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Religion is Not Medical Advice

Christianity is everywhere. (That’s right, I’m writing a post about religion, but probably not the kind of post you’re thinking of.) Maybe because I live in southern USA, Christianity seems to be more prevalent than Starbucks or any other religion. If I lived in China I’d probably be making the same overly obvious observation about Buddhism. There are very few places that I can go here in Texas and not see a Bible verse on the wall or overhear someone talking about their Bible study. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, and the purpose of this post is not to bash a religion. I am tolerant of all beliefs, maybe with the exception of believing that Five Fingered Death Punch is music, or that Justin Bieber is an artist. But there are definitely some situations where there needs to be a clear boundary between religion and professionalism.

The mental health care field has largely failed to recognize this boundary, though they are trying. One thing that bothers me about Christians in a very broad and general term, in contrast to other religious people is that Christians out in the wild tend to assume that everyone else believes the same things they do. Now this is important, I don’t mind when someone tells me they are praying for me. That is something personal that they are giving me because they care about me, and I appreciate it very much. What I don’t appreciate is yesterday being told by a therapist, whom I’m seeing to help me cope with a difficult situation in my life, that all I can do is pray for things to get better.

This is not professional advice. This is not teaching me coping strategies. Why would they assume that I’m even a person who prays? What if I don’t believe in prayer? Then you’ve basically just told me I’m fucked. Now, I understand this is probably not the therapist for me and I should just find someone else that will talk to me on a more professional and scientific level, which is what I need. But this is not an isolated incident. I’ve been quoted Bible verses, I’ve been told to pray, I’ve been told that with God all things are possible and that he won’t give me more than I can handle, and I’ve been told that my bipolar disorder can be healed if I work on my relationship with Jesus. All this with total disregard for the possibility that not only do I have different beliefs, but religion might just be a trigger for me. How is this supposed to help my mental illness caused by chemical imbalances in my brain?

I’ve never had any other health professional say anything like that to me.
“Oh, you have a urinary tract infection? I have some antibiotics, but instead let’s sing hymns until it goes away, and by the way this isn’t optional.”
“X-rays confirmed that your finger is broken. Let us pray.”
I think it’s because there is still so much unknown about mental illness, and we don’t like saying “I don’t know what to do.” God is another unknown, so we explain the unknown with the unknown. We don’t know why medications work or don’t work. We don’t know enough about the roots of mental illnesses to be able to treat them specifically. We’ve come a hell of a long way in the last century, and we’re continuing to learn more and more every day. But I’m just going to come out and say it: religion is not a mental illness treatment.

It helps a lot of people, and that’s great. I believe that people need to practice and believe what makes them feel whole as a person, and do what gets them through the day in their private lives. But religion is not medical advice. Mental illness is a medical condition. I don’t want my mental health professionals telling me, or even implying that my treatment would be more effective if I practiced a specific belief. This is an option, sure, and it helps some people. But like any treatment, (religion is not a treatment goddammit) what works for one person might not work for another.

So please, please stop making the practice of Christianity seem like it’s not optional. Please stop assuming we share the same beliefs when you know nothing about me. Please stop assuming that I’m going to share my beliefs with you at all. Please just treat me for my medical condition. It’s okay to say “I don’t know.” I accept that. I just want to feel better.

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Grey, Everywhere

Have you ever heard a version of the saying, the only way you’ll get what you want is if you ask for it? In a lot of ways this has proven to be true in my life. I’ve learned to stop waiting for things to happen for me and to start making things happen.  I’ve learned not to complain about my life not being what I want it to be if I haven’t made any efforts to make it so. I’ve learned to trust the things that I want and to think about what it would look like for me to actually go after them. Sometimes with that last one I find that what I wanted, even when it is a genuine, strong desire, isn’t what I really need.

Often this lesson comes along with life experience. For example one time when my nephew was two years old, he felt with all his heart that I wanted to go play with the white and orange lane bumps in the middle of the road. He turned to run into the road, and when my sister stopped him he cried and cried and cried as though by not getting what he wanted, even if it was dangerous, his world had just ended. I think this is a fight that we continue to have with ourselves in different forms our entire life, we just don’t always have my sister to stop us from running into the road. As adults the decisions are ours.

How can we amass four decades of life experience, fully understanding that certain decisions will be dangerous, and still make the self destructive choice over and over again? Just because I want something doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for me. And just because something is the right choice doesn’t mean it’s going to be attractive to me at first. I want a lot of things. I want speech without consequences, I want sex without consequences, I want to deal with my problems by drinking and getting high, I want a baby elephant, I want to live in a self sustaining house in the middle of the forest and never talk to anyone ever again, I want to eat strawberry frosting from the tub with my finger.

Because I’m adult, I can choose to do any of those things. People may try to stop me, but no one can really stop me if I decide go for the frosting tub. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, don’t get between a diabetic and a tub of frosting. Just don’t. But any of those other things on the list are either not realistic, or they would have consequences that I do not want. I could speak like there are no consequences, but then I would end up hurting people I love or going to jail. I could adopt a baby elephant but I would ruin its life, and possibly vice versa.

All I’m saying is that sometimes making out lives better isn’t a matter of demanding what we want. I don’t go up to my boyfriend and demand that I want to start living in the forest and may not be home very much anymore. That would not make my life better at all, even though it’s something I think sounds attractive. Because the world isn’t black and white. It’s all grey, everywhere. Want doesn’t equal need. Want leading to happiness is as much a truth as want leading to disaster, so we have to fish around in the grey to make the best choices we can.

My heart can be an idiot and my brain can be a bitch, but every now and then, with effort, they can work together and take care of me.