Today is my one-year anniversary on vitamin L, and it’s finally time to talk about.
I struggle with anxiety and clinical depression, and I take vitamin L – or Lexapro to be exact – to treat it. It’s been one year since I decided enough was enough. I was tired of being tired. Tired of being sad. Tired of always feeling on edge about almost anything.
Last spring I finally sought out the help I needed all along, and took some concrete steps in overcoming depression and the cultural stigma mental health issues carry within the Asian American, American and Christian cultures. And that is where I find convergence, because May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and it is also Mental Health Awareness Month. I couldn’t have orchestrated it better myself.
I don’t know about you, but I grew up being taught directly and indirectly that suffering was part of life and dealing with suffering meant swallowing it, sometimes ignoring it whole.
Tracey Gee in More Than Serving Tea writes:
In the Asian worldview, suffering is simply an assumed part of the way the world is. Sickness, disease and famine are accepted as natural part of life. In contrast, the American worldview sees suffering as an abnormal state.
In many ways, I suspect what we saw in Japan and how the Japanese reacted to the earthquake and tsunami was the Asian worldview playing out in realtime. I recall hearing news reporters almost gushing over how the Japanese would stand in line waiting patiently for emergency supplies. Other reports mentioned how there were no reports of looting despite the crushing need for food and water. No one person’s need to overcome the suffering was greater than another’s. The nation collectively swallowed suffering, saved face, upheld harmony and moved forward.
Reporters, in trying to draw a contrast, would allude to the perceived and actual chaos and looting that followed disasters here in America. But what 30-second television spots didn’t go into is that our worldview here in America is different. “How could this happen in America?” was a phrase oft repeated as images of looting, devastation, scarcity and suffering flashed on our screens in the aftermath of Katrina.
So growing up, I was a bit confused about suffering. My church upbringing addressed suffering as being temporary because one day all our tears would be washed away. I believe that, but what was missing was addressing the present tears and the sadness that haunted me. There weren’t enough church retreats, revival nights, youth group meetings, prayer meetings and praise nights to string together to keep me from the depression and anxiety.
I prayed. Sometimes I would pray for the ability to endure the sadness and suffering. Other times I would pray that it would all just go away, but when prayers failed to act like a holy vending machine I realized I couldn’t “Christian” my way out of what was going on emotionally and mentally.
Too bad it took so long to learn that lesson, but it’s been learned. I’ll probably have to learn it again sometime soon.
Anyway, last year when I first when on Lexapro I thought about writing about it because the other reality is that Asian American young women have the highest rate of depression than any other racial/ethnic or gender groups. While I technically no longer fit the “young women” category I am the grown-up part of that demographic. Depressed Asian American young women don’t necessarily grow out of their depression any more than I could pray my way out of clinical depression.
But where can we talk about this? Despite commercials and advertisements for antidepressants attempting to depict treatment, it’s never really that easy. I hesitated for years to seek medical help because health insurance, drug coverage and pre-existing conditions are things that the grown-up me worried about. I read stuff on the internet about different drugs and their side-effects, and there were great on-line threads but I wondered if there would be a real-life community for me to talk about this journey. And ultimately, I figured if I wasn’t suicidal I could suck it up, and I did for a long time.
Standing in my kitchen last spring, crying and feeling like the world was heavy and overwhelming forced the issue. I didn’t want to enter into my 40s swallowing that kind of suffering. I didn’t want to be a statistic. I didn’t want untreated depression to be a legacy I passed on to my daughter (and sons).
I picked up the phone and made an appointment. I had the prescription filled right away, and I endured the transitional 2-6 weeks of nausea, dry mouth, drowsiness, restlessness, etc. for the drug to help my brain chemistry re-set. I slowly shared with friends about my vitamin L and I am finding that I am not alone. Asian American young women may have the highest rate of depression, but they don’t have to go untreated. We just never talked about it.
So where can we talk about depression, swallowing suffering, avoiding pain and seeking help? I suppose we can talk about it right here if you want and if you’re willing.
