Admitting I am Anxy without Shame
Darkness inside me
Flows like a deep red river
Filling me with pain
Before my 18th birthday, I was already years into coping with depression, surviving through abuse, and raising a child with a health condition. Since then I have been overmedicated, non-consensually forced into medical procedures, and victim-blamed for that same abuse. The past decade of my life has been dedicated to getting myself to a point where I could love my growth and place value on my contributions to the world. To do that, I had to acknowledge and vocally admit how the stigma associated with mental health issues, survivorship and teenage pregnancy impacted my ability to see myself as whole.
Reducing my existence to the things that have happened to me isn’t fair, but I do share them as a mark of what reality is like for many young people across the country. Like me, many have and continue to suffer through their youth and adolescence and adulthood in silence. I share my story because the events may not define me, but they do provide historical context for how a woman like me tries to cope in our world today.
I was born to two immigrant parents who migrated to the United States from South America in the 80’s to find life-saving medical procedure for my older brother. Despite their fears of moving to new land where they knew no one and spoke no English, they embarked on that voyage. Unfortunately, Latinx like my parents who migrate to the US are often reduced to stereotypes. These stereotypes shape what kind of treatment they receive, resources they access, and support they are offered. Considering these realities for them, I can now understand how incredibly challenging it was to raise me in a negative environment.
When your cultural background and social class impact a community’s ability to see you as the industrious member of society that you are, you begin to either internalize the belief that you are not important or you face the constant exposure to stress that slowly deteriorates your health over time. And when your parents carry that type of internalized shame and stress, it’s hard not to adopt them too.
The truth is that there’s a lot of historical trauma in my family that transcends through the generations. We only occasionally whisper of the sexual abuses, mental health issues, and suicides that permeated through previous generations. I never felt safe, I never had peace of mind, and I never really had the words to describe the weight I was unconsciously carrying.
It wasn’t until I was maybe 11 or 12 years old when I learned that something was off. For weeks, I couldn’t sleep and I just cried in my bed. My mother took me to a doctor and I was told I had depression. At the time, I knew nothing about it and my family was horrified with the concept of anti-depressants. Instead, I left the country for 2 months to be around family, nature, community… to heal.
I healed temporarily. But the thing about lingering darkness was that I always felt like it was inside my core. I could push it deep enough to not feel it, but it was never really gone. Sadness thrived within my bones and my body could not function without it. Then I found the suicide note that a relative left behind. With my fingers trembling, I read the letter only to realize he had used the words to describe his pain in ways I could never find.
Truthfully, I became obsessed with the idea that there was always a way out of this life. Believing I had an out was how I coped with every single day. Methodically and obsessively, I would plan my death without fear, sadness or worry. I just wanted the darkness to be over.
Seventeen was a year of major change. A few weeks after my birthday, I found myself staring at a positive pregnancy test. It was an interesting turn of events in my life and for a brief moment, regardless of what choice I would make, I felt like maybe I do have a purpose in this life. Maybe it was naïveté, but I so desperately wanted a way out of my life and that believed that maybe, just maybe, this pregnancy was it.
Unfortunately, the world around me didn’t see my teenage pregnancy the way I did. They had no idea that I’ve spent years suffering and that the concept of becoming a mother was much less scary than the things I’ve already faced. Yet the adults around me felt inclined to regurgitate statistics and stereotypes about teen moms. They told me that a baby would ruin my life and that my future was going to be fruitless. But the birth of my daughter is what prompted me to face my struggles, discover what it means to love, and define my own future.
Much has happened in that decade since I made a decision to recognize the importance of my own health. The most important lesson was that loving yourself and working to improve yourself is not a one time occurrence; It’s a daily commitment. A commitment I admit to forgetting when exciting things happen and accomplishments are made.
The perfect reminder has been my most recent journey into the tech sector. When I moved 3000 miles away from my family, I assumed I was in good health and that I had established a good foundation for myself. But I also feared what it would be like to be away from the people I grew to love and what it would mean to be a person with a layered identity in such a homogenous field.
Furthermore, I carried internalized shame about my identity as a Latina teen mom and my issues with mental health. I feared judgment and I desperately wanted to prove abilities, as I’ve always done in the past. But my obsession with proving ability and competence overcame any love I had for my own self.
I was hurting myself again, but this time with the things that our society values: overworking, under-sleeping, stretching myself far and thin, and saying yes way too often. My values began to shift and my priorities began to feel more like chores. Slowly, I was creating the perfect environment and routine for my anxiety and depression.
When my new doctor in San Francisco diagnosed me, it took weeks before I acknowledged she was right. I tried to negotiate with my own brain and set parameters for my mind’s inability to think clearly. I wanted to believe that I was just stressed and it would pass, or that this was something I could fix with yoga, or if I just took more walks and ate better, I would be okay again. But the truth was that my issues were so much deeper than that and I couldn’t begin to heal until I could put the fire out at its source. And I couldn’t put the fire out if my own mind was keeping me from reaching it.
I’m a high-functioning techie and single mom who wakes up at 6:30 am, gets through the day with a smile, works, tweets, and instagrams. No one would imagine I was also coping with a condition that has debilitated me, caused physiological changes to my body, and drove me to a point where medical intervention was necessary. But I am… and this is what anxiety and depression can look like. Openly talking about it is not something I am afraid of doing because I know firsthand how much it means to hear from or read a story that makes you feel a little less isolated.
As most of my peers know, I spend a lot of time online. Like you, I am constantly exposed to messages, words, articles, triggers and realities. Aside from not having control over my own body, I often feel like I’m losing control over what I am exposed to. And that was one thing I really wanted to help change.
When I learned about Anxy Magazine, I reached out to Indhira the founder letting her know that a project like this is exactly what is needed. Our mental health issues are not meant to be stored in dusty books at the back of our shelves or saved on an online list to read later after your Netflix binge. Our mental health issues can be beautiful stories on beautiful pages that we can choose to display to the world with comfort and without fear. And that is exactly why Anxy Magazine matters to me.