Tuesday, March 6, 2012
LIBERTY FROM LEGALISM THROUGH THE GOSPEL: MY PERSONAL STORY: PART FOUR
This is Part Four of my personal, post-conversion story. You will be lost if you start here. If you need to catch up, follow the hyperlink back to where you left off, or start at the beginning. Thanks, and may the good Lord bless you with the a greater understanding of the Gospel displayed in my story.
LIBERTY FROM LEGALISM THROUGH THE GOSPEL: MY PERSONAL STORY-PART THREE
NOTE TO THE READER:
Part four describes a series of events that played a very significant role in my liberation from legalism through the Gospel. These are mostly chronological facts of what happened to me, beginning in January of 2011. I will save my theological discussion as to how these events providentially led to my liberation from the tyrannic rule of legalism for Part Five.
Another note. I will suspend the beginning of my weekly blog posting schedule until next week. This personal story is a significant work that could potentially benefit many readers, and I have been pouring every effort into effectively communicating it in written form. When I am finally finish my story, I'll want to take a bit of time off and rest a bit before tackling the weekly blog posting schedule.
ANGRY AT GOD
[This is the last paragraph from Part Three; an important segue to "THE TURNING POINT"]
Ultimately my life became paralyzed by my failure after failure after failure. I had way too much on my plate, and my brain could handle only one tiny morsel at a time. I was drinking more and more, and I became apathetic about doing anything constructive; after all, why should I try to improve when it would only end in failure? And even worse, there was an underlying attitude of bitterness and anger directed at God. My reasoning was, "God, you saved me, you rescued me, things were really going great that first few years as a Christian, I was effective in ministry and doing your work, and now you are taking away my memory, my life, and turning me into a vegetable? Why would you do this to me?"
THE TURNING POINT
Every year for the past few years a group of my fishing buddies take a trip to Grand Rapids to fish for giant panfish. In early January of last year, 2011, I went to Grand Rapids and arrived up there ahead of everyone else. They would arrive sometime Friday night. So the very first day there I spent my day on the lake fishing and then retreated back to our beautiful lodge we stay at every year. I was in good spirits the whole time I was on the lake, not down, not depressed, just an overall feeling of enjoying what I liked doing best.
THE SYMPTOMS BEGIN
At the lodge that evening, I suddenly and unexpectedly started to experience some very uncomfortable and disturbing health problems I had never felt before in my life. There was a palpable discomfort in my chest; not that my heart was beating faster, but it was more pronounced, pulsing, throbbing, as if it were pumping harder. I also felt an awful tingling in my chest, and that feeling spread into my limbs which ended in some mild tremors in my hands. Overall, I felt shaky and an overall sense of sickness permeated my entire body. These symptoms were nasty and I wanted them to go away very badly. It was very stressful.
I had some wine at the lodge, so I had a couple of glasses. Amazingly that relieve my symptoms and lowered my stress level, and I thought that would be the end of it and went to bed. Unfortunately, when I woke up the next morning, I could feel the same troubling symptoms I had the night before. I took more wine, my condition improved, and went fishing. When I got back to the lodge that evening the same thing started all over again, and if anything, the symptoms were worse. Now I was starting to get a bit concerned.
THE SYMPTOMS CONTINUE
This pattern repeated itself over and over again, the only source of relief being the intake of alcohol. One early morning I could feel the symptoms so pronounced, the throbbing of my heart, the chest discomfort and the tingling, that I thought I might be having a heart attack, and I seriously considered making a trip to a hospital in Grand Rapids. Instead, I took more wine and felt better. Every day and every night in Grand Rapids I experienced the same aggravating symptoms, and the only relief I got was from drinking alcohol.
I completed my Grand Rapids trip and returned home. As I lay in bed the night of my return, my symptoms got so severe and I was so stressed out about it that I decided to make a trip to the emergency room at Methodist Hospital. I truly thought I was having a heart attack and that I would be hospitalized. They did some testing of my heart among other things and everything came back normal from a physical point of view. It was the conclusion of the treating physician that shocked me. He said my symptoms were caused by anxiety. He gave me a prescription for Xanax, and said that I should make an appointment with a psychiatrist.
His conclusion was not what I was expecting at all. I filled the prescription and tried the Xanax; but I ended up taking only a couple doses of the Xanax and then stopped; I made the false, legalistic assumption that Christians should not take psych meds. I had no desire to make an appointment with a psychiatrist. I refused to believe that my symptoms were caused by anxiety or some other underlying mental disorder, and that I needed to be medicated.
