Now I know her heart is good and she speaks from a place of compassion. I know that because I recognize myself in her.
But it still ticks me off.
Because I am not a spiritual lightweight.
I take my faith pretty darn seriously.
I start my prayers every morning before my feet touch the ground. I have a bachelor’s degree in religious studies, and a master’s degree in theology. I flew halfway around the world to work with Mother Teresa when I was in graduate school. I have written 17 books on religion and spirituality. I read the entire Bible before my first pimple. I wanted to be a nun until I started sleeping with my husband.
Faith runs in my veins.
It is faith that saved me on that October afternoon in 2005 when I sat in my driveway with 30 bottles of drugs and demanded that God show me a sign that I was supposed to keep living.
But I know better than to stop taking my meds and rely on the power of Jesus.
I have tried that.
My husband found me curled up in a fetal position in our bedroom closet, unable to move.
There have been all kinds of studies that indicate that belief in God can improve mental health. For starters, religion provides a community, a social support that is key to wellbeing. Faith also attaches meaning to events. It attempts to answer the question “Why?” with stories of suffering (like the Book of Job) and redemption (like the life of Jesus). It provides hope, the most critical factor in healing from a mood disorder.
However, there exists this black-and-white, idiotic thinking when it comes to depression and faith: if you believe, then there is no need for treatment of your illness. Would people direct that same logic to conversations about rheumatoid arthritis?
I’m shocked by the stigma that exists in so many faith communities.
The other day, a reader wrote this as a comment to my blog, “Emerging From the Other Side of Depression”:
I am a Christian and I truly believe in Jesus Christ the son of God, and He has helped me through many dark times, but just as the diabetic, the heart patient, the patient with high blood pressure I must have medicine to treat my illness. Unfortunately, many pastors and other Christians say that I am on happy pills, never thinking how sad that makes those of us who struggle with this illness.
I know what she’s talking about, and, man oh man, is it frustrating.
When I was a sophomore at Saint Mary’s College, I went to a Mass in the chapel of one of the dorms on the campus of Notre Dame. I was struggling with suicidal thoughts at the time and had just agreed to start taking an antidepressant after fighting about it for a year and a half with my therapist.
“Psychologists’ offices are starting to replace confessionals,” the priest said. “We need to bring sin and spiritual warfare back to church, where they belong.”
I stood up and walked out.
When I hear a variation of it today in church, I walk out.
It’s not that I don’t believe in miracles.
I have witnessed the breathtaking line of crutches hanging over the grotto in Lourdes, France, a testament to all those crippled persons whose faith somehow allowed them to walk away. Recently a friend of mine was apparently “healed” of her depression during a prayer service and has been able to reduce her meds.
But my God is more high maintenance than that. He demands a little action and cooperation from me, much like the joke about the guy who dies in a flood despite his prayers for God’s rescue.
As the floodwaters rise, a man named Sam calls for God’s help.
First a neighbor offers him a ladder.
“Nope, my God is coming,” Sam replies.
Then the police arrive with a rescue boat. “Hop on board!” they instruct him.
“Thanks but no thanks,” Sam says, “God will save me.”
And finally the national guard provide a helicopter, and he tells them to go away, too.
Sam dies, goes to heaven, and asks God, “Why didn’t you rescue me?”
“I sent a ladder, a lifeboat, and a helicopter…what more could I do?” says God.
Don’t be Sam.
Originally published on “Sanity Break” at EverydayHealth.com.