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: 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?