Rage Writing

Yesterday was a very bad day. I got some disappointing news about a thing. I got some more disappointing news about another thing involving a friend. Then I got some more frustrating, disappointing news about another thing. Someone did give me some whole bean coffee as a gift so that was good. And then I went to a local candidate forum and was reminded about how white my community is and how dangerously invisible and present I am. At the end of the day, I still came home to two teenage man-children who tell me they love me, a spouse who sat down for a drink with me, and friends who tried to cheer me up.

But I went to bed like I’ve been doing for the past few months – anxiety tightening my chest and thoughts starting to race so fast that it’s exhausting just to keep my eyes open. I canceled another social engagement, which I’m starting to track because it’s probably my anxiety and depression, and went to sleep.

I WOKE UP ANGRY

Does anyone else do that? No? Well, I did. I woke up with thoughts of writing – rage writing about all the things. Like local politics. WHY DOES BEING BORN IN A COMMUNITY AND LIVING THERE YOUR ENTIRE LIFE MAKE YOU QUALIFIED TO RUN FOR OFFICE? I was amused and then annoyed at how many candidates said a variation of “I was born and raised here. My kids were born and raised here.” as if being a lifelong resident of ONE place makes you better qualified to engage in a community that hopefully looks different than it did in 1950. I did look up the youngest candidate running for school board and the first thing that popped up was his underage drinking arrest. I might vote for him.

But back to the “I was born here” rhetoric because it started to make sense. That is how the United States got to where some of us are counting the days of this administration and amazed we haven’t made it yet to 50 days. You have to be born in the U.S., have a lineage that was born in the U.S. or plays along with the white narrative of loving the once upon a time U.S. to be worthy of running the country, living in the country, allowing others entrance into the country. The problem with President Spray Tan isn’t just his own inability to not angry tweet. The problem starts in our communities where we listen to local politicians create the narrative that only the native-born, never intentionally choose to be displaced, privileged to have the security that allows for deep generational roots is worth entrusting into public service. And if you’ve only known this place as home, no wonder why you are afraid of change let alone progress that would erase what you have always known and are comfortable with.

I also heard several candidates, who weren’t born and raised here, that they moved here because they loved the diversity of the community, and I was like WUT?!?! What are you talking about? I live in a community that according to the most recent census numbers is 90% white, 5% Asian, 4% Hispanic or Latino, and 1% black.  As a woman of color when I hear the word “diversity” those are not the statistics I’m looking for but again I stopped and thought maybe this is exactly the diversity some people are intentionally looking for. We didn’t move here for the diversity. We actually moved here because we mapped out work, family, and our church community while avoiding other communities with bigger schools. Oh, and I wanted a house with a basement because of tornadoes and an attached garage because I am lazy. I also wanted a room on the first floor because I am actually prophetic and KNEW one of my in-laws would need a place to live for awhile because that’s just the way some of us are raised to live. Who knew that would actually be as tricky as it was at the time we were moving. Anyway, local politicians and hopeful politicians should really think about what comes out of their mouths as much as we critique national, higher profile politicians.

Also, candidates should consider what they put in their mouths. One candidate chewed gum while he was up on the candidate panel discussion and no one loved him enough to tell him to spit it out. It was so annoying.

The other thing that made me mad this morning is the Day Without Women thing. Google it on your own. I’m rage writing. No time for links. I get the idea of solidarity, etc. but I am not so sure. I went to the Women’s March on Washington and let me tell you there were plenty of white women who had NO IDEA WHO THE MOTHERS OF THE MOVEMENT were. If you don’t, go Google it and be ashamed. They loved on Ashley Judd (who should not try to do spoken word evah) and all the talk about reproductive rights (btw, I love Jesus but please stay out of my contraception choices and uterus because safe abortions and access to reproductive health care is also about pro-life) but I am still skeptical because it was white evangelicals and white women who put the walking spray tan in office.

So this Day Without Women thing. Am I supposed to walk out on my job? Why? Is some man going to make sure I have a job to come back to?? I live in a privileged bubble, working primarily from home in the comfort of loungewear. If I opt out of the work call tomorrow who will bring up the fact that women of color are missing from the new hires? If I and the other women opt out of the call what exactly happens for women, and more importantly, women of color? Or if I “opt out” and tell my family I’m on strike, though truly tempting only if I could disappear to a day spa, what is accomplished? How does that help my Korean American family? Oh, it doesn’t. You know why? Because they already hear me rant and speak about gender equality, life skills, and being an adult. However, if any of my Dear Readers want to cover the cost of a day spa let me know.

