Mindfulness

Don’t Worry. There’s a Pill for That.

Her Facebook post was brief and to-the-point.

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When I read it, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.

Finally.

No more pretending.

The issue has been named, which means the door to receiving help is open at last.

….and then I read the comments.

All were from well-intentioned loved ones and yet, peppered into the many “me too” stories, I was sad to see so much untethered enthusiasm for pharma remedies.

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Before I tell you why this series of comments is so alarming, I want to begin by sharing a lesson learned the hard way. At a neighborhood party once, I thoughtlessly popped off to a stranger about how my son’s first grade teacher had recommended that he be evaluated by his pediatrician for ADHD medication. In fairness, I was frustrated because this appeared to be her first option (as opposed to a last resort) but I still found myself telling a mother I’d never met before that, “There’s no way I’m going to drug him.”

She looked me in the eye and with a calm, measured voice replied, “Has he ever had anxiety so bad that he clinged to your leg at the bus stop?”

“No,” I said.

“Have you ever sat in your car alone, bawling uncontrollably because you forced him to get on the bus and now you feel guilty because you don’t know how to help him – but you do know you’ll have to do it all over again tomorrow?”

I didn’t say word.

“I’ve just described every morning of my son’s first school year,” she said, “before I put him on medication.”

She was gracious enough to allow me to stammer through an apology, but her point was made.

I had no right to pass judgment on an entire industry that genuinely serves many individuals and families, and I want to be clear that I’m not doing that now.

My point is only that taking a drug that affects your brain is worthy of deeper consideration than demonstrated in the comments above and, while this is merely one snapshot from one online conversation, my hunch is that it’s a conversation that is occurring around the world as I type.

In Tears to Triumph, Marianne Williamson’s excellent book on this topic, she makes the important point that all pain carries a message. We understand this as it relates to physical pain – if your stomach is hurting, for instance, you wouldn’t apply an ointment to your arm – but we don’t often make this connection with emotional pain.

And yet – just as physical pain shows you where to direct your attention, so does mental pain. In most cases, this isn’t something to be numbed; it’s something to be explored.

Yes, it could be a chemical imbalance but it could also be career disappointment, marital struggles, parenting challenges, sadness over a loss, or any number of experiences encountered along the full spectrum of life.

If you deny or avoid these experiences at all costs, how would you know?

Worse, if you rob yourself of what it is to go through the darkness, how could you experience the growth on the other side? As an example, if I were to ask you about the most transformative lessons you’ve ever learned in your life, my guess is that you wouldn’t begin by telling me about all the things that worked out exactly as you thought they would.

No. You’re going to tell me about the times you fell on your face and how you emerged stronger because of it.

Again, it’s not my place – nor is it my intention – to demonize pharmacological solutions to anxiety or depression. That said, I believe it is on all of us to think seriously about what we’re putting into our own bodies – not to mention what we so freely recommend others put in theirs.

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