“Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.”
– Proverbs 16:32
When people tell me that medication is a form of social control and that they don’t want to be “normal,” I want to remind them of this verse from Proverbs. It is not a modern thing that we need to be patient and not warriors. It is a prized virtue from even the most ancient of Christian wisdom. Proverbs contains folk wisdom that was passed down over centuries through the oral tradition, in other words when there was no writing, and then it was finally written down some time between 715-687 BCE. And even then, way back when, people knew that if we didn’t cultivate patience and care that we might have the recklessness and power to take down a city.
When I first was experiencing mental health symptoms serious enough that people in my professional setting started treating me differently I was at a loss. I had always been a difficult person, but only with people who had known me most. My first reaction to my change in relationships was a deep sense of betrayal. That people were against me and trying to sabotage my reputation. That they were trying to undermine me by implying that I was crazy. And that they were handling me with kid gloves to be condescending and not out of genuine concern.
In my 20’s, around the time this was happening to me, I was teaching sections on literature of fantasy and the supernatural with a professor who was invested in looking at literature through the lens of psychology. It was then that I saw in books the people that I always knew had been like me through the lens of psychology. And it was there that I realized that what was happening to me had a name and began to research my condition.
Reading psychology papers about people with mental illness damaged my self-esteem and sense of self worth for a long time. I don’t recommend it and I touch on this experience and also what helped me recover from demeaning clinical descriptions of serious mental illness in a different post. If you or a loved one is struggling with mental illness read memoirs, not Wikipedia or articles for professionals helping people with mental illness.
It wasn’t until I read An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison, a psychiatrist, professor and researcher who writes about her life with bipolar disorder in her amazingly well-written memoir, that I realized that medicine was possible and essential for me, and that I could live a full life if I just surrendered myself to treatment, had hope, and – though I’m not sure if Jamison mentioned it – cultivated a spiritual lifestyle. Through Jamison I learned that people with mental illness were real people, with feelings, dreams, professions and a future.
“Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city,” says Proverbs. Therapy is typically essential for changing how we respond to stressors and medicine without therapy is not usually successful in bringing about lasting change. And sometimes, if therapy works out, medication is no longer necessary. You cannot will or pray yourself out of serious mental illness. Some people make a full recovery. This is possible. But it is not always possible, and spirituality and theology make the medication and its undeniably negative side effects more endurable. It can even imbue them with meaning. I’m developing a meditation series that helps this transformation take hold.
Reward yourself with love and appreciation when you make good choices for yourself. Peer pressure can be strong to go out and stay out late or drink tons, and such things are to be avoided when we have any serious health issue.