The Magi, Meds and Me

It’s Epiphany Sunday. It’s not about the magi, wise men from the east. Not exactly. They’re involved; along with King Herod, religious experts, Mary and Jesus. But they’re not what this is all about. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 528)

“When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.’…”
(Matthew 2:112)

Epiphany is one the high points of the year for folks like me: Christians who aren’t Abraham’s descendants. I’m a distant relation of the patriarch’s, like every other human being. (Catechism, 360, 1911)

Maybe more closely related than folks whose kin never left our homeland, or left before mine and headed east. That doesn’t make me more or less important, just different. And that’s another topic. (May 19, 2017; January 13, 2017)

We heard the same message, pretty much, a couple weeks ago. (December 25, 2017)

“The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
“For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord….'”
(Luke 2:10)

Two millennia later, we’re passing along what the angel and our Lord said: good news of great joy for everyone. Whether or not anyone listens is up to each of us. And that’s yet another topic.

“In today’s Gospel, the narrative of the Magi coming from the East to Bethlehem to adore the Messiah, conveys a breath of universality to the Feast of the Epiphany. This is the breath of the Church which wants all peoples of the earth to be able to encounter Jesus, to experience his merciful love. This is the desire of the Church: that peoples may find Jesus’ mercy, his love….”
(Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, Pope Francis (January 6, 2016))

It’s the best news humanity’s ever had. God loves us, and wants to adopt us. All of us. (Romans 8:15; Ephesians 1:35; Peter 2:34; Catechism, 13, 2730, 52, 1825, 1996)

Medicine and Genesis

I’ll occasionally run into someone who thinks Christians shouldn’t use drugs. Any drugs, including those some of us use to stay moderately healthy.

They have a point. Eating healthy foods, getting enough exercise, and avoiding self-destructive activities is a good idea.

Some of my health problems started — probably — because I didn’t do that.

But I don’t think a peevish God is smiting me because I ate too much and didn’t exercise enough. Or sent Satan a memo to smite me with the demon depression. Honestly, do these folks think about the implications of their assumptions? And that’s yet again another topic.

I can see how some Christians could get that idea.

The notion that there’s something basically wrong with physical reality has been popping up at odd intervals for millennia. The names are different, and there’s a newish spin on the old idea each time. But it’s the same attitude: spiritual is good, physical is bad.

Never mind how Genesis 1 wraps up:

“God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed—the sixth day.”
(Genesis 1:31)

Even if I didn’t like what I see, I hope I’d have the good sense to figure that if God says something is “very good,” I shouldn’t argue the point.

As it is, that’s not an issue. I like having a physical body — which gets me back to health and using my brain.

Thinking about God and Reality

I haven’t met any for quite a few years, but some Christians probably still think that God has anger management issues and smites folks who aren’t perfect.

Or made a bad decision. Or did something that ‘good’ folks don’t like.

Those notions are pretty firmly entrenched, I suspect, so I’ll rehash how I see God, being human, and using by brain.

I rely on God for my continued existence, like every other creature. (Catechism, 301)

I don’t ‘believe in’ medical science and technology. Not in the sense of imagining that it’s the most important thing around, or an answer to all my problems. That’d be idolatry, and a daft decision. (Catechism, 22922293, 1723)

That does not make what we’ve learned over the last few millennia evil. Not even what we’ve learned in the last couple hundred years.

God gave us brains. Using them is part of being human, or should be. (Genesis 1:26, 2:7; Catechism, 355, 1730, 1778, 21122114, 22922295)

So is worshiping God, and other aspects of faith. Faith and reason get along fine: including when we’re learning something new about this astounding world. (Catechism, 154159, 283, 1730)

Using my Brain

I don’t know why sickly saints are a perennial favorite for folks writing and buying ‘lives of the pathetic Saints’ tales.

Lacking good health isn’t a sign of virtue, and that’s still another topic.

Since holiness and sickliness enjoy — if that’s the right word — a seemingly-permanent place in religious pop literature, I’ll ask a rhetorical question.

Is being health okay?

Basically: yes, being healthy is okay. So is trying to get well. Life and health are both gifts from God. Taking reasonably good care of them is a good idea. Making either my top priority isn’t. (Catechism, 2288, 2289)

Prayer is a good idea, too. So is taking action. God made a world where the creatures in it, including me, play a role in making things happen. (Catechism, 41, 306308, 25582565)

Helping sick people get better, and find new ways to cure disease, is a good idea too. It’s even okay to transplant organs, providing we don’t kill or maim one person to help another. (Catechism, 22922296, 23002301)

Getting Weird at Christmas

As I said Friday, it’s been a more-than-usually interesting week. (January 8, 2018)

The good news is that I’ve had a complete night’s sleep this month. More than once. That’s better than I did in December.

As my wife once noted, I ‘get weird’ during each Christmas season. That’s not surprising, since something very traumatic happened around Christmas when I was 12. Memories of the incident are lost. Not accessible, at least. (March 19, 2017; October 14, 2016)

We’re still learning how the brain stores and processes information.1 My seasonal ‘weirdness’ suggests that the information is still stored somewhere in my brain. Some of it, anyway. I’ll open that can of worms another day.

This year’s Christmas season was worse than most. I didn’t get more than maybe one night’s uninterrupted sleep during December. The good news is that the situation is improving. Maybe next year will be better.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no Grinch. I like Christmas, a lot. But something gets stirred up then. Maybe several somethings.

