Making My Way Through the Cloud

tealthea on Flickr _ Portland Clouds

Today is the first day since we’ve been in Portland that the sky was completely overcast. Our bedroom was a pale blue-gray when we woke, and I found the color to be incredibly peaceful and calming. I have a feeling that there are plenty of Portlanders who do not share my adoration for this hue, but rather see it as a portend of a wet and possibly depressing time to come. I’d like to think that I won’t succumb to the Pacific Northwest Blues, but there’s no way of telling.

A few months back, on a short visit to Portland actually, I was in conversation with a few friends. We were making small talk about our lives, all of us expecting and preparing for upcoming transitions. My friends were moving out of state and we were still reeling from becoming the parents of a high school grad. At one point in the conversation I said to them,

“You know – I’m just not ok. I don’t think I have been for a while.”

I explained to them that for a good while I’d been unable to stay on top of things. My spiritual practice had fallen by the wayside. I was having a difficult time approaching the morning. I was short-tempered, easily embittered, and just not myself.

“I think you might be depressed,” my friend told me.

I didn’t really know what that meant. I had some context for depression, but only as it related to other people. I didn’t know what depression felt like from the inside-out. Or if I did, I didn’t know how to identify it as such. My friends suggested that I go visit a doctor and get an opinion, and after a few days of considering it I took their advice.

Making the choice to take an anti-depressant, which I’ve been doing now for a little over a month, brought up a number of unexpected biases  I’d been holding onto. Turns out I’ve always thought that anti-depressnats were copouts. Certainly as someone who’s been a relatively religious and spiritually-minded person for most of his life I can see how dealing head-on with the more difficult aspects of life can lead to the development of great character and fortitude. Pills shortcut valuable learning, I believed. Pills are a pass to avoid the natural discomfort of living.

I now think that is bullshit.

About two weeks into taking the anti-depressant I started to notice that I was no longer agitated over every little thing. I was able to let things roll of my back in a way that I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to do. The people around me took notice as well. It seems that people have been coping with my depression without my realizing it. They were waiting for me to get upset, to spiral into worry over the smallest thing, and for the first time in years I wasn’t doing that.

I think I’ve been depressed for a really long time and I had no idea.

Even now I find it challenging to use the word “depression,” because when I write it down it doesn’t carry the weight it should. It seems like a passing emotion, as though it can be easily fixed with a piece of cinnamon toast or a peppy pop-song. But depression, as I understand it now, is more like — well — the clouds in Portland. It changes the way everything is lit. Every aspect of your life is colored differently. But unlike these clouds, which are impossible not to notice or identify, the cloud of depression is invisible. There is no cloud to point to: there is just a different quality of light.

To say that taking an anti-depressant is like the clouds parting and the sun returning might be a bit of stretch, but only by a little. It’s more like the cloud has dissipated. The world around me doesn’t look all technicolor or surreal. It just looks like I remember it looking before I was upset all the time. It’s as simple as that.

My spiritual practice hasn’t magically returned. I still get angry about things from time to time. I still feel sadness, and I don’t feel numb. I just don’t feel like I’m walking through an emotional haze. And I’m grateful for that. I can’t even begin to tell you how grateful I am. I don’t know when this depression started, or how much of my religious busyness has been an attempt to cull the feeling. But I can start to examine that now in a way that seemed impossible while walking through the cloud.

One of my prejudices about anti-depressants was informed by this notion that a spiritual person shouldn’t need drugs. They should be able to meditate their way into a better state or pray their way into happiness. I believed that to take an anti-depressant was to copout on the really difficult work of a spiritual life. I think I was incorrect about that, but I’m still finding the language around why I was incorrect.

What do you think? Do you have personal experiences with depression, and did you find that taking an anti-depressant led to a better state of mental health? Was it hard for you to reconcile taking the pills with the tenets of your spiritual practice, or did you find a way to rationalize your choice?

How did you make your way through the cloud?


Photo by |rocket surgery|





31 responses to “Making My Way Through the Cloud”

  1. GimliGirl Avatar

    I don’t think there’s a spiritual mindset or practise in the world that can fix unbalanced/broken/otherwise not-typical neurochemistry.

  2. Heartache Into Beauty Avatar

    I’ve tried 2 anti-depressants, one herbal and one chemical, and both caused my depression to worsen to a scary degree. I’m not sure if I will try another at this point. I envy people that react so well to anti-depressants, but I’m also really happy for them that the drugs help them.

  3. Scott Avatar

    Talking about mental health with an open heart and mind is a brave and compassionate act, so thanks for doing so. I could not agree more with the comments about balancing our practices and daily routines with medication. I was self-medicated for many years, and when the damage was no longer worth the effects that had long-since vanished, I had to start anew. Initially I was treated for depression associated with withdrawal, and the anti-depressants worked for the first couple years. Then I guess that my brain had finally detoxed enough that it began to settle into its more normative rhythms. I had begun a new spiritual journey when I gave up the high cost of low living, so I had gained a good deal of insight about where my sometimes-crazy emotional reactions to life came from (both past and present).

