culture

Satisfaction in a "Just Enough" Culture

Satisfied. This word has been on my mind for the past several weeks. It's what I've longed for on the daily for months. It's what I've craved when I've been anxious.

I've found a lot of things that have brought temporary satisfaction—just enough to get me to the next hour, day, or week. TV shows, peanut butter M&Ms, songs and books and random events. 

Stock photo from Pixabay.com

Stock photo from Pixabay.com

I'm reminded of this pair of red headphones I have on right now (listening to "Unchanging" by Antioch Live—check it out!). I bought these headphones for $15 in Cambodia, and they're knock-offs of a famous brand. The sound quality is still stellar—much better than the cheap ear buds I usually buy at Target. They're not the real thing, but they're good enough for my needs. Plus, I feel super cool when I have them on because no one else knows they're knock-offs!

When I think of the activities (and foods) I've found satisfaction in over the past few months, I deemed them all "good enough for my needs" at the time. And perhaps they were, for a season, as I transitioned back to life in the US and struggled through a dark wave of depression. But now, I crave something more.

I crave the real thing. Not a knock-off. Not something that's good enough for now. Something that will fill me up, from the soul outward, not just filling my stomach or my five senses. All around me, marketing schemes pitch ideas of why a product or experience is the greatest "for now" satisfaction—just enough to tide me over. I could live my whole life like this, going on the next adventure, viewing the new movie, or binge-watching the newest Netflix sensation. I could live like this, and I wouldn't be unhappy. I could hop from one distraction to the next, and I could even feel like I was bettering myself and my community with "the next big thing:" online classes, community projects, and more.

These offers for satisfaction are delightful—at least for the moment, hour, day that they last. This is the message of our culture: "If it meets my needs right now, it's enough, even if it's not the real deal."

These days, I'm craving something deeper. I'm craving what only the Lord can give to satisfy my soul, my being. I'm learning, so far, satisfied only comes in abundance in His presence. 

I'm still a fan of my headphones, even if they're fake. They help me come into the presence of the One who brings me to the place of being deeply satisfied. I'm choosing to invest more time and energy into this deep, lasting, authentic satisfaction, the kind that starts in my soul and creeps into my bones and changes the essence of who I am. This is the real deal, and it's more than enough.

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The Truth About Depression: 5 Observations from Someone Who’s Been There

I have a confession.

I’ve struggled with depression for years. I’ve struggled with anxiety, too. For a long time, I tried not to let the world see my struggle. I let shame seal my mouth shut. But today, I want to begin sharing this part of my story—a part that I’ve desperately wanted to erase from my past but remains there nonetheless. I want to write about mental health because it matters, and I don’t think people talk about it enough.

So here is some truth about depression. I’m not a clinical expert or mental health nurse or any kind of therapist. I simply have observations from experience, from a raw wrestling with this intangible mood-killer and productivity-killer and sometimes people-killer. It’s my hope to begin writing more about my personal journey toward mental health, but for now, here are some foundational observations.

Observation #1: Lots of people are fighting the dragon of depression.

In high school, my English teacher used to say that “everyone has their dragons,” meaning everyone has things in life they are fighting against. The dragon of depression is a lot more common than we believe.

When I was a freshman in college, we had a chapel speaker give a lecture on depression. Opening with a statistic, he stated, “One in seven people suffer from depression.” One of the guys in my group started counting how many people were sitting in our row and said, “Hey, that means at least one of us would be depressed!”

I tried to shrink in my seat. That one person would be me.

I don’t know if that statistic is true or not, but I do know that a lot of people experience depression. It isn’t always physically debilitating, and we can’t see it with our eyes, but it still exists, and it’s a lot more rampant than we would like to believe.

Photo credit: Kateland Pricer

Photo credit: Kateland Pricer

Observation #2: Lots of people treat depression like a literal dragon—like a terrifying, mysterious myth.

Unless you’re a conspiracy theorist, you probably don’t spend much time talking about myths. You probably spend a lot more time on what you believe is true and relevant and affecting everyday life.

That makes complete sense—when it comes to actual myths. The problem is, depression isn’t a myth. In that way, it isn’t like a dragon at all.

