I was recently talking to someone who asked me if I thought they should take anxiety medication. I’m not a doctor; I cannot tell people what to do in regards to taking medication, but I can still give some thoughts (but again, I’m not a doctor). In this situation, I started by asking, “On a scale of 0-10 with 10 being the most and 0 not at all, how much anxiety do you generally feel right now?” He told me he was like an eight. I then asked, “On a scale of 0-10 with 10 being the most, how much anxiety should you feel in your current situation?” He was very surprised by this question: how much should he feel? After a moment, he said, “An eight.” I then pointed out, “So you don’t have an anxiety problem. You have a sucky life situation problem. You feel exactly what you should feel.” He shared that this made him feel better about what he felt – he was normal. A major problem is our culture keeps putting it in our heads that feeling anything negative is bad and we need to change that. How many people at a bar are drinking or daily using cannabis because they’re trying to feel less terrible? People are afraid of feeling things, but our emotions aren’t the enemy; they are a gift meant to protect us. Without even one of our primary emotions (mad, sad, fear, happiness), we’d be emotionally handicapped. In this situation, the person I was talking to could take a medication to reduce the anxiety they felt, but on some level, they need to feel that anxiety. That feeling is supposed to motivate them to try to make their life situation better because… well, it sucked. When we feel something, we need to ask ourselves, “What is my body trying to tell me?” Instead, our culture teaches, “You feel something – shut it down!” Anxiety isn’t bad. Depression isn’t evil. We typically feel them because something is wrong no different than our back hurting when something is wrong – pain is part of our warning system. Here’s the reality: If you’re sitting on a tack, get up and remove the tack. Don’t just keep sitting on the tack, and down some pain meds to not feel the tack anymore. Our bodies are trying to get our attention. Listen to it. The same happens with our emotions. If our body needs something, it will try to let us know – listen to it.
In general, one of the simple rules I like to teach is we should consider our emotional self to be a lot like our physical self. For instance, we need to exercise our bodies just like we need to exercise our heart. Exercising the heart looks like experiences of love and loss and all that’s in between. We exercise our hearts when we are in relationship with others even if that relationship is simply with a stranger we smile at to be friendly. When we think of relationships, we often just think of “love,” but love is so much bigger than romance and marriage (two things that often don’t go together… sorry ladies; guys are generally more romantic before marriage… or that’s just me). Love is something we can share with everyone. Life is about experiencing all of our emotions in a healthy way and not just being emotionless zombies – relationships spark emotions. Sure, some of our emotions may not feel good in the moment, but sometimes it’s the intense emotional moments that we look back on as pivotal times in our lives; they’re when we felt most alive. They’re just easier to appreciate when we reflect on them later in a calm state rather than feeling them in all their overwhelming splendor.
Also similar to our physical self, our emotions can heal to a point. At my age, I have my collection of scars. I have the scar on my butt from when I tripped and shattered a glass bowl – that was a fun experience. I have the scar on my chest from when I worked landscaping and needed to get a metal tree stake out of the ground. I was rocking back and forth on it until it snapped and I fell on my back and stabbed myself in the chest with the jagged point top of the stake – that was a fun moment… for everyone else watching me. There’s also the scar on my pinky from when I was lifting an ultrasound machine into a bin for a charity group who were shipping it to a poor area overseas and a dime sized chunk of my finger got caught and ripped off, so my bone was exposed – that was delightful. Some people donate their blood, sweat, and tears to charity. I donated blood, flesh and some pinky hair – I go big… and disgusting. The thing with physical scars is they leave a mark and the skin is never the same. That’s the same as our hearts. When our hearts are hurt bad enough, we get scars. I was once talking to a young person who said their parent died when they were a teenager, and they tried to play it off like they were fine: (young person) “It’s okay though.” (me) “It just left a serious scar that will stay with you for the rest of your life.” (young person with relief in their eyes that they were understood) “Yeah, that’s so true.” Death is part of life, but when it happens to someone who is important to us, it leaves us with a scar. How important that person is, determines how serious the scar. If I see an article about millions dying in a war I’m like, “That’s too bad.” I hear one person I love dies, I’m a mess. Death hurts more the more personal it is. That’s why a parent or child dying is so brutal; it doesn’t get any more personal than that.
