those problems with medication? Antidepressant medications treat a chemical imbalance in the brain. As for those who are struggling, with or without God, to get through difficult circumstances in their lives, antidepressants aren’t likely to give them much benefit. The benefits are for those who, because of heredity, brain trauma, or even medications for other health problems, are suffering from an imbalance in their brains. As my doctor has reminded me, it is God who has given us medications from the earth. We should thank Him for the many things He has provided which help us with our physical ailments.
But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.
To those on the other side of the spectrum, I want you to know that in all of my struggles with depression, God never left me. He was with me just the same whether there was any real reason for my depression, or not. But I had to do my part; I had to reach out to Him and seek Him. At times, I was in sin, and my relationship with Him was in a bad place. Yet, I didn’t stop seeking Him in my heart, even when my brain was struggling. It is clear to me that a healthy spiritual life is key to helping keep my depression under control. I always do better when I am immersed in Scripture and I take the time to pray. In the times when my mind realizes that my emotions are irrational, I can comfort myself with hope from the truth of God’s Word. I may be walking through my life in a depressed mood, but I have my Savior beside me. He is able to encourage me. I don’t know how I would get through without Jesus! Yet, I did muddle through for a while without Effexor.
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
Having dealt with this problem of depression for the past twenty years, I have reached a place where I want to choose to live each day with as much joy as possible. This means seeking God to keep myself spiritually healthy. It also means taking my medication, exercising regularly, and getting sufficient sleep in order to be both physically and mentally healthy. I strongly believe that I have been able to get my depression under control because of both God and Effexor. God alone can get me by, but without the medication, I would not be where I am today, having written a book manuscript, started a weekly blog, and begun using my skills to teach Scripture.
Before medication, I wrote melancholy poetry and short stories, and I hoped to be a novelist. With medication, God has given me a passion for His Word, and He has made Himself and Scripture my favorite topics to write about. I am much more able to be used by Him. He is the One I lean on to get me through the most difficult issue in my life: being single and childless as I face turning forty this year. Effexor can’t make me feel happy about that, but God can give me endless joy in the life that He has called me to!