My friend Angela has been a lifeline of sanity for me, and she suggested staying silent on social media tomorrow. I may do that. I’ve been told that my feed on FB and Twitter is a place to go for recent commentary, etc. which I provide for free because it’s mostly fun and a labor of love. Maybe that is the labor I opt out of tomorrow. Are you participating in the Day Without Women?

What are you angry about today??

Saunas and Sheet Masks: A Theology of Self-care

We have made it to February, my Dear Readers! February! And for those counting days a little differently, it’s Day 12 of the Resistance (actually, it’s been longer than that but …)! It’s time to revisit (or learn about) self-care.

Setting snark aside, winter in the Midwest is challenging never mind being a woman of color. These are trying, difficult times. I know that some people have wished their Facebook feeds to return to the days of  cat memes and news about everyone else’s perfect families (there was one woman in the neighborhood but she unfriended me). But my feed has never been void of politics, challenging news, religious commentary, and the occasional crock pot recipe. Social media for me was never about escapism, but I think for some people it was and because things are hitting closer to home or politics and policies are finally hitting you in a new way you’re exhausted. For others, like myself, we have been exhausted for a very long time.

But we were not designed and created to stay in a state of perpetual exhaustion and anxiety. God did not spend a metaphorical six days of creating to spend the seventh day fretting. We need to care for ourselves – physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, psychologically not only to fight against oppression and injustice but also to simply be. Our healthy whole selves, I believe, are meant to be a testimony to God’s goodness even in times like these. Especially in times like these. Because more and more of us are waking up to the reality that there are real people and forces who do not want many of us, particularly people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ, Muslims, to live, let alone flourish.

So, Kathy, what do you do to take care of yourself? What do you do for self-care?

I actually do a lot. You cannot work full-time, write on the side, help raise three children and not lose any of them on a road trip, stay married for what is now almost 24 years, love Jesus, and not do some level of self-care and not drop dead or hurt someone. And trust me, when I haven’t loved myself, respected myself I have hurt others. Ask my kids, my husband, my parents, my sister, my friends, my colleagues.

So self-care isn’t about spa treatments and weekend getaways, though those are AMAZING if you can afford them in time and money. Self-care isn’t about avoiding or numbing the pain. If I find myself roaming resale shops and the sale racks for no reason I know that I’m just trying to avoid dealing with myself and my pain. SeIf-care is restorative and preparation. Remember the year of beauty treatments Queen Esther had? I can’t help but wonder if that year also helped her be prepared to lead her people. So, on that note I think of self-care in three categories:

REST

Many of us are walking around sleep-deprived. I’m not talking about parents with infants or young children. I’m talking about all of us. We are also bombarded with information and glowing screens all the time, even the kiddos. Screen time isn’t restful, in fact, my own unscientific study of my friends’ Facebook posts recently have shown an uptick of people feeling more stress and anxiety from social media and wanting to take breaks. We need to rest. Remember, God took Day 7 OFF. Things to do for straight up rest include:

  • GO TO BED BEFORE MIDNIGHT. Lately I have been shooting for seven hours of sleep. (My kids are 21, 17, and 15 so I have other reasons to be up late and worried but sleep-training isn’t one of them.)
  • Take short naps if I need them.
  • Technology is my nemesis. I need to be better at getting off of my phone or computer at least one hour before I go to bed. Anyone want to be my accountability partner?
  • Nagging my spouse for years about his snoring. Turns out he has sleep apnea and now uses a CPAP machine. Very sexy. If your partner isn’t sleeping soundly chances are you aren’t either.
  • Cutting off caffeine at 3 pm but my problem isn’t caffeine. It’s the glass of wine with the evening news, which doesn’t help with sleep.
  • Readers. My eyes are older and turned against me last year and because I love to read, when the words started moving and growing fuzzy I gave in and bought some reading glasses to rest my eyes, which helped my headaches, which helped me sleep.
RESTORE

Once I had a better handle on a sleep pattern and rhythm (just like we try to do with our infants), needing rest wasn’t urgent because it was part of the routine. Feeling refreshed and restored is different than just getting enough sleep. I think of rest as turning off my engine. Restoration is filling my tank.