    After having lived my practice for a couple years, together with the anti-depressants, I had a total meltdown. With the help of my psychiatrist (who I’ve been seeing now for almost nine years), I was re-diagnosed with Bipolar 2 and we began a two-year journey of finding a balance of medication that works. My bipolar tends to depression, so I’m pretty familiar with the seemingly random flux that–in the moment–seems more under the water than undulating. I am immensely grateful for my psych, who wrote only one arbitrary prescription (when I had that first meltdown). The next couple years were mostly good, but I spent a good deal of it negotiating with side-effects and benefits of a couple different 2-drug cocktails. Eventually we settled on one that has worked for a little more than 5 years. Each of the changes happened after conversations with my psych. I talked about how I felt on each of the meds: Were they achieving the right effects? How did I feel about the side-effects? Which side-effects were worse or better than others? I also learned a great deal from talking to friends who responded, at times, nearly the opposite of my experience. I found it helpful to go into each med-check with something written down, since I often suffer from “I’ve slept since then” (a more compassionate form of “Can’t remember shit”). With all that information, my psych and I could exchange information: I’d talk about my physiological and emotional experiences with the drugs, he would tell me about similar ones and their side-effects, and we would make the decisions together.

    My moods still swing, but with less frequency and less severity. The last time I had a long depressive episode (about 3 weeks), I still got up and went to work. Still continued my practice. Still stayed in contact with friends who listen well and sometimes ask me hard questions. Stayed on my routine as much as possible. I found that I can survive my natural rollercoaster without changing meds–that not everything is crisis when life’s not acting right.

    What I have learned from my own journey is that maintaining my mental health is not just the medication. It’s the whole balance of my life. For me, Bipolar is a mental illness that tells me I’m cured when there are no major upsets, so I take the meds regularly. I also need my physical and social routines. I need my spiritual practice. Most key to it all, though, is remembering that good self-care is central to my spiritual practice. For me, there is no such thing as a complete spiritual practice without looking after my physical and mental well-being. They are inseparable parts. My brain, I have come to believe, does not work like most people’s, but it’s the one I have. I often suffer from a condition I call “first thought wrong.” But with the tools I’ve picked up along the way, I have a brief moment of grace, when I have the choice to react or respond. I can choose a better way of behaving (though I often don’t). As has been said in other posts, compassion and forgiveness are the capstones of the path. As one of my favorite gurus (one whom I’ve never met, but listen to from afar) might say, they are the crack in everything that lets the light in.

  4. Christine Kraemer Avatar

    I have recovered from major depression twice, and both times I used low doses of prescription anti-depressants, combined with particular herbal supplements (and a lot of talk therapy before, after, and during; and regular cardio exercise; and spiritual work; and changing my lifestyle to reduce stress). At this point I know my body well enough that I can see depression coming and make appropriate shifts, and I only take antidepressants on a seasonal basis (I live in New England and I definitely have Seasonal Affective Disorder. Eventually I will need to move somewhere with more sun).

    One of the beliefs I’ve come to through both my own experience and my training as a massage therapist is that our bodies are under forms of chronic stress that are relatively new in our evolution. Due to social factors (including the way the work week is structured, isolation caused by geographical mobility and the demise of the nuclear family, touch deprivation, and more), many of us exist constantly in a resource-draining state of fight-or-flight. Our bodies don’t get the down time they need to do adequate maintenance and repair. Secondly, we’re subjected to low levels of pollutants in our food, air, water, etc. that didn’t exist 150 years ago (although we also have more protection from viruses and bacteria — so it’s a tradeoff).

    Combined with heredity and the unhealthy mental habits many of us absorbed from our culture or families (perfectionism, for example), it’s not surprising that depression and anxiety disorders are widespread. For some people, a small dose of antidepressants is a lot like adding a missing vitamin to one’s diet. I’ve found them most effective as a treatment when I was not yet willing or able to leave a stressful situation (like being in grad school, or living in New England during the winter). Ultimately, I prefer to modify my lifestyle and my own internal mental state in order to maintain my health, rather than relying on a prescription, because my experience is that many of the drugs lose their effectiveness over time. But I definitely take them when I need them, and at this point I feel fine about taking them for 4 months out of the year until it makes sense for my family to relocate.

    I also have friends whom I believe will always need medication because the sacrifices they would have to make in order to get off it (like living in a monastery or ashram!) wouldn’t be right for them and would waste their talents. So I don’t think there’s any shame in taking psychiatric drugs indefinitely — but I always encourage others to seek out specialists willing to treat mental disorders with a combination of diet, exercise, vitamins, herbal supplements, talk therapy, bodywork, AND drugs. I have not seen many cases where drugs alone were a permanent solution to depression — just one helpful piece of a larger plan.

