Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: At Revive Our Hearts one topic comes up a lot when we get letters from listeners, and that’s depression.

Woman 1: He’s not a wild drunk. It’s just that the drinking affects his health. He’s always tired, depressed.

Woman 2: I’ve always been comforted by food when depressed. And having suffered depression, you can imagine . . .

Woman 3: It’s just not easy being a wife and a mother . . .

Woman 4: I get depressed and I come down hard on myself because I feel like such a failure.

Man 1: I live in a one-bedroom apartment. I had my two boys with me . . .

Woman 5: I went through with it and I never felt so depressed.

Man: Depressed all the time . . .

Leslie Basham: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Thursday, November 30th.

A lot of times when someone’s depressed, the immediate solution is medication, right? Well, the issue isn’t that simple, according to our guests. We’ll meet a woman who did get on anti-depressants, and we’ll find out what she thinks of them now.

Before we start today’s message, let me tell you what you’re not going to hear. We’re not telling anyone to get off of medication for psychotic disorders. We are not telling anyone to get off of anti-depressants immediately without a doctor’s supervision.

What we are suggesting is that maybe anti-depressants are being prescribed too often, too quickly. Here’s Nancy to introduce our guests.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: It’s not often that we have four of us here in the studio talking here on Revive Our Hearts, so we’ve had quite a bit of technical crew setting up mics. We also have 35 or so women in the studio with us here today talking about this subject of medicating emotional pain, which is, as you know, a very common practice in our culture.

We’re trying to get a biblical perspective—God’s way of thinking about depression, about emotions, and about this whole movement to medicate emotional pain. So I’m joined in the studio today with my friend Elyse Fitzpatrick who, with co-author Laura Hendrickson, has written a very helpful book called Will Medicine Stop the Pain? In this book they deal with God’s perspective on depression and anxiety and other troubling emotions.

We’re also being joined today by two other friends. Holly Elliff has been with us here on Revive Our Hearts before and is a pastor’s wife and is very active in counseling and discipling women—and if you’re involved in ministry with women, you’re dealing with emotions. If you are a woman, you’re dealing with emotions.

Holly, thank you for being back here on Revive Our Hearts.

Holly Elliff: Good to be here, Nancy.

Nancy: You introduced me to our fourth friend here, Kathy Weiler. Kathy is a speech pathologist. She works with children who have speech disorders.

Kathy, you are in the church that is pastored by Holly’s husband, Bill. Thank you for being willing to come with Holly and share your story with us of how God has worked in your life in this area of depression.

Kathy Weiler: Thank you, Nancy. I’m glad to be here.

Nancy: And Holly’s been a big part of that story, so that’s why we asked the two of you to come together and share together.

Kathy, when you were about 30 years of age, a doctor prescribed for you anti-depressants, which you began taking on a regular basis. What led you to go to that doctor, and what caused him to put you on the anti-depressants in the first place?

Kathy: I was dealing a lot with sexual abuse in my past for several years, and it was at that point, after dealing with a lot of those issues, that I started getting headaches and just not wanting to get out of bed. I stayed in bed several days. I missed 35 days of work and got written up at work for missing so many days. My boss talked with me, and I explained to her what was going on.

I was going to doctor after doctor after doctor, and one put me on an anti-depressant, because none of the other medications that they tried were helping with my headaches. So it was at that point that they put me on an anti-depressant.

Nancy: To help with the pain.

Kathy: To help with the pain.

Nancy: And did it?

Kathy: It did help with my headaches. My headaches did stop. It took several months before those headaches stopped completely. I also had to take something to help me sleep, because the anti-depressant would keep me awake.

Elyse Fitzpatrick: That’s a very typical story, Kathy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that story—that people are given anti-depressants even when they’re not depressed, for headaches. Because a lot of times doctors will say, “You know, we can’t find anything wrong. There’s nothing really physiological wrong. But this person seems to be in distress, so we want to help the person.” So then they will prescribe anti-depressants for that.

I’ve heard of that being described in a number of situations. One woman that I know personally who was in an automobile accident lost a leg and was having very significant phantom limb pain, which is that pain you get in the limb that’s no longer there. The doctors said the only thing they could do for her was put her on anti-depressants.

What usually happens is that an anti-depressant is prescribed, and perhaps for a short period of time the person feels better because there’s a placebo affect. Other times the person may feel better because they actually do feel better from the medicine.

