Disclaimer: This is my own experience. I’m not a doctor and you should follow professional medical advice, which this isn’t.
For a few months until the end of February 2019 I was an SSI recipient due to disability. I’m on the autism spectrum, suffer from depression, and have generalized anxiety. These things together have made it extremely difficult (and impossible right now) to hold down a job and make an income that would sustain me. Fortunately, starting in March I qualified for the SSDI program as the SSI funds ended, and I was shifted into those benefits which currently help me keep a roof over my head. Unfortunately, however, when the SSI went my medicaid went with it. I didn’t know that would happen. And in the state in which I live I’m not eligible for medicare until around 2021. So, I have no health insurance.
In the confusion of the transition from one program to another I also lost my nurse practitioner and ran out of meds. I wasn’t able to wade through the labyrinth of indigent healthcare in time to figure out how to keep my care going without interruption. No medicaid, no money, no meds. For the past two weeks I’ve been off my SSRI cold turkey.
If you’ve ever been on an antidepressant long-term and tried to come off, accidentally run out, or missed a dose, you know what I’m going through. Night sweats. Day sweats. Chills. Nausea. Vertigo. Mood fluctuations and irritability. Crazy dreams. All kinds of mental and bodily weirdness. And the coup de grace, what some people of experience call ‘brain zaps’.
Brain zaps are like mini electrocutions inside your head. They’re audible–you hear them inside your skull. They’re not constant, but they constantly threaten. They come unexpectedly, sneaking like a thief. You might be turning your head to look at something, you might be blinking, you might be bending over, and all of a sudden–a burning, crackling, zooming electrical sound, shock, confusion, and vertigo that takes the wind out of you. It’s like your brain is broken.
Wading again a couple of years ago into the pond of antidepressants, psychiatrists, and side effects took a lot of thought. Even though I was in intense emotional pain, at times suicidal, I experienced a further crisis when confronted about the need to take pills. I had cycled on and off various psych meds through the years, but during this trough I was very involved with the church, and that made me question. My hope–my prayer–was that church would fix whatever was wrong with me. I had doubts that God would approve of drugs and pre-emptive shame about how others would judge me. It somehow never occurred to me never to mention that I was seeing a psychiatrist.
I wanted to talk to fellow members of the church who could understand; I was ambivalent about isolation. I needed someone of faith to talk to, but I felt alone. It wasn’t as though like minds were running around with little stickers on their lapels:
Hello. My name is _____. I’m on Zoloft.
The prevailing winds from overheard conversations and unsolicited comments let me know there wasn’t any safety. The overall message that I got in the church was that having my mood problems was unrighteous. Anxiety was a sin. I was supposed to be in the world and not of it, and that meant something about my depression. If I truly believed, I wouldn’t be having mental problems, anyway. And so on.
I worried that changing my brain would make me even less of a good Christian. After all, hadn’t some of the greatest martyrs for the faith lived through torture, humiliation, and despair greater than anything I was going through and prevailed? Wasn’t it a sign of weakness to take medication to sort out my desperation? Wouldn’t God heal me?
But, the thoughts in my head towards suicide wouldn’t be quieted, no matter how much I tried to pray them away. So I took medication because I didn’t really want to die.
At times on the meds I felt it was easier to pray, easier to sing in the choir, easier to attend services, easier to be on the social committees. I was nicer. More agreeable. Things didn’t bother me as much. I was me, 2.0. A happy Christian.
Now, the pillow is gone.
As the natural chemicals rebalance in my brain and internal chaos abounds, I’m flowing in so many directions emotionally. It’s hard to pray. Church worship is a bit annoying and physically exhausting. I don’t feel The Presence. I don’t feel Nice. I don’t know if how I’m thinking is right or wrong, healthy or unhealthy. Part of me beats other parts of me up: I should have been able to organize myself well enough to find some financial assistance, do the massive paperwork, and figure out how to keep my psychiatric care from being interrupted. But the forms, the processes, the long lines, the autistic overwhelm–you’d have to not need most social services to be able to survive the intake processes involved. But, I couldn’t get it together in time, couldn’t get organized, couldn’t face the crowds, and here I am. It helps to be naturally organized and focused, especially if you’re poor. I’m not naturally organized and focused.
But maybe it’s not all about how I feel and think.
I’m reminded that God is changeless, no matter how mercurial my mood. So, no matter if I’m medicated, unmedicated, sick, dizzy, sleepy, or irritable, nothing I am changes Him. And it could just be that whether I take meds or not isn’t the final issue. Maybe I just need to be where I am right now. Maybe this is a time to learn a new way to trust God to get me through it, whatever comes, whether I find myself likeable or not.