The want to die young came so easy at age 16. I thought it would healthy to be honest with my mom so I told her that I considered it multiple times. It didn’t go over too well and oversharing about how you wanted to die on Tumblr inboxes and Twitter began to go out of trend in 2014 so, I tried the God thing once again. It was my last resort. Mami always told me “todo esta en mi cabeza” as if she couldn’t see my random bursts of anger. Mamita told me “eso es cosa del diablo” as if the devil had anything to do with sleeping for 17 hours straight for a whole month. I thought that maybe I was doing the whole religion thing wrong. Maybe that I needed to fake it until I made it. Maybe, the only way of healing whatever was going on in my head was through some omnipotent being that could take all the pain away. I saw it happen in my friends in high school and I wanted to see it to believe it for myself, too.
I became pretty hardcore Christian, or more like I was really good at pretending I was. I tried really hard to be the cool, progressive bible thumper. My family wasn’t having it, causing chaos in my house-- being that my household was strictly Catholic. Still having episodic depression and apocalyptic anxiety, Mami told me to trust God and “rese y se te va el stress” and as much as I wanted it to go away just by praying-- it never did. After two years of faking it and never making it, I stopped being Christian and began to pick up on alternative forms of coping which made things all the worse in college. I came back home for one summer and spent it locked in my room, hours in my bathroom, talking to myself in front of my bathroom mirror, making scenarios where I finally could go and see a therapist. Still, no one saw it-- that I was in need of help. I brought it up to Mami that I needed therapy. “That’s something you can fix in your head. Para que vas a meterle su problemas a una terapista? She has bigger problems to solve,” She said. My problems weren’t a burden, though. “That’s what a therapist is supposed to do, Mami,” I said. She brings up that I don’t have insurance and that it would be too expensive. I didn’t go to therapy that year.
This is a commonality amongst communities of color. We have intergenerationally relied on the power of prayer to persevere through all tribulations. This may help for some, but for others it can work against them-- perpetuating unhealthy coping mechanisms or just calling quits on a life that feels as if it is conspiring against them. Mental health in communities of color have made it seem that it is all in your head, that it is a personal problem to not be neurotypical, and that is immoral to burden others with your own problem. Mental health for these reasons have become inaccessible for communities for color.
I go another full year with untreated mental illness and childhood to adulthood trauma. I go back home for a second summer to work at my old highschool job to save money. One summer day in the sweltering Florida heat, I’m told of the chances of not going back to school in the Fall due to a failure of a loan being approved. During a panic attack while parked outside of a Walmart in Mami’s car later, she saw it fold farther from my head. Dry heaving, she knew prayer couldn’t help me in that moment, in the past or in the future. “Calmate, mija. It’s okay. It will all be okay,” She said. This was the first time where she saw her daughter become a vessel for fear. In that moment, she saw what she didn’t want to believe. That summer, after 10 years of untreated mental illness, I finally began therapy.
Finding the proper therapist was difficult. One told me that I just seemed anxious and didn’t know how to properly cope with anxiety, causing me to cope in toxic forms. Outside of that, no one else could take my insurance or wasn’t looking for new clients. Resorting to the very last option, I found therapist that treated my mental illness. I felt seen for once and understood for my cultural upbringing. According to the 1999 Surgeon General Report on Mental Health: Culture, Race and Ethnicity states “clients that identified as racial minorities were less likely than whites to receive quality mental health care.” Nearly two decades later, communities of color still encounter obstacles and failures within the mental health networks-- immediately linked to the systems of racism and substantial gaps in regards to accessible mental health care inside and outside of a healthcare network.
Because of this, therapy for years was looked down upon my family and unfortunately still is. Missing the ability to visit family members and reschedule family day activities for therapy was proven to be burdensome as I had to lie and say “tengo un appointment con mi doctor” when no doctor had their offices open at 6 PM on a Saturday. But it was in these sessions where I got to learn the most about myself and got to unlearn compulsively lying as a mechanism to keep me safe from others behaviors towards me. Unlearn toxic forms of intergenerational coping and trauma. Behaviors I thought were regular forms of culturally “dealing with it” manifested into personality disorders, PTSD, genetic mental illnesses, and the list goes on. It was in these forms of lying and then getting caught lying was where conversations I was too afraid to start began. This is where people began to believe that I couldn’t pray it away. This is where they got to see it and believe it.
Illustration by Jooyoung Park