My story

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Courageous curiosity.

My story is a journey of courageous curiosity: of seeking out truth, of embracing the hope in possibilities, of letting go of assumptions and judgment, and of choosing to define my own life.

By getting curious about old thought patterns, habitual behaviors, and new experiences, I’ve grown beyond depression, binge eating/restricting, symptoms of trauma and abuse, and social anxiety so severe it sometimes left me mute.

I’ve loved, lived in, and left a high-demand Christian community, as curiosity drew me to choose flexibility over familiarity.

I’ve come out, made a new life, and reconnected with once-unaccepting loved ones, using curiosity to inspire hope in myself and understanding of others.

Here are those stories. It’s my hope that they inspire you and resonate with you. I love to connect with others by sharing my stories and hearing others’, whether through podcasts, speaking engagements, articles, blog posts, emails, or DMs. If they especially touch you, and you’d like to have me tell my story in your space or have anything you’d like to share in response, please drop me a line!

 

Growing up Evangelical 

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Growing up “on fire” for God

I grew up with a loving, tight-knit community of Chinese American Baptists in New Jersey suburbia. Our church family was filled with sweet, goofy “aunties” and “uncles” who’d grill you a hot dog at the pool party, help paint your bedroom, and laugh with you at inside jokes… while also happening to believe that the world could end any day now.

I came up in a generation of Evangelical kids who lived to be “on fire” for God. Filling out workbooks to refute evolution, nodding along to toothpaste-based metaphors about my sexual purity, and winning medals for memorizing Bible verses on Friday nights was my normal.

My faith infused my life with the intoxicating promise of permanent belonging, community, forgiveness, and growth. For me, faith was a personal romance with the Creator of C minor and cedar trees, not a religion.

But in truth, our beliefs could also box us into black-and-white thinking. We believed that we had the god-given answers about life and that we had the right way to live. We adopted sweeping, judgmental assumptions about who other people were and high-demand beliefs about our own self, such as that “you are not your own” and must “die to self.”

Curiosity, doubt, and freedom

In high school, though, I began to meet people who popped the bubble I lived in. My Jewish friend told me that Judaism wasn’t about knowing answers, but asking questions. I began to wonder what was so bad about my trans classmate. A few classmates wouldn’t let my clumsy conversion attempts slide, sowing seeds of doubt with kind, thought-provoking questions. I began to see that my god spoke in a dialect of must and should, not a language of can and what if?

I wrestled with my doubts for years. I longed to explore what it could be like to live outside these beliefs, but my fear of hell and the non-Christian world repeatedly sent me running back to repentance. Ultimately, though, I had to be true to my conscience. By the end of high school I no longer believed, even if I had no idea how to be non-Christian, happy, and good. Curious about my own inner instincts, I also realized that I was bisexual.

Through it all, I kept my deconversion a secret, because should others find out, losing my relationships and even my safety was a real risk. The loss of my faith freed me to explore possibilities of life beyond everything I’d ever known, but it required that I release everything I knew in the first place.

 

Mental health recovery 

 

Finding my voice with curious mindfulness

From childhood to college, I privately struggled with depression, binge eating/restricting, and abuse and trauma symptoms. Worst of all, though, was Situational Mutism — a complex communication anxiety disorder where certain social situations feel so scary that sufferers feel unable to speak and sometimes make eye contact, nod, laugh, raise their hands, and so on.

For so long, I suffered from SM with no idea why. I felt completely powerless and voiceless — trapped by my own body and dictated over by fear. It wasn’t until I was 18 years old that, in desperation for things to change, I even thought to Google my symptoms. I came across the words “Selective Mutism,” and with that, an explanation and community I never knew existed.

Research and treatment for SM is sparse, so I decided I would make my own recovery with the help of my therapist. In my own research for anxiety treatment, I came across mindfulness: the practice of observing yourself and your surroundings with curiosity, openness, and acceptance rather than judgment.

Learning to be curious about my own behaviors, thought patterns, and feelings — through therapy, mindfulness, and new experiences — has worked wonders for my mental health. I pushed myself to say yes to one new experience a day, whether it was shouting hi or speaking to a stranger. I asked questions about where my self-limiting beliefs and thoughts came from and learned new ways to frame them.

Today, I consider myself recovered from my disorders. Recovery is not linear, of course, but at this point in life, I no longer experience the symptoms that once defined my every day. Pushing myself to reinvent how I behaved, thought, and viewed the world has meant everything — but most important of all was taking the step to change my own life forever…

 

Coming out 

 

Curiosity about how we can live

Throughout the loss of my faith, practicing curiosity became my balm. I Googled evolution, sexuality, and lifestyles, plus every story I could find of others seeking life beyond their own religions. Learning about how other people live opened my eyes to the gorgeous truth that there’s no one right way to live. It taught me for the first time that I had the power to choose how I wanted to live.

I went off to college, where my curiosity grew into new friendships, conversations, and hobbies. However, I was still in the closet about my loss of faith and my sexuality, and I didn’t feel that I could survive ever coming out or create a life for myself. Because of that, I struggled with suicidal circumstances on and off for years.

The courage to define my life

Once again, curiosity didn’t just change my life; it gave me a new one. As I kept researching, my conviction that life is open to whatever you make of it only deepened. Even through my worst days, my curiosity about others’ lives gave way to hope that I could have another life one day too. Slowly but powerfully, my hope turned into the need to define my own life.

So in March 2017, in the middle of a phone conversation with my Chinese immigrant parents, after years of hiding my pain and truth, I blurted it out: I didn’t believe anymore, I wasn’t straight, and worst of all… I was majoring in Psychology!

Coming out

It was a painful, tense, and life-defining conversation. My parents informed me that they would no longer pay for my tuition and that I would come home to live with them until I chose a more acceptable… major. This was the response I had expected all along. But I had to tell the truth. I had to save myself. I had to choose life.

So, at age 19, I decided to strike out in pursuit of a new life. I stayed in school for the rest of the semester, fought for the chance to apply for financial aid by myself so I could stay in school, learned to support myself, and found myself surrounded by a chosen family who supplied hugs, spare beds, and couches.

My coming out has taught me that even in the tensest disagreements, curiosity can be a bridge. After a year or so of limited contact, bringing curiosity about my dad’s point of view to our renewed relationship has helped me understand why he believes what he does and how he might one day see differently.

 

Today

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My life-changing experiences — whether seeking life and truth beyond the only faith I knew, reclaiming my voice and peace from mental illness, or coming out and creating a life on my own — slowly but surely taught me just how powerful it can be to choose to be curious.

Since transitioning out of Evangelicalism and watching Trump’s election, I’ve noticed that polarization, stereotypes, and echo chambers are just as present in the non-Evangelical world too. I’ve learned just how limiting it can be to live in a bubble and just how life-changing it is to choose to be curious about the people beyond it.

I created Max Gets Curious because I want to share how powerful curiosity has been for me and because I’ve realized it is just as relevant for our modern world too.

If you’ve made it to the end here, I’m so glad you’ve read along! If you resonate with anything I’ve shared, I’d love to hear from you. Don’t hesitate to reach out and let me know what’s on your mind.