  • EXERCISE! This will also help the quality of your sleep. My favorites are walking, yoga, and kickboxing. Walking gets me outside into the fresh air. It gets me out of my head (I don’t always have my headphones on) and if I’m alone it’s my time to rant with Jesus. If I’m with friends, they are a stand-in for Jesus. Yoga has helped me connect my body awareness to my breathing. Kickboxing is great cardio, and I like to hit the bag.
  • Saunas and sheet masks are a given. I go to a Korean sauna monthly to sit in dry saunas and hot steam rooms. I go alone because silence is a good. I go with friends because friends who don’t care about seeing each other naked in the steam room are friends worth keeping. Sheet masks and general “spa” like things are about caring for my body as well as connecting with others. After the Women’s March it was sooooo good to be in a room with four other amazing Asian American women talking about the day, lying on our backs, moisturizing our faces, and delighting in each other’s company.
  • My tank needs 10 mg of Lexapro daily. No shame. My brain needs a daily adjustment. If you have healthcare, don’t get me started, GO SEE YOUR DOCTOR and make sure all your levels are where they need to be. I was worried I was falling into a deeper depression last year so I called up my doctor. Turns out I was anemic.
  • Spend time in community. When I am in a funk, the last thing I want to do is go out but it is often the thing I need to get myself out of myself. Invite friends over for dessert. Take lunch to a friend. Talk with other people. Be around other people.
READY (to go)

Like I said, this isn’t about spa treatments. This is about taking care of yourself because it’s not just about you. What is God inviting you to do, to become? I think of President Barack Obama’s chant, “Fired up? Ready to go!” I think of Jesus telling the disciples, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” or the angel telling the women at the tomb, “Come and see…go quickly and tell…”  I love moisturizing my skin, but our beautiful strong bodies are meant to go. How will you be ready? This is where I feed my heart, soul and mind.

  • Read. Do the work of feeding your mind. Read authors of color. Read fiction and non-fiction. Read poetry and young adult novels. Listen to audiobooks and podcasts if you don’t have the time to sit and read. (But remember, we always have time for the things we make time for.)
  • Use both sides of your brain. Look at art, listen to music and then make some art and dance to the music. Resistance takes work but there has to be joy and hope…and laughter. So tap into the joy and hope otherwise what are you fighting for?
  • I’m a Christian so I pray. I miss praying with friends so I’ll need to do that again/more. I pray aloud and silently. I write my prayers. I walk my prayers. I breathe my prayers.

So help me and each other out, my Dear Readers. What self-care practices do you keep or want to try? How can you help others practice self-care?

The Vitamin L Diary: My Happy Light Isn’t Enough

In October I shared with you, my dear readers, how I had not been feeling quite up to the task of life, having trouble sleeping (night sweats, which means waking up drenched despite the fact that the house is 60-degrees because we should all be SLEEPING), and wondering if this was what being in my mid-40s was going to be or if this was the depression trying to get some more of me. I had a good chat with my PCP (primary care physician) who took a blood draw before upping any meds. Lo and behold, I was anemic. THAT WAS IT! No more giving blood for a few months and iron supplements, which mess with your bowels so there was all that, but I was relieved and hopeful that I wasn’t crazier.

But the anemia is being managed and the iron is back up so I can donate blood. I’m still not feeling quite up to the task of life. I exercise. I drink lots of water and one (fine, maybe two) cups of coffee. But lately it has been HARD to get out of bed or to stay out of bed. Thanks to my cellphone I can answer lots of email in bed, but that, in addition to the inexplicable weightiness in my soul and mind, has been messing with my sleep. Migraines. Forgetfulness. Anxiety over big and little things.

Those of you who have bouts of depression or are clinically depressed know what this “feels” like. It’s not always a sadness or a dark cloud. Sometimes it’s a numbness or an irritability. Sometimes it’s all of it.

My happy light isn’t helping. Yoga isn’t helping. Praying isn’t helping. Sleeping isn’t helping. The wine I drank during a weeknight isn’t helping. Journaling isn’t helping.

And then this inexplicable sadness that makes you want to stay in bed, cry for no reason or for all the reasons, the sadness you wouldn’t want anyone you love to have to carry, hit my own child. So of course I know the truth and the lies about genetics and blame. Nature and nurture. Freedom and stigma. I know it. I live it. Please let this cup pass from my children, God. Please. I would take a double dose if it meant we could make it skip all the generations.

We are not defeated. We are tired. I am tired. I am clinging tightly to Psalm 139, and I’m headed back into therapy. I am tired, but I refuse to let this define me, stigmatize me. Even if it means being tired. I am grateful for a network of friends and, even better, friends who are colleagues, with whom I have been honest with.

So I’m writing this to encourage and remind any of my dear readers who are feeling an inexplicable sadness that you are not alone.

YOU
ARE
NOT
ALONE

Don’t be afraid. Reach out. Tell someone. Anyone. Call your doctor. Your pastor. Your friend. Your neighbor. You are not alone.

