A NOTE TO OUR READERS:
This piece refreces suicidal thoughts. If you or a loved one struggles with thoughts of suicide, please seek help. For U.S. residents, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 988.
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I wanted to die, and I didn’t know I wanted to die until I didn’t want to die anymore. That is to say that I didn’t know I wanted to die until a small white pill, an SSRI, slid down my throat and into my stomach, changing my chemistry. By the time I was ready to accept help, it was almost too late for me. Scarier still is that no one would have seen it coming. It would have taken me by surprise too. The holy rite of swallowing a pill became a daily reminder of a broken body, a fractured mind, and a crushed spirit.
Two things converged and gave me my life back: the Eucharist and antidepressants. The one, a sacrament by which I receive the grace of God. The other, a sacramental effort by which I am able to receive that gift of grace.
Each morning I reach into a cupboard, grab my Lexapro and taste its bitterness, and each morning it calls to mind the cup of communion. Its brittle texture hits my tongue like matza. Stringent wine, crunchy bread–my senses carry me to the Lord’s Table. A table I always find safe, receptive, and hospitable. I know it's poor theology to call antidepressants Communion and I’m well aware that communion and medication have little in common, but each pill brings a reckoning in soul and body. The sliver of crossover between pill and water, bread and wine has saved my life, which doesn’t seem so small.
Wanting to Want
I didn’t seek out healing. I had long ignored my body as she had been aching for support and care. Didn’t everyone dream of running into oncoming traffic? I thought everyone’s bodies were incapable of peeling away from the couch or at least everyone moved in slow motion. I assumed everyone’s future looked like a dead-end. I was inches away from convincing myself that my daughter was better off without me. Maybe better off if her father could marry a new mom. Maybe that mother wouldn’t cry as she rocked her to sleep. Most days, I thought the world would be more vibrant, more complete, without me. Most days, I wondered if I’d finally feel relief if I swerved off the road.
But I wasn’t nearly as hidden from God as I supposed.
After a sleepless, snotty, night wondering if my brokenness would ever heal on this side of heaven, I wanted to want to be better. I began with finding the will to simply get out of bed and hope—without real expectation—that the rest would follow.
Out of bed became into a doctor’s office and a doctor’s diagnosis became an orange bottle in my kitchen cabinet.
I didn’t seek out healing, exactly; the healing seemed to find me. I think I was pursued by it. Antidepressants, in my experience, didn’t suddenly turn all things bad into good. Instead, there seemed to be a steady state of bearableness to the world. Pill by pill, the medication scraped the scales from my eyes and unclogged my ears. I could see the outline of newness, I could hear the whispers of love and belonging. Healing came one step at a time but still, its pursuit was relentless. The images of goodness became clearer, the sounds louder. Despair had wrapped gnarled fingers around my throat, and medicine peeled them off of me one by one. I didn’t realize I had been choking until that hand was gone. I didn’t understand how near death I was until I actually wanted to be far from it. The steady persistence of getting better was a balm applied by the hand of God steadily, slowly.
A Table Set for Me
The pills I take are evidence of the abuses of authority I suffered, the trauma inflicted on my mind and spirit, another reason why taking them feels like a sacrament. The Lord’s Supper is evidence of Christ’s suffering, too. Through Communion, I began to see my own dejected body laid over Christ’s to reveal our sameness.
Each week we members of our church line up to receive the bread and cup from another member. We all come hungry and in need of grace. Eager to receive the kindness baked into the matza and lining the brim of the glass. In a true manifestation of our belonging to one another, the words “the body and blood of Jesus, broken and shed for you” are repeated over each person as they break bread, dip in the cup, and eat. The sound of saints blessing one another rises up and rattles the rafters of the old theater we meet in. Our voices join the cloud of witnesses of ages past, testifying of our lives hidden in Christ. As a church, we become a chorus speaking and being spoken to, saying and hearing words of life and truth, which push back against the rivalrous gates of hell.
We do this week after week alongside pastors who have been patient witnesses to the pain of abuse and neglect my husband and I brought into the church with us. We line up with the church family that has generously received us with compassion. Each Sunday, Jesus invites me to his table, and I come, which is its own sort of healing salve. With regularity, I am faced with the assurance that God’s grace is available in the feast itself and in those with whom I am feasting.
The togetherness of communion has brought stability to my weary brain. The grace I’ve received through Christ’s body and blood reoriented me within the family of God. Without medication, it would have taken far more of my strength to see how long the Lord’s table is, strength I didn’t have to spare. But that table is long, and it is narrow so we can see our kindred’s faces and hear the blessings rolling from our lips as we tell the truth about what God has done, is doing, and will do.
Like Elijah, I begged God to let me die. Like Elijah, I was given food instead. At my place setting, which the Lord so thoughtfully prepared for me, there was the bread, the cup, and extra space for a garish orange bottle. It seemed like the pill container would be out of place among a table set for a feast with God. Nevertheless, I set my pills upon the Lord’s table, or maybe it was Christ himself who placed the medicine there for me. The medicine of his blood, of his flesh, and of pharmacology. Yes, I believe it was him.
Cover image by Mariana Rascāo.