However, just like a dragon, depression can seem terrifying and mysterious. As humans, we tend to shy away from the unknown, and our solution for the mysterious is to pretend like those things simply don’t exist. I don’t think anyone quite gets depression unless they’ve been there—and even those of us who've experienced it don’t completely understand it. We don't understand why it affects some people more than others, how it creeps up or vanishes or lingers, or why certain treatments or medications do or don’t work. 

Even though we can't explain it, we must acknowledge depression. We have massive educational efforts for diabetes and heart disease—we even have billboards talking about stroke symptoms—but for some reason we refuse to address depression on a wide scale publicly. Yet ignoring depression can be dangerous—perhaps just as dangerous and lethal as ignoring a dragon’s existence.

Observation #3: Stigma is a Silent Killer.

In nursing school we once had a slide dramatically titled, “Hypertension: the Silent Killer.” I chuckled at how dramatic the slide was, but I never forgot it. Later, I decided that in the mental health world, stigma deserves that title. “Stigma: the Silent Killer” is not an overstatement.

Over the past few years, many courageous people have been speaking up about mental illness and opening the floor for a nationwide conversation around it. I have been so encouraged by this! However, these speakers are still a rarity. We have a long way to go.

Stigma is why the people experiencing depression are the ones you would least suspect. Because of stigma, we hide it and try to compensate and sometimes overcompensate. We pretend we're okay, but inside we hate the mask we put on. Stigma leads to isolation and contributes to shame, which leads to self-hatred, which leads to increased depression, which leads to more shame. Ultimately, stigma leads to a startlingly high suicide rate in America

If depression is a dragon, stigma is its right-hand dragon buddy. With stigma around, people believe experiencing depression is weak and shameful. The greater the stigma and shame, the less likely people are to seek help. (Trust me, I waited four long years due to stigma and pride before going to therapy and finding help.)

Observation #4: It can always be better.

One of the flaws of depressive thinking is the belief that “it can never be better.” It all seems pretty hopeless.

Sometimes, it takes a friend to hope for you—to believe that things can get better. I was blessed to know a great group of girls in college who also struggled with depression and were brave enough to talk about it in everyday conversations. We hoped for each other when we couldn’t hope for ourselves.

Several of those girls are some of my best friends today. What happened for us was an anomaly, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be better. For individuals, for myself, my friends, and for society. Sometimes "better" is a simple step of courage away, found in working on a project we enjoy or joining a Bible study. Sometimes it's scheduling a coffee date with a friend and holding onto the knowledge that in exactly two days we'll have a friend to sit across from—encouragement and hope in tangible form.  Sometimes "better" is found in a text saying someone's praying for us.

Whatever form it takes, I believe it can always be better. I believe we can create a culture where it isn’t shameful to talk about depression, a culture where we hope for each other, a culture where we know we were made to need each other.

Observation #5: A change in culture starts with individual conversations.

Practically, how do we effect change? I believe it starts with awareness and conversations.

When we talk about depression, stigma is dismantled, and the truth comes out: depression affects nearly everyone at some point in their lives, and it doesn’t mean we’re weak. In fact, those who experience depression are some of the strongest, most courageous people I know.

When we can talk about depression and hopelessness and pain, we gain opportunities to sit with others through the darkness, which perhaps is the greatest help of all. When we can talk about depression, we open the door wide for those who are struggling to find the courage, hope, and community that really is out there for them. For me. For us.

I believe it can be better. I believe it starts with you and me, carrying on this conversation about the uncomfortable topics of depression and mental illness, through blog posts and social media and real-life conversations in coffee shops and work cubicles and homes. It starts with stark transparency and healthy vulnerability and bold humility.

The truth about depression is…it can get better. And it starts with us.

 

Thank you to my friend Kateland Pricer for graciously letting me use her photo! Katie created a set of photos that captures feelings I could never explain with words. Her email is K.pricer@yahoo.com. She is incredibly talented in the creative realm and just an all-around awesome person!

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I'm Asian, Y'all

“You’re Filipino!” my patient remarked as soon as I walked in the room.

“No, actually I’m not. I do kind of look like it though, don’t I?” I acknowledged with a smile.