The Vitamin L Diary: Words We Are Afraid To Speak

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“Sweetness, the only thing that has power over you is what you can’t say, even to yourself.”

—Hyacinth to Phaedra in The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson

Every six months I am supposed to see my doctor to make sure I’m doing OK, that nothing in my medical history has changed, and to give voice to things that I am afraid to think about and talk about out loud. She asks me about my mood, my sleep, my level of activity. I tell her I am doing great, that I am fine, that nothing in my medical history has changed. “Can I get my flu shot while I’m here?” I ask.

And then she asks again how I’m doing with the Vitamin L – my daily dose of Lexapro. It has been six years.  Six year since I was able to release the words, the pain, the confusion, and the power of fear by saying out loud what I couldn’t imagine saying even to myself.

“I think I am depressed.”

So on this particularly dreary October afternoon my doctor waits for me to answer honestly, to say to myself and to her what I’ve been afraid to even think about.

“I’m afraid the depression is getting worse.”

I’ve been so tired. Tired like I could sleep the afternoon away tired. Tired like maybe the back and neck spasms I was having for weeks tired. Tired like maybe my high pain tolerance is catching up to me tired (and by high pain tolerance I’m talking waiting to go to the hospital until I was about 8 cm dilated with Child #1 and #3 because I thought it would get worse). Tired like that migraine knocked me out tired but not just that day tired. Tired like I might not get out of bed tired.

The weird thing about depression is that most days I am not wandering around my house looking like there is a cloud hanging over me or hunched over as if the weight of a heavy robe has engulfed me. Depression doesn’t always look like those pharmaceutical commercials that always involved drawings and the color blue. I work out 3-5 days/wk. I get together with friends. I read books for two book clubs. I try to spend quality time with my sons but I really suck at video games. My husband and I have sex if and when we aren’t falling asleep the minute we hit the bed, which isn’t often but also none of your business how often. I smile. I laugh. I make myself laugh. I write. I laugh at what I write. That doesn’t look like depression. But, yes, I am feeling exceptionally tired these days despite, or maybe because of, the fact that I have a child in college contemplating her career in the arts, a child in his junior year of high school who is just starting to understand why we’ve been so parental about grades, and a child finishing middle school who doesn’t need to worry because it’s middle school. Yes, there are unexplained aches and pains that won’t go away and maybe that’s just because I turned 45. Yes, I may spend my days wearing varying combinations of my yoga pants and three sweatshirts because I work from home and I actually do go to yoga class, but that isn’t the depression. None of that is the depression.

Unless it is.

And that is what I am often afraid to think about, afraid to say. Which is probably why that appointment every six months is a good idea instead of an endless supply of Vitamin L with no check-in, no one waiting for me to be honest or at least give me a chance to be honest.

Every six months I have to remind myself that the truth will set me free only if I am willing to walk in the truth. Even if people judge, even if my sisters and brothers in faith judge or don’t know what to do with my truth, Jesus doesn’t judge. He says to me, “Daughter, your faith and trust and courage and Vitamin L have set you free. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

So earlier this week I went to see my doctor, got my flu shot, told her I was fine, and then once again broke the power depression has over me and told her the truth.

The truth is that very few people around me understand this Vitamin L thing and the depression and the anxiety. I don’t want people tiptoeing around me. I want people to ask me how I am doing but not in that weird “How ARE you doing?” sort of way, but I also know that the stigma is complex, deep, and ingrained. Depressed people aren’t supposed to be normal, right? How could I possibly go to power yoga, write, and bake cookies if I am depressed, right? Depression is a mental illness, and people with mental illnesses do horrible things like gun down innocent people (well, actually it’s usually younger white men who go on shooting sprees and are then casually labeled “mentally ill” so I’m off the hook). People with a mental illness are crazy, right? How can a Christian be depressed and take medication for it, right?

I told my doctor what I was afraid to say to myself.

“I’m tired, and maybe it’s that I’m 45 and the cumulative exhaustion of life is catching up to me but maybe it’s not. Maybe the depression is getting worse?”

Maybe. Maybe not. But every day I take my Vitamin L, every six months I see my doctor; each time I have the chance to say words I’m afraid to say but know in my heart are true.

My faith has healed me. I go in peace. I am freed from my suffering.

 

Vitamin L Diary: Motherhood & #flymysweet

Tonight is the night before she leaves for college, and the dining room is filled with laughter and chatter. There are only two other young women in her incredible circle of friends who are still “in town” waiting, and tonight is a night for friendship.

