by Meghan Laakso
I let out a long, forced exhale as I left the examination room. In my hand I held a light blue piece of paper, prescribed for Effexor. The doctor’s hand fell on my shoulder, making me jump out of my anxious thoughts.
“This will help you feel better, Meghan,” he said. “If you have any suicidal thoughts or have trouble performing sexually, stop taking it immediately and call me.”
I gave him a sharp, embarrassed nod and then escaped to my car, the familiar pain stabbing me, dragging from my left clavicle, down through my heart, and into my lungs. Anxiety. It still feels like a dirty word to me, or maybe something you say when you sneeze. In reality, the word is not dirty or germy but is instead an explanation, a definition for the chest pain, the sporadic feeling of the world crushing me, and all those sleepless nights.
That blue piece of paper turned into two little bottles of pills that I have yet to open. One will last me for two weeks, easing my brain onto this new system of nerve firing, while the other bottle holds a higher dose that I will take daily. I can’t help but feel disappointed in myself for not being strong enough to fight this on my own, for needing to be chemically altered to find some sort of mental release. But there is relief in the medication too, a light of hope that tells me I can relax now. That I don’t have to be so hard on myself. That it will make my life easier.
The day before I was given this prescription, I was accepted onto the Rock and Sling intern team and, for the purpose of this blog, asked to think about the idea of witness. As I stared at that piece of paper and as I stare at those two pill bottles, I can’t help but think I am in the middle of witness right now as my worldview is literally prescribed to change.
What I am finding remarkable in this time of witness is the overwhelming sense of shame that stirs inside of me. I’ve been telling myself for months that I can live with this by just doing some YouTube yoga and cutting sugar and caffeine out of my diet. Even now I brush it off as if it’s not that big of a deal, like its not bad enough to need medication as those two pill bottles stare at me from my vanity.
In my ministry, I have worked a lot with kids struggling with mental health. I’ve seen how bad panic attacks and manic depression can get. The shame of not being chemically ‘right’ is evident in them too. Shame is such a universal feeling that even my mentioning it makes my skin crawl but it’s true. Its biblical. Famous for her discussions on shame and vulnerability, Brene Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging” but she counteracts shame with hope through vulnerability, “Vulnerability is basically uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure”. Want examples? Insert ANY character in the bible and apply the formula: here is what shame looks like, here is how vulnerability exposes them to safety. My heart goes out to the bleeding woman as she reaches for Jesus’ cloak, to Martha as she stresses over the details instead of breathing in His peace.
But how does vulnerability represent witness in Rock&Sling, you ask? Easy. I bet that if you look at any poem, any piece of fiction, nonfiction, art– you will find some aspect of revealing vulnerability that implicitly or explicitly demands the readers connection. Maybe the artist is expressing vulnerability in the imagery, in the risk the form takes, in the experience that is ruminated on. To bear witness to a moment, to an experience, through art and writing is to dive deep into emotional exposure whether it’s at the sake of the artist or of the reader.
Thinking about my experience in the extremely personal yet totally universal dance with anxiety and shame, my conclusion about witness boils it all down to the necessity of vulnerability. It scares the crap out of me but, oh man, I am even more terrified of unattended shame running loose in my brain and feeding off of insecurity, only leaving bitterness in the destruction. So, with all this said, the only thing left for me to do is swallow my pride along with one of those little capsules. I need to explore the uncertainty of their effects and I need to take the risk of changing my worldview, my witness for the sake of necessary emotional exposure. So, it’s time to grab the cloak with faith of healing. It’s time to stop worrying about my to do list and how I appear to others and find peace in the only acceptance that matters.
It’s time to take that damn pill.