But after a very short period of time usually, the effects of the medicine tend to poop out, and then you have to up the dosage of the medicine and then add other meds—which, Kathy, I understand is what happened to you.

Kathy: That’s right. That’s exactly what they did with me. They continued to up the dosage, as it would not work for a while. And then they would up the dosage again and again.

Elyse: Then, once we’re done with that drug, they decide, “Well, this person’s not being helped by this drug; we’ll start them on another drug.” That’s why I have women who come to me, not on just one anti-depressant, but on a number of anti-depressants, on sleeping pills, on other medications, on tranquilizers to calm some of the side effects.

So we have women who are coming to us on five or six meds, sometimes more, and these medicines are, many of them, just given to handle the side effects of the medicine that was given to begin with, which probably should have never even been given to begin with.

Holly: I think too, Elyse, what you’re saying is, if we’re not careful, we only treat what we see at the top of the tree and never get to the root of the issue. I think that’s what was happening in Kathy’s life. She had spent years trying to fix the outward symptoms of a very deep hurt that had never been dealt with; so as she tried more and more to fix the outward symptoms, it got worse and worse because the deep root of her hurt had never been addressed.

Kathy: I feel like I can look back and see that I was having those headaches because I had dealt with some sexual abuse in the past and I had a lot of anger and bitterness toward some of those people who had abused me. Just from growing up in a home with an alcoholic, there was some abuse there. So I had a lot of anger and bitterness issues that I was not dealing with.

Elyse: I think it’s really important at this juncture to point out a couple of things. First of all, I don’t think that what we’re saying is that anybody who has pain has pain because they have anger or bitterness issues. That’s not at all what we would say. There are real diseases that people have that cause pain that basically don’t have to do with anger or bitterness.

However, a lot of what we feel physically is influenced by what’s happening to us emotionally. And Kathy, just the same way as that doctor gave you drugs that basically blunted your emotions without actually dealing with the circumstance, that’s how many women are going through life now with their emotions blunted, but never having changed the circumstance or even having the energy to go back and say, “It seems to me I have anger and bitterness in my heart over what someone has done to me.” Instead of handling that in a godly way, we use these drugs to basically blunt our emotions so we don’t feel those things anymore.

Here is an example of what that’s like that will seem a little bit silly and simplistic, but we’re just going to use it. Let’s say that I put a tack on a chair and you sat on the tack on the chair. Now, how can you respond to that? You can respond by jumping up and getting the tack off the chair, or you can take morphine that will blunt the pain.

Now, I know that seems silly, and I’m not trying to make something that’s very, very serious seem silly. I know that women really do struggle with this. But that’s very much what we’re doing when we take anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications for emotional pain. We are not dealing with the fact that we’re sitting on a tack. We’re not dealing with the fact that there are problems.

Just like you had significant problems in your life that really needed to be dealt with and brought to the cross and thought about in a godly way, we need to get up and remove the tack. If you get up and remove the tack, in many ways that pain will not go away. It would be like taking morphine for a broken arm. It doesn’t mean your arm’s not broken anymore. It just means you don’t feel it.

Another example would be the oil light on the car. If the oil light goes on and I’m driving, I can do one of two things. I can pull over and put oil in the car, or I can get some black masking tape and I can put it over the oil light. Now, if I do that my husband will need medication! I’m kidding.

You see, God has given our emotions to us as a very good gift. They color life, but then they also tell us when things are wrong and when things are right. They draw us to the cross. That’s the purpose of our emotions. So we want to be very careful when what we’re doing is simply blunting our emotions without taking care of the underlying causes.

Nancy: As you continued on these medications, did there come a point where they specifically diagnosed you with depression?

Kathy: Yes. I was going to counseling at the time, and the counselor had diagnosed me with severe depression.

Nancy: Were you a believer at the time?

Kathy: Yes, I was a believer at the time, and I was going to Christian counseling. I also had a Christian psychiatrist at the counseling clinic I went to that was monitoring my medication at the time.

Nancy: What caused you to begin to question whether being on all this medication was a good thing?

Kathy: Well, it had to be changed several times. The medication would stop working, so they would increase it and they would increase it; and they just continued to increase it until I was on the maximum amount of anti-depressant. Then that anti-depressant didn’t work, so they switched me to a different anti-depressant and put me on the maximum amount starting out on that anti-depressant.

