My relationship with medication

Our culture hasn’t quite made up its mind about medication. Medication is either a miracle of modern science, an uncomplicated solution to faulty brain chemistry, or it’s a bandaid - a shamefully crude response to serious underlying “issues.”

I once took a class on Abnormal Psychology taught by a renowned counseling psychologist. When we discussed the treatment possibilities across various mental disorders, he repeatedly emphasized that therapy was superior to medication. Not because the results were better - they weren’t - but because the “relapse rate” was often worse for medication. That is, when you go off the medication, you often feel bad again. I always thought this reasoning was a bit strange: there are many solutions in the world (most, even), that are no longer solutions once you stop doing them. Can we really hold that against medication?

(Um. Yes? I'd venture to say we'll hold pretty much anything against drug companies.)

Photo by David Calavera on Unsplash

I first tried medication when I was nineteen or twenty. I took a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) for anxiety and depression. Within a few weeks of starting the med, the stomach aches which had plagued me since childhood abruptly stopped. No more sharp pain when I ate. I suppose I could’ve gone to therapy; I’m kinda glad it was easier than that.

I tried it again in the last four months of my drinking. Partnered with alcohol, those poor little pills were fighting quite the uphill battle. And when I quit, I also abruptly ditched the meds. I had developed the notion that my SSRI was blocking my real emotions, and for once in my life I was intent on feeling everything. I wanted to be my full self in early sobriety - to learn who that person really was - and it seemed to me like a medication might interfere with that.

Looking back, I don’t think this logic was totally sound. Looking back, I think I just wanted to see my life erupt. It was kind of like when everyone is sitting around a campfire, and the person most intent on keeping the fire going keeps stealing stuff out of people’s hands. Half-eaten bags of chips are ruthlessly sacrificed. Never mind that I wasn't finished, that the meds would've probably eased the transition into sobriety; I wanted to see my life burst.

After a year of being sober, I tried out a new SSRI once again. As a good little therapist-in-training at the time, I knew my reasoning had to be sound. I knew that if there were “underlying issues” or big, bold, environmental facets of my life that were totally getting in the way, medication wasn’t likely to help. But that wasn’t the case: at the time, I was feeling anxious on a daily basis in the face of no obvious environmental stimuli or personal negligence on my part. I was attending meetings frequently, sponsoring women, cleaning my side of the street, completing a daily inventory, etc. I just also happened to be navigating the world in a needlessly hyper-aroused state. And there were zero tigers.

Some time later, fear called out to me: What if the medication prevents you from being your true self? What if your true self is meant to be melancholic? What if you wake up with racing thoughts just the way God intended? At the time, I also kind of hoped I no longer needed medication. Although I didn’t think I was biased against it, there was something kind of poetic about being my full self, substance- and drug-free. (Not so poetic that I would consider going even a day without caffeine, but poetic nonetheless.)

That was a year ago. About three weeks ago, I decided to give medication a try again. I had been in a rut, and a friend of mine had suggested that I pray for God’s guidance. My same solutions were not working. As strange as this sounds, as soon as I loosened my grip on the reigns, a few solutions fell into my lap - and one of them was medication. I began the SSRI that very day, and immediately felt my body (not quite my brain, but certainly my body) calm down. The perpetual knot in my stomach began to dissolve.

A bit unexpectedly, this is a difficult thing to share. I had no idea I was harboring shame and uncertainty about this decision until I considered sharing it. For me, the most important takeaway is to be open to however God’s will is expressed. Do you remember that saying - when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail? I was tired of my old solutions. I asked God for a new tool - and suddenly, there seem to be way fewer nails lying around.