I sat there with them for awhile, laughing at a Facebook post, our lack of sewing skills in comparison to Bethany, and cried a little bit. It has been such an honor to be allowed to be a part of that sacred space of friendship, and it was time to honor it even more by stepping away. It’s time.

Depression haunted me in my childhood, but I remember distinctly coming home from the hospital with this tiny peanut of a newborn who came with no instructions. I was in pain from an emergency postpartum surgery, unable to do just about anything without incredible pain and feeling quite unlike myself. Five months later with friends in from out of town I recall telling them that I didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel like myself. I wasn’t sure if I could feel anything really.

I didn’t look sad in the photos. I didn’t walk around with an animated cloud hovering around my head. I just kept moving.

Gratefully, it has been five years since I sought treatment – a combination of counseling and an antidepressant. I continue to shake off cultural stereotypes and stigma associated with depression, anxiety, and medication. There are some who do not understand how a faithful, evangelical Christian could depend on medication to fight off something that perhaps more prayer and faithfulness could overcome. There are some in my own family who do not approve of my sharing publicly that I am on (whisper) medication. Depression and anxiety do not define me, but the reality is that my mental health is part of me. It is a part of any human being – a God-ordained intersection between soul, mind, and body. We share the earth with other living things, but there is no other living thing quite like us humans.

And I realized again today, as I sat with my son at a medical appointment, that depression and anxiety are a part of my life as mother and a part of my children’s lives. We were asked about family medical history. “Is there anyone in the family with depression or anxiety? Is there anyone in the family who has committed suicide?” Yes, there is heart disease and high blood pressure as well as depression and suicide. Even as my children grow up and mature, their family history follows them and is a part of their story as well.

So as we come to this part of my story as a mother of a college freshman soul, mind, and body intersect. The tears are right there, clinging to my eyes ready to roll out at a moment’s notice. My heart is pounding in anticipation of the incredible things she will see and do in college. I can imagine her rehearsing, choreographing, learning to connect her soul, mind, and body, and I smile like a madwoman. And I know we will drive home with one less body in the car with her smile and spirit lingering. My soul is appropriately, gloriously conflicted, and my mind and body start to take over with tears, smiles, and fear.

How will my brain translate all that is going on in my soul? Will the depression and anxiety come to visit as I enter into a quieter season or will the 10 milligrams keep doing their thing? Will I have the courage to set aside fear and seek out help, ask for the company of friends or a walk with my husband?

Worse yet, will my daughter lose the genetic crapshoot and experience a new dark night of the soul? Will the transitions overwhelm her in an unexpected way? Have I given her the tools, the words, the freedom to know the signs and ask for help? Have I done all that I can do before she goes?

There is no way to know, but there is a way to cope and live. Dear Readers and friends, please hope with me. Pray with me. Pray for daughters and sons launching off into new experiences and their parents who all know there is little we can do to protect them forever. Pray that the lies of stereotypes and stigma don’t keep them from getting help. Pray for friends and mentors who aren’t afraid to offer and get them help. And I pray history and story will ground my daughter and hope and faith will shape her future.

#flymysweet

 

 

 

The Vitamin L Diary: It’s Not Hidden. It’s Ignored, Excused, Shameful, and Silenced. No More.

No more.

Jiwon Lee. Kevin Lee. Andrew Sun.

The 52-year-old Korean vice-principal of Danwon High School hung himself after more than 200 students remained missing after the tragic April ferry disaster.

University of Illinois student Hye Min Choi, 19, remains missing after his luggage arrived at its destination but he did not.

A Huffington Post article by Andrew Lam starts out declaring mental health issues and suicide in the Asian American community is a hidden tragedy.

It is not. It is out in the open. It’s on television, in the newspapers, in the stats. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Asian American women ages 15-24. Did you read that and let it sink in?

SUICIDE is the SECOND-LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH AMONG ASIAN AMERICAN WOMEN AGES 15-24.

Why and how is this hidden? When I look at my own life I cannot ignore the impact of mental illness and suicide among Asians and Asian Americans.

My cousins. My aunt. Me. A college girlfriend. A friend from my high school youth group. A freshman at Northwestern University during my years on staff with the Asian American InterVarsity chapter. Countless students struggling with depression and anxiety. They were not hidden even as some of them tried desperately tried to hide what they thought was failure, shameful, a burden, a sin.

I have written about my own life with depression and about being on an antidepressant. The decision to “go public” was not an easy one. My husband initially was reluctant about it for the same reasons I was as well. I waited a year, all the while under the care of doctors and taking Lexapro, before writing and speaking publicly about it because I wasn’t sure how my extended family and those connected to them would respond.

