As is often so with mental illness, mine erupted in my late teen years. It had been murmuring below the surface my whole life, I think, subversively, like a coded message from the Underground. Then—kablamo! It detonated.
I remember the very day. It was spring. The birds were twittering and the sun was shining but I was oblivious. I had just been dumped and I was dumbfounded and morose. I went to class with a couple of my friends. (Accounting class. At the time, I was toying with the idea of being a business major. Me—a business major!) As class let out, The Dreadful Thought hit me—and wouldn’t let go. I mean, wouldn’t. Then that Dreadful Thought invited over his frat brothers, ill-bred fuckers, and they partied nonstop on my brainpan. (Down below, my reptilian brain kept banging a broomstick on the ceiling, to no avail.) I was too ashamed to admit my agony to anyone.
Shortly thereafter, I converted to Christianity. It brought me a sense of purpose, a kind of peace, I guess, in the middle of the shitstorm—shit flying everywhere like a riot in a monkeyhouse.
Two years after college and minutes before my wedding ceremony, I was in a back room in the church, pacing back and forth and pounding my head to straighten out my racing dread. I thought: “OK, I’m getting married. I’ve got to get rid of this.”
On my honeymoon, I spiraled further downward. I was immobilized by my pain. I became suicidal. My new bride desperately searched the Yellow Pages of Kona, Hawaii, looking for help as I moaned on the hotel-room couch.
The nearby Foursquare pastor arrived, counseled me and prayed for the two of us to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I rose out of my suicidal stupor, but I was nowhere near healed, just circling the drain more slowly.
For the next five years, my wife and I sought out all manner of Christian counselors for help. However, no one could stop my leaden depression and/or my racing thoughts. Eventually, my mental state became a topic of discussion in my extended family. My mom insisted that there must be some medicine that could help me. I wasn’t convinced. Only crazy people took medicine for their brains, after all. She set up three meetings with psychiatrists in one day in Seattle. Each of them, they performed a cursory exam on me and concluded that what I needed was more psychotherapy.
Yeah, right. I needed more psychotherapy like a needed a hole in the head.
It wasn’t until a Jewish psychiatrist in Bellingham, Washington, suggested I consult with a peer of his at the nearby University of British Columbia that the doors of healing opened. The Canadian psychiatrist interviewed me for about 15 minutes and said, clinically yet kindly, “Well, it’s clear you have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.”
He prescribed a medicine that quickly took away all my depression and agonizing thoughts. Simple as that. The drug was available only in Canada. It hadn’t been approved by the FDA. I had to make regular trips to White Rock, British Columbia, to buy my medicine and then smuggle it back over the American border, thereby registering my brief career as an outlaw.
All told, I was ragingly mentally ill for 10 years. Ten fucking years. It was no frolic in the cherry blossoms, believe you me.
So what can I redeem from this awful experience? I must have learned something.
I’ve learned that we’re machines made of meat. Every infirmity that befalls us is physiological at its core. From our neck down, this is self-evident to us. Our arteries clog, our heart misfires. Spoiled oysters induce vomiting. The maddening sing-song of cause and effect in the material world.
We think it’s all different, though, from the neck up. That’s where you live—your soul. Maybe, but I’ve come to see that we are as happy to the extent our neurotransmitters are at optimal levels. I’m not saying talk therapy or faith healing doesn’t work. What I’m saying is when they do work, it’s not magic. Something physiological happens.
All I know is that I was prayed for by dozens of sincere, godly believers. I regularly pleaded with God to take away my pain and to show me if there was any way I was blocking my healing. Perhaps some secret sin was staunching the flow of His miracle power.
But all I had to do was take a little pill, and all my problems were solved. Do I believe God still performs miracles? Maybe. Who’s to say? But, in my case, He worked through secular medicine—or did He? Who’s to say?
It breaks my heart when I see so many religious people living in shame with their mental problems—and a ton of them do, quietly desperate. They have no problem taking medication for any problem from their neck down. The neck up, though. That isn’t physiology. It’s psychology—or spirituality. So we have hands laid on us. Prayers are murmured.
My advice: Don’t count on God to come through for you and fix your “soul.” See your doctor.