May is a Good Time to Talk about Vitamin L

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Moving From Fear to Faith to Belonging

Sometimes we agree to do risky things. I would have to say that agreeing to preach at my church on Mother’s Day was one of those things. Not only was I “Mom” I was “guest speaker/preacher”, and my church and I are still in what I would call the “pre-premarital counseling days” – we are getting to know each other after already having made an initial, mutual commitment to one another. But there is so much to learn about one another. And you, my lovely readers, know that I share quite a bit about myself and my faith. My preaching style reflects that, and I never know what God will do as people get used to the sound of my voice.

I felt very much in the zone this morning at both services, and was grateful at how I continued to hear God teach me thing about the passage. And the feedback was good, and I walked away grateful that God honored my faithfulness by helping many connect with God on this special day. Here is the script as I preached out of Mark 5:21-43.

Happy Mother’s Day! I am working on Mother’s Day.

To be frank, I am never quite sure how I feel about Mother’s Day. After I became a mother I became quite annoyed that only one day was set aside to celebrate my many accomplishments and contributions 😉

Yet, it’s honestly a tough time of the year. In fact, the entire month of May and the season of spring is fraught with complicated memories and emotions for me.

Thirteen years ago Peter and I welcomed spring with the grief of a miscarriage. I felt loss and a deep sense of shame that perhaps God was punishing me for my greediness. I already had a beautiful daughter. Friends and family tried to console me by reminding me of how lucky and blessed I already was with one child, almost taking away permission to grieve. Mother’s Day that year was complicated and I was afraid to hope for healing and for more children.

In 2005, we lost my mother-in-law, Rebekah Chang to kidney cancer and Mother’s Day that year was a bittersweet one as my husband continued to grieve his mother and I wrestled with how to properly grieve a MIL with whom I had had a tenuous relationship.

Spring usually marks a time of excitement in our home as school winds down and my kids look ahead to our annual trek to Cedar Campus, InterVarsity’s training and conference center in the UP. Five years ago forever changed my relationship with that blessed place as in a matter five days Corban got hit in the head with a rock almost needing stitches; I threw out my lower back and was hobbling around as I lead evangelism training; my mother suffered a heart attack and was in ICU and then the final straw – a series of seizures (to this day unexplained) that put Elias on death’s edge. I left Cedar Campus having taught students to share the Good News of Jesus, wondering if God had abandoned me.

And ever since then, spring marked my annual anxiety and panic attacks and bouts of depression as my family and I begin to turn our minds towards Cedar Campus. Ever since 2006, May and the celebration of Mother’s Day has felt a little like holding my breath and waiting for the crashing wave to pass.

Last year, shortly after Mother’s Day I found myself in my kitchen overcome by a tearful anxiety attack recalling the events of five years past – seeing Elias seizing, Bethany surrounded by other staff kids her age praying with her and for us, Corban rushing towards the closing ambulance doors asking for one last hug and feeling nothing by mind-numbing fear.

Shortly after Mother’s Day last year asking God for strength and faith to face my fears and overcome the social taboos surrounding counseling and medical intervention and sought help from a counselor and my medical doctor to address my fears, anxiety and depression.

Mother’s Day is not easy. Some of you have lost your mothers. Some of you are anxiously awaiting a child. Some of the mothers here have lost children. And many women are not yet and may never be mothers. Some of you can’t for obvious reasons can’t be mothers. And for others, you have your own complicated relationship with Mother’s Day and spring. How can we hope and celebrate when the day-to-day realities don’t fit neatly on a greeting card?

This passage in the Gospel of Mark reminds us that Jesus’ ministry meant redefining categories and relationships and power. Jesus’ ministry is one of hope and healing where fear and dread have once lived. Here we see Jairus , a synagogue ruler, meeting Jesus out in the streets beyond the walls of the synagogue where he has authority, power and influence, falling at Jesus’ feet asking for Jesus to heal his “little daughter” who is 12-years-old. He asks for Jesus to place His hands on her, believing out of fear and desperation that Jesus’ touch is all that is needed.

But in the midst of this story comes along an unnamed woman, who from all that we can gather has no other family, no sons to speak on her behalf, no husband to represent her, no father to ask for her healing. She has been bleeding for 12 years, separating her from public life. Walking into public she must announce her condition yelling, “Unclean! Unclean!” so that no other is affected by her affliction. Hers must be a personal and separating suffering, but her actions mirror that of the synagogue ruler. She seeks Jesus out in public, but instead of asking for a face-to-face audience, the woman reaches out to simply touch Jesus’ garment. I wonder if she had known that Jesus was on his way to heal Jairus’ daughter for surely in that time a true leader would show preference for a man and a male leader at that over a woman. But regardless, she reaches and immediately knows she has been freed. And Jesus knows power has gone out of him.

Imagine walking in the crowd at the Taste of Chicago and asking those around you, “Who touched me?” That’s just silly. And the disciples thought so too, answering rather sarcastically, “You see the people crowding against you, and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

Yet, the woman knows and just like Jairus, falls at Jesus’ feet. She is trembling with fear. The crowd could easily turn on her, her presence in public alone is cause for punishment. Her physical condition, though healed, is unspeakable.

And while Jairus is waiting for Jesus to heal his dying little daughter, Jesus does that very thing. Jesus heals his daughter. His cloak has stopped this woman’s bleeding of 12 years and then reorders society, culture, power and position by calling out to this woman, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

The suffering of 12 years of bleeding is over, but a woman in her situation during that time and culture suffered from so much more. Jesus’ healing and ministry is physical, emotional, spiritual, relational. She is Jesus daughter, a woman no longer unclean and untouchable and alone, but claimed as family and recognized by this Jesus. She belongs because of her faith.

But wait. What happened to Jairus? Imagine being in his place. Are you impatient? Angry? Desperate? Yes? How many time have you or I thought that God was paying too much attention to someone else’s pain and not addressing your own? Jairus receives news that his daughter is dead but Jesus quickly turns to Jairus and tells him before Jairus can utter a word, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.”

After all, everyone has just witnessed this incredible physical healing as well as emotional and relational healing, but we all quickly forget how Jesus’ power and love conquers all divisions.

So he heals again. This time, the interaction is private with only Peter, James and John there in the presence of this family – father, mother, little daughter. Jesus is the one who reaches out and touches the dead girl’s hand. She, too, is unclean, just like the woman. And Jesus tells her to get up.

But sometimes the most important part of the story of transformation in our own lives and in the lives of the bleeding woman and Jairus and his family is the part after our encounter with Jesus.

Did the woman live as one of faith and one freed from her suffering and as a daughter of Jesus? How did Jairus and his family engage with those in the synagogue or the mourners who were crying in his home? Did those in the crowd welcome the woman who was no longer unclean into their community, and help her ease her fears and take away power from her personal pain? Did the mourners and those Jairus would later encounter in the synagogue play a part in releasing the secret by welcoming the 12-year-old girl and family back?

Before we walk away from this holy place this morning/afternoon, ready to take on the busy plans to celebrate and commemorate, let’s take a moment to pause and reflect. What will you do with your fears and faith? How will you or we as a body react in the face of another’s fear and faith? Are we here because we are ready to acknowledge our fears with our faith in Jesus and walk away freed of suffering or is it just one day of the week we set aside to acknowledge Jesus?