Asians and Asian Americans are communal and that value has its good days and its “need Jesus days” and when it comes to mental illness the Church needs to speak Jesus loudly and clearly. The fear is that a diagnosis of mental illness, made worse if it goes public, will not only reflect poorly on the individual but on the entire family. And if the family and the family’s network doesn’t understand the physiology and science behind the illness, fear drives people and their families into hiding.

I am writing this as a Christian who is deeply aware of my cultural lenses and privileges, and I’m willing to beat the drum on this. Asian and Asian American Christians, we need to get out heads out of our butts. We need to talk about mental illness, about our questions and fears. We need to pray and invite doctors into the conversations. We need to ask for help, and we need to get help for ourselves and for the ones we love. We need to stop talking about this in hushed tones and whispers because we live in the now and not yet – in the tension of cultures and brokenness and hope, and we cannot let the Enemy keep telling us lies and letting our brothers and sisters believe the lies.

We have to stop the insidious message that failing to be the perfect fill-in-the-blank means we are worthless, a burden, an embarrassment.

We must stop shoving God to the side and replacing faithfulness with GPAs, test scores, and academic achievement.

We must identify the brokenness in our families, stop the cycle of honoring the American Dream over following Jesus, become parents who fiercely love our children by naming our mistakes and apologizing for them when we are jerks.

We must learn to talk about mental illness like an illness and not a sin. I repeat. Mental illness is not a sin. And neither – mental illness OR sin – should be left hidden in our Christian communities.

We have to face the music. We have sinned by not identifying the broken patterns of parenting and relating to one another that fuel the false narrative that material and academic success=faithfulness and health.

We have to break the model minority stereotype because it isn’t a compliment. It isn’t positive. It doesn’t help our community or make it easier for us to be Americans. A stereotype is a broken image that is used by and against others to demean, degrade, and reduce others.

And I write this with the weight and fear that my depression could be genetic and that the many years I parented while untreated for my depression has already left a mark that will take equal measure of prayer and medical & psychological intervention. I worry and pray that my depression isn’t passed on to my daughter and sons. I do not want this kind of suffering for them, but I also cannot pray away suffering. The Christian life isn’t about running away from suffering, and I am afraid our silence has been exactly that.

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage month, and I have almost gotten away with not talking about it because frankly I’m a bit ambivalent about it for reasons I may blog about later. But this year the theme is #IAmBeyond and personally that evokes anger, strength, voice, hope, and action.

#IAmBeyond silence and stigmas

#IAmBeyond the lie that depression is a sin

#IAmBeyond hiding

#IAmBeyond keeping our stories silent to save face

#IAmBeyond the model minority myth

#IAmBeyond believing silence makes it go away

 

 

 

 

The Vitamin L Diary: Fear, Faith & Deep Breaths

I see my doctor every six months to make sure the Vitamin L (Lexapro) is doing its thing. Today was that day, which included a flu shot (too late for poor Corban, my second) and an unexpected encounter with the bleeding woman and a dead girl.

My doctor asked me about my mood and whether or not I was having any anxiety attacks. I was honest, telling her there have been several times in the past six months where I have had to take some deep breaths and mentally go “there” – dig deep, to breathe, close my eyes literally or metaphorically, and slow…things…down…to figure out the trigger of the anxiety, the fear.

Instead of asking me about dosing alprazolam, she sent me to the very passage in the Bible that I had used a few weeks ago when preaching at the Asian American InterVarsity chapter at UW-Madison. She sent me to meet the bleeding woman and the dying girl.

My doctor and I have talked about the stigma of mental illness and of using drugs to help address depression and anxiety, and today she addressed it head on by reminding me not to be afraid of fear.

She said to remember that whenever God shows up in a big way, through angels or a vision, God says, “Do not be afraid” and then offers some sort of assurance that He is with them. That fear seems a rather natural physical and mental response, the kind that keeps people from speaking and acting, the kind expressed on your face or in your body language. Fear happens even in the God’s presence. In the gospels of Mark and Luke, Jesus encounters people who were afraid of the demon-possessed man, the bleeding woman who trembles with fear having been “caught” healing herself by touching Jesus’ cloak, and Jairus who is afraid because his daughter has died.

If that kind of fear and anxiety exists in scripture, why are we so afraid to deal with it?

I am certain there will be many moments and seasons of fear in my life. The drugs don’t make it all go away. They do not erase or eliminate emotions. But what I have found most freeing in this journey has been to take that which festers in the darkness and elicits fear and to bring it out whether through my blog or when I speak publicly. I do not want to be afraid of fear,

of anxiety,

of depression,

of what people think when the read whatever I’ve written and disagree with me,

of disappointing my husband or my kids or my parents (it’s a cultural thing),

of bombing a speaking gig or not doing what I imagine would be my “very best”.

