Friday, April 18, 2008

Managing Your Brain

I have discussed what it is like to have mental illness in a previous post . I remind my readers that there is often a biochemical contribution to mental illness, just as there often is to physical illness. Sometimes a treatment for mental illness and for physical illness is to mess with your body's biochemistry.

A good friend of mine has diabetes. He injects insulin several times a day. In our modern culture, very few of his acquaintances would suggest that he quit the insulin and restrict himself to one of the following (pray, exercise, trust God, control his diet, etc.). Now certainly, every one of those actions would be an excellent thing for my friend to do. But only a very few people would think that that is the only thing he should do. We now know that for various reasons, our body (specifically our pancreas) sometimes does not produce adequate insulin for good health. Some diabetics are able to balance things with exercise, weight loss, diet change. Some aren't. I also think that it is valid to encourage my friend to do all those other things (pray, exercise, trust God, control his diet, etc.) It is valid to encourage anyone to do those types of things.

Our brain is considerably more complex than our pancreas (and the pancreas is quite complex itself). For various reasons, our brain may not produce adequate neurotransmitters for good health. The complications from a brain run amok can be every bit as nasty as the complications from other health issues: pain, lethargy, sadness, trouble sleeping, and a host of other complaints. Prayer, exercise, trusting God, and controlling our diet are absolutely valid ways to manage the imbalance in our brain. Sometimes, those things are adequate. Sometimes they are not. I thank God that we have learned to give people insulin when their pancreas craps out. I thank God that we have learned to give people drugs that promote neurochemical balance in the brain to help them with mental illness. I am pretty sure that scientific research has given us a much better understanding of the body's need for insulin than it has for the brain's need to have certain neurotransmitters augmented. We do the best we can to manage our brains, sometimes the results are disappointing, but many times there is a dramatic improvement in health.

I have experienced a dramatic improvement in my health through the use of Prozac which affects the flow of serotonin in my brain. I have taken it for more than four years. However, during the past three months I experienced a seemingly inexorable decline: pain, sadness, lethargy, trouble sleeping, and a host of other complaints. I summoned my will to continue in prayer, exercise, trusting God, and controlling my diet, etc. Nonetheless, my condition continued to deteriorate. Two weeks ago I added Wellbutrin to my brain management regime. It affects norepinephrine and dopamine . About a week later, I improved dramatically.

Up to this point in the post, I have been cavalier in listing take drugs, pray, exercise, trust God, control your diet, etc. as though these were of equal importance. They are not. Praying and trusting God easily trumps all else. I am very glad that is true, because there will be times when no drug is available, exercise is impossible, your diet cannot be controlled, etc. However, even a quadriplegic during a famine can still pray and trust God. A severely injured prisoner in a concentration camp, can still pray and trust God. A severely depressed person who does not respond to drugs, or any other therapy, can still pray and trust God. We will have trouble in this world, but take heart, Jesus has overcome the world. Perhaps sooner than we can imagine, this world will pass away and God will create a new heaven and a new earth. No more sickness. No more crying and pain. Meanwhile: pray and trust God.
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