Why I Try
I saw my psychiatrist last Friday. I drive forty-five minutes into Philadelphia to see him, and then an hour or more back out (rush hour seems to begin earlier and earlier these days). For those who know me – this is a lot of travel…but improving my health is high on my list of priorities. Why? Simply b/c it lets me do my job better and be a better person.
When I’m not ruminating on my anxieties, I can listen to and empathize with the anxieties of others. When I’m not in the pit of depression, I am ready to reach out to the other. When I’m not sleep deprived I can offer my full attention.
Rabbit Trail: On Suffering
Many argue that our suffering makes us better able to interact, understand, and love others. To some extent I think this can be true, but I place qualifiers upon it.
- Suffering does not inherently result in a larger capacity for good, it must be cultivated as such.
- Some forms of suffering decrease the ability to perform good in the short-term1And I use ‘short’ in relative terms as compared to one’s lifespan. In other words ‘short’ could be a week but it could also be five or ten years. while increasing it in the long-term.
- Some forms of suffering almost always result in reduced capacity for good rather than greater capacity.2This is something I’ve been saying for a long time, but which I feel has finally received some external validation as I read John T. McNeill’s A History of the Cure of Souls. For example, Christians oftentimes argue that the shed blood of the martyrs strengthens the church – that the natural result of an unpersecuted church is a weak church. While there is something to be said for this, I think that McNeill makes an excellent point when discussing Armenian Christianity, “…the sufferings of the Armenian Christians under the Turks were too severe to yield the moral advantage that often comes from state hostility in milder form.” (pg. 317)
I’ve experienced a lot of pain and suffering, especially over the last year, and I would suggest that the pain and suffering I’ve suffered at some point passed beyond the point of breaking to heal stronger to simply breaking. The lessons to be learned from the suffering where learned and yet the suffering continued unabated – sometimes intensifying.
Perhaps bones heal stronger after being broken, but not after being pulverized – in the latter case they just don’t heal.
But I am distracted from what I intended to write…let me return.
I continue to fight for better health to be a better person. I continue to improve my diet, to exercise, to work on my sleep hygiene, to read, to grow, to reach out.
As of yesterday I have health insurance again for the first time in over a year. My psychiatrist prescribed provigil (modafinil) for me as I struggle (and have for many years) with Excessive Daytime Sleepiness (EDS) which is extremely frustrating. I am waiting for the pre-authorization to go through with the insurance company.
I hope that it will help me feel the energy a ‘normal’ person experiences on a daily basis. I’m not looking to be superhuman – just not super-tired. On the other hand, I’m a bit frightened. My last experience with a new medication involved audio and visual hallucinations and parkinsonian-like tremors that lasted for several weeks. I’d rather not do that again.
Provigil also can increase anxiety – which isn’t something I need, I have plenty of anxiety, thank you very much, no second helpings for me. It has been shown to exacerbate OCD symptoms – and I am already taking Adderall (20 mg) which also exacerbates my OCD symptoms.
In the end, it will be a matter of trade-offs. Does the increase in anxiety I feel (if I do) outweigh the benefit in wakefulness I experience? For me, the anxiety and discomfort I experience from taking Adderall are relatively minor in comparison to the increased ability to focus and reduced impulsiveness (e.g. its easier not to consume very large amounts of unhealthy foods) I experience.
Right now the vocal ticks are subtle but annoying. They are caused by the Adderall. No one hears these ticks as they are controllable with significant effort, but they burst forth on occasion as “hmmphs” when I’m by myself…they cause no practical harm, but they are annoying – kind of like the hiccups.
So, I’ll try the Provigil and see what happens…
At the same time that I continue to look for solutions to my weaknesses I also try to accept what I cannot change – or at least what I cannot change yet. This is a difficult balance – the endeavor to move forward with the acceptance that I am limited…it is even further frustrated in that the road forward is not always clear – the endeavors I make sometimes are useless or worse regressive…and accepting that my endeavors don’t always work and that they do sometimes set me back is really difficult. Sometimes I just want to throw in the towel and say, “I’m just going to stay like this…It is too hard learning how to change.”
It is difficult for me to accept that I am going to feel tired, that I am going to need naps, that I am at times struggling to empathize. It is difficult for me to accept that I must again face my anxiety, and again, and again, and again. It is frustrating to know that my depression can sweep in upon me at any moment, that the sky can turn from bright and sunny to the darkest shade of midnight at a moment’s notice and to a great extent I am utterly helpless to prevent it.
Stumbling in the Dark…
So much of what we do in regards to our health – especially our mental health – is a stumbling in the dark. We know that there are things which work for some people some of the time – but we can’t tell which ones will work for us at this time.
Doctors say that one of the best ways to fight depression, anxiety, add, and so on is exercise. I’m doing it – to the tune of two hours a day…I think it helps, but not much.
I know the medications help – the prozac, adderall, and wellbutrin – but I also know they have side effects – and I’ve been on prozac for so long I don’t even know what those side effects are any more. Have I always been this way or is this something the prozac causes?