    Best to you as you figure this out! I hope this period of clarity gives you the chance to look at your life holistically and see if there are other areas where you can make long-term adjustments.

  5. Niall Avatar

    I’m pleased you’ve found the drugs to be useful, Teo. Personally, I’ve tried six, and they have either been ineffective or made things worse, from making me feel more irritable (you do not want to give someone with a problem that includes anxiety a drug that makes them irritable – this is going to lead to aggression!) to making me feel even more suicidal. A recent meta-analysis indicated that only around one in seven people who take these drugs get any benefit from the drug. Even my GP acknowledges that there is a strong placebo component to their effectivness.

    So, I am off the drugs, and yes, my spiritual practice has been on hold for much too long.

    I also feel it would be socially irresponsible of me not to raise an issue with some of the comments below the line. There has been a theory being thrown around for a long time that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance. The great thing about theories is that they are testable. Some theories (natural selection, gravity, and anthropogenic climate change for instance) stand up against this investigation pretty well.

    The notion that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance and it therefore curable by correcting that imbalance is another matter. That has been repeatedly tested, and the best we can say is that they have failed to verify – despite a lot of time and effort trying – that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance. Since that seems to have been disproved empirically, the rest of the syllogism (that therefore correcting the imbalance will cure depression) is logically invalid.

    Now, it may be that there are different forms of depression, some caused by chemical imbalances and some by life events, perhaps with some sort of predisposition, so the drugs may work in some but not others (there is research to suggest this), but there is also research to suggest that using drugs that artificially interfere with neurotransmitter levels may actually perpetuate the problem, so I would now, knowing what I do, be more cautious of the drugs than I once was.

    Still, I wish you well.

  6. Crystal Blanton Avatar
    Crystal Blanton

    Thank you so very much for sharing this, and opening your process to us all. I too have had depression off and on for a long time. I do not think that medication is a cope out. It is chemical, and spirituality cannot change chemical release of neurotransmitters in the brain. While spirituality can support the balance, it cannot always make up that deficit.

    I think it is important to have these conversations because there are such mixed messages around mental health concerns, will power, and spirituality. We have to begin to share those thoughts, and explore them because too many people suffer silently and are afraid to come out and talk about it.

    Medication helps me to be more myself…. this way I can let the spirituality in.

  7. Taylor Ellwood Avatar
    Taylor Ellwood

    I’ve experience depression on and off during my life. Even today I’m in a bit of a funk. I’ll admit I haven’t used anti-depressants. Part of that is because I don’t want to deal with the side effects and part of it because I found my own way to deal with the depression. I think depression is a natural state of feeling and that part of dealing with it is allowing yourself to feel it and acknowledge you feel it (hard to do in today’s society). I think taking that first step can in and of itself bring a lot of relief.

    Beyond that I do use meditation to help and I find that daily meditation makes a big difference. When I’m feeling depressed and not wanting to meditate, I force myself to do it and I feel better afterwards. I also find that daily physical exercise makes a big difference. I’ll admit that what I’ve really trained myself to do, when I feel depressed is acknowledge it and then get myself to do certain behaviors that make a difference.

    That’s my way of handling it and I’m not knocking using anti-depressants, because I know many people who have benefited from using them. I figure each person figures out the best way to cope with it and what’s important is that each person sticks with what works.

  8. Rebecca Teeter Avatar
    Rebecca Teeter

    I was grateful to read this yesterday. Just the night before I had decided to confide in a friend that I was depressed. It was strange because I’ve been depressed before and took medication and this didn’t feel quite like that. This is different, it’s more subtle. But I recognize it enough to know that I need to do some things to help myself. I didn’t find that the western-medication route helped me enough last time, in fact it seemed to make it worse, but I did discover things that did help and I’ve started back on that road. Reading this yesterday felt like confirmation. I have to admit that I’ve often thought meditation should help, praying should help . . . but those are the very things that for me become too difficult to maintain, in fact I’m thinking that’s my first sign. When I can’t sit, when I can’t muster up enough to pray, something is off. Like you, I had been numbing out with work and didn’t know how I was feeling until that shifted enough for me to have the time and space to really ‘get’ that something is off. I think I’ve been feeling this for a long time now. Thank you for your vulnerability and honesty.

  9. Wytchfawn Avatar

    “One of my prejudices about anti-depressants was informed by this notion that a spiritual person shouldn’t need drugs”

    To me, this is the equivalent of saying someone with diabetes cannot be truly spiritual because of their Dis-ease.I have suffered from clinical depression for 20 years… and only started to medicate in the past 10. I see medication as a tool, like any other, to help alleviate the symptom.s of a Dis-ease I will probably have the rest of my life. I have seen this kind of prejudice regarding mental illness in the Pagan community and am glad more people are addressing these issues. Remember, there really is a SILVER lining to those clouds… and get used to overcast because Portland is ALWAYS like that.

