To be honest, I’m not exactly sure where my mental health journey begins. Did it begin five years ago when I was officially diagnosed with depression? Or did it begin eight years ago when I was living with someone who severely suffered from PTSD and major depression? Or did it begin during my adolescence before I even knew what “depression” or “mental health” even meant – since that stuff was for “locos”? The truth is, la mera mera verdad, is there is no end or beginning with mental health; it’s a lifelong journey, often feeling lost in a maze, overwhelmed, unsure and alone. However, as difficult as the journey may be, I’ve learned through my own personal struggles, that we have the strength and resiliency each day to find meaning in our lives. We CAN change the direction of our mental health realities.
I was raised in a devout Mexican Catholic household, where prayer and God was always the answer. My dad would always tell me, “la vida es sufrir y cargar nuestra cruz”. However, that concept of suffering in life, neglects the importance of self-care. Now as an adult in my thirties, I realize just how much my parents’ toxic relationship (exacerbated by stress, depression/anxiety, alcoholism, verbal abuse, and a machismo culture) was unhealthy. I love my parents and they love me but unfortunately, with regard to mental health their advice was always to seek God, go to church and pray. For a long time this stance made me angry at my parents, at Catholicism – I didn’t need faith, I needed mental health support, treatment and resources! I desperately wanted for my parents to understand what I was going through, to talk to them about what I was feeling. Unfortunately, that level of affection or real communication is a challenge in my family. This upbringing has impacted my own mental health realities but it doesn’t define them.
When I moved away for college, my new found independence was exciting, but it was also lonely and difficult. I distinctly remember feeling particularly blue one day. I was on my way to class, I sat on a bench, and felt a deep struggle and sadness where I just wanted to just quit. I remember thinking I just needed to talk myself out of this “dark hole”. I later learned that it was actually seasonal affect disorder (SAD), a medical reality that affects many yet I had no awareness of it. A few years after college, I dated someone who deeply impacted my awareness of mental health realities. Though I knew about his childhood trauma as a refugee from a war-torn country, I didn’t understand it was PTSD. My ex had very deep wounds and in my love for him, I tried to comfort him and heal him. Codependency is a term I learned in my first ever counseling sentence. I suffered as I saw him spiral deeper and deeper into depression/anxiety/PTSD. He cut himself off from his closest friends and support networks; I felt like his only life-line. It finally came to a point where I recognized I couldn’t “fix” him and it had become unhealthy for me to stay in the relationship. This was, and continues to be a difficult topic to talk about, but it helped me have more empathy, awareness and strength.
Newly single, in a new city, a new apartment, a new job – there were just too many changes all at once for me and, with lack of a strong support system, my mental health crumbled. I started noticing my erratic sleep patterns, racing heart, lack of appetite/motivation/energy, and I was filled with both anger and sadness. At first I tried to dismiss it as breakup woes but it was something different. It was a prolonged sadness and it affected my ability to function. I didn’t know what was happening to me and my first thought was to go to the doctor. When the doctor asked me the purpose of my visit, as I tried to explain, I burst into tears. This prompted la doctora to give me a depression screening. I was prescribed an antidepressant and referred to make an appointment with the psychiatric department. The term “psychiatry” scared and continues to scare me. I wasn’t crazy – just profoundly sad. Regardless, I started taking my daily “happy pills” yet I was still nervous/skeptical that they would work. I was also very frustrated that it would take several weeks for the medication to take full effect, that seemed like an eternity to me in my depressed state. But I was desperate to feel better.
After a few months on the antidepressants, I thought I was better and decided to taper off my medications. I didn’t need them anymore – I was “fixed”. But it was only the beginning. Another job change. Another break up. Another city change. Another new job. Another new apartment. Again, too many changes at once. I spiraled again into depression, this time worse than the previous time, and more frustrating. Over the past four years, I have continued with this pattern and it has very much affected my mental health, financial wealth, career, relationships/friendships and overall well-being.
Present day mental healthy reality – last year I made an appointment to meet with a psychologist and was re-diagnosed with bipolar II disorder. I’m still struggling with this new diagnosis. There are so many negative connotations, especially towards women being crazy and bipolar. My own brothers and male friends say this about women. Un dia pronto, I will have the strength and courage to say, do you even know what bipolar or crazy even mean? I’m bipolar and I’m your friend, tu hija, tu hermana. Finally, I’m proud of my mental health journey in spite of all the highs and lows. I’m proud that I’m writing this and sharing it. I’m proud of all of us who are continuing to grow and understand more about mental health realities in ourselves and nuestras communidades.