Toward the end of March, I was sitting with a family member when she asked me how I'd been spending my time lately. I told her about work, about some upcoming trips with my boyfriend, then I mentioned that I'd taken my therapy sessions from weekly to every two weeks.
I immediately regretted it. I don't talk about therapy with certain members of my family because I learned early on that to them, it'll always seem like a waste of time and money.
I live with anxiety, depression, and a Latino family; more often than not, the three do not mix.
While I started going to therapy three years ago, I realized I probably should have been in therapy since I was a kid. As I work to untangle and identify the triggers that set me off, I'm able to see how they were there when I was a kid, making it harder for me to socialize, making it easier to retreat to my writing and reading.
I can remember how my off days were always categorized as days when "mal de ojo" could've been in play or just plain "no pienses tanto y te pasa." Except those feelings don't just "go away."
My worst-lived moments with my anxiety and depression happened right after my grandmother died in 2014. She was my go-to girl, and when I lost her I also lost a big part of how I defined myself. Since right before her passing until very recently, I've paid a visit to my therapist weekly.
My therapist and I would sit, and for 45 minutes I worked hard to be honest about my feelings in a way that I hadn't learned at home. Going to therapy, in and of itself, was an easy decision for me. I knew I needed it and that it would give me as much as I put in. Admittedly, it was also the first time I put myself and my needs first, rather than doing what I knew my very traditional family would want.
In their eyes, I'm not really struggling. To them, mental health has never been a real concept. They knew mental illnesses as the scenes in novelas where the woman (literally, almost always the woman) has a nervous breakdown and ends up in a padded room.
I have a full-time job. I'm highly functioning. To them, how they saw me didn't add up to who I was telling them I was.
Learning that they would never understand my decision was a process. At the beginning of my therapy sessions, I would want to talk to them about how I felt my shoulders relax after each session. I wanted them to be as proud of me as I was that I was learning to anticipate my panic attacks and picking up on ways to prioritize my feeling safe, because I now knew more of my triggers.
The first few times I did talk about it, I learned that trying to convince them of the value of therapy — and that my triggers were scary and real — was detrimental to the work I was putting in.
Ultimately, the work I do in therapy is for me and no one else. I do it because I'm worth it and I want more from myself than feeling paralyzed.
There are still times that it hurts that I can't talk to them openly about how significant it is that I felt well enough to switch from weekly to biweekly therapy sessions. But when I slip and mention it, my family's response is, "That's good, you maybe needed it then, but you don't need it anymore." That's when I'm reminded why it's best to talk to other people about it besides my Latino family.
When you're learning to live with a mental illness, you want to have an A team that rallies for you on your harder days and doesn't treat your lived experiences as momentary fits. As a Latina, I think that we automatically default to that A team needing to be our family because it's all we've ever known.
I love my family, but I'm not blind to their limitations. They don't consider mental illnesses as lived reality because they weren't brought up to do so. Just because they don't doesn't make what I'm working for any less real.
I go to therapy for me. I just need to remind myself of that every so often.