  10. Jimmy Red Fox Avatar
    Jimmy Red Fox

    Miigwetch for sharing your experiences brother! Your truths, as well as those who comment here, are sacred medicine.

  11. Marilyn Kaye Muma-Reid Avatar
    Marilyn Kaye Muma-Reid

    I have suffered with severe anxiety/panic/depression since I was a child. I fought taking medications for years. For one, I was scared of taking anything….that was part of my psychosis. At the height of my illness I was even afraid to eat or drink ANYTHING because I was afraid that I would either have an allergic reaction to it or someone had poisoned it.

    At my lowest point, I finally decided to try the meds. They started me on a low dose of Zoloft. At first I felt GREAT. The clouds lifted and I started to see my life as worth living again. Then came the side effects. I had the usual, heavy sweating, sexual side effects, etc. and I STILL had panic attacks on a regular basis. Their answer to this was to drug me up some more. They added Xanax to the mix. This did help with the panic attacks but they didn’t stop me from panicking….just caused me to not care that I was panicking while I drooled down my face. I went with the lowest dose and broke it in half but still lost most of my cognitive skills when I took it.

    I worked with the meds and yes, I seemed better and told everyone I was but deep down, I knew I really wasn’t. Finally, I started drinking on top of all of it. After 10 years of switching and playing with anti-depressants and anti-anxieties and becoming a full fledged alcoholic I had finally decided I had had enough. There had to be a better way.

    Keep in mind this entire time I seemed fine. Everyone thought I was “cured”. Other than the heavy drinking, they were still thinking I had found a “miracle”. If they could have seen inside my mind or be near me at night when a panic would envelope me they would have known better. I was a great actress.

    During this 10 years I also lost my sister to cancer, my mother to emphysema, and my niece who was my best friend to a brain tumor.

    Once I decided I had to find a better way to deal with all these and had stopped cold turkey all of them (I DO NOT recommend this… any point, ever. ALWAYS be weaned off ANY meds like this.) I also found that when coming off the meds you will also have to re-experience all those emotions that the meds drowned out while you were on them.

    That for me meant grieving for my sister, mother and niece ALL AT THE SAME TIME and suffering withdrawal symptoms. It was the worst 6-8 months of my life. I don’t remember much of it because I truly think I would leave my body as protection because my mind simply couldn’t take all the pain.

    BUT, finally, after a horrible few months I started getting better. I delved deep into my spirituality. I found Reiki. I found Paganism. (I was a Christian preacher’s daughter)

    I did every self help treatment out there and finally found that it wasn’t any book/med/or anything else that was going to fix me. It was ME that was going to fix me.

    Going deep within yourself and facing all that built up junk is NOT FUN. But, I highly recommend it. One of the things I found the most helpful was the thing that pissed me off the worst when I heard it.

    I read that we hold onto our illnesses. That if we really wanted to heal from them, then we would. You better bet that this statement PISSED ME OFF. I wanted to know who the hell anyone else was that thought they could say this to ME???? How the hell do they know anything about me?

    Once I finally calmed down and did my inward digging I found that I had really let me mental illness define who I was. It was a part of my life. EVERY PART.

    I made it WHO I WAS.

    Now before you say, well, I don’t do that. My life isn’t about my illness and I am not playing the victim, stop and take a REALLY good look at yourself. Ask others what they think. You may be surprised.

    After that my healing came quickly. I used many natural methods such as essential oils, herbs (as teas, I don’t take supplements), EFT, natural organic foods, Reiki, etc.

    After a lot of releasing, tears, frustration, etc., I finally felt free. FOR REAL.

    My doctors were completely baffled and amazed because they ALL said I will NEVER be off meds and be lucky if someday I wouldn’t be institutionalized.

    During the process I was also able to heal myself of a Mitral Valve Prolapse that had been a constant issue over the years.

    I now work with others and do energy healing with Reiki and Chios. I am an advocate for clean eating avoiding commercially grown and raised food and own my own healing center.

    I don’t look down on anyone who takes the meds. I have friends and family who do. And if it works then hey, that is GREAT. But if it doesn’t, you have a myriad of side effects you don’t want to deal with, are not sure if you want to re-enact all the emotions the meds don’t allow you to experience, or you just plain don’t want to take them, I can say with full truth that it can be done.

    Do what works for YOU.

    I find I am often attacked, many times very violently by those who suffer with these issues and take the meds when I mention that you can do without them. I am not here to stir up trouble and I would NEVER try to tell anyone else what to do. I just want to offer up my story and give those hope who someday wish to beat this thing sans medications.

