Being natural has been a priority in my life for quite some time. Call me an earthy, crunchy granola, hippy if you will. This sparks a question that runs through my mind now and then. I understand that medications for various mental illnesses replaces chemicals in which the brain lacks. However, does this change who a person truly is? I am currently studying psychology and can understand most of the science behind it, but there is something missing that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s almost like a spiritual point of view. I hope this makes sense! Sincerely, Wanderer
What a great question—I bet lots of folks share a similar curiosity/concern. Of course before responding I want to be clear: I am not a doctor/psychiatrist or formally trained therapist, and I suspect those who occupy those professions might disagree with my perspective. But you brought your question to me, so I will answer you.
The short answer is no—medication does not change who a person really is. Who we really are is a constant over all time (I invite you to view the gingerbread person sketch). It is actually the illness that interferes with our ability to access and be in the space of who we really are.
Trauma, deep emotional pain and suffering, even profound anger (because anger is just another word for pain) can get stuck in our body, and manifest as mental dis-ease. And for sure, this can make us feel like we are not our Self, but that feeling is actually the result of losing access to our Self…being somewhat untethered to who we really are…and brain chemistry can play a part in “lost access.”
Take depression, for example. Depression is the end result of a well-honed defense mechanism: the avoidance of feeling the feelings trauma creates. When we are depressed, we have lost our ability to spontaneously feel (See Alice Miller, The Drama of the Gifted Child) and to allow those feelings to pass through us and be released. Over time, our body is literally weighed down by the heaviness of repressed feeling. In response to the “weight of the unfelt,” our thoughts are bleaker, more cynical, even hopeless. And over time, those thoughts can interfere with the chemistry of our brain. It’s a cycle.
Depression is an unnatural state, and when we sustain and unnatural state in our body over time, we pay a steep price. We become dis-eased in body and/or mind, and we lose the ability to rest in the heart of who we really are. This is heartbreaking and results in a very deep disconnect from Self, which always results in suffering.
Think of medication for depression as a pain medication of sorts…and if the pain, the suffering, can be allayed just a bit, then we have more strength, more energy, to go about the work of genuine healing and restoration.
Now consider illnesses that can be even more serious and debilitating, like schizophrenia or bi-polar depressive disorder. Medication, as you likely know, can be literally life-saving; those who suffer from deep depressive episodes endure a pain that threatens to annihilate them, and in such a powerless and hopeless state, choosing death feels so logical. If medication can protect the individual from suicide, for example, this is obviously good. But I want to be clear—medication will not restore us to our Self. It may enable that process, but the restoration is ultimately a spiritual journey, as you suspected.
Naturalism and Healing
Being a naturalist is about trust and humility in the face of the natural world. It’s about rejecting the manipulative (and often seductive) pull of materialism. It is about making peace with how our bodies work, how our bodies support our Spirit, and it is about holding the perspective that we are connected to the natural world in a profound way. It is about feeling safe in our Self, even when the external pulls and pushes feel threatening. It is about simplicity and wholesomeness.
We can be a naturalist and take medication. The trick is, to take our medication while pursuing the naturalist path, and to do so in the light of a simple truth: we are spiritual beings having a human experience. Remember: “I just don’t feel myself” literally means “I just don’t FEEL my SELF.” When we can feel/intuitively connect with SELF, we are able to feel, and feeling is the bedrock of mental health.
I wish you great success with your studies, and given your question, I suspect that one day you will be a healer in every sense of the word.