Image Source: Ashley Jimenez
I have struggled with depression and anxiety since the youthful age of 13. Reflecting back, I always thought it was either a temporary feeling that would come and go around that time of the month or an emotion that would go away if I simply channeled happy thoughts, like Peter Pan.
It's no secret that in the Latinx community, mental health isn't a hot topic. Being a Puerto Rican and Dominican Latina from the South Bronx, feeling sad or depressed wasn't a thing. I was taught to be a woman warrior at all times by any means necessary. That's why, for years, I kept my sadness a secret as I wore my best smile and showed off my fun personality to my family and friends.
I kept on being the cheerful girl everyone wanted me to be instead of actually feeling pain.
When I started battling depression during my teen years, I tried to justify my feelings with the loss of my father to stomach cancer when I was 9. I would have trouble sleeping and couldn't get out of bed on some days, which led to having poor attendance during my sophomore year. Though I did go to counseling after my dad's death, my counselor at the time never explained the "seven stages of grief" — shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing, and acceptance. Explaining death to a little girl can be extremely tricky, but I couldn't face the fact that my father passed away. I never took the time to go through the different phases of grieving a loved one's passing. I kept on being the cheerful girl everyone wanted me to be instead of actually feeling pain.
Image Source: Ashley Jimenez
I was raised by a Boricua from Spanish Harlem. My single mother taught me about compassion, humility, virtue, love, and strength. As a proud daughter, I saw my creator overcome trials and tribulations repeatedly with a smile on her face. She would sometimes say things like, "I don't have time to be sad; I just have to get over it," and, "It will pass; I just have to let it go." So I associated my mindset with hers, but it got harder as I dealt with my own "grown-up" issues. I couldn't "just get over it" as quickly as my mom did. I saw this as a sign of weakness within myself, which led me down a dark path to a deeper depression. At my worst, I didn't want to groom, struggled to get out of my bed, and lost motivation to do day-to-day activities.
As I felt less motivated and struggled to fight the dark cloud in my mind, I was in complete denial of what I was feeling. It wasn't until I went to college that I realized I wasn't the only one feeling this way; I wasn't alone.
A young woman in the back of the room blurted out, "I'm Cuban and Dominican, and we don't have time to be depressed — those are rich-people problems."
I recall sitting in a psychology class, where the subject was depression and anxiety. I was extremely interested, as I felt this was my time to ask all the questions I'd been keeping to myself, but as you may guess, my sweaty palms and trembling legs kept me quiet while the professor polled the class with the question, "Have you ever experienced a state of depression or nervousness periodically?" Some, including myself, raised their hands to say yes. As other classmates voted no, a young woman in the back of the room blurted out, "I'm Cuban and Dominican, and we don't have time to be depressed — those are rich-people problems."
The professor didn't acknowledge the Latina student's comment, but after class, I did. We spoke for hours about depression and anxiety, our upbringings, and the stigma of mental health in the Latinx community. The sense of acceptance I felt after our conversation was authentic and pure.
A little before completing my senior year, I decided to face the music, because I had a major anxiety attack after picking up my cap and gown for graduation. I was graduating with honors, with 10 internships under my belt and a job, yet I was still feeling unworthy, sad, and simply miserable. After the attack, I acknowledged myself — I suffered from anxiety and depression, and that was OK, but I wanted to do something about it.
After being real with my mom, she advised me to seek out professional help. Now, that was a challenge. Finding the right therapist is like dating. After you get past the Tinder-like requirements of insurance acceptance and professional background, it turns into a weekly meetup of seeing if it works for both patient and doctor. You should feel safe, comfortable, and willing to work with your therapist on an honest healing level.
Over the past three years, I saw four different psychologists on and off before I found a medical professional who understood me. During my therapy sessions, my counselor helps me overcome social anxiety, honor my feelings, and practice self-love on its most authentic level. When it came to the topic of medication, I was open to discussing my options, but as I read about the different drugs and side effects, I made a personal decision to seek natural ways to break through my mental health. It was a personal choice, and I believe those who choose to take medication are just as brave as those who don't. With compassion in my heart, I think we all should do what works best for us.
When life threw me lemons, I struggled to make lemonade, but I looked deep within my Latinx roots and became my own Wonder Woman, showing my best self in my own way. I work out at least three to four times a week, journal, and have fallen in love with nature as a whole. Along with those activities, I took advantage of my millennial advances by using app-guided meditation and gratitude apps.
I came to realize I was never alone, but it was in the act of being vulnerable that I found my strength.
Seeking help was one of the most courageous acts I did for myself, and though I was scared of what most people in my family and community would think, with time, I let it go. Simply put, those who judge don't matter, and those who care won't judge. I hope you find your voice from within to take care of yourself and live your best life as well. I came to realize I was never alone, but it was in the act of being vulnerable that I found my strength.
Today, I can own my truth and be at peace with myself. To the outside world, I'm a ray of sunshine, and though this theory is correct, make no mistake: I fought hard for my light, so fight for yours, too. Tell someone you trust what you're feeling and get the love and support you deserve.
If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or suicidal, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, seven days a week.