Every few months I have a checkup with my doctor, and it always begins the same way:
How are you?
This seems like a simple question, but there is a whole lot of subtext here. He’s asking me if my meds are doing what they’re supposed to (if I’m above water, more or less).
Generally, when people ask me how I’m doing, I respond with the cursory “good.” But, good means a different thing when I’m on the exam table–as does sad, apathetic, etc. I try to be specific, but often words fail to adequately describe how I’m feeling. And, even if I know I’m feeling super anxious, then there’s the fact that I have different strands of anxiety–each affecting me in different ways.
Consequently, my doctor typically just asks me to give him a ratio of depression to anxiety in my life at the moment. I don’t really know why. Most of the time it’s hard to tell them apart. I’m not always depressed and anxious, but oftentimes my anxiety fuels my depression or vice-versa.
That’s not the hardest part of doctor visits though. It’s the knowing what not to say. I have to perform a certain way: chemically imbalanced enough to need meds, but not so much that I’m a cause for concern.
I stopped going to see therapists because of this game.
I have been back on medication for a little over a year now, and last week after I went in for my routine visit, I left frustrated. I had wanted to ask for a higher dose, as lately I feel like I’ve sort of plateaued in a perpetual state of apathy. But after a “you seem really good” from my doctor, I realized I had come across “too happy,” and so I thought, how could I ask for a higher dose now? And I left, with the same prescription for the next three months (at least).
It is a scary thing to ask for help (be it medication, therapy, etc.). It is even scarier when you’re a Christian and the stigma persists that mental illness is a spiritual/sin issue. I think this is why so many of us who have mental illnesses perform in church the same way we do in doctor’s offices. We don’t know how people will react. So we put on faces. But shouldn’t church be the last place people feel unaccepted?
My prayer right now is that I’ll have the courage to seek help when I need it, to stop performing just because I’m scared, and to, above all, cling to the cross.
If you have a story about mental illness—whether personal or concerning a loved one—please consider sharing your experience. Even if you aren’t at a place yet where you feel comfortable disclosing your name, the church body needs your voice. Let’s shine a light on the darkness, together.