Fathom Mag
Article

Prayers and Pills

Jesus was there that day.

Published on:
March 11, 2019
Read time:
4 min.
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The fissure in the ceiling extends the full width of the living room and down the wall. Seeing nothing but the cracked drywall and my husband’s attempts at patching the sheet rock, I breath out my most frequent prayer, “Lord, let me hear your lovingkindness, lest I be like those who go down to the pit.” The psalmist’s cry has been mine for many depressed mornings. 

Some days I tire of the view around here. The fault line on the ceiling reminding me of the fault line between me and my husband—patched by counseling, confession, turning again and again back to each other with the mess between us. Hardened scars cover tender areas where it still occasionally hurts, but mostly it’s numb. So often I find myself looking at the scars, wishing they would burst open and bleed again—maybe then there could be a whole new one-flesh where tough years have decreased the sensation of joy or pain. I look to my marriage often for signs of God really being alive, really being who I read about in that Bible app on my phone. 

Hardened scars cover tender areas where it still occasionally hurts, but mostly it’s numb.

A Happiness that Hides Havoc

I grew up in a home and church where depression combined with spiritual pride wreaked havoc. Depression and mental illness go way back in my family. On both sides of my parents’ families there is depression, debilitating anxiety, alcoholism, abuse, and trauma that for generations has gone un-exposed. But no one in my house used the word depression. No one ever refuted the need for counseling, medication, or therapy in my family because no one ever brought it up. 

We went to church every time the doors were opened, we sang “Just as I Am,” and then lied to each other about how we were doing. Where my childhood church could have been a light in my family's darkness, it felt like a blackout shade. 

The Pastoral Approval I Needed

At twenty-eight, I became a nurse and started recognizing the symptoms I was experiencing and had seen in both my mother and father. I sought help for the first time. But the medication made me feel weird. So I stopped taking it and started praying more. My church discouraged reliance on psychology, dubbing it, “wisdom of this world.” So I doubled-down on the need for prayer and Bible-memorization. But my body kept plummeting into hopeless cycles. I prayed harder.

By the time I was forty, these cycles of hopelessness were becoming more intolerable. The year my husband and I decided for the second time that we wouldn’t divorce after all, my pastor asked if he could talk with me. My marriage had just been through another tearing off of the scars. New wounds were made, new confessions, new consequences, new separation, new Hagar-like repentance. There was a mutual acceptance of the mess we had for a marriage. My husband’s proximity to physical death that year made it seem ridiculous to walk away. 

The stress of those years brought me into a deep pit of depression that I couldn’t pray my way out of. Like Naaman, I wanted God to do some spiritual magic for me. I wanted to wake up one day and feel happy and hopeful and have a humbled husband willing to seek Jesus with me. Naaman didn’t want to take a bath in a dirty river and I didn’t want to go to a doctor and take pills. 

Naaman didn’t want to take a bath in a dirty river and I didn’t want to go to a doctor and take pills.

“If you had diabetes, would you be so resistant to getting medication to help you?” My pastor sat across the table at Starbucks, pressing me to consider that I had been refusing to accept the help I was asking God for by refusing to see a doctor and take medication. From my years in church I learned that if I prayed right, if I believed enough, if I trusted God just a little bit more, I could turn away from depression like I had chosen to turn away from the debt my husband owed me. But there I was across the table from my pastor, without a good reason for not being willing to seek medical help. 

God was calling me to a humble place where prayer and pills meet to heal a broken body. Much like Jesus called a blind man to stand while he spit in the dirt between his fingers and patted the spittle and mud salve onto his eyes.

This is my body, healed by you.

A genetic heredity of mental illness and over twenty years of a hard marriage has formed patchy scars in the synapses in my brain. For years I tried pulling myself up by the spiritual bootstraps, doing what I thought was spiritually mature. But when depression whispered, “There’s no point in you being here. Your presence means nothing. You’re not doing anyone any good,” it paralyzed me. I couldn’t grab spiritual bootstraps. I couldn’t move. 

I listened to my pastor that day, sensing the call of my savior to come to him with my brokenness and burdens by making an appointment with my doctor. The day of my appointment I sat for a few minutes in the parking lot of my doctor’s office feeling nothing but a tiny flicker of sadness and a faint temptation to curse God and die. “Help me, Lord. I’m walking in there to you. Please help me.” I remember the painful, hot tears that started welling up in my eyes. I could barely cry. But that day I walked into a Cigna health clinic, and my mid-forties French female doctor listened as I confessed, “I have been struggling with hopeless thoughts. I want to sleep all the time. I’m tired. I’m weary. I’m sad, if anything. I know this is depression. I’ve seen it in both my parents and I need help.”

Jesus was there that day. He gave me rest, a prescription, and a list of local counselors.

Jesus was there that day. He gave me rest, a prescription, and a list of local counselors. 

Today, seeing the cracks on the ceiling stirred up the prayer I often exhale. And when I breathed it out I looked down at those little green capsules of Prozac in my hand and held them up like the broken body of Christ sighing, “Father, this is my broken body. Bless this sort of bread to my cracked synapses.”

Sheila Dougal
Sheila Dougal is wife to James, mom to two high-school aged sons, a registered nurse, A soapmaker, and a dairy goat raiser in Surprise, Arizona. Sheila treasures her local church, loves a savior she has never seen, remembers the hard things, fight depression, and desperately wants her husband and sons to worship Jesus with her. She writes about hope, marriage, parenting, the church, depression, nursing, and occasionally publishes poetry at her blog Sojourning Sheila. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

Cover photo by pina messina.

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