    My blessing to all of you on your journey. I send you all love and light. And most of all, strength. <3

    1. VikingRunnerGirl Avatar

      I guarantee that some if not all of the attacking you get is due to the fact that you’re suggesting everyone can do without them. That is. Not. True. I know it is perfectly true that there are mental conditions that cannot be handled by our current medications. But to suggest that because you had one of those, and that you were able to find ways to manage your issues without it that everyone should be able to do it is extremely condescending no matter how many times you say “I don’t look down on anyone who takes the meds.”

      It canNOT be done by everyone. I tried for over twenty years to manage without medications. It didn’t work. I understand that you’re trying to be accomodating to everything here, but in spite of the fact that you say “Do what works for YOU,” your comment as a whole very strongly gives the impression that everybody can do without meds if they just try hard enough, and that those who rely on medication are just settling for “good enough” because they’re not willing to put in the work to do better.

      1. Marilyn Kaye Muma-Reid Avatar
        Marilyn Kaye Muma-Reid

        Agreed. And since your comment is like most that I get I will say the same to you that I say to them. Are you trying to convince me that not everyone can do it without meds or yourself?

        1. VikingRunnerGirl Avatar

          Um, you…? I’m not really sure why you would ask that. The only thing that makes sense to me is that those of us who are suspicious of your motives and your “concern” are correct in our assumptions that you think we should all be doing without medication. I don’t need to be convinced, I KNOW that not everybody can do it without meds. I also know that not everybody can do it WITH meds, because I’ve seen it first hand. I do not suggest that what is right for one is what is right for all. You ARE suggesting that, and it isn’t true.

          If you want to go around telling everybody that your way is appropriate for everyone if they’d just try, then at least have the decency to not put on a wounded facade and play the victim when people call you out on your untruths.

          1. Marilyn Kaye Muma-Reid Avatar
            Marilyn Kaye Muma-Reid

            You completely missed the point of entire sentence. I am not the one playing the victim here. I am the one who beat it remember? The only victims in my eyes are those who have not tried. You said you tried and that is good. Attacking me and my opinion will not make you well. Nor will it take any stigma off of taking meds. (which I don’t think there should be any anyway, but there is). My entire point with my posting is that it can be done. If you don’t think it can, then fine, that is your opinion and I respect that. But perhaps looking a bit closer as to why you were angry with my opinion in the first place is in order? If you are convinced that it can’t be done and you have no question in your mind then you wouldn’t feel anger towards me for saying it can. You would be settled in your own opinion. It seems that you may not be according to your comments. I only wish the best for anyone who suffers from mental illness of any kind. It is a horrible thing to deal with. Blessings to all of you.

  12. Ealasaid A. Haas Avatar
    Ealasaid A. Haas

    I’ve dealt with anxiety since I was a small child, and with depression since hitting puberty. I finally got on antidepressants several years back, when I realized that if I didn’t, I was probably going to kill myself.

    I resisted meds for a long time, partly out of fear that they’d change me somehow (but isn’t that the idea??) and partly out of fear that it would mean admitting I was a bad witch or something. Ultimately, though, it was a necessity — and like other folks, I see it now as more like taking insulin for diabetes. My brain chemistry is wonky, so I take meds to help correct it, the way I would if my thyroid system was wonky.

    Once the meds kicked in and I got through the annoying trial-and-error stage of finding what worked, it was like someone turned up the dimmer switch on my outlook. I still have bad days, sure, but they’re not as bad as they used to be. I’m more resilient, and able to be more self-aware because my mental bandwidth isn’t being entirely occupied by distracting myself from profound despair. It’s hard to pursue self-knowledge when the core truth your brain perceives is excruciating misery, yanno? And my spiritual path is all about self-knowledge.

    Thank you for sharing this, Teo — there’s a definite stigma against psych meds in the pagan community, and I feel like the more of us who are willing and able to speak up about them publicly, the better.

    For one thing, some psych meds can affect psychic abilities, and if nobody talks about using meds, there aren’t any resources for those of us who have problems like that! I can’t exactly go to my psychiatrist and complain that my new drug turned off my psychic senses (ultimately it turned out to be a blockage caused by my animal self freaking out at the chemistry change, and it was fixable — but if I hadn’t gotten up the nerve to ask T. Thorn Coyle to help me out, I’d have been up a creek without a paddle).

    Pagans on psych meds, unite!

  13. krisbradley Avatar

    I went through a major depressive episode several years ago. It got really, really bad before I got help. I can literally say that antidepressants saved my life. I was on them for over a year and with the help of an amazing therapist, they got me through and to a place in my life where I could be happy like I hadn’t been in a long time.

    There is such a stigma about meds in the world in general, and in the Pagan community it can be even greater. We should be able to chant our way out of it! Or cure it with herbs! All those things are good and fine until they just don’t work. There is no shame in using whatever tools you need to use, including pharmaceuticals to get well.

