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Don't Medicate Yourself

Adrian Patenaude

One of the few things redeeming Facebook for me these days is Humans of New York (HONY). A thoughtful question the photographer often asks his subjects is: "If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?" Here's one in particular that has stuck with me and gone on to change the way I approach my life.

“Try your best to deal with life without medicating yourself.”
“You mean drugs?”
“I mean drugs, food, shopping, money, whatever. I ain’t judging anybody, either. I was hooked on heroin for years. But now I’ve learned that every feeling will pass if you give it time. And if you learn to deal with your feelings, they’ll pass by faster each time. So don’t rush to cover them up by medicating them. You’ve got to deal with them.” 

The truth of this principle has become obvious to me, especially this summer when I've been in a weird emotional rut, overthinking things and feeling very deeply without completely understanding the root cause of my depression. In order to escape my thoughts, I ended up filling the silence with music, social media, sweets and episode after episode of Mad Men. I was medicating myself because I was scared to confront whatever was going wrong in my head. 

Luckily, I'm learning to catch myself when I reach for my phone or one too many chocolates. Instead, I force myself to sit in the silence and empty my thoughts onto the page or in a prayer, rather than dwelling too long on darkness or distracting myself with shallow laughter. And the more I talk about it, the more I realize I'm not the only one who deals with complex emotions like these. Sometimes I don't even know what's wrong, but I still need to ask for help. It's all about reaching out for things that will bring true healing, not just numb the pain for the briefest moment.

As for me, I'm grateful for a God who sees me and for friends who coax me out when I'm trying to hide. And for HONY, always reminding me that we're not in this life alone.