Going Off Your Meds

In Health, Mood disorders, Religion, Self Improvement on March 10, 2009 at 5:36 am

I just read a short article by an Anglican priest who stopped taking his anti-depressants after six years because he didn’t like the way they shielded him from feeling bad. He writes: “I’m wary of the way [anti-depressants] can inure us to compassion, sorrow, guilt, and regret—emotions that are essential components of spiritual maturity.”

Oh, so it’s spiritually mature to feel suicidal, to feel your life spiraling out-of-control, to always be so down on yourself you can’t function, to be paralyzed by your fears and anxieties? Granted, the author emphasizes that anti-depressants can dramatically improve your life–if they are needed. But he seems to think that the Christian who suffers is more mature than the one who sails through life without trauma. What a crock!

I take several medications for my depression and anxiety and I admit that there are times when I worry that I’m too medicated. Sometimes it feels unnatural to be calm in the face of all the things that I used to worry obsessively about. But does it feel unnatural because it truly is, or because I had become used to the pattern of highs and lows that threatened my sanity? The thought of returning to that instability and uncertainty about how I was going to feel from one moment to the next fills me with horror. (See, I’m still capable of negative emotions.)

It seems to me irresponsible to suggest that you are somehow more in tune with the realities of life–and more in accordance with God’s will–when you are unmedicated. If the author felt himself becoming “cavalier and impatient, insensitive and spiritually complacent” when he was on his meds, perhaps that was his own moral shortcoming more than the result of being “enveloped in a pharmaceutical sphere of emotional impenetrability.” Maybe he needed to try a little harder to be involved and patient and sensitive. Isn’t it as much of a cop-out to say that his meds made him spiritually complacent?

The author seems to be saying that it is a false–and undesirable–condition to feel all right about ourselves most of the time. To be able to wake up in the morning ready to face what the day will bring us.  He insists that “antidepressants … are not a panacea for the human condition.” But would you advise a diabetic to discontinue his insulin because it’s somehow more natural to experience the consequences of his disease?

Let me say here that the author may have made the right decision for him. The weak point of his article is that he doesn’t describe what his mental state was after he discontinued his meds. If he found that he could in fact function after his time on medication, he may have been suffering clinical but not chronic depression. I would hope that he didn’t force himself back into a state of mind that he describes as feeling “overwhelmed or that God was nowhere to be found and experiencing “confusion and emotional paralysis to make vital life decisions.”  If he allowed himself to return to that way of interacting with God and the world, what did he accomplish?

To discontinue your meds because you think that you’re a better Christian without them is a travesty. To discontinue them because you no longer need them makes sense. But how do you know when you no longer need them? I think you have to be spiritually sensitive to God’s leading and medically sensitive to your condition. It’s not a decision to be made for the wrong reasons.


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