A letter in the Church of Ireland Gazette a few weeks ago asked why the church officially ‘has nothing to say in relation to the one in four people who attend our parishes every Sunday … [who] at least one time in their life experience serious problems with their mental well-being?’ The writer points out that there are plenty of resources on interfaith dialogue, building maintenance, liturgy, etc, but ‘no resources to help people who are struggling with mental health issues.’ I meet many people who tell me they are clinically depressed but do not wish it to be widely known: society and the church have a peculiar pre-scientific attitude to mental illness. Some of them cope without drugs, some are on antidepressants all the time, others on and off.
Let me ask: what resources would you like to see made available?
I need chemicals. I don’t blame myself for this. I don’t say, ‘if only I had, or hadn’t, done this, or that …’ I accept that something about the production and/or metabolism of my brain chemicals means that I cope better with help. This is not new: it’s been going on for over 20 years, and when I look back I see signs in my youth. Furthermore, I think previous generations showed signs too, not that I recognized it at the time. I’ve been on sertraline for years. When we went to France last summer I forgot to take them. ‘Never mind, I’ll see what happens’. What happened was that I began to feel ‘hunted’, agitation bubbling up. I started the pills again. Once since then, I’ve stopped them with much the same the results. Without the pills, I feel that the cosmos is not on my side. Paranoia is too strong a word, but certainly heightened watchfulness. From an evolutionary point of view, this is no bad thing: when we were hunter-gatherers we needed to avoid being eaten by predators, so watchfulness is hard-wired in. Another thing I notice without pills is a heightened tendency to shock (strong enough, some would say, without being heightened). This can be very amusing, at least to me—naughty child stuff. It’s as if I observe a torrent of words coming from another creature within me. I can understand why people thought, and think, in terms of possession and demons.
The GP asked me recently if I thought there was an element of ‘up’ as well as ‘down’ and I said not. But SWMBO rather thinks there is, and the more I consider it, the more I come round to the view that she’s right. I guess the pills smooth out highs and lows—every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low—but I have a sneaking suspicion that this comes at the expense of a kind of suppression, a feeling that I’m being averaged. There is much more to be described and written, but others were there long before me (Stephen Fry has recently spoken about this). There are many implications for theology, particularly with respect to biological drives and the notion of ‘made in the Divine image’.
Some people feel that taking happy pills means that they are second-rate humans. I’m not inclined to see it that way: it’s not because we lack something, but because we see more clearly. We need something to cope with the strange society in which we live. Society doesn’t look down on people who take antibiotics, so why should those on antidepressants be sneered at? I am as I am. If I need chemicals, then I need chemicals. If that troubles others, it’s their problem.
I look back over the blogs. Sometimes I think ‘yes, spot on!’ Sometimes I think ‘why did I write that? I wouldn’t write that now’. The things we say and do, and write, are without doubt products of our moods and emotions. We are slaves of our brain chemicals. All of us. There’s plenty in the medical literature that points to a link between creativity and psychiatric illness. There’s the lovely story of a man with Tourette’s syndrome who takes pills during the week for work, but not at the weekend when he plays in a band: he’s a better musician without the pills. The question becomes: ‘how can I make the best of my condition?’
To all fellow ‘sufferers’ let me repeat: what resources would you like to see? What can I do to help? If you’d like to contact me with suggestions, I’ll see what I can do.