How I Prioritize My Career as a Stand-Up Comic — Without Sacrificing My Mental Health
Content warning: This article contains mention of suicide.
I often think about what people might think of me. I wonder if they assume I had life all planned out. But the truth is, life's twists and turns often leave us grappling with emotions we can hardly comprehend. For me, a stand-up comedian and actress, this journey has been colored by moments of burnout, depression, and a profound realization that prioritizing my mental health has not only been necessary but imperative to my overall well-being.
My battle with depression dates back to my teenage years, a time when the weight of the world felt unbearable. When I tried to end my life, around the age of 14, the pivotal moment caught everyone off guard. My family rallied around me, illustrating the saying "it takes a village to raise a child." Their unwavering support became my lifeline, guiding me through the darkest days. I am forever grateful for their strength, but nothing can fill in the empty space my mother left behind when she died of breast cancer when I was 3 months old.
After my mother died, my grandparents took me to live with them in the Dominican Republic. I didn't know my biological mother had passed away until I was 6, when my grandmother had an aneurysm and I was forced to be told the truth. To this day, it still feels like I lost both of them just yesterday.
Losing a parent is like chasing a phantom limb — constantly pursuing something essential yet forever out of reach. The absence left me with an emptiness that defined my existence. Amidst a backdrop of familial loss, the notion of unconditional love remained elusive. The person meant to provide it was no longer there, leaving me feeling loved only under the conditions of life's unpredictability. This disconnect from the feeling of genuine connection made it difficult to bridge the gap between myself and others.
I grew empty and lonely. From this emptiness and loneliness emerged a deep-seated desire to alleviate the isolation. I recognized the power of laughter and how it could bring people closer and heal wounds. This realization was catalyzed by my childhood admiration for the late singer Selena Quintanilla, whose onscreen presence resonated deeply with me. I longed to evoke in others the emotions she ignited within me. Thus, my journey as a performer began at home. I was constantly distracting my family from the ache of not getting a loved one back as if I were the new and improved version. What I didn't know then is that I was growing a knack for comedy that would become my career, though not without its unexpected turns.
Laughter, my constant companion, became my tool for survival.
Laughter, my constant companion, became my tool for survival. The natural inclination for comedy defined my identity in school — I was the class clown, the popular one who used humor to forge connections. It then became my escape from the mundane routine of 9-to-5 jobs that never quite fit my spirit. Those jobs would have been short-lived without my sense of humor; employers kept me around because "I'm funny."
In 2016, I became a comedic influencer on social media. In those early days, it served as an avenue of pure enjoyment and balance. A post was a simple expression, but the tide of going viral swept me into its current, and the landscape transformed drastically. Talent agencies, management teams, production companies, and celebrities contacted me, and I thought my life would change forever. It did, in good and bad ways. The good thing about being a public figure is that people love and respect your work; the negative is that people now expect from you even when you don't know what you want or even know what you are doing.
The allure of social media's glamour makes people think it doesn't take work — but it does. You have to keep being a version of yourself people like. Yet it conceals that it operates as an inextinguishable machine, demanding constant attention to keep active; if not, you are buried in timelines. While rarely discussed, this can lead to burnout, leaving one to question the purpose of their efforts within this digital world.
I distinctly recall investing so much of myself into this pursuit that it left me feeling empty. It prompted me to reflect: did I truly aspire to become a perpetual social media influencer? Through introspection, I learned the vital lesson that the essence of the arts — writing, performing, and crafting deeply resonant bodies of work — remains irreplaceable. It became evident that social media should be a tool to bolster and complement one's artistic endeavors rather than constituting the sole objective.
In essence, I realized that social media's duality necessitates a balanced approach. Its potential for self-expression and community building is undeniable, but its underbelly demands acknowledgment — the unceasing cycle of give and take that can leave one drained. I was able to finally comprehend the value of grounding myself in the core artistic pursuits, channeling my energy into avenues that offer lasting emotional connections. Stepping back, I recognized the need to position social media as an ally to my artistic journey rather than the ultimate destination.
Balancing ambition and dreams against the backdrop of my mental health was a delicate act. My relentless pursuit of validation through laughter often left me feeling stretched thin, staggering on the edge of burnout. It was in the midst of this chaos that I had my epiphany. The world I had built was crumbling under the weight of my aspirations. The hollowness I sought to fill with the applause of others could only be remedied by self-care and introspection.
Navigating auditions and projects filled with excitement yet uncertainty posed its own challenges. The SAG-AFTRA strike that has suspended these opportunities has ushered in an unforeseen period of reflection. Stripped of the hustle, I've been confronted with the essence of who I'd become. This pause, though unasked for, was a blessing in disguise. It offered me the chance to finally address the imbalance that had plagued me for years.
As Hollywood halted, so did my frenetic pace. I turned my focus inward, delving into mindfulness practices and seeking therapy to confront the depression that had been a lifelong companion. Amidst the stillness, I realized that ambition need not be synonymous with neglecting oneself. It was a revelation that shattered the perception of having to choose between dreams and well-being.
Today, my journey continues. I am intentional and more aware of my voice. I am learning to harmonize ambition with self-care, understanding that success is a multifaceted concept. The spotlight still shines, but it's no longer my sole pursuit. I have found solace in slowing down, nurturing my mental health, and allowing rest and restoration to be as important as ambition. The stage is still mine, but now I step onto it as a whole person – embracing both the laughter and the shadows that have shaped me.