“You’re not?” The patient paused only for a moment before looking me in the eye and stating with certainty, “Then you’re Mexican!”

I could only stifle laughter at that point.

I could tell a myriad of stories about people and patients commenting on my race. What my professors didn’t tell me was that somehow, when I received my nursing license, all my patients gained a license, too: license to ask whatever they wanted in the most blunt form possible.

One time a couple asked if I was Mexican or Asian. I replied that I was Asian, and their eyes grew wide. “Ohhhh,” one of them exclaimed. The other said, “I thought so! It’s just…the voice threw me off. The accent confused me. Because to my ears…at least from what I was hearing…" She stumbled through her sentence, "There was no accent!”

Other times various Caucasian patients have tried to speak foreign languages to me, like Japanese and Tagalog, even after I told them I was Chinese. And then there’s the patient who, when I told him my race, said, “I was wondering! I knew you weren’t Texan.” He quickly realized his faux pas and recovered with, “I mean, you are Texan…. We’re all Texan!

Just for the record: I’m Chinese. I was born in the States. I don’t have an accent because English is my first language. I don’t speak Chinese at all, aside from being able to order dim sum. I do speak some Spanish and a bit of Khmer (Cambodian).

I bring up these stories not simply because they're humorous but also because they matter to me. I am not offended by these comments; in fact, most of the time I find them hilarious. Yet it seems people become downright awkward when asking about race. Sometimes they are rude and insensitive, but mostly they are simply unsure of how to be tactful while acknowledging a difference in skin color.

Thus this post: an outlet for anecdotes as well as some practical suggestions to help navigate what can be an awkward exchange when you need to resolve the secret debate in your family of whether that girl is Korean or Chinese.

Suggestion #1: Please don’t ask, “So…what are you?”

The answer to that is “a human being, just like you.” I don’t know what else to say about this one…

Suggestion #2: Please don’t ask, “Where are you from?”

I used to get stressed when people asked this. I would analyze the situation, them, their cultural background, our conversation and relationship up until that point - all in a couple seconds - before deciding whether to answer, “Houston” or “My family is from China.”

Because if I chose the wrong reply, one of us looked like an idiot. Either I did because they actually wanted to know my hometown, or they did because then they had to find another way to ask my race. Or they followed up with the cringe-worthy, “No, where are you from?”

Now I always answer, “Houston.” I don’t feel like an idiot with that answer because the truth is, that’s where I’m from, and that’s what they asked.

Suggestion #3: Think twice before asking, “What kind of Asian are you?”

What kind of White are you? Not sure different countries can be considered “kinds” of Asia (like “kinds” of candy or clothes or something?). To be fair, depending on context and tone, this can be a tactful way of asking more about someone’s background.

Suggestion #4: Try using more direct words instead of vague questions that leave me wondering what you really want to know. 

I prefer when people ask me questions with the words “race,” “ethnicity,” “cultural heritage,” or any of those combined with “background” (ie, racial/ethnic background).

For example, a couple people with whom I work have asked about my race in straight-forward and non-awkward ways. In fact, the day after I drafted this, I heard someone at work come up behind me and say my name.

“Yes?” I replied.

“What nationality are you?”

“Chinese,” I replied. Thus the mystery was solved and the break-room debate resolved, all in a matter of seconds. No awkwardness involved.

Suggestion #5: Recognize any faux pas, and acknowledge them in conversation.

The patient who said, “I knew you weren’t Texan,” wasn’t trying to be rude. In fact, he was one of the most culturally sensitive patients for whom I’ve cared. Perhaps what showed his sensitivity most was recognizing his mistake and attempting to fix it.
 

Of course, these five suggestions are my preferences, and I don't have a lower view of anyone who asks me, "What are you?" However, hopefully this post offers some help in avoiding awkward situations and unintentional microaggression.

I receive questions about my race so frequently that I used to say if no one commented on my race or age at work, it’d be a landmark day. Recently that landmark day came - but instead of those classic questions, someone asked me something else: "How much do you weigh?"

So, bottom line, even if you don't remember a single suggestion from this Chinese-American, Spanish-speaking Texan: 

Be direct, and be honest, but try not to ask me about my weight!

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