As far as scars go, I remember in Lethal Weapon 3 (a classic action movie), Mel Gibson and Rene Russo have a scene where they each brag about a scar they have while taking off more clothes to show them and try to one up the other person. It’s a fantastic scene… for more than Rene Russo being hot. They didn’t see their scars as a sign of pain or weakness. They saw them as symbols of their strength and perseverance. Whether physically or emotionally, our scars can be seen as flaws or triumphs; it’s up to us.
Sometimes taking medication is a sign of how strong and wise we are – sometimes we really need it (sometimes our family really need us to take it). Other times, not taking medication is a sign of strength – I can do this! It’s very dependent on the situation. Some people take medication (or smoke pot) because they’ve given up or see themselves as a weak. Sometimes taking medication is a way to hide because it’s easier than fixing what’s going on. Physically, people are supposed to take pain medication as a way to relieve some of the pain in order to work on the injury to make it better. You don’t want to be on pain meds the rest of your life for back pain (it’s bad for your stomach), especially if physio and/or chiropractor visits can help. Similarly, if you take a medication for your emotions, you should also be doing therapy (or the equivalent) to try to improve the situation with the hopes of maybe not needing to be on the medication forever.
What I find fascinating is sometimes with depression or anxiety, what a person needs isn’t medication; it’s to be put into survival mode, so they won’t have time to over think and they’ll have to act. Sometimes people wanting anxiety and depression medication is a sign they have life too easy and they’re body is screaming: “Challenge us!”
So here’s how it works with medication:
- Some people will need to be on medication the rest of their life to be at their best. Physically, some issues like HIV and MS mean you’re on medication the rest of your life to help the body manage better. The same can happen emotionally like with schizophrenia and bipolar. I have met a few people who were bipolar who were incredibly calm and easygoing; they said that was partly the medication being a good fit, but also working on themselves. It was a lot of work to be as healthy as they were, but the results were excellent.
Some people like those with ADD may or may not need medication because of the severity of their symptoms and/or their lifestyle. For instance, if you have ADD and your job is building things or being on stage, the hyper focus caused by ADD might be a great benefit unlike for someone with ADD trying to read a book and struggling to focus. Taking or not taking medication isn’t a sign of weakness or failure. It’s a reminder of how lucky we are to be in society where it’s an option.
- Sometimes the medication is needed for an extended period like some women needing birth control pills or an IUD to level out the hormones until a certain age or after menopause.
- Some people will need to be on medication for a short period to get through an extremely rough patch. For instance, if my wife died in an accident, there’s a 99% likelihood I’d need a medication to get through a lot of the grief period because it’d be so intense. It’d be just like needing a muscle relaxant when my back is in really bad pain. It’s a temporary help when things go terrible. There’s no shame in it. When you’re life has been thrown in the dumpster, any help you can find to get out is worth trying. And notice I wrote “thrown.” Some people willing get in the dumpster. That’s not a medication time as much as it is a smarten up time – don’t willingly go into the dumpster.
- Some people will never be able to take medication because they can’t find one that agrees with them. There’s a reason medications have warnings like can cause suicidal and homicidal ideations; the wrong med can be very dangerous and some meds just make people too numb for their liking. I’ve met people allergic to cannabis. Every body/mind is different and we need to listen to what ours is telling us.
The final point I will make is sometimes we need to try taking medication for the benefit of our family – it’s not always about us. If we can’t control our reactions then sometimes we need to take medication to protect our loved ones from our outbursts. At the same time, medication can reduce sex drive and social filters, which can be damaging to our families. Whether we take medication or not often needs to be considered through the lens of both the person and those closest to them. It’s not always about us.
This week may you consider if there’s a way you can improve your situation.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)