Briana Hernandez: In Front of the Mirror

I watch Briana as she sits at her dining room table and talks on the phone with her boyfriend. She complains about how horrible her business cluster is and how she anticipates impatiently for the semester to finally be over. I continue to watch as she laughs, smiles, frowns, and groans all within the same moment.

Briana Hernandez is a first-generation college student and studies Business at Ohio University. She is involved in the Latino Student Union on campus, loves naps, and is obsessed with her little sister, Melanie. Briana’s friends describe her as bubbly, outgoing, supportive, and mature. But many people, including her friends, aren’t aware that she continues to battle with depression and thoughts of suicide.

My first question I asked Briana was: “What is the biggest challenge you face currently in college?” Briana opened to me and replied, “mental stability”.

Briana comes from a broken home in Washington, D.C. Her parents are from Peru and the Dominican Republic and were high school sweethearts. She said she’s had these thoughts since she was in high school due to her familial issues. She describes the environment as toxic and doesn’t really enjoy going home.

“My dad was abusive and an alcoholic. A few years after my mom had my little brother, she left him,” Briana said. “It changed my outlook on love and marriage, because now I don’t believe in marriage. [My parent’s marriage] was a really trashy example of what love should be.”

To cope she found herself latching on to lovers that weren’t good for her, but that she kept around because of the “happiness” they provided for her. After being heartbroken a few times she realized that no company at all was better than bad company.

Before Briana attended Ohio University, Briana went to school at Jacksonville University in Northern Florida. I asked Briana about her experience and she immediately tells me how difficult it is being a first-generation college student without much support from her family, or a mentor to lean on.

“Life in Jacksonville was really hard. I cried the first night in Jacksonville,” Briana said. “It was a really hard time having to adjust to life on my own because of the lack of support from my family.”

Before Briana’s freshman year of college, her grandfather passed away from cancer. She describes his death as a contributing factor to why her first year at Jacksonville University was so challenging.

“I was thinking of not going to school that summer, but I thought about what my grandfather would want me to do. So, I went [to school],” said Briana. “It was a really hard time coming to terms with his death. I’m the emotional supportive one in my family. I cried alone because I had to be strong for my family. I don’t think I’ve healed from it because I find myself still taking on that “strong” role. It’s sad because I barely saw him before he died and I regret that.”

Although Briana relies a lot on herself for emotional support, she said one of the greatest things that continue to help her is her faith in God.

“Without my faith, I wouldn’t be here today,” Briana said. “Having faith in something bigger than I am continues to help push me.”

Briana said that her best friend and boyfriend are continuously there for her as well. Briana has been knowing Elanor for six years.

“Briana is very caring, a great listener, and very supportive. Knowing what she’s gone through inspires me to be strong because she’s been through a lot more than I have,” Elanor said.

Though it’s hard for her to push through in school Briana says that her driving forces are her siblings.

“I don’t want my baby sister to go through the same things that I experienced as a child,” Briana said. “I want my brother to do well in school so he can have a better life.”

Despite her hardships, Briana said it gave her time to heal from some of the trauma from her past, grow and learn how to be present for herself. Briana said that she still struggles with suicidal thoughts from time to time, but that her faith in God helps her get through. She used to question God and ask him why he allowed her to feel this way, but realized that there are other people going through worse things.

Her advice to others that may be going through the same thing as herself is “love yourself before you love someone else.” I asked her if she was living that mantra day to day. “I’m not, but I’m trying,” Briana said.