    Kudos to you, Teo, for not only realizing that you had an issue that needed dealt with, and for sharing your experience. Maybe it will help shake some of the stigma off!

    May you continue your journey happy and healthy!

  14. Themon the Bard Avatar

    I’m glad you discovered this!!! 🙂

    I can’t speak to depression — not one of the things I tend to suffer from.

    However, I grew up in a home where my mother had a Fundamentalist Christian background that forbade going to any kind of doctor, and she had a major mental health crisis when I was about three (after my DPT panels) that brought back her old-time religion with a vengeance. As a result, I didn’t get the medical care one would consider “normal” while growing up, including glasses (20/500 vision) and dental care (I do know toothache). I remember visiting an aunt who was a member of the same sect in Idaho, and went to a church service where a man was “praising God” for the strength to stay away from doctors while cancer ate his face away.

    As a result, I get a little testy over the idea that religious values should EVER trump taking the best care of your physical and mental health that you can. It was like your comments a couple of years ago about prayer (in the wake of seeing a gun pulled on someone) — if you have an incurable disease, by all means, pray. But if a simple course of antibiotics will cure it, for crying out loud, use the antibiotics! Then pray.

    I don’t see that psychoactive drugs are substantially different from an antibiotic. Or thyroid medication. Or proper nutrition.

    There IS a grief that comes of having your body/mind fail you, and all of us suffer that to a greater or lesser extent over the course of a life. I’ve had to give up downhill skiing: I’ve gained weight, my knees are creaky, and I have too many friends my age with metal splints in their legs because they tried to tackle the slopes like they were as young in body as they were in spirit. It was a hard thing for me to acknowledge, but I really don’t want to waste two years of my life in physical therapy trying to learn to walk again. I’ve got one pill — only one, and I count that good fortune — that I have to take daily, or suffer misery. It was tough to accept the need for it. Tough to be shackled by it.

    I think that is a normal grieving process, and comes with all the rest: anger, denial, bargaining, etc. I think it can be easy to grab onto faith as part of the denial, like the fellow up in Idaho, and try to “cure” yourself through meditation or prayer, especially when it’s a brain chemistry issue rather than a broken bone. Our culture has such incredibly superstitious beliefs about how the mind interacts with the brain…. Or rather how the mind DOESN’T interact with the brain, but instead is supposed to somehow control it without being affected in return.

    Bravo, and kudos to you! Enjoy the sunny skies!

  15. T. R. Ravenwood Avatar
    T. R. Ravenwood

    I suffer from depression and am on anti-depressants and have never found a need to reconcile taking the pills with my religion. The way I see it is its a disease like any other that must be treated with something so that it can get better. Most cases of depression are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and spiritual practices and counselling only help so much. Now I’m not advocating popping pills for ever little thing but if you are suffering for something that can’t be treated effectively without medication then don’t deny yourself the medication because that would be “coping out”, in fact I would say denying yourself the medication would be against my religion because I believe in “harm none”.

  16. Julie Richard Avatar
    Julie Richard

    In 1998, I was packing to move to Colorado from Louisiana. My dad was terminally ill and I really did have to ask for his blessing before moving. I made it four hours into my drive out of state when I got the call to come home; he had passed. A week later I made my way to Colorado. I knew one person there, a man I was supposed to marry.Two weeks later, my oldest sister was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer. She died less than a month after her diagnosis. I went home for her funeral, then made my way back to Colorado, again with only one person for support who had no idea how to handle me grieving for two lost family members. He was like many others and thought I just needed to “tough it out” and I’d get through it. It got to the point where I couldn’t let him see me weep because he didn’t know how to deal with it. I retreated into myself, going through the motions of my day by day routines, but I was absolutely numb. He broke up with me several months later. I finally broke down myself and got a referral to see a psychiatrist. We were able to determine that not only did I have depression, but I had bi-polar disorder. Medication, therapy, and finding new friends who supported me helped me get through it.
    Recently, another sister has been seriously ill. She had a heart attack in May and went into complete cardiac, renal, and respiratory failure. We lost her a few times along the way, but she is finally home after three months of being in the hospital. It’s been hard on everyone. This time, however, I’ve had an amazing amount of support, which has helped a lot. I still know that I need anti-depressants, but I don’t have insurance, so I can’t get any. It’s frightening. I sometimes get two or three hours of sleep a night or I cry for no reason. It’s been an eye-opening experience in the world of mental health care without insurance. And it sucks.

  17. Valerie LaVay Avatar
    Valerie LaVay

    I dealt with depression and anxiety for the first time when I was in my early 20’s. The anti depressants that were prescribed for me by my therapist were intended for short term use as I worked my way through discovering some answers for myself through therapy. Therapy is an important step in helping a person uncover the source of their discontent. Pills will help a person function more normally. People think nothing of going to the doctor for a physical check up. I wish society was more accepting of the idea of people getting mental check ups from health professionals. The thought that a person should be able to meditate and use their spirituality to solve mental issues such as depression is not altogether wrong. We “know” the source of our problems but it sometimes take a skilled therapist to get us to the point of self awareness. I have since come through the severity of those maladies with some lingering small challenges here and there. Self discovery is a lifelong process that becomes easier and more satisfying with time.

