Thursday, March 4, 2010

Prayer, Medicine and Trusting God

If the start of this post looks familiar, it should.

I was writing about the Chaplet, prayer, God, and related topics. About the time I got to "prayer, Trusting God, and using my brain," I realized that I'd started another post. So I copied what I'd written after changing topics, pasted it here, and moved on.

Now, about trusting God, taking medicine, praying, feeding myself and other apparent contradictions:


Prayer, Trusting God, and Using My Brain

I took that last photo after saying the Chaplet this afternoon.

You probably noticed the pill bottle, toward the top. I had it on the keyboard as a reminder to refill that prescription. That particular one is mirtazapine.

How can I, a Christian, rely on man's strength, when I should be trusting in God?

Look at it this way. When I'm hungry, I don't expect God to put a chair behind me, ease me down, carry food to my mouth and work my jaw up and down to chew it. That sort of thing I can handle on my own: and I do.

Every once in a while, you see someone with religious objections to making use of medical technology. I'm sure they're quite sincere. I'm also quite sure that they're mistaken.

Back to that mirtazapine.

Major Depression isn't Fun

I've got major depression: and was diagnosed a few years ago. Looking back, I'd probably had it since the mid-sixties, when I turned thirteen.

I grew about a foot at the same time, and was shaving regularly a month or so later: so I figured that the dull, gray, lack of emotional response to truth and beauty that I was experiencing was normal for adolescent and post-adolescent human males. And I decided that I'd better learn to deal with it.

It was a little frustrating, learning that most folks don't spend their teenage years and the first few decades of adulthood struggling with the controls of their brains. But I can think of worse things to deal with.

On the 'up' side, the inside of my head wasn't an emotional desert all the time. Sure, I had to reason my way out of suicide now and then: but that was good exercise. And I think my capacity for seeing wonder and beauty in a gob of mud or a dry stick comes from my efforts to rev myself up, back in the 'good old days.'

Sometimes I didn't have to work at getting an emotional response: like a few times when I saw a crescent moon after sunset in a perfectly clear sky.

But I still was spending — I now realize — a lot of attention on making my brain work, at the expense of tasks like deciding what I wanted to do with it.

Then, as I wrote before, a few years ago I was diagnosed as having major depression. And had a prescription for a serotonin uptake inhibitor: which I've been taking ever since. It keeps my body from reabsorbing serotonin, a chemical that nerves need to function, too fast.

The mirtazapine is a tetracyclic antidepressant, which is a five-dollar word meaning that it keeps "neurotransmitters from binding with nerve cell receptors called alpha-2 receptors". (MayoClinic.com) I started taking it a bit later — as a way to make getting to sleep less an exercise of the will and more of a natural process.

Weak-Willed? Proud? No: Smart

It'd be nice if I could just 'rise above' my brain's lack of neurotransmitters, and be a 'real man' by acting un-depressed. It'd also be nice if I could think real hard and replace the plastic-and-metal hip joints I've got with flesh-and-blood ones. It's not gonna happen.

I can't be sure, since it isn't possible for me to get inside someone else's mind, but it looks like not everyone sees depression that way. A discussion thread in one online community, on the subject of depression and pharmaceutical treatments, included remarks by one of the nice, normal folks that they, personally, never needed to drink or take drugs to feel good about themselves.

Well, good for them.

I might not be quite as open about my medical condition, if I was in the position of looking for work: or had social aspirations. As it is, I probably won't have to convince a potential employer that I really am a good risk: so I can be honest.

American culture has improved, a little, in the half-century that I've been paying attention: but we can still improve the way we see people who are off the 50th percentile.

Maintaining Health: A Weakness?

I've got some glitches in my personality that I'm working on: but having a serotonin deficiency isn't a character flaw. It's a treatable physical condition.

And, now that I don't have to concentrate so much on getting tasks done and not killing myself: I've got time to work on a serious backlog of personal improvement.

At least I won't be bored.

