When someone today says they have a mental illness, it usually translates to “I’m crazy” or “I’m dramatic.” I was 19 when I finally grasped what was going on with me, mentally and physically. Before that, I lived every day feeling completely lost. On nights out with friends to clubs or bars, I’d sit in a seat with my drink the whole time, and watch the room’s movements in what felt like slow motion. Every person who’d approach me was a bother, the music was too much, and no matter what I did I could only think about going home to my bed. I tried to enjoy myself and the company around me, but it frustrated me that everyone was having such a great time, while I felt the pressure of the world weighing in on me.
Living with an anxiety disorder as a daughter of two immigrant parents only made the situation that much more difficult. My parents are both from the Dominican Republic and never before understood what I meant when I expressed I felt anxious. To them I was “just being dramatic” or “making an excuse.” Where my parents are from mental illness is rarely a topic of discussion. In our house, all that mattered to my parents was me bringing home excellent grades, and a building a future that led to marriage and kids.
Home went from being my safe zone to the place I avoided the most. My parents’ lack of understanding and compassion made my anxiety heighten to greater levels, triggering panic attacks. With time I realized that their lack of education and access in mental health was something common in the our community. I personally wasn’t even aware of mental illnesses until I had to deal with one.
I soon noticed words like “anxious” and “depressed” getting thrown around loosely in conversations among friends and colleagues. I came across so many individuals who had no idea depression and anxiety are diagnosable—I felt desperate to be understood. I became increasingly frustrated with our school system and the lack of conversation happening around this. All of it made communicating with people incredibly hard for me, because it was like my mind was rebelling against me. I began to lose motivation in everything that once meant something to me, and the pressures of academia became so much I took a break, something my parents strongly opposed.
On some days I couldn’t even find the strength or reason to get out of bed. It wasn’t until I began to educate myself on anxiety disorders that I grew to understand my body, my triggers and my limits. I couldn’t stand wanting to feel like my old self any longer and took matters into my own hands. I began to bone up on research with articles about the stigmas we face and about new ways the Latino youth is learning to deal with varied illnesses, which helped me realize I wasn’t alone.
I studied articles and blogs, and watched Zoe Sugg—a huge part of my recovery. Better known as Zoella, Sugg is a YouTuber who discusses her anxiety with over 10 million viewers. The entire exploration process helped me get to know and love my skin from the inside out, and gave me the courage to begin the process of opening it all up to my parents, who soon also got on board to help.
Today, after many sit-downs and thorough conversations, my parents are much more supportive. They understand that at times I think and feel too much, and try their best not to cross any lines or hurt me with empty platitudes. Although I still struggle with it from time to time, I know my body well enough to be able to control my anxiety in certain situations. But one things for sure, I never again felt like my old self. Instead, I feel like a stronger, much more beautiful version of myself, content in knowing I could help others.
If You’re Dealing With This Too
The first step to understanding what you’re going through is to educate yourself. Read up on as many articles and personal stories about different anxiety disorders. Figure out what kind of anxiety you think you are dealing with, whether its social anxiety, a phobia or maybe panic disorder.
Research “triggers” and pay attention to they are for you. Triggers could be anything from driving to feeling like you’re trapped, or in a situation you can’t get out of. For me, a huge trigger is being late to anything. Once I realized that, I made sure to leave things prepared the night before for an early morning start, and getting to locations 30 minutes to an hour before.
Talking to your doctor is also a huge and necessary step. I completely understand that opening up to someone about this can make you feel vulnerable, but your choice doctor should be a neutral and openminded person. Someone outside of your circle who can help guide and educate you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, I assure you there’s a sense a relief afterwards.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, women and young people are more likely to have an anxiety disorder. We live in a society where the demand to excel in school consists of passing standardized exams. Not to mention, women in particular, are expected to look and be perfect. Remember to take some time for yourself and prioritize what is important to you. Your mental health is no joke, so find something that calms you down, and gives you a sense of peace and equilibrium.
More importantly, know that you are not alone. There are thousands of online resources developed by people dealing with the exact same thing we are. You are NOT crazy, you are NOT “making an excuse,” you are just human. One way we can put an end to these stereotypes is by getting the conversation going to the masses. Educate yourself, to then educate others—each on, teach one. Mental health is real, and something that needs to continue being analyzed in varied communities of color and brought to the table without shaming or guilt.
If you or anyone close to you is dealing with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255.