How speaking my truth gave me the strength to accept who I am
“Mami, tengo depresión y ansiedad.” [Mom, I have anxiety and depression.]
As soon as those words left my mouth I felt a mix of emotions: relief, shame, and confusion. My mother’s face filled with wonder. She went on to give me a hug and tell me that it is going to be okay. Even though I could feel her love for me, I also knew this was the only beginning of a journey of teaching my Latino family what this meant. But, let’s discuss what got me to this moment in the first place.
Ever since I can remember I have worked alone to figure things out. Simple things such as getting a permission slip signed for a school trip, turned into me translating each and every word to my parents. Coming from an immigrant family meant that some of the things I was doing, I was doing for the first time in our family. I remember the college process was so confusing for me, but being the first in my family to go through this process, I had to “figure it out.” This was no different when it came to figuring out how to navigate my mental illness.
I was around 12-years-old when I first consciously experienced extreme sadness. That kind of sadness that weighs heavy on your body and turns the world around you gray. This was also the first time when I self-harmed. I had no idea what I was doing, but all I knew is that I was in control. My friends didn’t know, and my family most certainly didn’t know. It was my own little secret.
As I grew into a teenager, the sadness came in waves. It would come unexpectedly, and stay for long periods of time. My family took my anger and discomfort as a rebellion of a growing teenager. Since they were my parents, I thought they knew best. I would tell myself that I was being a bad daughter because I couldn’t control my impulses, and because I couldn’t just smile and be content. But, looking back now, I want to hug that angry and hurt teenager and tell her that what she was dealing with was not just rebellion.
Years passed and the waves came and went. Sometimes they were unbearable. “Why is this happening to me?” I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just be “normal” like my friends. They seemed to get sad and move on, but I didn’t have that ability. I couldn’t ask my parents what was wrong with me because that would require me disclosing so many of my little secrets. While I was growing up, I never knew what mental health even meant.
“Your brain can be unhealthy?” “There are doctors that help you cure your brain if it’s ill?”
It wasn’t until what I call my “breaking point” in 2017 where I finally woke up and saw some light.
I have a mental illness. I am not well. And, these waves of sadness are normal but they don’t need to be unbearable.
I fell in love in 2017 and had the most toxic relationship of my life. This was also the first time I showed my depression to the world. First, it started appearing with my family. As I went through the motions of sadness, and anger, in my mother’s words, “my sweet little girl was gone.” She was indeed gone. I was always irritable. I couldn’t understand why this wave of deep sadness was not ending like the other times. My mother tried to get me to speak to her and to my siblings. In most Latino families it is a taboo to talk about matters of the mind with anyone outside the immediate household. My mom prayed to God to guide me, she talked to our priest and pushed me hard to tell her what was wrong.
“You need to tell your family what is wrong,” she said.
The problem was that I didn’t even know what was wrong.
I isolated myself from my family because now I know they were triggering me. “I need help,” I said to myself. I searched for hours and stumbled upon a therapist that was on my insurance plan. “This one sounds good, let’s try it.” I tried it, and it was awful. I was speaking but she wasn’t listening to me. It wasn’t her fault, but it just wasn’t a right fit. I felt like giving up because if this professional woman couldn’t solve this then no one could. I decided to give it another try. I found another therapist.
I remember being very nervous for my first appointment. I was greeted by a warm smile. After hours of pouring my soul in that room, I finally felt heard and understood. There was a name for the things that were happening to me. At first, when I was told I had depression, I felt shame. Since, this was never talked about in my household, being this sad meant I was being ungrateful.
It took me a couple more months to come to terms with this diagnosis. There are still times that it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that this is just part of who I am. I think this was most prevalent when I had to go see a psychiatrist. Even though talk therapy was helping me immensely, there was something missing from my treatment.
Here I was again back to square one I thought. How does one even begin to look for a psychiatrist? I was not going to ask my family or my friends for help. After a couple of hours of searching I found a match. Once again, I poured my heart to another doctor. I was put on medication. The psychiatrist explained all the possible side effects of this medication. One of them was a rash on my body.
I had planned to have my family over for dinner, but I needed to start my medication that day. So with hesitation, I popped a pill before they arrived and went on to set the table. I became very itchy, and red little dots consumed my body. My mom came in and saw my arms and panicked. This was an allergic reaction to the medication the doctor has warned me about so I wasn’t alarmed. But, with my mom’s panic, I decided this was also an opening to tell her what I was taking. My mother’s face went cold. She questioned me, and asked me if all that I was doing was necessary. I was so angry. If I didn’t feel it was necessary then why would I be doing it? She made it clear she did not agree with this decision.
This isn’t her fault, and I never blame her for her reactions to my decisions. In some Latino households having a mental illness just meant you were “loco” or crazy. It meant that you dealt with these issues in the household and with faith in God. And, yes this very much should be dealt with people you love and trust and if you have a strong faith then that too. But, this wasn’t my case, for me, my faith wasn’t enough. My family’s words were not enough for my growth.
Anyone that knows me now knows how open I am about my struggles. My family cringed when I first posted on Instagram that I had depression. One of my siblings questioned me why I was putting my “dirty laundry” out there. My mental illness is not dirty laundry. It is part of who I am. It is my strength. Without having experienced the incredible darkness of my brain, I would have never been able to experience peace, real honest peace. I’m not a “loca,” I am a human being with a complex brain.
In my journey, I have become very interested in learning about mental health in Latino communities specifically. Young Latinas have very high suicide attempt rates in the U.S. Reading about this statistic was so jarring to me. I get why. I understand first hand how shameful it can feel to be open about your struggles. But, if anyone takes away one thing from reading all of this, it’s that speaking your truth, whether loudly or quietly, is so important for your growth.
I’m not going to sit here and lie and say that I have reached this beautiful sense of constant happiness. This is real life, sometimes things will be hard and I will get sad again. But, what I have learned is that I am so incredibly strong. That my understanding of what goes on in my brain is my superpower. That after time, families come around. My mother still feels uncomfortable when I take medication, but she supports me. It wasn’t easy at all. Having to figure things out alone as you go hasn’t been easy, but it’s possible.
About the Author
I’m proudly Latina and grew up in the NYC/NJ area! I was diagnosed with Depression and Anxiety and have grown comfortable with talking openly about it. Mental health had always been a taboo in my family, and then making me feel ashamed of my brain. But, the more I talk about it and share my story, the stronger I feel.
I #LiveToTell my story in hopes that it inspires people around me to keep moving forward and to know that human resilience is beautiful.