Some would tell me to go off the medications. Honestly, that usually pisses me off. Yes, I said pisses – b/c I feel pretty strongly about this. Trust me, I don’t want to be on medications. If I could get off them I would…in fact, I am continually seeking to move myself in that direction…but I’m also not interesting in descending into the depths of pain and paralysis which these medications have freed me from.3I am not resistant to all suggestions to get off medications – not only do I desire to but I am open to such advice when it comes in a way that is reliable and reasonable. My current psychiatrist is an advocate of natural treatments, but he isn’t going to take me off my medications or suggest I go off them – it will be a long process of trial and error to see if various natural remedies/supplements/etc. can replace/supplement what the medications currently accomplish…
Sidebar: Why What Works For You Doesn’t Work For Me
Let me digress for just a moment. Folks are always telling me what works for them in regard to their illnesses – and I appreciate this – until they suggest that this will work for me as well. I am interested in trying new cures, I am interested in going new ways, I’m not closed down to new ideas – but b/c it works for you doesn’t mean it will work for me.
For numerous reasons what is effective for one person will be ineffective for another – and right now we haven’t been able to analyze what causes something to be effective for one person and ineffective for another. We know that some of it is the result of genetics, some may be the result of experience, others may be conflating variables.
In my family two of my siblings had bad asthma – I don’t. One of my siblings had a deathly allergy to peanuts – I don’t. One had a deathly allergy to bee stings – I don’t. Point being – even within the same immediate family there is room for significant genetic variability…which means that while taking St. John’s Wort may help one individual immensely it isn’t going to touch another person. The same is true of pharmaceuticals – which I rely upon more heavily – for some people prozac works wonders, for others it does nothing – or worse causes suicidal ideation or increased anxiety.
I’m so glad for you if some means of treatment has cured you of your ills…I’d love to hear about it and I will consider if it might be a beneficial road for me to journey down…but please, don’t insist that it is the road to health.
P.S. I also believe in the efficacy of spiritual solutions / divine interventions. I am a fan of a lot of what Neil T. Anderson has written, but again, I think we are looking at partial solutions – not always solutions. The same Paul who by the power of God raised a young man from the dead at another time writes to his adopted son, Timothy, to drink some wine for his stomach ills…no miraculous cure, just practical advice.
I believe in grace. I believe in love. I believe in God. I believe in the God who is love…and I think I’m pretty good at extending grace to others.4Though sometimes, I know that my version of grace is inadequate. If it was truly grace it would include more justice than I sometimes include…There is a severity to grace which I have not yet learned… I’m not so good at accepting grace for myself…and this is the ultimate challenge in acceptance. To accept who I am now…while not giving up. To endeavor while receiving grace. To go on while knowing I am falling short. To accept love without deserving it.
It is funny, I can extend grace, I can teach grace, but I have the hardest time accepting it. Paradoxically, this may be the reason why I can extend and teach grace. I extend it b/c I know how desperately I need it. I teach it b/c I know how deeply the truth transforms us – from experience and b/c I can feel inside of me the murky depths roiling as they experience grace pulsing through them…ohh, would that they would be overturned, exploded, made free and clean!
I’m angry at you a lot. I feel like I’ve suffered enough…I want to serve you and yet I am so hobbled in my abilities. I wonder why you call me to love others and then cripple me in such ways that limit my abilities.
I feel lost so often. I struggle with battles that refuse to abet. Even in my dreams, O Lord, my subconscious lives out the struggles again and again – the relationships that have been torn and lost…and which, O Lord, I am entirely confused how to restore – if they can be restored.
Father, let me accept the things I cannot change, let me change those I can, and let me have the wisdom to know the difference.
I am not as brave as Paul who would desist from crying out to be healed from his thorn in the flesh. I still ask you after these many years to remove this burden from me.
I am afraid. I’ll suffer as long as you want me to – but I don’t want to suffer for anything you don’t want.
I kneel at the cross and let your agony, your pain, your suffering wash over me. It is the only balm I know to soothe this broken soul.
|↑1||And I use ‘short’ in relative terms as compared to one’s lifespan. In other words ‘short’ could be a week but it could also be five or ten years.|
|↑2||This is something I’ve been saying for a long time, but which I feel has finally received some external validation as I read John T. McNeill’s A History of the Cure of Souls. For example, Christians oftentimes argue that the shed blood of the martyrs strengthens the church – that the natural result of an unpersecuted church is a weak church. While there is something to be said for this, I think that McNeill makes an excellent point when discussing Armenian Christianity, “…the sufferings of the Armenian Christians under the Turks were too severe to yield the moral advantage that often comes from state hostility in milder form.” (pg. 317)|
|↑3||I am not resistant to all suggestions to get off medications – not only do I desire to but I am open to such advice when it comes in a way that is reliable and reasonable. My current psychiatrist is an advocate of natural treatments, but he isn’t going to take me off my medications or suggest I go off them – it will be a long process of trial and error to see if various natural remedies/supplements/etc. can replace/supplement what the medications currently accomplish…|
|↑4||Though sometimes, I know that my version of grace is inadequate. If it was truly grace it would include more justice than I sometimes include…There is a severity to grace which I have not yet learned…|