Thanks Kathy for sharing this and congratulations on your first year anniversary. There’s a lot of stigma attached to clinical depression (including the denial of such a thing as ‘clinical depression’) in African culture as well.
“…I realized I couldn’t “Christian” my way out of what was going on…”
I think this is one of the most profound statements I’ve heard in a long time. There will always be tension among Christians between suffering and seeking help, and it shouldn’t always be a matter of “right” vs. “wrong.” Christian Asian American women have the triple whammy of being told to endure suffering. I commend the way you approached this and appreciate your insight and openness.
Nakji (I typed that with a wink and a grin),
The ability to endure suffering is such a tricky thing, isn’t it? There is something about learning to accept suffering as normative, because what else would we expect in a broken world? But depression, along with other mental health as well as physical health issues do not have to be endured nor are they a part of spiritual “right” and “wrong”. Thank you for your encouragement!
I was very moved by your post and your courage in addressing the stigma of mental illness in society, especially among Asian Americans and “believers”.
I am still coming to terms with my depression and so is my family. My father, a hardcore Korean, through and through, thinks “it’s all in my mind”, and encourages me to “control it” (how I wish it were that easy). When I was younger, I felt spiritually tormented because I thought depression meant I was a “bad Christian / Catholic”. I’ve moved beyond that now, but it took much time and prayer, along with DBT (an effective modality of therapy for me) and a much sought after drug combo to make me functional again.
Please know you’re in my prayers.
Wishing you much peace…
Thank you for your prayers. You are in mine as well. Thanks be to God that we have both moved beyond the lie that our mental health is attached to our spiritual “right-ness”!
It is easy to talk about ideas, theological, psychological, cultural, whatever. It is much braver to speak about ourselves with honesty and openness.
Thanks for letting us in. We are better for it.
“We are broken. We mend through healing. Grace is the glue.”
How courageous and generous you are to share your struggles openly despite the “double whammy” of being raised Christian and Asian. Bethany is so fortunate to have you as a mother and role model. You’re a blessing to so many people, Kathy!
A brave beautiful post.
Kathy, my sister sent me the link to your article… and I want to thank you so much for sharing a bit of your story with us.
I’ve struggled with my moods my entire life, and have gone through some rough periods over the years! I am finally at almost 50 years old, beginning to accept the fact that there is a problem with the physical and chemical makeup of my brain, and that its not a problem with me… spiritually.
I am not able to simply “pray enough” or to “read the Word enough” or to “Sing and worship” enough to overcome this disorder of Bi-polar II! For many years I have been taught and have believed this.
This month, I finally saw a psychiatrist and have started on a medication to combat these feelings I have been fighting for so long. I am feeling somewhat better, although I know it will take time to fully adjust. I feel good about my decision to take this route despite what I know some of my Christian friends and colleages will think!
So refreshing and encouraging to see another who has walked a similar path, and I applaud you for your honesty!
May God continue to bless you, and may He continue to use you to be a blessing to others!
Kathi, I am so grateful technology is allowing us to connect! Praise God that you are on the road to caring for yourself and healing. Praying that the meds and psychiatrist along with the support of friends and family will help you on this road to health! Blessings!
Thank you so much for writing about this! I’m not Asian American but I can still relate to your story as a young African American woman who was raised in the Church. My mother still thinks I wouldn’t need therapy, medication, or xyz if I would just go and take my problems to God on the altar.
In fact, at the moment that I’m writing this, I’m supposed to be in a Depression Support Group (orchestrated by my therapist without my stamp of approval.) Because I’m doing “fine” I sort of think I’m not depressed anymore so in essence I don’t need a support group. We’ll see how long the good times last.
Looks like this is a good place to be WHEN I’m willing.
Erin, you may be doing “fine” as am I so a support group may not be helpful, but I would encourage you to consider there is so much more than waiting to see how long the good times last.
When you are willing, I’ll be here 😉
Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this and being confident, gracious, and open enough to do it honestly. As someone who has struggled deeply with this battle, it is a blessing just to hear words of encouragement from a like mind.
Blessings to you!