SLOUCHING TOWARD ACCEPTANCE
Soon it became apparent that my health issues were not going to go away, and in fact, were worsening. My symptoms, as indescribable as they were, were pure torment and agony. Life as a whole was suddenly very different in a bad, bad way. The joy of everything evaporated the moment I first felt those symptoms intrude into my life in early January, and now things were only getting worse. All I could think about were my symptoms, which served as a catalyst for further mental deterioration.
My drinking escalated greatly to alleviate the symptoms, but it was like putting a Band-Aid on severed limb. The alcohol helped my symptoms while I was in a drunken stupor, but once that wore off, I would feel the symptoms return with a vengeance, which only led to more drinking.
My behaviors took a turn to the bizarre, I became extremely introverted, I could hardly talk in complete, coherent sentences, I was easily distracted, and my emotions were so out of whack that my relationships at home, at work, at church, and everywhere else were impacted. By now my life was such a mess that I decided to seek help, and I only had one person in mind that could help me.
David Ward is the worship pastor at Redeemer Bible Church, a dear friend in Christ, and loving shepherd to messed-up people like me. He is a tremendous example of someone who gets the Gospel, lives the Gospel, and has the intellect and wisdom to give insight and advice on other people's problems. We connected and I told David what was going on with the symptoms, the treating physician's conclusion and recommendation, the drinking, and my mental deterioration.
Among other practical advice, he stressed that first and foremost I needed to see a psychiatrist and get on some medication that would help me. He also gave me a book called "Running Scared"; a Christian book about anxiety, and that the root cause of our anxiety is UNBELIEF; not trusting in Christ, not believing Jesus words, "It is finished". The book also corrected my faulty view of God as a stern Deity, disappointed when I sinned, and made me realize the Truth that the Lord is infinitely loving and concerned for His people, and that we can trust that He is loving us and helping us despite our difficult circumstances.
TIME TO SEE A SHRINK
I took David's advise and made an appointment with a psychiatrist; I ended up being paired up with a Russian psychiatrist with a strong accent at the Park Nicollet Mental Health Department [As I discovered later, the psychiatrist that I ended up with was absolutely worthless!] He was concerned that I was drinking, and that mixing the psych meds and alcohol together could be dangerous.
Nonetheless I was given some prescriptions to try out. Apparently not every psychiatric medicine works the same for everyone, so you have to keep trying different medications until you find what works best for you. Keep in mind that I was desperate for relief, and that I was still drinking to alleviate the symptoms and help me feel at least somewhat normal. The first round of meds were not effective at all. At one point my mental and physical condition deteriorated so badly that I had to take a week off of work.
At my next appointment I saw the psychiatrist and he wanted me to try Xanax again; he told me to make a follow up appointment in 2-3 weeks to see how the meds were working. I was a bit skeptical of the Xanax since I had already tried it, but decided to give it another try. Once again, he voiced my concern that Xanax and excessive drinking could be fatal. I didn't care, I was desperate to try anything that worked.
So I started curbed my alcohol intake and began taking Xanax along with the Busparone and Zoloft (I was already taking these two meds before I started taking the Xanax). It turned out that the Zanax was the one key medicine that significantly reduced my symptoms and made me feel normal once again. Keep in mind that David Ward was still very concerned about me, and we continued meeting on a regular basis, encouraging me in the Gospel, giving me practical advice on handling my situation, and just being a caring, loving friend.
I returned to the psychiatrist, sometime in June of 2011, and told him the Xanax was really working well. When asked if I was still drinking I told him yes, I was still drinking, but that I had curbed my alcohol intake. Still concerned about the Xanax/alcohol combination, he took me off the Xanax and gave me a different medication he thought would be safer combined with the alcohol. I was upset at this because the Xanax was working great, but decided to trust his professional opinion.
COMPLETE NUCLEAR MELTDOWN
Something about discontinuing the Zanax combined with the chemistry of the new medication resulted in an utter disaster. Within a day or two of discontinuing the Xanax and starting the new medication I descended into a complete physical and mental meltdown. It was so bad that I was incapable of doing my job and had to take even more time off of work.
