Do you remember what it was like before you got “the label”, “the diagnosis”, the “ahh, so that’s what this is”? Do you remember what it was like when you heard those words, “You’re depressed, you’ve had a psychotic break, you’re bipolar, you seem to suffer from anxiety, you have a personality disorder called Borderline Personality Disorder..”. Do you remember where you were when you first received the news and despite the language that was actually spoken, you heard “something is terribly wrong with you. You are broken.” Do you remember “hearing” these words? Do you remember how you felt? Remember the part of you that died on the inside because everything you’d come to know as real and special, as well as damning, was a diagnosable flaw? I do. I remember that fateful damning. I remember the signs all coming together in one moment of fate. I remember changing my identity from “Dan 6 the Jesus Freak” to “Dan 6 the man struck with lunacy.”
I remember how much this identity stuck with me after the initial labeling because the words ‘You’re crazy’ from an ex-girlfriend bore into my heart and soul to the point of shedding tears. It crushed me to hear these words from someone I loved and cared about on a level so high that it almost hinted of divinity. I never wanted to be defined as “crazy”, I’ve always wanted to be defined as someone who loves other for who they are and because I am worthy of such love. I’ve always had a spiritual soul, a hippy mindset, and desire to see the world know its value and worth. This has always been my identity, but then that damned diagnosis came and a faith that I used to have which was deeply personal and guided my life and movements, became entrusted and misplaced in the fabrication of just another pill and the lies of “big pharma.”
NOW, I must say this MEDICINE IS NOT BAD and the research is quite clear, therapy AND medication yield the best results, but when therapy looks you in the face and says “You’re wrong and what you think is wrong because you’re depressed and you need medicine.” I don’t care how therapeutic he may have penned the value of this intervention in his case notes, because they brought my psyche collapsing down around me. These words were spoken to me by a former therapist in my practicing evangelical days. Allow me to elaborate:
The knife was up to my arm. I could feel the cool metal against my flushed and burning skin as the salty tears rolled down my face and entered my mouth. I was sobbing uncontrollably and heard the screaming of the voices “You must die, Danny. Tens, maybe hundreds, of voices screaming the same message “Kill yourself”.
“Mom” I cried into the phone “help me..” I kind of slipped into this waking unconscious as I lay on the kitchen floor. The next thing I remember, my mom, aunt, and uncle showed up and took me away, not before praying with me. The voices, the psychotic episode, the screaming subsided. The next day, my mother’s former therapist, would tell me “You’re depressed and psychotic. You need on medicine. Go to your doctor and tell them to put you on Zoloft.”
Aside from the clearly ethical hang up with his advice, it also crushed my esteem and psyche. I believed it was spiritual and wanted to fight it with spiritual resiliency, but was told “you need medicine”. So now, with Zoloft and Jesus I would fight this ongoing struggle of on medicine, off medicine for the next few years. I would fight this medication and faith battle until the day that I finally resolved the two about 7 years later in a psychiatrist’s office. “You’re bipolar..”
Damn. Here I thought I was just depressed. Now every high moment I experience can’t just be living and enjoying life, you must be manic! That is how I’ve been treated (mostly from myself) over the last 6 years. I’ve tried 20+ medications, I’ve treated every feeling, behavior, and obsession as a symptom which needed to be medicated.
Please tell me, other than the legality of these drugs, how is this mindset any different than when I was smoking pot, all day every day, and drinking an 18 pack of beer nightly. I wanted to control feelings, symptoms, I wanted control over my circumstances, but was too cowardly to take it. It was easier to depend on an agent to bring my healing than to take responsibility for it.
10 years ago, I had to open my mind to medication and the benefits it could provide to my quality of life. Today, I have to open my mind to faith and a new understanding of what spirituality can be and is, for me. I lived off of orgasmic highs in worship services, to now loving the quiet contemplation of my mind in meditation and deep engagement of my heart in good conversation. These are the moments that have moved me and offered me healing and hope, recently.
Maybe this has never been a struggle for you, but for many this is a huge reality! God (however you understand him/her/it) does not hate your Zoloft and think you’re weak for taking medicine, but you also should not shun responsibility for your mind and body.
In my faith walk, I’ve realized that faith without personal responsibility for one’s life is pointless, or as a famous Bible verse says ‘faith without works is dead’. There is no point in attributing your faith (whether in pill, pastor, science, god, or all of these things) to these interpretations of reality if you don’t do something with it. I took a pill so I could function at a higher level in life, but I aligned my faith (my trust) with the other side of the story ‘Bipolar disorder is the sixth leading cause of disability in the world. (World Health Organization) What resulted was the last 3 years of disabling behavior and mindsets. I will not be that Dan, anymore. I refuse.
Scientists have an experience to describe faith, it’s called the Placebo Effect. If you don’t know what that is, give it a read. It’s fascinating and proves to me that working on our minds is just as important as popping a pill.
Currently, I’m on the least amount of medication I’ve taken in years, albeit, 2 wonderful drugs (Lithium Citrate and Neurontin). I also have added to this some amazing coffee (Deathwish Coffee Brand), wonderful workouts thanks to Fitnessblender.com, and eating accountability with Myfitnesspal.com I even listen to different encouraging talks from sermons, to Ted Talks, to movies that inspire me. I have finally started treating my mental illness with the respect of a physical illness, finally!
I’m guilty of saying “It’s like a physical illness” and wanting the respect of others to see it as more than just “in my head”, but what I realized is that I wanted others to view me with the same “ah, poor thing” instead of the “damn, look how he’s coming and making a difference.” So, for me, this new season of my journey is to “work out this salvation” (take this realization and run with it) with the understanding that I have a responsibility to stop living as a victim and start living beyond my limitations.
I wrote a blog called: Identify Theft: How Labels are Stealing Your Life and I hope you’ll consider reading it. I wrote that blog probably 3 weeks ago, and now I’m attempting to live a life beyond labels: in my spirituality, my mental health, and my life. I am trying, as I told myself earlier in the year, to “Open my mind and close my mouth.” For too long, I’ve acted like I’ve known it all; I’m educated, experienced, and have a way with words, but I’ve come to realize the more I know, the less I truly know and I’m OK with that.
What I’m not OK with is being “crazy” or “insane” and doing the same thing over and over again when that has never and will never work with me. It’s time to take responsibility, live beyond the labels, and live a fully aware life!
God solely did not work for me, pills solely did not work for me, but together? I believe the possibilities are endless. I’m one of the few who believes both science and religion have a beautiful place in this world and can co-exist. So instead of talking about change, I’ll be taking Ghandi’s advice and ‘Be the change”.
Be well my friends.