And no, I do not think I’m possessed. I’ve looked into the possibility, done some research, checked with competent and informed folks, and that’s another can of worms.


Part of my problem is depression and PTSD that started after that incident. And wasn’t diagnosed for decades.

Bear in mind that this was the 1960s. Much of what we’ve learned about that sort of thing has been uncovered since then. And we’re still on a steep learning curve.

Complicating the situation was a family situation that kept us preoccupied.

My attitude didn’t help.

I figured that feeling sad and hopeless, punctuated by feeling angry, was normal for adults and folks becoming adults. What I observed seemed to confirm that. More cans of worms.

Even more good news happened after I started working with a psychiatrist. Depression was a blatantly obvious problem. Others are easy enough to spot, not so easy to identify.

By that time I’d developed an assortment of ways to stay moderately functional despite my glitchy circuitry. Some of them were and are okay, some were anything but.

After trying some less-drastic alternatives, the psychiatrist discussed methylphenidate with me. It’s a powerful central nervous system stimulant.

The down side is that once I started using it, I’d be well-advised to keep using it. It’s addictive: or whatever the polite term is.

I knew that before deciding to start.

I thought the risks outweighed the benefits. And still do.

I’ve been taking the maximum safe dose for many years now, and am recovering what I realize might have been normal function under other circumstances.

That’s good news, too.

Getting that prescription reauthorized is often frustrating. Looking for an ‘up’ side to that, I could say it’s a wonderful opportunity to practice patience.

I like being an American, on the whole. My country isn’t perfect, and I’ve talked about that before.

Folks running our local, state, and national governments are probably doing the best they can, given their viewpoints and limitations. I hope so, anyway.

I know enough of our history to realize that we do learn. Eventually. Sometimes we learn the right lesson. That’s good.

But sometimes we haven’t yet. I feel like I’m dealing with one of those situations.

Methylphenidate is a controlled substance, so getting a new supply each month is not as straightforward as it might be.

How Things Should Work, But Sometimes Don’t

Drug abuse didn’t start in the 1960s, but that’s when some Americans got very concerned about the issue. Like I said, I hope they meant well and were doing the best they could.

My methylphenidate prescription has to be re-issued each time. That, happily, has not been an issue.

Getting the prescription filled is another matter. A frustrating one, for me.

Pharmacies may not process the prescription unless they have a form, signed by a duly-authorized person. That’s understandable.

The authorization must be the actual physical form: not digitized. Also understandable, since we don’t have well-established procedures for verifying digital data. Not available in my part of the country, anyway.

The persons currently authorized to fill out and sign my forms work in another town, St. Cloud, about an hour down the road.

I’m supposed to tell the local pharmacy. They send the request to the St. Cloud office. Someone there receives the request, sends it through proper channels to the appropriate office. When an authorized person is available, the authorization is filled out.

At that point the signed authorization is put in the health center’s outgoing mail for the day and turned over to the United States Postal Service. After a few days it arrives in the town I live in, where the local pharmacy picks it up.

That’s how it’s supposed to work.

It didn’t. Not each time. The written authorization disappeared somewhere along the line several times. I found an alternative before collecting enough data for a statistical analysis.

It wasn’t entirely bad news. I now know what withdrawal feels like. It’s exquisitely unpleasant, and I want to never go through that again.

I started making arrangements to pick up the form in a town that’s a little closer. The folks in St. Cloud have someone come there regularly for other reasons.

From there I hand-deliver it to the local pharmacy, where they fill it and I can use my brain for another month.

Sometimes there’s a SNAFU somewhere in the process. That hasn’t been a major issue, since I often start taking half the required dose when it looks like there might be a delay. It’s not an ideal solution. I can tell that I’m running on ‘low.’ But I’m still running.

The end-of-December re-issue happened entirely too close to the Christmas-New Year breaks this year. It’s partly my fault.

The authorization can’t be processed at the pharmacy until a set date, and I see no point in raising concerns at St. Cloud by making my request early.

This year I was a bit preoccupied, and didn’t take vacations into account. I had, happily, gone on half-rations promptly when I started the process.

The day when someone who could sign the form and get it to the intermediate office was advanced by 24 hour a few times. Then the ‘next day’ was the following week’s Monday. That was the day I would run out of half-rations.

Good news: a member of the family offered to pick up the form in St. Cloud, and now I can use my brain for another month.

Looking Forward

When I started writing this I wasn’t sure what talking about my efforts to keep my brain working would look to others. Or myself, a week or so from now.

Maybe it’d look like needless fussing, or a potentially-useful anecdote. Or maybe a complete waste of time. I’m still not sure, but it’s a bit late to change my mind now.

I’m pretty sure that at the end of all things, my recent experience won’t seem nearly as important as it did while I was having it. It’ll matter, since keeping my brain in working order helps me do what I should and avoid what I shouldn’t be doing.

I am sure that I have limited time to ‘work out my salvation,’ like Philippians 2:12 says. After that, I hope that I’ll be in the “great multitude.” Metaphorically speaking, at least.

“After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
“They cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb.'”
(Revelation 7:910)

Meanwhile, I’ve got work to do. Along with everyone else who takes what our Lord says seriously. I talk about that a lot:

1 Different sorts of memory, and some of what can go wrong:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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2 Responses to The Magi, Meds and Me

  1. Peggy Haslar says:

    May the vision of that multitude continue to give us courage. Thanks for sharing your struggle.

Thanks for taking time to comment!