I continued to have difficulty with my emotions. Toward the time that I realized maybe they weren’t really working for me, I had actually started raging at a very good friend of mine, and I had never raged. I’m usually a calm and peaceful person, but what was in my heart was just spewing out of my mouth, and I didn’t feel like I could control it at the time.

Nancy: Did you begin to suspect that maybe the medications were having some negative effects?

Kathy: No, I just thought I needed more medication at that point. I thought, “This medicine is not working. Maybe I need something different.”

Nancy: Then somebody said something that challenged you to consider that maybe God could heal you from the depression.

Kathy: Right. I was in a Bible study—it was during the summer—and one of the girls in the Bible study said that God had healed her of depression. It really made me mad that she said God could heal depression because I thought, “She doesn’t even know what depression is. I don’t think she’s really dealt with depression.” I said out loud to the group that God could not heal a chemical depression and that is what I had and I was on anti-depressants for.

The very next day in my car I was listening to a Christian radio station, and they said that scientists believe that Sarah could not have had a baby at 90 because biologically it just really wasn’t possible. They also said that Christ could not have resurrected from the dead because of the law of gravity, and that could not have happened.

So I just laughed out loud in my car and I said, “God, and I said You couldn’t heal chemical depression!” I said, “Okay, I give up. I’m willing to try, but You’re going to have to help me.”

Nancy: So what’d you do at that point?

Kathy: At that point I knew I needed to go to my psychiatrist and tell him what I felt like God wanted me to do.

Nancy: Which was?

Kathy: Which was to get off of the anti-depressant that I was taking completely. So I went to him . . .

Nancy: You didn’t do this on your own.

Kathy: No, I didn’t do it on my own. I knew; I was wise enough I think to know that if I just quit cold turkey I was going to have major problems because I was on the maximum amount.

Nancy: Do you agree with that Elyse?

Elyse: Absolutely. And let’s just make sure that our listeners really hear that statement because we are encouraging people to re-evaluate what they’re doing with their medicines. But we do not want at any point for any woman to stop taking her medication without being under the care and supervision of her physician because stopping these medicines can produce very, very serious side affects.

Holly: Did your doctor agree with your choice to do that?

Kathy: No, my doctor had told me that I was going to need to be on this medication all my life because I grew up in a home with alcohol. My father was an alcoholic, and he said there was a chemical imbalance there and that I would have to be on it all my life. He didn’t think it was a wise decision for me to get off of my anti-depressant.

So I told him that I felt like this was something God wanted me to do, and I was going to do it with his help or without his help, but that I knew that I needed to come off of this in a slow process, and I needed his help to know how to do that.

Elyse: That was very courageous of you to do that Kathy. I’ve just got to say that. I know that the relationship that most people have with their psychiatrist or psychologist or counselor or physician is one in which that person is really in a position of authority in your life.

For you to tell him this was something you were going to do, God really gave you grace in order to stand against what he was telling you to do. I just want to applaud that. That’s God’s work in your life, Kathy.

Nancy: So under his supervision then, you began to get weaned off the drugs. Tell us about that early process. Do you remember what it was like?

Kathy: Oh yes. I still remember it quite well. It was very, very difficult. I had dealt with major anxiety during those weeks. I also was very sad. I cried a lot, probably for about six months, honestly. I cried a lot.

Nancy: Was it unusual for you to cry?

Kathy: Oh yes. I hadn’t cried in five or six years, however long I’d been on the anti-depressant. I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t cry at a funeral of a friend of mine who had died, and that really shocked me. So yes, it was new for me to be crying. I just knew I needed to pour things out.

I also had some friends around me who were encouraging me to get in the Word and who were encouraging me to just pour out my heart to Christ and to let Him know how I was feeling. So they were hard, hard days, and there were a lot of days when no one could help me except for the Lord. There was not anybody I could call at 3:00 in the morning when I was really distraught and crying, but there was the Lord. He was always present with me.

Nancy: And you did have, as you said, some friends. One of those friends was Holly. Holly, what was your perspective as Kathy was walking through this time? Was she asking for help? And how were you able to help her?

Holly: I first met Kathy at the beginning of this time. I can remember the very first time that we got together. I sat there thinking, “Boy, she has a lot of baggage here in her life.” I can understand why she felt like she needed to be on anti-depressants because I could have potentially gotten depressed just listening to her story.

