Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fearfully Made . . . Celebrating the Gift of Terror Part XII

I will finish up this series on anxiety disorders in this post and one more.

So . . . in summary, anxiety disorders are caused by either a genetic predisposition or through life (often early life) experiences . . . and often a combination of the two.  I differ from Christian counselors because I don't think the sufferer is the main contributor to their anxiety. Sure, they can make some wrong moral choices that aggravate their anxiety.  In my fictional account, B could start dropping acid in her twenties to escape her pain . . . or she could become a hooker to try and fill the void of emotional abandonment. But it wasn't like one day she just decided that she was going to make a moral choice of being anxious.  It is a real disease and the beginnings were no fault of her own.  The way God made us, the way He intended, is for all of us to have perfectly loving parents.  It wasn't B's fault that she didn't.

My second main point is that actual brain structure changes (or was developed as a fetus in error) so "repentance" or just choosing to stop worrying doesn't work. The whole issue of prayer can be debated for pages, but in my  humble opinion (as I've stated before) the major-league type of answered prayer it takes to heal one from an anxiety disorder is very, very rare.

But God has given us the tools to push against it. In the same way the inner tube pulled a constant pressure in the direction away from the door on the rebar, we can apply a constant pressure on our brains to reform away from anxiety. Yet, I do believe that some of us will never see complete healing in this life time. That is the same reason that I wouldn't let a pedophile, who had since met Jesus and repented, be alone with my kids.

The pressure we apply is in the most malleable part of the brain . . .in the frontal cortex areas of reason and interpretation of sensory input.  The complex limbic system is not easily malleable and that's why we can't just stop being depressed and be happy by will.

But before I dive into what is called cognitive re-structuring (what the Bible calls the renewing of the mind) I will mention medications.

A long time ago when I was an evangelical and was studying psychology with the hopes of being a "Christian Psychologist" I went to dinner at one of my friend's houses.  His father was the CEO of a regional pharmaceutical company.   During dinner, and just to be nice, his father asked me what I was studying. I told him. Then his father (again to be nice to his son's friend) said, "We are working on some exciting medications to help depression and anxiety."

I responded with a very stupid, "Drugs can't solve any of those problems . . . they just cover them up."

There is certainly a place for medications.  Some people have such severe disorders that they must be on them for life.  The rest of us need them for times of exacerbation.  I was never on a daily medication for anxiety, however I should have been.  I do have an emergency supply of Ativan (20 per year) if I'm facing a very particular amount of anxiety.

But the best long term solution is changing the brain by changing the way we interpret sensory input and by exposure to the offending situation.  I mentioned before that I have acrophobia. In response to that, I took up rock climbing and rappelling.  It still can scare the hell out of me, but if I hadn't done it, my universe would start to close in.

In cognitive re-structuring,  you start to listen to your erroneous self-talk. "When I get up in front of the church to read scripture, I may choke up. If I choke up, the whole congregation will think I'm a fool and a spiritual wimp.  If they think I am a spiritual wimp, then I really am a spiritual wimp.  My value of a person will drop. God will like me less and I will have no friends."  You have to go back and wrap an inner tube around the end of that though and pull it in the direction of, "I've spoken in front of churches hundreds of times and my voice only cracked once.  Even that time, the majority of the people didn't notice. If they did notice, hardly anyone would care.  If someone did care, and think less of me because my voice cracked . . . then they are the ones messed up . . .  not me."

But it is not a kind of repentance where you replace that thought once then all is well. Because if you replace that thought just like I described, then the very next time you are asked to speak in front of a group . . . not the new thought, but the old thought will pop up. So, you have to once again press against it with the new, inner tube, thought.  It is a constant pressure and active rethinking.

I will close next time with common wrong thinking and what new thinking should look like.

But us anxious people are NOT children of a lessor god.


Jaimie said...

I have Klonopin on hand for when I need it. I take 2-3 doses a month. It's very nice to have.

Looking forward to the concluding chapter of this. :)

jmj said...

I'm working on it an will post it over the week end. Work has been all consuming of late.