Every symptom I experienced before was greatly magnified. Worse, I began to experience a variety of symptoms, worse symptoms, I had never experienced before; and each day it was something different. Everything from sensitivity to light, moderate shaking and trembling of my limbs, bizarre dreams, incredible night sweats, anxiety and depression, hot flashes, chills, chest discomfort, and a weird ethereal feeling as if my head were enclosed in glass, soundproof bubble, and headache pain affecting the right side of my head only [I thought I had a brain tumor!] What happened was so profound that I was unable to complete a single train of thought and consequently, I lost all ability to speak in coherent, understandable sentences. I was reduced to a mental basket case, speaking only in gibbering half sentences.
SEVERE MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS
So here I was, in the middle of a severe, mental health crisis. I made several calls to the Mental Health department, describing my grave situation and was finally able to get in and see the psychiatrist [some of my calls were forgotten, or left for the next business day!] . All I wanted to do was get back on the Xanax. I had seen this psychiatrist probably about 5-6 times before, but my confidence in his professional capacities lowered after each visit. Meeting him in his office, I was overtly anxious and jittery, making unusual gestures and speaking incoherently.
Incredibly, he was altogether apathetic and indifferent (as usual) about the alarming symptoms I was experiencing. Worse, he had this condescending attitude toward me. For example, when asked what my pulse was, he was disappointed that, as a health care professional, I was unable to take my own pulse. Did he not understand that I was that messed up?
That's how bad my condition was, and that was how incompetent he was as a psychiatrist. IMO, this guy had no business being in the profession he was in. I put a fork in him, I was done with this psychiatrist. In the end, he asked me if I wanted a second opinion from a different psychiatrist on staff at the Mental Health department who would evaluate the medications I was taking, and I gladly said yes. So he immediately went to work to see if anyone was available.
INSANELY BAD PATIENT CARE
I was very alarmed they didn't have a psychiatrist available immediately for a second opinion. The only opening they had was weeks down the road. WHAT! Here I am, going nuts, dying inside, flipping out, crawling out of my skin, and they didn't have one single psychiatrist who could take time out of his or her busy schedule and see me on an emergency basis? Not only was I in the middle of a severe crisis, but now I was dealing with a Mental Health department that had very, very poor patient care ethics.
I decided to contact Warren Watson, an elder at Redeemer Bible church whose career involved relational counseling, and also knew something about psychiatric drugs. I explained to him my current situation and he said that it was critical that I get an immediate second opinion on my medication, pointing out that every Mental Health department ought to have a psychiatrist available to help in crisis situations. Maybe I missed something. I called the M.H. clinic again, explained my situation, but just as before, they didn't have anyone available to see me in an emergency situation.
Needless to say, not only was I done with that boob of a psychiatrist, but I was tired of dealing with an incompetent M.H. department. I stuck a fork in the clinic as well, done! I filed a major complaint at the Park Nicollet Patient Relations department concerning the poor psychiatric patient care under the Park Nicollet M.H. department in general, and the treating psychiatrist in particular. He has since left Park Nicollet. Now it was time to move onto a different plan.
MY VISIT WITH DR. GMITRO
Dr. Gmitro is my family medicine doctor at Park Nicollet on Carlson Parkway. He has a background in dealing with mental health issues and is just a terrific, intelligent, level-headed doctor. I decided to make an emergency appointment with him so I could get back on the Xanax, the only drug that seemed to worked. I got in to see him and he put me on Xanax right away. My quality of life improved immediately and dramatically. Not only did my mental health improve to the level of where it was a year earlier, but my overall demeanor was much more upbeat and positive than ever before in my life! And my strange, dry sense of humor returned with a vengeance.
LIFE IS DIFFERENT AND BETTER
Now, I have to take Xanax three times daily, and if I am ever late in taking a my meds, those nasty, ugly symptoms will return like clockwork. But life is good now, and in a sense it is much better that it ever had been in my entire life. Because through all those dreadful, tormenting experiences of the past six months up until the moment the positive effects of the Xanax kicked in, I finally understood what the Lord was trying to get through my stubborn, self-reliant skull. Sure I am on Xanax, Busparone, and Zoloft, and probably will be for the rest of my life, but Jesus, the Great Physician, opened my eyes and healed me from an even greater ailment; bondage to LEGALISM, the source of many of my life's problems.
In Part Five, I will unpack and flesh out what the Lord has done for me through my agonizing trials. Chapter Four deals with specific circumstances in a chronological order. Chapter five will explain the theological impact that such events had upon my life, resulting in a life of resting in Christ and His finished work.
I hope you are enjoying this series thus far, and that you are learning something about the Gospel that you didn't understand before.
God Bless, Casey
Posted by Casey Nygren at 9:11 AM