Antidepressants as Means of Grace / by Sarah Schwartz

“I’m sorry, I don’t know what else to do,” I silently prayed, standing at the kitchen counter, pills in one hand, glass of water in the other.

Fourteen years old and barely a high school freshman, I had just begun taking antidepressants at the recommendation of my therapist. For months, I had been treading water in a depressive episode that kept me locked in my room for hours at a time, often unwilling to leave the house, plagued with waves of anxiety that would flood my body from the top of my head to the tips of my toes.

I was embarrassed, afraid, and not totally sure where God stood on the whole medication for mental illness thing.

On Wednesday mornings, the high school ministry team I was a part of met for breakfast at a local diner. As we swapped prayer requests over bad coffee and scrambled eggs, I shared that I had started taking medicine to help combat my depression, to which the leader of the team, a senior boy I admired, turned and forcefully informed me,

“You know, that would go away if you just trusted God enough.”

The table of chatty high schoolers fell silent, breakfast forks suspended in mid-air, waiting for my response.

Until that point, I had been a shell of my normal self at these meetings, beaten and bruised as my heart was, not to mention intimidated by being the youngest on the team.

For a moment I couldn’t speak, completely taken aback by his statement.

But then I felt that thing in my chest, that flicker of fire that for better or worse, characterizes so much of who I am–a mix of naivete, blind courage, and sass that spilled out with the simple but firm declaration,

“Once you walk in my shoes, then we can talk. But until then, you don’t get to say things like that.”

He nodded quietly–maybe because he didn’t know what to say, maybe out of humility, maybe because he didn’t want to talk about it anymore. And then we continued on with our meeting.

I’ve been thinking about that conversation a lot recently, and how I’m one of the lucky ones who eventually shook free from the lie that taking antidepressants meant I didn’t trust God, and came to understand that it means I have a chemical imbalance that needs medical attention.

Sarah, if you had diabetes, we’d give you insulin, and if you had cancer, you’d go to chemo, my Mom would repeat to me in those early months of trying out different medications in order to find one that worked best.

I’m one of the lucky ones, because I’ve had enough voices like hers to draw me out of thinking the darkness was my fault, or that taking steps to help myself was somehow indicative of a lack of faith.

It’s been almost ten years since that conversation, and I’m still standing at the kitchen counter each morning, pills in one hand, glass of water in the other. But I’m not offering prayers of apology anymore.

Some mornings I offer prayers for help or relief–other mornings start with words of gratitude for the ways the combination of medicine, therapy, and community help me engage life as fully Sarah, rather than the lifeless shell depression can render me.

Each are a means of grace through which I receive the tender care of Christ.