As we started to visit, Kathy—of course now that relationship has moved from kind of a counseling relationship to just a friendship. So Kathy knows me well enough to know that whole process in my heart. But Kathy would come in with little note cards filled with questions of things she wanted us to talk about. They were tough questions lots of times. So as I first met Kathy, she had lots of questions, and she had lots of need.

When I met her, I walked away that first day thinking, “Oh my goodness.” I gave her some things to think about during the week and said, “We’ll get together again.” And I thought, “If she does those we’ll get together again, but I probably won’t initiate that. I will let her initiate that.” Because I believe it’s very important for someone to make that choice to walk toward God.

What I love about Kathy is that through the whole process, which was lengthy, she consistently made choices to get to God with her hurt and her need and the anger and the bitterness and issues that needed to be dealt with that she never had really felt the result of in her life in a long time.

So when I first met her, she was dealing with a bucket full of issues that had been numbed but not dealt with.

Nancy: Kathy, when you and Holly first met at that pizza place, it was obvious that you had issues that you were just putting your toe in the water, just getting ready to deal with. You probably had no idea of the process that was ahead. And yet God used a woman in your life to get you to start to think biblically, to help you start to think God’s way. It was a long, hard process of dealing with the issues that had resulted in anger and bitterness and headaches and anti-depressants and numbness.

Tell us a little bit about the process from that meeting at the pizza place to being able to say, “You know, I’m free from these root issues of anger and bitterness. Not that I’ll never struggle with it, but they’re not dominating and controlling my life anymore.”

Kathy: The first time I met with Holly I had index cards full of questions. I think some of those questions. . . I know a lot of those questions were relational because I had a lot of issues with relationships. I actually had just had a friend tell me she didn’t want to talk with me for three months because she was the friend I was raging at before I got off my anti-depressant.

Probably my primary question at that point was, “How do I deal with these relationships? How do I deal with this anger toward relationships in my life with my family members and with friends? And where do I go from here?”

So Holly would go through the Word and give me biblical counsel and tell me how I needed to deal with that. A lot of times it was writing those things down and just talking to the Lord and pouring out my heart as to what I was feeling.

Once I did that, then I needed to replace that with God’s Word and memorizing His Word. She encouraged me to memorize His Word. So I did that and that helped to transform my thought patterns. Then as a result of that, my relationships started getting healthier and better as I made choices toward that.

Holly: Kathy also—she is courageous. She would not, if you ask her to describe herself, she would not describe herself as courageous. But she is a courageous woman. As God began to reveal layers of hurt in her heart or deep relational hurts in her life and God would show those to Kathy, she began to make choices to forgive those things, to realize that that root was there and then to choose forgiveness rather than control.

She had spent years trying to control those things and keep them from hurting her. Now she began to let those things go, to surrender those issues to the Lord, to give Him control over that area of her life.

She had some tough family relationships because a lot of her family members are not believers. She began to release those things into God’s hands and trust Him to give her ways to relate to those family members that were tough issues in her life.

Then she was faithful when God prompted her heart to love that person in this way or to reach out to that person in very practical ways sometimes. Kathy was faithful to choose to do that, again realizing it wasn’t coming out of her.

But the more she surrendered her life to Christ, the more He enabled her to take steps that were proactive in loving people who had hurt her in her life. And God has consistently brought redemption in so many of those relationships.

Leslie Basham: That’s Holly Elliff, along with Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Elyse Fitzpatrick, and a woman who has learned a lot about forgiveness, Kathy Weiler.

Maybe you heard Kathy’s story and realized, “That’s me.” Maybe you’ve been treating pain or depression when first you need to get to the root of the issue and choose to offer some forgiveness.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss has written a book that will help you thoroughly deal with your past through the power of forgiveness. It will help you figure out where areas of hurt linger in your life. Then it will help you understand why forgiveness is the best option. The book is called Choosing Forgiveness, and you can order it at ReviveOurHearts.com or call 1-800-569-5959.

Kathy’s issues went unresolved for a long time. While looking around for ways to dull the pain, Kathy got on anti-depressants. If you’re considering medicating depression, I hope you’ll get a copy of our guest’s book. It’s called Will Medicine Stop the Pain? by Elyse Fitzpatrick. You can order at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Like we said earlier, if you’re currently taking anti-depressants, please work with your doctor on how to stop taking them. And for anyone being treated for a psychotic disorder, we’re not saying to stop taking your medicine.

Tomorrow we’ll hear how Kathy got from a place of unforgiveness to a place of healing. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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