I've known — and known of — a few people who apparently didn't like having to take medications to deal with neurological problems. So they stopped taking their meds.

That was a really, really bad idea.

Never mind the economic consequences of losing jobs and having to abandon a career. We're talking about broken marriages here.

My father, when I told him that I had major depression and was taking medications to control it, wanted to be sure that I wasn't going to stop taking the prescribed doses. No fear of that: I've seen what the alternative does to people, and that kind of trouble I don't need.

I'm not being weak: or strong; or brave; or cowardly. I'm just being smart.

But Don't Religious People Rely on God?

I don't think there's a sect anywhere that seriously believes that God will force-feed them, and therefore abstains from feeding themselves. If there ever was, they didn't last long. Not without getting practical before they starved.

But, since most people stay comparatively healthy for years at a stretch, quite a few folks seem convinced that God will intervene when they refuse to deal with illness. Interestingly, I can't remember hearing of a sect who believed that broken bones didn't need splints — but you never know.

But isn't going to a doctor turning your back on God and relying on the strength of men? "Biblical" as that sounds: I really don't think so.

But then, I'm aware that doctors are human beings. Finite created beings, like bacteria, whales, and archangels. I don't feel bad about relying on a doctor for medical help, any more than I feel bad about relying on a chair to keep my butt from hitting the floor when I sit down.

It helps, I think, that I know who's running the show:
"With creation, God does not abandon his creatures to themselves. He not only gives them being and existence, but also, and at every moment, upholds and sustains them in being, enables them to act and brings them to their final end. Recognizing this utter dependence with respect to the Creator is a source of wisdom and freedom, of joy and confidence:
"For you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made; for you would not have made anything if you had hated it. How would anything have endured, if you had not willed it? Or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved? You spare all things, for they are yours, O Lord, you who love the living.160"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 301)
(and see Catechism, 2288)
I'm aware that if God decided to stop thinking about me, I'd stop existing. It's a hypothetical situation, but I suspect that I might never have existed. Interesting metaphysical speculation, but pointless: if it happened, I wouldn't know it, or care. Or be.

And, besides just being aware, I make the Seven Petitions on a fairly regular basis. It's not that I'm afraid that God will stop loving me, or punish me. I do it because at a bare minimum, it's good to keep me reminded that God's God and that I'm me.

So no: "religious" people don't have to stop being sensible. Not if they're Catholics.

On the other hand, we're expected to follow God's law when we use medical technology. These days, that can get very interesting, very fast:
" 'One must hold as licit procedures carried out on the human embryo which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not involve disproportionate risks for it, but are directed toward its healing, the improvement of its condition of health, or its individual survival.'83

" 'It is immoral to produce human embryos intended for exploitation as disposable biological material.'84

" 'Certain attempts to influence chromosomic or genetic inheritance are not therapeutic but are aimed at producing human beings selected according to sex or other predetermined qualities. Such manipulations are contrary to the personal dignity of the human being and his integrity and identity'85 which are unique and unrepeatable."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2275)
So, no: I don't feel guilty about using medications to keep my brain working smoothly. And (we're not quite there, but it's close) if parents knew their unborn child would have leukemia, I wouldn't be upset about their having a doctor fix the embryo's genetic glitch.

The next time someone gets the bright idea of making a race of supermen: that I'd have a problem with.

But that's another topic. ("Artificially Enhanced Human Beings: That's So 20th Century" Drifting at the Edge of Time and Space (March 3, 2010))

Related posts:

2 comments:

David Torkington said...

My wife who is a doctor would insist that replacing neurotransmitters is no different to replacing insulin in diabetes. The difference is in our prejudice and belief that mental illness is somehow on a rung below having a physical illness. But the suffering is more tangible and intense. Keep going Brian!

Brian Gill said...

Thank you, David Torkington.

God willing, I will

On another topic, sorry about the long delay in responding. I'm still getting used to handling post comments.

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I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

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Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.