Last week I struggled to take my medicine. I simply did not want to. I wanted to believe I was above it. I didn’t need it anymore. I was strong enough and capable enough to manage without it. So, for a few days I did not take it. It didn’t go well. As I sat in anxiety, much higher than I knew was necessary, and as my body felt weird, I knew it didn’t have to be that way. It brought to mind this piece I wrote for my writing mentorship about my journey with medication. Friends, medicine is a good, good gift.
[Note, names have been changed.]
I set the pill bottle on the shelf above my desk. Kelly from across the hall was in my room and said to me, “You know that’s just placebo, right? They just want you to think it’ll help your anxiety or whatever but really it’s all just in your head.” “Ok, thanks,” I responded.
I was 18 years old, a freshman in college and had just received a diagnosis of Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I was prescribed 30mg of Lexapro to take daily. After I picked up the pills from on campus health services, I came back to my room and set them on the shelf and that’s when I first heard the judgment and criticism about taking medicine for mental illness.
Kelly may have been the first but she certainly was not the last. A couple of years later Susan, a leader of mine at YWAM, shared that not only should Christians not need medicine but they shouldn’t even have anxiety because, “Philippians 4:6 says do not be anxious about anything but pray about everything.”
When I first moved into my own place a year and a half ago, it was hot. I live in Iowa and I don’t think most people truly know how hot and humid Iowa summers get. The humidity is truly remarkable. This comes from the corn. No really, it’s true. As corn matures it sweats. And when it sweats the moisture moves into the air creating humidity that rivals the deep south. But I digress. The point is, it was hot. And I was experiencing debilitating anxiety about the cost of utilities. So I lived in the dark. I could not turn lights on. I could not run the air conditioning. At one point, my house was 87 degrees. Trust me, if I could have prayed this away, I would have.
Sprinkled throughout the years are jokes about being “sooo OCD!” because someone likes a tidy house or carries hand sanitizer in their purse. I can tell you if it were as simple as keeping a tidy house or clean hands, I would welcome OCD with open arms. Let me be clear, I know that for some, their OCD is connected with order, cleanliness, germs etc. This is not to diminish those struggles but instead to highlight the flippancy with which the term “OCD” gets tossed around.
These jokes, stereotypes, and narratives have taken up residence in my mind. For many years, every morning when I took a pill out of the bottle, I heard these words in my head. These voices saying that I should just pray more, that these pills weren’t real and it was all in my head. I heard the voices saying I wasn’t a real Christian because for some reason, no matter how hard I tried, anxiety continued to live in my body. And intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors still showed up in my daily life.
While I am largely at peace with my diagnosis and have learned many skills and strategies to cope with the impact of anxiety and OCD, taking my medicine is often still a challenge. I came to realize I needed to broaden my imagination for medication.
I am an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America (RCA). As part of the ordination process I took 12 classis exams. These are exams administered by a local governing body of the RCA. These exams cover church polity, RCA history, preaching, Bible, languages etc. One of my favorite exams was about the Sacraments – the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. In the RCA, and I’m sure in other denominations as well, we talk about the Sacraments as “visible signs of an invisible grace.”
The water is ordinary. It is not magical or mystical. And yet, we believe that something happens when a baby is baptized. We believe that grace is bestowed upon that little one through the power of the Holy Spirit. We believe that the presence of Christ is among us, both in Baptism and at Christ’s Table in the ordinary elements of bread and wine. In some way when we gather around the table, Christ is there with us infusing us with life and making all things well. Visible signs. Invisible grace.
So I wonder, can this be true of my medicine. I am not suggesting that taking medicine is a Sacrament. What I am imagining is that my little white pill might be a visible sign of an invisible grace. What if when my phone reminded me at 7:15am everyday that it was time to take my medicine, I welcomed it as a chance to commune with God. What if as I held the pill between my thumb and first finger I paused to remember the grace that comes along with it.
When I first began taking medicine I worried that it would make me feel different or that somehow it would keep me from being my truest self. What I came to discover is that taking that little pill each day has actually brought me closer to my truest self. I experience more freedom. I can feel the fullness of life. I am not distracted or overwhelmed by things beyond my reach or control.
This is grace. Grace is, as singer-songwriter Sara Groves says, an invitation to be beautiful. The grace held in Lexapro is my invitation to be beautiful and to add to the beauty of God’s world. It is the chance to know grace in an intimate way. It is a daily invitation to remember that through the waters of my baptism I belong, body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
So, if I had the chance to go back and talk to Kelly, I might consider sharing with her that placebo or not, this pill reminds of the daily grace that God greets me with, new every morning.
To Susan I might share that the practice of taking medicine and being in therapy for my illness has, at times, increased my faith and awareness of who God is. It has bolstered my compassion and curiosity and helped me understand grace in a more tangible way.
And to myself, 10 years ago I say, take heart. Each time you take your medicine will help you come alive and be your reminder that God is gracious, abounding in steadfast love and kindness, big enough to hold the stars and small enough to meet you in 30mg of Lexapro.