  18. Emily Avatar

    Thank you for sharing this, it’s so hard as a spiritual person to acknowledge that our spiritual practices aren’t enough sometimes, and that it’s the right thing to use chemicals to get back into balance. I also slowly seeped into a very depressive state without realizing it. One day, I just couldn’t get out of bed. I only wanted to sleep. Forever. I knew I needed help, and with a good psychiatrist, found an antidepressant that helps me. I have tried going off of it, and down I sink, so for now (maybe always) this little white pill will be part of my spiritual practice, like periodic good chocolate, or a movie I love, or a massage. Our bodies are not always cured by diet or exercise or meditation or walks in Nature, sometimes we need more. And since life is suffering, and we are to grow in compassion as the response to this suffering, we need to learn to be compassionate with OURSELVES. I am glad you are getting help with this, and that, even in rainy Portland, you can still find relief in both the natural world, and with chemical support.

  19. Chef Ette Avatar
    Chef Ette

    I have found that what I was experiencing was do to magnesium deficiency once I started taking magnesium in the correct amount I no longer have the stress and being on the verge of tears all the time and most of what you described above. I will not prescribe the amounts but advise that if you are interested in seeing if you are also deficient look it up on the web…it was recommended by a chiropractor friend of mine when I suggested that I might need an antidepressant. A very large percentage of people are magnesium deficient in the industrial nations believe it or not. it might be worth looking into.

    1. Emily Avatar

      D3 deficiency can also cause these symptoms, it’s a very good idea to get a thorough check up.

      1. Chef Ette Avatar
        Chef Ette

        oops sorry yes it’s taken in conjunction with D3. this is why I said to look it up online. 😉

  20. Vega Avatar

    I know some people are helped by medication, but you also hear enough bad things to at least want to approach medication with caution. Sometimes depression is a side effect of some complete other issue. Not sleeping enough is one of those sort of issues and can directly cause depression.

    The first question I’d ask is if the doctor did any testing before prescribing. I have a friend who went to the doctor complaining of issues that ended up being related to her thyroid. The first doctor sent her away with a couple of different prescriptions that didn’t help. She went to a naturopathic doctor next who did testing and got to the real problem. She never really had depression and anxiety except solely as side effects of the thyroid issues. Once that was treated, those problems vanished.

    I’ve always been prone to depression, and I’ve been able to manage it by trying to make sure I’m taking care of myself and getting enough sleep, trying to cut back on obligations, spending lunches at the park in winter to get sunlight, etc. The only time I couldn’t manage the depression was many years ago when I was going through my first marriage ending. In that case, it was completely situational and once I moved out, I was happy again.

    If I ever thought I might need to be on medication, I think I’d just generally be very cautious about it, and would look for a doctor who wanted to do medication only as a last resort. You do on occasion hear horror stories about people going on anti-depressants and before they know it, they’ve had side effects, got more prescriptions to treat those, had side effects to the new medications, got more prescriptions, etc.

  21. Eric Riley Avatar

    Thank you for sharing this. Personally, I’ve had long stretches of depression and hopelessness and to me it feels cyclical. I’ve never gone to the stage of taking medication to ease that myself, mostly because I’ve always felt I could deal with it. Even though, there are certainly times when my partner tells me I’m not dealing with it very well. It’s funny, because I’ve got a “mr. fix-it” personality, and I take to other problems in my life from a vantage point of getting to a happy place.

    As for spiritual solutions to physical issues, I always have a difficult time rationalizing this. Brain chemistry is chemistry, and you can certainly boost things like serotonin and dopamine through things like meditation, but there is only so much your body can do for you. I believe science has a place in a life of faith, and that it doesn’t impact the issues at the heart of faith. You don’t throw yourself off a building and hope that angels will lift you up. Similarly, people shouldn’t necessarily think that they can entirely pray a disease away or meditate themselves back to mental health. Those things help, but so does recognizing that the physical body should be treated with physical solutions as well.

  22. Alana E Avatar
    Alana E

    As a Pagan in my community, if it comes up, people of a “spiritual” mindset tend to have this idea that I should meditate or fight through my mental health issues using willpower… Which you discussed really well I think.
    These kinds of comments come from ignorant people.. One one level I know that, but on another there is still a lot of shame that a depressed person has to overcome. It comes from a societal stigma around mental health and healing, and then it festers and becomes internalized shame.. Its pretty unfair. For women, we have another level with misogyny and the idea that we are naturally emotionally fragile, lack willpower, and are weaker… Icky stuff we are talking here that comes out in little comments.