I

do

not

want

to

be

afraid.

I want only to breathe and believe that God

is

with

me.

 

 

***Don’t worry. My doctor knows I am a Christian, and I have told her I welcome these candid conversations as she is taking my vitals and vaccinating me. I am blessed.***

 

The Vitamin L Diary: Year Four & Seeing the Light

A few years ago I posted about anxiety, depression and being on an anti-depressant. I go in every few months to follow-up with my primary physician. Drugs are not the cure-all, but they can help. I’ve told my doctor I don’t ever want to stop taking my vitamin L, but she reminded me that the end goal isn’t to stay on the drug but to make sure the drug is helpful and necessary.

Any who, I am now four years into this journey. My goal is to “talk” about anxiety and depression to take away some of the stigma, embarrassment and shame. Perhaps someone out there will take one step closer to loving & honoring herself/himself or better understand depression and anxiety. My hope is in Jesus. Treating my anxiety and depression has only deepened my hope.

I love fall, but I don’t love what this season eventually leads to. The vibrant colors against a sunny fall morning give way to shorter days and longer nights. I know that a regular schedule including sleep and exercise are critical to keeping my depression & anxiety managed well.  Actually, everyone should keep a regular schedule of sleep & exercise! But I dread the long nights of winter.

I am also still on Lexapro, one little pill a day. I also have on hand alprazolam, just in case for anxiety and panic attacks – the kind that actually sent me running to my doctor in the first place. I currently am not seeing a therapist, but I still see my PCP regularly to discuss treatment and decide whether or not medication is still helpful and necessary. I’ve had to wrestle with my own conflicted feelings about seeking professional and pharmaceutical help because, let’s face it, mental illness makes people uncomfortable.

By and large, the national conversation shifts over to mental health issues only when there is a mass shooting like we saw in Washington D.C. or someone prominent like Matthew Warren, megachurch pastor Rick Warren’s son, commits suicide. There is empathy for the family and friends when someone takes their own life, and it can be easier to shift the attention on the grieving and trauma of the surviving family and friends. In the case of a mass murderer, mental health becomes one way we can other-ise the person’s sinful actions. Even when we can talk about mental health, we aren’t sure how to treat it. A third of all Americans – and almost half of American evangelical, fundamentalist or born again Christians – believe prayer and Bible study alone can help someone overcome serious mental illness. My experience has been that prayer alone didn’t heal me or take away the stigma of my mental illness once I started talking and blogging about it.

And that doesn’t even get to access to information about or treatment of mental illness. I know I’ve got several privileges in play – access to health care, the finances to pay for things insurance doesn’t cover, the means to get to multiple appointments, etc.

So among other things I am passionate about and committed to writing about every now and then is my mental health journey, now four years in. It means answering my youngest child who is almost 12 and was reading over my shoulder as I wrote the start of this post.  He asked, “But isn’t ok because you have us?” His question broke my heart but it was a great moment to make talking about something he may likely face in the future. I told him that I love him and his siblings deeply and that being their mom brings me great joy. I explained that my depression isn’t the kind of sadness or disappointment I normally experience when we would normally be sad but that my body and my brain aren’t producing the right mix of chemicals to keep my emotions and perceptions of the world around me accurate to what God created our bodies to do. And then I hugged him, kissed him, and made sure he was OK.

That is what the journey can look like.

For the past two years I’ve thought about buying myself a little light box to see if light therapy might help me during the weeks indoors. I don’t have full-on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but winter doesn’t help my depression. I’m not an outdoorsy person. Being in my garden, taking a nice walk or a short run is perfect. Shoveling snow or building igloos is less perfect and makes me cold and crabby.

We were at the store a few days ago, and I finally bit. It was one of three impulse purchases. (The other two? A pair of wool base layer pants/leggings to keep warm and a 12-pound pork shoulder to divide and throw into a crockpot.) I figured it was worth a try – the light box, I mean. It’s worth a try because there is a little part of me that is scared to go into the winter.

Can anyone relate to the joy of fall and the dread of winter? Has anyone used a light therapy box to help with the winter blues? Yay or nay?

The Vitamin L Diary: Day 8

Last year I blogged about anxiety, depression and being on an anti-depressant. My journey continues as I now go in annually to follow-up with my primary physician regarding my prescription. Drugs are not the cure-all, but they can help. I’ve told my doctor I don’t ever want to stop taking my vitamin L(exapro), but she reminded me that the end goal isn’t to stay on the drug but to make sure the drug is helpful and necessary.

