By Thomas Lee
This debut column is already one week late.
I had previously told Randall Yip, the founder and executive editor of AsAmNews, that I would file the column last week. But as it so often happens with me, I could barely get out of bed that day.
I suffer from chronic depression, a condition that renders one completely lifeless. Here’s how I described it in a Facebook post: “Apathy, foggy thinking, head weights heavy, lack of enjoyment.” There is no meaning or purpose to anything that you do or say.
After recovering a bit, I promised Randall that I would give him the column the following week. And then it suddenly occurred to me that my latest bout with depression was the perfect way to set up what I hope to accomplish with “Be Curious, My Friend.”
First of all, the name refers to Bruce Lee’s famous quote “Be water, my friend.” Lee uses water as a metaphor for how people need to adapt to life’s ups and downs: water takes the form of anything it touches.
I replaced “water” with “curious” because curiosity, along with adaptation, was one of Lee’s greatest attributes. In fact, the two work in tandem. You really can’t adapt to anything unless you are curious enough to identify alternatives to what you were previously thinking or doing.
All my life, I’ve been curious. I suppose that’s why I’ve been a journalist and author for over 20 years. But I’ve embraced curiosity as a way to confront my mental illness.
My depression and anxiety originate from Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As a child, family members both physically and sexually abused me. Trauma was so common that it became as normal as watching the sunrise in the east every morning.
Since I was 17 I struggled to adapt to what I was feeling on a particular day. One method was to try to understand my disease: why did I feel like sh*t one hour but felt completely fine the next? I was curious.
That curiosity drove me to ask questions. To seek answers. To connect and empathize with people open to connection and empathy. Unfortunately, mental health remains a stigma in society, especially among Asian American communities where we were taught never to talk about “family business” with outsiders.
So if you haven’t noticed by now, I am quite open about my struggles. Which brings us back to the point of this column.
When I pitched the idea to Randall, I didn’t want “Be Curious My Friend” to just be another voice yapping away on the Internet.
Oh, I definitely want to share my opinions but do so in the context of mental health. How do politics, current events, war, business, pop culture, and religion impact not just the way we think about things but also the way we feel about them?
Let’s take recent events in Israel and Gaza. In order to truly understand what’s happening, we need to realize that Israelis and Palestinians see things from the perspective of unimaginable trauma.
For Israelis, the trauma comes from centuries of anti-Semitism, culminating with the Holocaust. For Palestinians, the trauma originates from mass displacement, poverty, and lack of statehood. If you strip away the heated politics and rhetoric, you suddenly start to see that mental health influences not only how people think but also what they do.
I’m by no means a therapist or psychologist. But that’s actually the point. We too often isolate mental health to doctors, hospitals, and academics. We need to all start looking at the world in a deeper, more meaningful way instead of relying on knee-jerk reactions and hot takes. And that means thinking about our own traumas, our memories, our triggers, and, yes, our feelings.
I’m a journalist who could barely finish this article because of my depression and anxiety. But I adapted because I was curious enough to see how this column would eventually turn out.
Be Curious, My Friend.
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