    The depression doesn’t come from day to day sad things that a person should overcome, it comes from imbalances in one’s body, and the BIG difference is- even if everything is going wonderfully in your life, its still there… Depressed and depressive disorder – or clinical depression- are two different things. Same goes with Anxiety and Anxiety disorder. Everyone gets sad, everyone gets anxious…

    Most people who are trying pills have come down a long road and have tried most other things first. Can’t people trust the decision of the individual without having judgement? Its prejudice.

    I am a very happy, socially competent, deeply spiritual and sensitive individual, and I take an anti-depressant which helps me immensely. I have anxiety and depression which I’ve faced my whole life. Medication allows me to be my best self, without letting my illness get in the way.

  23. VikingRunnerGirl Avatar

    WOOOO do I have personal experiences with this! Your analogy about the clouds dissipating really resonates with me. As we got closer and closer to the medication and dose that worked for me and I started really seeing positive effects, I described it as like a fog slowly clearing that I hadn’t even realised was there. (Or like when you haven’t cleaned your glasses for weeks, and then you look at them and go gah, how am I seeing through those??).

    I never had any problems with depression medication and my spirituality; in fact, one of my favorite memories from either youth group or Sunday School (it was the same leaders at that point) is of me and another guy who dealt with depression absolutely tearing to shreds one poor guy who made the mistake of saying “Christians can’t be depressed.” I did, however, buy into the more general cultural belief that the drugs change your personality, suppress who you actually are and deaden your creativity. That’s why I refused to even consider meds when I dealt with my middle school/high school/college depression. Really, I still believed it a bit over a year ago when I finally decided to seek treatment and, specifically, medical treatment. But even though I still believed it, I also recognised that I hadn’t actually DONE any painting or drawing or anything more than stupid cartoon scribbles for years, so I reasoned, “Hey, it’s not like I can move farther down from zero!”

    I shared that concern with the psychiatrist at the very beginning, and she said emphatically that the meds actually do the opposite – by removing the depression, it actually allows your personality and creativity to come to the surface so that you become really yourself again. And I’ve found that to be really true as things have gotten better. There are thought patterns and feelings slowly coming back that are like, “Hey, I’ve missed you! Where you been all this time?!”

    I will add that I went on a roller coaster while we tried to figure the medications out. I don’t know if your doctor has mentioned this or not, but if, say, the medication type is right but the dose is wrong, or the medication is only partially right (like you start with an SSRI but you need both serotonin and norepinephrine, for example), it can start off working but then the positive effects taper off. I changed my medication I think five or six times before we found what really pounded the depression into the dirt, and almost every time I started off with a boost and then after a few weeks drifted back down again. At one point only a tiny part of me believed that it was going to help; just enough to keep me going back to the doctor and taking the meds regularly, but the rest of me was just staring ahead at tunnel. No light at the end of the tunnel because there was no end to the tunnel, it was just tunnel, forever and ever, amen.

    So if it does ever seem like the meds stop working, do. NOT. Give. Up! Go back to the doctor, discuss it, and see if there’s another option. It is very much worth it to have your life back again.

  24. David Salisbury Avatar
    David Salisbury

    Thank you so much for sharing this because I think it will help many who see it.
    Though I don’t talk about it much, I do have an anxiety disorder that does manifest into severe panic attacks when I’m not careful (as in, my throat closes up and I black out). It runs in my family and I always refused to do anything about it medically, favoring insta-meditation to solve it. As I got older and took on more grown-up stressors, attacks got worse and worse. I spilled the beans to my doctor who did a series of evaluations and he was horrified that I hadn’t admitted it earlier to him. So he put me on meds right away, which I didn’t take for about 2 months.
    Somewhere towards those 2 months later, I did have a panic attack and took some of the pills. They took the edge off enough for me to use my own tools in an effective way. Although I still don’t take them every single day as he recommended, I do feel free to use them if I feel I’m in the “danger zone” for an attack. Panic attacks put major stress on the heart so those aren’t anything to mess around with.
    So, I feel in agreement with you that meds can make a huge difference and doesn’t take away from the spiritual value we place on our practices as soulful individuals.

  25. Michael Strojan Avatar
    Michael Strojan

    Much like yourself, I’ve struggled with depression for years and didn’t know it until I decided to start undergoing counseling this year. While I’ve had to change my counselor, the realization that this little cloud is what has been coloring my life has actually opened me up to being better able to take the slings and arrows that life throws at me. It is tough and I’ve only recently started talking with a naturopath about about taking medications which itself was a big step for me. I’m glad that you’re open and candid about this conversation, I remember the first person I ever knew who talked about his depression openly was my Catholic school chaplain and he made it a lot easier for a lot of students to come to terms with their own depression. More spiritual leaders need to be able to be open and able to deal with the realities of mental health issues instead of avoiding them.

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