I meant to include this last month because July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and Asian Americans continue to face some daunting statistics related to mental health (according to the National Alliance on Mental Health):

  • Asian American girls have the highest rates of depressive symptoms of any racial/ethnic or gender group;
  • Young Asian American women ages 15 to 24 die from suicide at a higher rate than other racial/ethnic groups;
  • Suicide is the fifth leading cause of death among Asian Americans overall, compared to the ninth leading cause of death for white Americans;
  • Older Asian American women have the highest suicide rate of all women over 65; and
  • Among Southeast Asians, 71 percent meet criteria for major affective disorders such as depression—with 81 percent among Cambodians and 85 percent among Hmong.

Any who, this is Day 8 (May 2010) of that private experience. My hope is that “talking” about anxiety and depression might help someone out there take one step closer to loving & honoring her/himself. My hope is in Jesus. Treating my anxiety and depression has only deepened my hope.

May 25, 2010

Can I sleep any more? Argh. I’m really, really, really disliking the sleepy, fatigue crap – can’t keep my eyes open, falling asleep while I’m reading a book at the kitchen table after 8 hours of sleep the night before.

And the water retention. I feel like I swallowed a pool. I do not like getting on the scale and seeing things creep up, and really if you’re trying to treat depression, even mild depression, didn’t anyone think of the possibility that weight gain would not be a helpful side effect?

But, the upside is that I do feel a bit more mellow and grounded. The things that I would normally bite someone’s head over – spilled something or another, running late, forgetting something for the umpteenth time – seem to annoy me but not to the point of screaming. Just annoyed. I can live with annoyed.

The other thing is that I have no desire for sex. I can’t say that my libido was running strong before this, but now all I can think about is taking diuretics and sleeping. Sex? Really? No. Really.

The Vitamin L Diary: Day 2

Yesterday I briefly wrote about going on an antidepressant. Apparently I’ve struck a chord. Thank you for the private messages many of you took the time to send. I realize that not everyone is in a position to talk publicly about their depression, and it really is such a personal thing. I had waves of the sadness, but what I realized was that the other proactive things I was doing – exercise, regular schedule, better eating, less caffeine, etc. were no longer keeping things manageable. The antidepressant commercials always depict depression as people who walk around sleepy or sad. I had those days but I also spent a lot of energy to keep moving, so my depression also was expressed in irritability. I felt prickly like my cranky dial was turned up to 11.

And then there was that day in my kitchen.

My doctor, a lovely woman who turns out loves Jesus just like I do, asked me what I had been through during the last few years. And there I sat in the office on that crunchy paper, crying and telling her a few facts but feeling a bit numb. I told her I didn’t want to be numb. I told her I wanted to feel joy and laugh from the belly again, which seemed like such work at the time. I wanted to want to write, which had always been a place of physical, spiritual and emotional connection for me.

She warned me about the side-effects but told me to hang on because the first few weeks are the hardest. She told me that my brain had slowly rewired itself to deal with the stressors – death, illness, transitions that overlapped over extended periods of time, etc. – and that the medication was going to help reset things.

I’ve been mulling over this for a year now…I wrote in my private journal a few lines each day for three weeks about what I was going through because writing was one of the disciplines I committed to during that time of wanting to crawl out of my skin (which is how I felt for awhile on the meds). I didn’t want medication to be the only thing doing the hard work. There were patterns in my emotional and spiritual life that had been reset to cope and those had to be addressed as well. However, the online discussions about the drug I am now on scared me. I rarely found anything positive. I hope this is a little bit of that positive I was hoping to find.

One year later I am still on Lexapro under the care of my physician. It doesn’t work for everyone but it can help.

Here is Day 2:

So, I went to work out this morning hoping the rush of endorphins would help ease the fatigue I experienced yesterday. It did. For an hour. By the time I was driving home from Elias’ ortho appointment (around noon) I was crazy tired. I tried to read and then gave up. A little nap is all I need, I thought.

Three hours later I was thinking “what did I do?”.

I’m feeling nausea all day long so that is getting in the way of eating. I have to be careful that I don’t do the tired eating thing – eating to stay awake, but I was doing that before Lexapro.

I haven’t been experiencing too much dry mouth or the cotton-head feeling, but I have moments of being woozy.

Honestly, what I’m terrified about is the rumored weight gain on this drug. Seriously. My depression isn’t bad enough that weight gain is cancelled out by the drugs’ effects on my depression. Gaining 20 pounds would put me in a bad place.

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